The only 'levelling' for the South West is in a downward direction

File photo dated 01/09/20 of the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak. The Government is being ur

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

2022 is shaping up to be the Great Levelling Down Year for the South West. Michael Gove managed to mention the North, Midlands and Wales as he launched his “Levelling Up” White Paper (replete with whole paragraphs lifted from Wikipedia) - but not our region.  

The proposals have all sorts of grandiose aims, which are conveniently targeted at 2030 when Gove and Boris Johnson will be long forgotten. There was no new money and nothing specific for our area either this year or next. With no real substance, Spotlight’s coverage focused the question of elected mayors, which even the Devon Conservatives don’t want. The message to Devon was: Taken For Granted. As Usual. 

After this political theatre was played out, the real ‘levelling’ announcement was made: a 54 per cent rise on energy bills from April, i.e. a big levelling down of all our incomes. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said he had ‘taken the sting out’ with a Council Tax rebate of £150 for households in Council Tax bands A-D, and a loan (to be repaid on later bills) of £200 which will be paid in October. 

Obviously Mr Sunak, a multi-millionaire financier, thinks that the rest of us can’t add up. Since the average household faces annual bills of £1971, a rise of £693, £150 will pay less than one month’s fuel or less than a quarter of the increase - and many won’t receive even that. In October, there will be a new price cap announcement, probably raising bills to well over £2500, so £200 may also be less than a month’s fuel. 

Sunak knows this, but he’s expecting people to be grateful for whatever crumbs he deigns to offer. Meanwhile he’s pressing ahead with his National Insurance tax rise and keeping the £20 per week cut to Universal Credit. The policy for lower income-groups, particularly with Devon’s wage levels, is effectively ‘Let them go to the food bank’. Meanwhile even moderately well-off people are forced to accept drastic cuts in their standard of living. 

There is an alternative to this policy, which is frankly one of cruelty towards a lot of people in our community. In France, where prices were due to rocket by 45 per cent, the government has pegged them at 4 per cent. Other countries are following suit. Like other energy producers, Shell has just made $20 billion windfall profits from the soaring prices. Sunak could tax that to subsidise fuel bills. Instead he’s happy to let Shell dish it out to their shareholders. 

I’ve been waiting in vain for East Devon’s MPs to speak out on this as well as on the disaster in Downing Street. But Simon Jupp and Neil Parish have maintained their eerie silence even as other Devon Conservative MPs have sent in letters of no confidence. I can’t see what’s in it for them to cling to the coat-tails of a dead duck Prime Minister. Maybe they’re hoping to extract a little funding for the area? No pressure, Simon and Neil, but your stances look weaker and weaker with each day that passes. 

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When I was County Councillor up to last May, one of the most interesting parish council meetings was always in Beer, where the chair and district councillor, Geoff Pook, had devised an original scheme for the parish to take over many local facilities and their maintenance from East Devon District Council.  

The argument for the scheme was that with local know-how and community involvement, things could be run more imaginatively and cheaply than with the district in charge - and for EDDC, it meant cost savings. However, some residents have raised the alarm over what they see as the unproven benefits and financial downside for the village.  

I gather the plan has now been agreed with EDDC and will soon be taken back to residents. I shall follow the next couple of months with interest.