Heart of the South West LEP

£2.5m HoTSW money to improve mobile coverage in SW – but some operators say they don’t need the investment

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At Devon County Council’s Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Scrutiny Committee yesterday, I asked how and when the £2.5m that the Heart of the South West Local Economic Partnership obtained to eliminate ‘not-spots’ in Devon and Somerset would be used.

Keri Denton, Head of Economy, told me that it had proved difficult to plan an effective intervention, as some mobile operators had told the Council they didn’t need the investment. She said, however, that others were interested, and they were continuing to look into how the money could be used to improve mobile coverage.

When will the Heart of the South West Local Economic Partnership (LEP) offer something to small town, rural and coastal Devon?

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This was the question I asked Chris Garcia, of the Heart of the South West LEP, when he appeared before the Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Scrutiny Committee (CIRS) at Devon County Council yesterday. Mr Garcia said that Government funding was geared mainly to urban areas, but the LEP has a ‘rural growth commission’ which will publish a report shortly. I shall look out for it.

Mr Garcia didn’t reply, however, to my criticism that the LEP is itself skewed by the ‘white elephant’ new nuclear power station at Hinkley C in Somerset. This project, rashly endorsed by Theresa May who had a chance to halt it, will cause British consumers pay over the odds for electricity for decades to come, based on an unproved type of nuclear station which is not supported even by many who believe nuclear energy is necessary for national energy needs, and in the control of French and Chinese state companies! As renewables get cheaper and electric storage becomes viable, this is a project we don’t need. True, it will bring some jobs to Somerset, but not to most of Devon.

Mr Garcia came with a powerpoint and brandishing the LEP’s latest glossy annual report. I asked that in future, we had proper written reports circulated in advance which members could scrutinise.

Mr Garcia didn’t mention the word ‘devolution’. HoTSW is leaving all that to Devon and Somerset county councils, who apparently now planning to establish a Joint Committee. What that will involve is something else county councillors will need to scrutinise carefully.