A devolution deal for the Heart of the South West area took a ‘very positive’ step after Somerset, Devon, Torbay and Plymouth leaders and senior politicians met Jake Berry MP, the Government Minister with responsibility for devolution, in London last week.
The leaders discussed the next steps for a Combined Authority, which would see increased powers move from Westminster to the Heart of the South West area and they described the meeting as positive.
Leader of Plymouth City Council Ian Bowyer said: “It was a really encouraging meeting and we were all really pleased with the Minister’s response and his recognition of the work we have done to develop a strong partnership.
“The minister basically confirmed the scale of the deal depended on the scale of our ambitions. Through the work we have all done together on our Productivity Plan, we have a clear sense of direction of how funding and autonomy could help create better jobs, boost productivity, improve skills and training and create a stronger economy for our region.”
Crucially, the Government minister also confirmed that the Combined Authority would not need to follow the elected mayor model which had been a stumbling block for many local leaders.
Councillor Bowyer said: “We can now all get on with the task of getting the best deal for all our residents. Fundamentally we have come together because we believe we are better placed than Whitehall to direct where funding and powers could deliver huge and lasting benefits to all our residents – whether they are living in our cities, in coastal towns, on the moors or in the countryside.”
If approved, the new Combined Authority would comprise 17 Local Authorities, two National Parks, the LEP and three CCGs. It would take responsibility for extra powers and budgets, delivering benefits for all residents including higher productivity, better-paid jobs, improved road, rail and broadband links and more affordable homes for the region.
Devon and Somerset contribute over £34 billion a year to the economy – more than Britain’s second city, Birmingham. A key aspect of any devolution deal would be to improve training and skills in the region and boost productivity. At the moment training and skills funding comes from a fragmented budget delivered by a whole host of organisations. We would want our deal to give us more local control and flexibility so that we can tailor these to meet the needs of local businesses, and grow our economy.