The devolution draft document has now been passed to district councillors and all parishes. It will go to the Full Council to take a view on it. I note there are a few political animals who perhaps do not understand the process we are engaging with. Previously, the council was asked to participate prior to 2015. However, the then leader decided not to go forward. This would be disastrous today, because the cliché “if you’re not in it, you can’t win it” is now very true.
When we started the process it was possible to have a firm veto. This has now changed, the minister has said if a council does not want to participate, this is not to hold up the process and other councils must move forward without the council that has decided to withdraw. Clearly, this would be a foolhardy position to take. Therefore, I have been engaged in the meetings to assist formulating a plan.
While the initial document will not drill down to individual town and village requirements, this will come later. What the document is doing is setting out a plan for the Heart of the South West, which includes most of Somerset and all of Devon, for our growth plans for the years ahead. These high level ambitions set out that we will grow the economy by £4bn, create 163,000 new jobs, build 179,000 new homes, increase skills and wage levels, support health and wellbeing, between now and 2031.
To obtain a stronger voice, we have formed an alliance with Exmoor National Park and Torridge District Council and formulated a plan for our area. Working out more detailed priorities for northern Devon will come later. However, we have been able to get a road and rail programme into the document. We now have to see if the minister will allocate funding, so that we (as a body) can then obtain extra money for our area here in northern Devon.
There is a long way to go and we are in our infancy, with many hurdles to jump before we can get benefit here. Of course the sceptics will always want to knock any attempt to help our area and look at negatives that are not necessarily there but are politically expedient in their eyes. However, I am very optimistic about the outcome and will work hard to achieve what is best for North Devon.