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Posted On: 06-07-2020
Posted In: Business and economy

Team Devon COVID-19 Economy and Business Recovery Prospectus graphicTeam Devon has pledged to re-build the county’s economy to be stronger, more inclusive and sustainable as it unveiled the prospectus for its COVID-19 Economy and Business Recovery Plan.

Team Devon is a public and private sector partnership drawing in expertise from business, education, skills and public sector organisations, has developed the plan with the backing of business representatives, Devon’s County, District and City Councils, the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, Dartmoor National Park and Devon’s MP’s.

The prospectus states that Devon is predicted to be the fourth worst impacted county in England and seven of the 20 worst affected districts in the UK are expected to be in the south west region.

The programmes and projects listed in its prospectus have the potential to create 30,000 new jobs, 80,000 new training places and secure investment of £550 million, generating £2.8 billion of additional economic output.

Cllr Graeme Barnell, Cabinet Member for Planning and Regeneration, Mid Devon District Council, said:

“The prospectus sets out a shared vision across Devon for building back a strong and sustainable local economy. It provides the focus for local authorities to work together as “Team Devon” and to work with local business and with Central Government to get the job done.”

The county’s economy is predicted to shrink by around 8% this year, roughly 1% more than the rest of the UK, according to a new impact assessment commissioned by Team Devon.

It suggests that the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic will continue in the medium term with recovery likely to be slow through to 2023, but the prospectus outlines the vision of how the county can level up its economy in response to the crisis.

The immediate priorities are seeking an investment of £56 million into local projects that will assist businesses to re-open, adapt and grow, help young people and those at risk of redundancy find or keep a job, and invest in Devon’s hardest hit communities and sectors. This initial package aims to safe-guard and create 6,500 jobs, assist the delivery of 5,000 training places and support 7,500 businesses, stimulating business investment and accelerating economic recovery to pre-COVID levels much sooner.

The impact of the economic downturn across Devon has varied depending on sector and location. In the tourism and hospitality sector, 92% of Devon businesses were disrupted by the crisis between March and June, but only 5% of business in the digital sector faced the same level of disruption. The unemployment claimant count in Exeter doubled in the three months to June, while in the South Hams it increased by 400%. Similarly, unemployment among those aged between 18-25 and over 50 tripled in the same period, almost twice as fast as the Devon average.

Recovery is also predicted to vary greatly, with forecast of a two-year dip and recovery period in Exeter, through to a 10% reduction and five-year recovery for some other areas of the county such as Mid Devon and Torridge. For some sectors, such as tourism and hospitality, it may take a decade to return to levels of income and employment experienced in 2019.

Team Devon wants the county’s recovery to result in thriving communities with economic performance and employment reaching pre-COVID 19 levels by 2022, with a growth rate that at least matches the national average.

Building on Devon’s dynamic and entrepreneurial business community, and coupled with the county’s world-class environment, global expertise in climate science and green technologies, and a talented workforce, the ambition is to create a stronger, more inclusive and sustainable economy.

Supporting the county’s hardest hit sectors through the crisis is paramount if Devon’s economy is to recover successfully. This includes tourism, retail, construction, and agriculture and food and drink, which provide significant employment across the county and underpin the economy of many local communities.

Team Devon is similarly determined to ensure that no individual is left behind, with a clear focus on supporting the county’s young people to learn and work; assist employees who have lost their job or wish to do more to find a new opportunity; and support businesses to retain staff, apprentices and suppliers.
Team Devon will seek a £10 million grant for the tourism sector and an additional £10 million for the agriculture and food and drink sector, to assist with adaptation costs. A “Made in Devon” campaign could be introduced to promote the region as a food destination and supplier of quality food and drink.

Other initiatives include plans to work closely with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to tailor employment support and retraining for retail sector staff who may have been made redundant, ensuring early delivery of housing schemes funded through the Housing Infrastructure Fund, and work with the county’s Colleges to offer additional training and apprenticeship places across opportunity sectors such as Health and Digital.

