To receive a verbal update and presentation from the Strategic Manager for Growth, Economy and Delivery.
The Group received, by way of presentation, an update regarding the current economic position within Mid Devon as a result of the pandemic. This included the following information:
· At the recent workshop Members had been surprised by the positive economic recovery data both locally and nationally.
· Metals and fabrication manufacturing industries were showing signs of growth within Mid Devon.
· The lack of a full labour market was a key issue both locally and nationally. Mid Devon represented 10% of the population of Devon but represented only 7% of the total output.
· Demography would remain a core challenge for the district, with a rapidly aging population and low rates of under 30s.
· Payroll had bounced back to pre-pandemic levels across the HOTSW area.
· Unemployment rates were historically very low in Mid Devon with many of those long-term unemployed having fundamental barriers to employment.
· SW house prices had risen by 17% over the last year – while the supply of rental properties had decreased.
· Job vacancies within the district were outstripping supply.
· Many people had reassessed their working lives during the pandemic, some deciding to retire, go back to studies or working remotely for companies outside of the district.
· Educational attainment lagged behind neighbouring authorities and this was particularly evident within Mid Devon’s towns.
· Town Centres, which were already suffering beforehand, had been significantly impacted as a result of the pandemic.
· Another challenge was the automation of jobs currently undertaken manually.
· A Household Support Fund would be made available to those families that qualified for it over the winter period. This was due to be launched on 15th November 2021.
· A ‘Visit Mid Devon’ event would be held in February 2022 to support hospitality and tourism sectors and develop local supply chains. It was requested that this not be arranged on a day when Members needed to attend a formal committee.
· There had been some successes and failures in terms of funding bids. The ‘Reconnecting Tiverton’ Community Renewal Fund bid had been unsuccessful, similarly the Levelling Up Fund Round One bid for the Cullompton Relief Road was also unsuccessful but funding had been received for the Cullompton & Wellington Railway Station project in the region of £5m. It was currently anticipated that construction of the new station would start in 2024/5.
Discussion took place regarding:
· The situation regarding units in Market Walk, Tiverton. Up to date information was not available for the meeting but would be supplied to Members as soon as possible thereafter.
· Upskilling individuals was a positive and necessary ambition but how would it be achieved and how would those individuals be retained within the Mid Devon workforce? Currently there was a mismatch between the skills needed and the skills available. The Council was working where it could with local businesses, schools and colleges to ensure youngsters were made aware of all the opportunities which existed. This would be a key theme of a future PDG workshop and Members would have an opportunity to bring their ideas and develop a strategy going forwards.
· Providing the right type of housing was key in attracting and keeping people with the right skills needed for district. This could be achieved through allocating appropriate sites within the Local Plan and through the planning process.
· Effective and targeted communication was key.
· Biggest problem facing the education sector within Devon was a lack of adequate funding per child but District Councillors could act as lobbyists to those that had influence.
· Members had recently received a communication of a possibility of service cuts to the South West Trains services to London. However, if this was to come to fruition it was recognised that this could provide positive benefits as freeing up capacity on the rail line could provide addition services in the area.
· The Council was well engaged within various railway forums and were receiving weekly updates.
· Seating within Tiverton Town Centre, some of this had been removed during the pandemic to discourage public gathering. There was an opportunity to comment on improved seating provision in the second phase of the Tiverton Town Centre Regeneration project.
It was confirmed that the update provided to the January meeting would be in the form of a written report.