Recovery support to get economy back on track

Devon County Hall, where councillors have voted to increase their personal allowances by 15 per cent

Devon County Hall - Credit: Archant

So it’s back to school for our children and grandchildren after they have – hopefully – had a relaxing and refreshing summer break.

August is also traditionally a time when there are few council meetings and many of my colleagues have taken some time off. However, as I wrote in my last article, August saw the publication of a comprehensive study of how the pandemic has affected businesses in Devon by the county council’s economy unit and now we have to be nimble and effective in responding to its findings.
One of the headline figures of the report found that tourism businesses lost 34 per cent of their turnover because of Covid with 17 per cent doubtful of survival.
Our overall economy shrank by almost 10 per cent last year but by May 2021 the Devon economy was bouncing back and our output, or GDP, was only 3.1 per cent below that of February 2020.
So the question is, what are we as a county council going to do to help drive that recovery? First off, we have to get our rising number of Covid infections down and keep people safe and we’re looking at how we may take advantage of the new powers the Government announced last week.
As for the economy, councils can’t create jobs but we certainly can help in creating the climate for others to do so.
That’s why I was so delighted that the leaders of all eight district councils in Devon – including yours in East Devon – agreed to join with the county council in putting in a bid to Government to be one of the flagship areas to benefit from the devolution of more powers and responsibilities from London – and we’ve been putting the framework of this together over the summer.
A key priority will be to promote greater skills and training for our young people and boost our productivity. We need to improve communications with the rest of the country, both physical, as in road and rail, and digital, as in better and faster broadband and we have to improve the supply of affordable housing.
And it almost goes without saying after the devastating report from the United Nations, that we have a common and urgent goal in tackling climate change and reducing carbon emissions.
The Devon Devolution Deal will, however, be for the medium to longer term. So what are we doing to bring tangible benefits in the short term?
Amongst other initiatives, we’ve launched a £6 million recovery programme to provide help and support in four key areas – small and medium enterprises, employment and skills, the green recovery and the hardest-hit towns and communities.
We’ve launched the Made in Devon marketing scheme to help growers, producers and suppliers in the county to take advantage of the big switch that occurred during Covid as many people consciously sought to buy from their local businesses and support local traders.
We’re expanding our network of local work hubs from 15 to 22 to provide office facilities for new and growing businesses where they can rent space as and when they need it.
We’ve invested £4million to buy the former Flybe Training Academy at Exeter Airport and worked with Exeter College to run it as The Future Skills Centre, providing training for high-tech jobs in engineering, digital, construction and clean growth.
We’ve seen Exeter Aerospace take over Flybe’s former aircraft maintenance facility and create 100 jobs and we’ve partnered with South Hams and Plymouth councils to win Government backing for the Plymouth and South Devon freezone which could bring in over £100m investment in the next six years.