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Call to give counties power to grow their own economies

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 22, 2012

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The economic chief at a Westcountry council has added his voice to growing calls for decision-making powers to be devolved to counties in order to speed up growth and job creation.

Devon has now followed Cornwall in demanding a greater say in strategic decisions on infrastructure projects, regeneration plans and skills training.

Both local authorities want the Government to place rural areas on an equal footing with their urban counterparts, such as Manchester, Leeds and Bristol, who are set to take over power from Westminster under recently announced "City Deals".

Will Mumford, Devon County Council's cabinet member for economy, enterprise and employment, has demanded a "County Deal" and claims too much centralised control is placing a "barrier" to growth.

"Restricting opportunities to boost performance to cities alone would significantly limit the potential for national growth," he added. "Local leaders, rather than Whitehall departments, are best placed to understand the economic opportunities and challenges we face."

The Government has decided to give more responsibility to eight major cities outside London, with more expected to be added to the list.

And pioneering talks have already taken place on a so-called "Cornwall Deal" as part of Coalition promises to empower local communities.

MPs and councillors met Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg this summer and urged him to give the region more clout to implement polices over housing, health and economic development, as well as more funding to carry out any new role.

Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, presented Mr Clegg with a dossier entitled A Duchy Deal? Devon is now set to follow suit, with officials busy drawing up proposals to create new partnerships between district councils, local businesses and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

Mr Mumford says the successful expansion of Exeter proves the effectiveness of such collaboration.

He added: "It is already happening in the Exeter Growth Point where we are in partnership with business and developers, Exeter City Council, East Devon Council and our local LEP to create infrastructure, drive growth and create jobs across administrative boundaries.

"If we had more flexibility, we could repeat that successful approach at key points across the county."

Tim Jones, chairman of the Heart of the South West LEP, said the current system was "fragmented" and hoped a "business-like approach" could "get investment in the right place at the right time".

"Councils can provide a more professional service, responding quickly – we have seen evidence from the North and South Devon link roads."

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