Opportunities for business growth are earmarked in a number of sectors to provide a renewed direction for the economy while ensuring no community, young person or business is left behind. This includes digital technology, which is Devon’s fastest growing sector, in order to attract inward investment. It also recognises the ongoing challenge of climate change and the need for further emission reduction before 2030.

There are plans to roll-out an ambitious pilot investing in domestic energy efficiency and energy generation measures; plans for a £2.5 million investment to work with SMEs on reducing carbon emissions; the establishment of a £3.75 million “Centre for Clean Mobility” at Exeter Science Park for research and development of autonomous transport; and proposals to champion a SMART aviation cluster and freeport working with Exeter Airport and other partners to support the development of new electrical air vehicles and green aircraft.

Environmental technology and clean growth will be backed with up to £1.5 million grant funding to develop bespoke business support; sustainable farming and food will be promoted to sustain and increase behaviour to “buy local”; and sustainable tourism, leisure, and hospitality will be supported with the establishment of a Great South West Tourism Zone to build on the £2.5 billion of visitor spending that Devon currently attracts.

Councillor Judy Pearce, Leader of South Hams District Council and Chair of Devon Districts Forum, said:

“We are only now beginning to realise what the economic impact of the pandemic will be for Devon. This prospectus is exactly what we need, it outlines a clear way forward for job creation and investment. As Chair of the Devon Districts Forum, I am pleased to be able to say that all of the District Authorities in Devon have committed to working together and delivering this plan. As the fourth worst impacted county in the country, this prospectus will be central to Devon’s recovery and future growth.”

Melanie Squires, Regional Director, South West NFU, said:

“The farming industry that underpins our food and drink sector is so important to Devon, not just the economy but also our local communities and landscapes. Despite often being unseen down farm lanes or behind hedges, like the rest of the economy the farming community has had a significant shock from Covid-19 and will continue to deal with the after effects for some time, with the double whammy of so many having also diversified into the tourism and hospitality sector. But we can use this as a re-set moment, look to build on our strengths and grow what our family farm businesses offer, and as a consequence deliver more back to our economy and local communities. I am delighted that the NFU has worked with Devon County Council and fellow partners to publish the Recovery Plan, there are many excellent initiatives that will undoubtedly deliver for Devon.”

The safe re-opening of high streets and outdoor facilities, while responding to changing travel and home working patterns, is also key to stimulating the economy and supporting local communities. The plan sets out aims to secure:

  • £15 million funding for towns and high streets to build confidence to visit and shop safely;
  • £15 million investment to develop projects to support flood prevention, carbon storage and landscape management;
  • £20 million investment in renewable energy infrastructure;
  • £1 million to extend the successful work hubs network, and further investment in digital infrastructure to improve connectivity.

Around 60% of all Devon business have been closed during the current lockdown, and around 40% of all employed and self-employed workers have been furloughed or seeking self-employment support. Unemployment has increased by 180% in the three months to June.

To invest in people and the workforce across the county, Team Devon will aim to:

  • seek up to £90 million from the Further Education Capital Programme to enhance capacity within local colleges;
  • secure up to £20 million of additional innovation and skills development opportunities working with the county’s Universities and Colleges;
  • seek funding for an £8 million technical skills development programme to provide new opportunities in sectors including digital and advanced engineering;
  • secure up to £7.5 million of additional resources to improve access to apprenticeships and traineeships for young people and adults;
  • seek £3 million of additional support for adult education and online learning.

Team Devon wants the county to be recognised nationally for expertise in low carbon, digital technologies; to have a flourishing tourism, food and drink and agricultural sector; and to have a sense of pride in Devon’s own products, services, talent and expertise, with communities and a business network that backs Devon.

A more detailed plan and investment strategy is being developed by Team Devon to support the delivery of its actions, and it will be working in partnership with Government, Heart of the South West LEP and other agencies to implement the plan.

The full prospectus can be viewed on Devon County Council webpages.