Why we have said “NO” – the parish council response to a West Devon/SHDC merger.
All households should recently have had a postcard delivered with their normal post entitled “One Council for South Hams and West Devon” inviting you to “Have Your Say” in a survey to canvas opinion. In recent weeks there have been articles and letters in local papers, and in Aveton Gifford there have been several discussions at parish council meetings with our District Councillor Ian Bramble. Our own council has voted to oppose the merger, and Cllr Bramble suggested that it might be useful for parishioners to know why AGPC took this view before they submitted their own responses. (Looking on the SHDC website does not give a balanced view; there is the official SHDC explanation endorsing the merger, but no information from those who have reservations or oppose it.)
In a nutshell it seems to our councillors that South Hams residents are being asked to bale out West Devon Council. In the first place West Devon is expected to have a shortfall in its budget of £1.1 million by 2020. An amalgamation of the councils will result in higher council taxes for all SHDC residents, but we will not see any improvement in our own reduced services for this extra money.
In addition, West Devon has recently approved borrowing up to £25 million to invest in commercial property to try to bring in sufficient income to reverse their financial situation. To put this in context SHDC has recently turned down a similar proposal to buy commercial property hoping to make a profit from it – its own councillors felt that SHDC is not sufficiently financially savvy, or have the property expertise to make a success of this sort of speculation, and therefore it was wrong to gamble with SHDC taxpayers money. However this is just what West Devon proposes to do, and if it fails, the bulk of the debt would fall to the merged South Hams to cover.
For these reasons Aveton Gifford councillors unanimously voted to support our District Councillor in his opposition to the proposal. It’s also worth noting that all his other parishes have voted likewise.
The SHDC survey can be found on www.onecouncil.org.uk, and the closing date for your response is Sunday 8th October.