East Devon devolution should be ‘grasped as opportunity’

Jill Elson

Jill Elson - Credit: Archant

Healthcare, bed-blocking in hosptials and education were the major concerns raised during the latest round of East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) talks over devolution.

If successful, The Heart of the South West (HOTSW) deal will see powers devolved from the Government to a new combined authority made up of 19 local authorities in Devon and Somerset.

It is hoped devolution will attract more investment to East Devon, leading to 163,000 new jobs in the South West, as well as faster road and rail journeys to the region and wages higher than the national average by 2030.

The matter was up for discussion when it went before members of EDDC’s cabinet last week.

Councillor Jill Elson said she had concerns about the democratic value of the deal and how much input constituents would have. She added: “If you have 19 leaders for all the councils making the decisions, how is that going to be disseminated to the elected members of all the various councils and their residents?”

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Cllr Elson said there was also an issue with the health budget, because nobody knew how much it was going cost.

“Older populations need more and more care - whether they are at home or in homes, it is not going to be financially viable because at the moment there are not enough community care workers to actually have people in their own homes,” she added.

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“There is one whole ward at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital of people just waiting to come out because Devon County Council cannot provide the service – the council is going to be left with some real problems, as is the NHS.”

Cllr Elson said nobody seemed to know how the skills shortage issue would be addressed either.

“The one thing we are missing is a national vocational qualification for those residents who do not have an English degree, but are very good electricians, plumbers and so on,” she said.

Cllr Andrew Moulding, deputy leader, said it was not known exactly what was going to be negotiated, but there would be a period of negotiation and bosses would get the details they needed.

He added one of the deal’s main aims was to improve productivity and that would come by getting younger people involved in learning the right skills earlier on, which in turn would lead to more apprenticeships.

Cllr Moulding said there was a vast need to improve healthcare.

“If that can be done by bringing it down to a level where we can really get to grips with healthcare in this region, to me that has to be a benefit over what we have at the moment,” he added.

“I think we should grasp this opportunity. We want to get more control over our own decisions, rather than leaving them with the Government. If this can be done at a more regional level, then I welcome it.”

Cllr Mark Williamson said: “We should go into this positively, looking at it as an opportunity for East Devon and our residents.It will hopefully mean we can deliver a better service.”

Cllr Eileen Wragg added: “Everything needs much fairer funding and we will only get a chance to influence this if we go forward with this.”

The next step of the process will be for EDDC to nominate a representative who will then join 18 others from similar authorities at briefing sessions on the devolution proposals.

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