But their majority cut slightly
It will be four more years of Conservative rule in Devon after the Tories comfortably retained control of Devon County Council.
Under John Hart’s leadership, they have been in charge of the council since 2009, and Thursday’s local elections saw them extend that reign until at least 2025.
Coming into the vote, the Conservatives held 41 of the 60 seats, and with seven seats to declare, they have 36 of the 56 seats so far announced, with the Liberal Democrats on nine, Labour on seven, three Independents, and one Green Party councillor.
Labour held all seven of their seats, while the Lib Dems made three gains, and while the Conservatives remain in control of the council, their majority will be slightly reduced with them only being able to win a maximum of 40 seats.
Cllr John Hart, leader of the council, who retained his Bickleigh and Wembury seat, said: “I’m very grateful to everyone who voted – no matter which party they chose – in difficult circumstances.
“We shall continue to govern in Devon for the benefit of the county as a whole and for all our residents. They’ve shown great resilience over the past year in ensuring we’ve had some of the lowest Covid infection figures throughout the pandemic.
“But now, with the success of the vaccination programme and the Bank of England’s optimistic forecast for the national economy, we have got to focus on regenerating the Devon economy and driving the strongest possible recovery.
It was a day of little change, with only a handful of seats changing hands, including the Conservatives regaining Bideford West and Hartland from a former-Conservative-turned-Independent, while Phil Bullivant took Newton Abbot North from the Liberal Democrats, and Marcus Hartnell gained Seaton and Colyton from the East Devon Alliance.
The Liberal Democrats took Barnstaple South, South Brent and Yealmpton, Dawlish and Teignmouth from the Tories, to leave them on nine seats, although Newton Says No candidate Janet Bradford took the Newton Abbot South seat from them, to leave them as the official opposition on the council again.
Cllr Alan Connett, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “I am delighted that we gained three seats but we do have a job of work to do holding the Conservatives to account. It is a tired administration at County Hall and won’t be much change, so our job will be to promote to the people of Devon the things that are important, fixing the roads, mending children’s services, the economy, how we recover from covid. What I want is a willingness from the Conservatives to work together on mending Devon’s economy.
“This is part of the journey back. We knew it would be a long haul and we are up for the fight and we are up to work with the administration when they have sensible ideas which are good for the people of Devon. But they haven’t fixed the roads and for eight long years children’s services has been inadequate and it has got to stop.”
On a difficult day for Labour nationally, the party held onto all seven seats in Exeter, but failed to make any gains in the city or elsewhere.
Group leader Cllr Rob Hannaford said: “I am absolutely thrilled we have held all seven seats in Exeter. We have a fantastic team of county councillors who will bring a lot of strength and experience to County Hall. We will move forward with confidence and hold the administration to account. In Exeter, we have bucked the national trend. Labour nationally clearly had a difficult round of elections but in Exeter we have held our own as we keep the campaign local, but I am disappointed more progress outside Exeter wasn’t made.
“We will be a constructive opposition, if they are doing the right thing, we will back it, but if it needs to change, we will raise issues and lobby and get things done.”
The most votes went to Jess Bailey, an Independent who took the Otter Valley seat with more than 3,000 votes, taking over from Claire Wright.
Cllr Bailey said: “I am absolutely delighted and I want to say thank you to all those who voted for me. One of the priorities will be the state of the roads, road safety, patchy broadband, Tipton St John school, and I am absolutely thrilled.”
Four more councillors will be elected on Saturday morning when the Broadclyst and Exmouth wards – each with two councillors to be elected – will be counted.
The video report here is from BBC Spotlight