The Chair welcomed Councillor John Hart, Leader of Devon County Council who spoke on the future direction and plans of the County Council in light of Government policy and continued cuts to local government funding - 2017/18 set to be the 8th consecutive year since 2009 of further restrictions, the precise nature of cuts to become clearer as part of the budget setting process in the New Year.
Having recently met Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, Councillor Hart expanded on latest developments in the Devolution debate. A number of areas such as Norfolk and Suffolk had withdrawn interest and, whilst the Secretary had urged a joint Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset bid, Councillor Hart outlined the disparity of views across the region for this approach. Quarterly meetings for the Leaders of Devon, Cornwall, Torbay and Plymouth councils continued to be held and, although Somerset now also participated, within that County the views of districts diverged. Whilst funding of £15 million per year associated with the adoption of the Mayoral system would be available there was no enthusiasm for an extra tier of local government and this sum represented a fraction of the overall County Council budget. With regard to two independent studies looking into potential local government reorganisation in county areas for the County Councils Network, he asserted that County/District relationships in Devon were much improved since the previous ruling on re-organisation as evidenced by various joint initiatives with the Districts, the National Parks and the LEP. However, he suggested that some Devon Districts would face increased financial challenges with changes in New Homes Bonus rules.
In his meeting with the Secretary he had urged greater funding commitment for training and skills given the gap of some 20% between the SE and the SW in productivity and he emphasised the value of apprenticeships, including for small businesses.
He thanked the voluntary/community sector for the role played in supporting the County in the delivery of many of its services referring to Senior Voice, Age Concern and CAB which were valued and supported by the authority. He also referred to ICE where again the input of this sector was invaluable, this initiative being a pilot for the rest of the UK. Community self-reliance was a growing theme and he referred to County initiatives encouraging collaboration between parishes.
Members referred to the impact of the reshaped County Council services on areas such as youth, libraries, reduced rural transport funding of 1.7 million, day care, closure of residential homes, the sale of old people’s homes as well as responsibilities under the Care Act legislation. Responding, Councillor Hart stated that the old people/residential homes had no longer been fit for purpose and that this was also being reflected in the private sector, the County was retaining its overall £4million County wide bus service subsidy and that the transfer of the library service to Charitable Trusts would facilitate business rate relief.
Responding to the concerns of Members regarding the changes emerging from the Care Act legislation and the shift to community based service delivery, he advised that the County Council’s Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee was leading on consultation and responses to the Wider Devon Sustainability and Transformation Plan which sought to achieve the NHS “Five Year Forward View”. It was noted that the New Devon Clinical Commissioning Group had offered support towards the changes. The County Councils Network was reviewing changes at the national level. Devon’s older people population exceeded 170,000 - both over 65’s and over 85’s, with no specific Government funding for the latter.
It was noted that the Government had announced a £10 million investment to help strengthen the resilience of the railway line between Exeter and Dawlish and Teignmouth.
The Chair thanked Councillor Hart for attending.