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One Devon council? We'll talk, says leader

Friday, July 31st, 2020 9:18am

By Daniel Clark, local democracy reporter, with Jamie Taylor

Autumn discussion about scrapping districts

Senior Devon councillors say they have no desire to "lead the charge towards becoming a unitary" authority and reopen the arguments over local government reorganisation.

The government is set to publish its plans this autumn which may involve wrapping district and city councils creating one large 'Devon' authority. This could also also mean Plymouth and Torbay, which currently are unitary councils responsible for all council services, merging into the new Devon authority too.

This week, a majority of Somerset county councillors voted to abolish themselves and create a new Somerset unitary authority. Five district authorities would be scrapped; which needs a fuller discussion across the county. 

The new discussion is similar to a previous idea in 2007, about creating a Devon unitary authority, possibly with Exeter becoming a separate unitary authority too. That idea fell away with the 2010 general election. 

At a recent Devon County Council meeting, Cllr Alan Connett (Teignbridge), leader of the Liberal Democrats, asked the leader of the council, John Hart, for his view about keeping the current system. Cllr Hart said it may raise its head again. He is waiting to see what the government says in the forthcoming white paper, but added: “If they don’t insist we go to unitary model, I will not lead a charge, and all it will do is reactivate the fighting. It would divide Devon up and then things get a bit more complicated. Devon has the size and capacity to work with the districts and to serve the people....We will wait until September and then we will talk before anything happens."

Cllr Connett said he was grateful that Cllr Hart "won’t lead a charge and that Devon County Council isn’t involved in predatory works" He added: “We must avoid what we did before when so much was spent to achieve so little for the people of Devon.”

Cllr Rob Hannaford, leader of the Labour group, added: “There is clearly no appetite in Devon for another costly and disruptive reorganisation of our local government. We have just seen, during the first wave of the pandemic, how well all levels of local government in Devon have worked together to respond, and with all the huge operational, financial, economic and social pressures that we are coping with, this is really the last thing we need to consider."

Cllr Julian Brazil (Lib Dem, Kingsbridge) said that: "Proposals to evolve towards one [authority] could be explored and that more shared services among the councils would be a way of saving money, with many senior officers doing the same job."

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