Posted: 08.10.20 at 11:27 by Hannah Corfield
An urgent £6 million economic recovery programme for Devon is being discussed by county councillors.
The programme would form part of the county council’s response to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, with Exmouth town centre identified as one of the hardest hit areas in the county.
It would provide help and support in four key areas – small and medium enterprises, employment and skills, the green recovery and the hardest hit towns and communities.
Devon’s ruling Cabinet will be told next Wednesday that the county’s economy has shrunk by eight per cent, unemployment has risen to above six per cent and claims for universal credit have surged.
The crisis has had a significant impact in tourism and hospitality, retail, construction and manufacturing with high levels of youth unemployment and rising levels amongst the over 50’s.
But other sectors, such as digital, health and care and clean growth, are showing signs of healthy recovery and new growth since the downturn.
Councillors will be asked to set aside £6 million over the next three years as part of their budget-setting process. This is in addition to other bids for Government support.
Devon County Council leader John Hart said: “Clearly we are still in a battle with coronavirus as the rising number of cases in Exeter has shown this week. Rates across the rest of Devon remain low and we must all pull together to keep it that way and to keep people healthy and safe.
“But we also have to take urgent steps to address the economic health of our county, our communities and our people and to plan for the future.”
Devon’s Cabinet member for Economy and Skills, Councillor Rufus Gilbert, said: “This financial investment will support the economic recovery of our hardest hit places, enterprises and individuals.
“Together we can grasp opportunities to build back better, to build a more resilient, inclusive and sustainable economy.”
Mr Gilbert said the exact measures would depend on how the pandemic developed but would include supporting businesses to become more resilient and improve their digital skills, targeting key sectors such as tourism, retail and health and care, helping hospitality businesses to improve the skills of their workforce, supporting farmers to diversify, improving skills and training, stimulating new business start-ups and supporting individuals with redeployment and employment support.
Devon would work with district and town councils to develop proposals for urban renewal in the hardest hit areas.
Councillors will hear that a national report assessed Devon as the fourth most vulnerable county in England to the economic impact of Covid.
Every district, except Exeter, was more vulnerable than the England average.
Devon’s own analysis shows the 10 most vulnerable places in the county were central Barnstaple and Forches, central Newton Abbot, central and west Ilfracombe, Teignmouth town centre, central and south east Bideford, Totnes town centre, Dawlish town centre, Lynton and Lynmouth, west Dartmouth and Exmouth town centre.
The analysis takes into account household income, skill levels, unemployment and other deprivation and recognises there were significant vulnerabilities before the pandemic.