What were the biggest stories in the Chancellors statement? Perhaps it was not the changes in Stamp Duty, which seem to have grabbed the headlines or the freezing of fuel duty, which whilst very welcome particularly for rural communities, is hardly life changing. No it is surely the issue over the failure to hit targets for reducing the budget deficit.

What a great Christmas present if you are buying a house (for less than £1 million). Reform of stamp duty and lower costs for most home buyers, good news. However it only affects those people who can, firstly afford to buy their own homes and secondly, the even smaller number, that will actually be buying a new home in the near future. It does nothing to address the bigger problem with housing; that income levels for many people in Devon mean that they can never aspire to buying their own home on the open market and there is a desperate lack of affordable housing to buy or rent. If anything this situation has just been made worse by the change to rules for developers, introduced by the Government, further reducing developers obligations to provide affordable homes; and this on top of the 50% reduction in subsidies for affordable housing already implemented over the lifetime of this Parliament. More support for affordable housing, now that really would be a Christmas present.

The failure to hit lower borrowing requirements, not immediately eye catching, has a much higher significance, both in what it reveals about the country’s recovery from recession and the prospects for the future. Targets have been missed partly because income tax receipts have not hit the levels predicted by the Chancellor. That is because wages have remained very depressed. The apparent economic recovery has not been felt in the pay packets of many working people in Devon who continue to see real income reducing. And looking forward it suggests that further austerity measures may follow, indeed some commentators believe we are only halfway through the cuts that are necessary for the Government to achieve a balanced budget. The Office for Budget Responsibility has suggested that we are looking at a return to the levels of government expenditure last seen in the 1930s and the loss (nationally) of a further 1 million jobs in the public sector.

What it will probably mean for Devon is further pressure on the budgets of County and District Councils and other agencies (another significant reduction in policing budgets is already being mooted). The last few years have been difficult and the next few look like being equally challenging with an even wider range of services no longer being provided centrally in the same way. But that doesn’t have to be all bad news.

Devon communities have a habit of making a positive response and the changing circumstances will offer opportunities for those communities able to grab them.

  • Communities that have ideas about how things can be done differently, perhaps better. 
  • Communities that have the energy and the capacity to take on more responsibility for their own outcomes. 
  • Communities that work together to tackle their own resilience rather than relying on support from local and national Government. 
  • Communities making full use of the powers available to them and their Parish and Town Councils. 

Let’s look forward positively to the challenges and together build a stronger future in Devon’s communities.

If you have an issue you are passionate about please send in your letter to [email protected]

Greg Davies
Operations Director