Survey results will help improve life for residents

Devon County Council's cabinet met at County Hall. Picture: Daniel Clark

Devon County Council's cabinet met at County Hall. Picture: Daniel Clark - Credit: Daniel Clark

East Devon - along with the wider region - is full with visitors. But a new report by Devon County Council's economy unit reveals that tourism businesses lost 34 per cent of their turnover because of Covid.

Despite this, our research found that 71 per cent of tourism businesses are confident they will survive the pandemic with a further 12 per cent predicting they will survive if they make cutbacks. But that still leaves 17 per cent doubtful of survival. We all know what a big part tourism plays in Devon's economy so those figures are very worrying. They contribute to the overall figure of almost 10 per cent by which our economy shrank last year. That's pretty much in line with the average for the UK.

I can't say there is good news but there is better news. In May 2021 the Devon economy was bouncing back and our output, or GDP, was only 3.1 per cent below that of February 2020 - before the pandemic started.
Our forecasts using Government statistics, commissioned studies and information gathered directly from the business community, show that economic output and unemployment is expected to recover by next year. That recovery will be led by Exeter but may be slower in the districts, particularly Mid and West Devon.
The research also shows that smaller market and coastal towns, with more independent stores, have been holding up best. That's down to a variety of reasons including resumed holidays, more people working from home and shopping locally and retired people - whose incomes held up during the pandemic - now being doubly vaccinated and more confident to venture out and spend again.
Shop vacancy rates are also mostly below the national average, although Axminster was above in the most recent survey.

The number of people on furlough has also reduced rapidly. In East Devon in July last year, 34 per cent of eligible employees were furloughed. That figure was above the numbers for both Devon as a whole and nationally. In January this year it was half that, at 17 per cent, and in May it was 8.3 per cent. That was still marginally higher than the county and national figures and remained much higher in accommodation and food.

There has also been a bounce-back in recruitment, particularly in manufacturing, hospitality, personal services and agriculture. The occupations in highest demand currently include office administration, customer service, registered general nurses and care workers.
And I think we are all painfully aware of the much higher demand for delivery drivers, chefs and general hospitality staff.
Indeed over half the tourism businesses in our survey said they were paying more for staff but still having to reduce their opening hours.
Our survey also calculates the many millions of pounds of Government grants and loans that have been taken up in the Devon County Council area over the past year to help businesses through the pandemic lockdowns.
By the end of May 2021, more than £570 million had been paid out in Bounce Back loans to more than 20,000 recipients with almost £322 million paid out through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan. The highest take-ups for both loans were in eastern Devon along with the south of the county.

The statistics in our report are interesting in themselves but we are going to use them to inform how, as a county council, we do everything in our power to drive the recovery and make life better for our residents.
I don’t have the space available this week to detail those actions but I will do so in my next article.