Devon urban authorities confirm their commitment to regional working

Council leaders in Exeter and Plymouth have written to colleagues across the region to assure them of their ongoing commitment to joint working to improve skills, productivity and infrastructure in the Heart of the South West.

A meeting of the Heart of the South West Leaders’ and Chief Executives’ group on Friday heard that Plymouth and Exeter councils had recently met with Torbay to discuss the potential to work together on a sub-regional level to drive economic growth further and faster.

A vote proposed at Friday’s meeting for all councils to work exclusively with the Heart of the South West was not supported by Plymouth or Exeter.

Plymouth and Exeter say they remain fully committed to working together to produce a joint productivity plan for the Heart of the South West and to being active members of a joint committee, but to also continue exploring other opportunities.

The leaders say that to drive economic prosperity councils must work at different levels and layers at the same time – across the South West Peninsula, across the Heart of the South West and also on a sub-regional level.

Their letter says: “There are clear benefits from working at each of these levels. The benefits of sub-regional working have been well proven by experiences such as the joint working to secure the City Deal.

“It is also generally acknowledged that urban areas have a significant role to play in driving economic growth. It is essential that we are driving the delivery of this growth further and faster.

“We believe that there will be no significant devolution deal for the Heart of the South West given the lack of a consensus on the issue of an elected mayor/leader with responsibility for receiving devolved powers and financial resources from Whitehall. The Government’s position on this has been very clearly outlined by (the Secretary of State) Sajid Javid.”

“In light of this we feel it would be remiss of us not to explore the sub regional opportunities for further and faster delivery of economic growth with a deal that doesn’t rule out an elected mayor/leader as described above. This is why there have been some recent exploratory discussions between Exeter, Plymouth, and Torbay. We are also keen to continue to work on a sub-regional basis between local government colleagues in the wider Exeter and Plymouth areas.”

“Before seeking a mandate to take anything further, we wanted to test each other’s appetite for securing some sort of agreement on a sub-regional level, and prior to testing the Government’s appetite.”

While other councils in the HOTSW partnership have ruled out an elected mayor for a new combined authority, Plymouth, Torbay and Exeter have not ruled out talking to the Government about some form of elected mayor/leader to drive regional skills, productivity and the infrastructure agenda.

The letter says: “We do feel that it is important to explore all options for funding and further powers and that we should be at least prepared to look at the options and see what potential deal could be on the table, that would benefit the whole of the Heart of the South West in the longer term.”

Councillor Patrick Nicholson, Deputy Leader of Plymouth City Council, said: “We remain fully committed to working together to produce a joint productivity plan for the Heart of the South West and to being active members of a joint committee. There’s no question that if we get this right, it has the potential to reap significant economic benefits for the whole region. We do however need to remain flexible. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity if other authorities don’t feel able to explore all options that include a new regional elected mayor/leader.”