Agenda item

Councillor John Hart, Leader Devon County Council


The Chair welcomed Councillor John Hart, Leader of Devon County Council, who highlighted some of the key issues currently faced by the County Council:-


·         a budget shortfall in the current financial year of £7 million but which it was anticipated would be reduced in the following months to achieve an overall  balanced financial year end budget;

·         huge financial pressures on the Council across adult and children services budgets and particularly in the SEND (Special Education Needs and Disability) budget;

·         pressure on adult services with 330 care homes for 8,500 people, 2,500 supported by the County Council and 6,000 being fee payers, with a significant percentage spent on younger disabled people;

·         current data shows Covid figures currently at 128 in hospital and 100 in intensive care but alongside a significant post pandemic surgery backlog. To improve delays in care and ‘bed blocking’ health services are working closer as part of the Integrated Care System initiative, with the County, with its voluntary partners, involved in preventative care, for which additional funding would be beneficial;

·         Devon possesses an 8,000 mile highway network, of which approximately 5,000 miles are in a poor condition with little or no foundations, Exeter being in a comparatively better position as a result of new housing developments coming on stream. Decisions on highways fall to the local Highways and Traffic Orders Committees (HATOC’s).


He responded as follows to Members’ queries:-


·         the County Council’s vison for reducing car use and encouraging other forms of transport is set out in its Transport Strategy, Exeter benefitting from the commitment to improving the cycle network. Lockdown resulted in a notable increase in cycle use but with reduced bus usage. Caution is required to avoid pinch points creating difficulties for emergency vehicles. Government funding of Active Travel has been utilised to assist the reduction of traffic with a number of schemes across the city approved by Exeter HATOC;

·         reflecting the ambitions of the Devon Climate Assembly, two new rail stations in Exeter have opened with a further station for Marsh Barton subject to necessary support from Network Rail. The opening of the Okehampton line could reduce traffic through the west of the city and consideration is being given to a station at Cullompton. There is a commitment to bring forward Park and Ride sites in the Science Park and Tuckers Garage areas;

·         400 electric car charging points are to be provided across Devon, with sites soon to be operational around the RD& E Hospital. Costs of the points vary according to speed of charging;

·         the breakdown of the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan, mirrored the failure of a joint authority approach to sub regional planning in the Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Bath area;

·         it is noted that Exeter, through Liveable Exeter, is fulfilling its role in future housing provision with its vision to provide 12,000 sustainable homes, largely on brown field sites. The GESP process identified 100 potential housing sites across its area and Districts are now separately going through the “call for sites” process and collaboration with neighbours remains important;

·         the housing crisis is Devon wide and, whilst Exeter does not have the same holiday lets/Airbandb issue, the city also requires affordable homes and homes for key workers; 

·         issues around social care and the Children’s Service are being addressed through staffing restructures and increased salaries, although recruitment of social workers is a nationwide problem; and

·         to maintain Exeter’s role as the County’s economic powerhouse helping Devon to prosper, the identification of suitable development areas and associated plans within a formal collaboration framework was necessary to improve infrastructure and the development and upskilling of the workforce was also key. Although the employment rate was high, there remained significant shortages in many sectors. It was hoped to build on the success of the Exeter College Flybe Academy by developing a similar structure for the health sector, jointly with the University.


The Chair referred to the need to maintain footpaths and to push again for Government support for electric buses. He thanked Councillor Hart for attending.