Cllr John Hart is the Leader of Devon County Council.
In Devon we are fighting hard to retain the majority we have enjoyed since our landslide victory in 2009. Currently the Conservatives hold 38 of the 62 seats on Devon County Council. Our nearest challengers are Liberal Democrats who hold 10 seats, Labour have seven seats – all in our major city in Exeter. UKIP have four and there are three Independents.
Boundary changes mean that the Council lose two seats so we need to win a minimum of 31 in May. In last year’s referendum most of the County voted for Brexit with the exception of Exeter and the South Hams. With Mrs May successfully triggering Article 50 and her double digit lead in the opinion polls, you might think we should have a comfortable victory.
However, I am counselling all my colleagues and candidates to avoid any complacency, particularly after all the electoral surprises we had last year both here and in the USA.
The Lib Dem’s are fighting the usual dirty campaign and trying to suggest we are responsible for school funding cuts because we are moving money within the education budget to support our most vulnerable children with high needs. Yet Devon Conservatives have a proud record in Devon of fighting for fair funding for our schools against all shades of Government and were founder members of the f40 group.
We have made strong objections to the proposed new national formula for education as it would reduce funding for nearly two thirds of Devon’s students. A key part of our election campaign is a specially set up electronic petition and we have strong support from our Members of Parliament on this issue.
Devon currently has an age profile of 85 year olds that the rest of the country will have in 2030 so social care is clearly another important issue for us.
We took advantage of the three percent rise in Council tax this year to support adult social care. This raised £10 million but we had to put £18 million into the budget in February this year because of the extra demand on the service.
We are highlighting the £1 billion we have spent on infrastructure, the new roads we have commissioned including the long awaited South Devon Link Road linking Torbay to Exeter. We have also continued to invest in business parks around the county particularly in Barnstaple and Okehampton as well as Sky Park and the Science Park at Exeter and are looking to generate good, well paid jobs across Devon.
We are also continuing our roll-out of fast Broadband to our rural communities.
We are also leading the lobby for better connectivity of rail and road networks from the South West to the rest of the country.
In eight years we have turned Devon County Council into a more business like organisation whilst safeguarding services. Our appeal to the voters is to let us finish the job we have started as we seize the opportunities ahead to make Devon an even better and more prosperous place to live and work.