Exeter’s business leaders and the leaders of all political parties on Exeter City Council have jointly expressed their shock and outrage at a blatant snub to Exeter and its future economic prosperity. This arises from a joint bid to government launched by Devon, Plymouth and Torbay Councils to form a Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) as a successor to the Regional Development Agency, which the government intends to abolish
Late yesterday (Wednesday, September 1) Devon County Council published its draft submission or ‘prospectus’ for a ‘Devon Plymouth Torbay Partnership for Enterprise’.
Both Exeter City Council and the Exeter Chamber of Commerce have been frozen out of all discussions about and drafting of this submission, despite sustained requests over the last two months to be involved and despite being responsible for the most dynamic city economy in the area.
Devon County Council has made it clear, in the period leading up to the publication of its submission, that the proposed LEP for Devon, Plymouth and Torbay will be governed by eleven board members – three council leaders from Devon, Torbay and Plymouth respectively, representatives of Exeter and Plymouth Universities and six private sector representatives, one of whom would chair the board. That remains its stance.
Contrary to the government’s clear steer there is, therefore, no place proposed for Exeter City Council (or any other district council in Devon) on the board of this key body – making strategic decisions and shaping policy which could critically affect the city’s future economic growth and prosperity. Despite repeated requests Devon has refused to countenance a small adjustment of that board membership to include Exeter.
Liberal Democrat leader of the council, Cllr Adrian Fullam, said: “This is a deeply unhelpful and totally unnecessary stance from the County Council, which flies in the face of their stated intention to rebuild bridges with the city. More importantly it fails to recognise Exeter’s huge and pivotal role in Devon’s economy and the strength and obvious track record of the existing partnership between the City Council and Exeter’s business community. Excluding Exeter in this way is likely to prejudice the city’s future growth prospects.”
Cllr Norman Shiel, acting leader of the city council’s Conservative group, said: “The county council appears to be treating the major regional city of Exeter with contempt in these proposed arrangements. Devon’s main focus has always been on rural Devon and it is simply not good enough for Exeter’s economic future to be entrusted to it in this way.”
Cllr Dilys Baldwin, acting leader of the city council’s Labour group, said: “If anything demonstrates why Exeter needs unitary status, this must be it. All we are asking for is that Exeter’s economic importance is properly recognised in these arrangements, which is not much to ask and which is already proposed for similar cities elsewhere in the country. Unfortunately the county council now seems driven only by a vindictive wish to punish Exeter for having dared to assert its claim to unitary status.”
Cllr Joan Morrish, leader of the city council’s Liberal group, said: “The city council has always led, very successfully, on working with business to achieve rapid and sustainable economic growth in Exeter. Its record is second to none. If these arrangements are approved it will turn the clock back and exclude Exeter’s democratically elected representatives from any real influence on key decisions for Exeter’s economic future.”
Chair of Exeter’s Chamber of Commerce, Derek Phillips, said: “It is very disappointing to note that the new inclusiveness, promised by the County following the reversal of the unitary decision, has failed to be delivered in this crucially important area. This is potentially a big setback for business-led growth in Exeter.”
Local authority and business interests in and around Exeter had strongly supported and encouraged the concept of a Peninsula-wide LEP, spanning Cornwall, Devon and parts of Somerset – a partnership which would have had the scale and influence to effectively compete with powerful LEPs elsewhere in the country and which would have better reflected some of the economic realities of the area.
Chief Executive Philip Bostock said: “Cornwall’s decision five weeks ago to go it alone with a Cornwall LEP has left Exeter’s future economic interests at the mercy of this suboptimal county-based solution, within which the distinctive voice of Exeter will not be properly heard. The ‘brand’ of the proposed partnership does not even mention its greatest economic asset – Exeter.”