Hart, John (1945-)


  • Born 1945
  • Devon County Council
  • Council Leader
  • Conservative

John Hart’s family came to Devon after his father bought a holiday camp at Wembury in 1937. John spent many of his early years on a local neighbouring farm until moving to South Devon for his father’s work. He took over the family business aged 19 after his father became ill, and also became involved in local politics, meeting his wife at the Young Conservatives. The interview took place at County Hall, the offices for Devon County Council where John Hart is Leader of the Council, Vice Chair Personnel Partnership, Chair Personnel Partnership and Cabinet Member for Policy and Corporate.  He is the Conservative member for South Hams, Bickleigh and Wembury and is based at his family business at Bovisand and in Exeter.

Transcript of clip

  • In the old days  it was very much, they were all part and parcel with political parties used to have branch meetings, you used to go to the branch meetings, you used to address the branch meetings as well as the parish council meetings, you used to have a nucleus of anything up to a hundred people that would know you personally and would pass the word around if anyone else was talking to anybody in the village shop etc. 'we'll give John a shout, we'll see what he can do' . . . today we don't have village shops, we have very limited bus services, we have people living in the rural areas jumping in their cars, coming home and turning on the TV, and not really participating.'

Interview Summary

Date of Recording:  07/07/14
Name of Interviewer:  Lyndy Pooley

Description of parents and grandparents (1.40) and how his father established the farm (2.00) business at Bovisand which later diversified into leisure caravanning.  Description of his involvement in farming (3.14) at a very early age and gaining an early understanding of agricultural business and local community. His father became ill and took over the family business at the age of 19 (6.36).  Met his wife at the Young Conservatives (7.40). Description of early involvement in local politics (8.20), and eventually being asked to get involved in party politics in his local area (10.50).  
Description of involvement in boundary changes (13.20) and winning local councillor election in the 1980’s (16.20) and an insight into party voting changes through the 1990’s (17.30).  Later involvement in implementing key changes in Devon schools (18.30) and parental choice.  Followed by further changes in the early 2000’s (19.20).  Took over Education in 2001 during the PFI changes (21.10) to bring Devon secondary schools up to standard. Further information about the reality of county council negotiations and consultation (25.00) The need to balance listening to people with the restrictive realities of finance (26.00), 2007 became Leader of the opposition in the Council and strategic planning for takeover in 2009 (29.20).  Landslide victory (30.22), and meeting imminent austerity policies. Insights into funding issues, budget cuts (31.20) making early savings so that Devon could cope with new austerity spending restrictions.  Insight into party changes in county council.  Need to be a strategist and plan ahead (34.00).
The future – working at such a pace in his late 60’s and with 4 hours sleep a night (34.40) and keeping up with 750 emails a day.
Election as Regional Chairman (37.20). Restructuring to meet austerity policies following election in 2010 (38.10) which enabled three years of council tax freeze in Devon, and inequality of funding across county councils (38.45) with London-centric funding; Devon’s extensive road network and funding required for road maintenance (39.50) 2001-05 planning permission for a school and objections from English Heritage (42.13); genuine power to help people in local politics (45.00). Volume of correspondence from MPs (46.05), including correspondence regarding school transport (46.29).
Longevity of local county councils beyond individual governments (48.16), and changes in the character of Devon County Council since 1973 and amalgamation of Plymouth and Torbay (48.52). Opening of current Devon County council offices in 1964 (49.50). Paul Tyler as a 23-year old councillor for Totnes and further career (50.25). Layout of staff offices in the Council headquarters (50.54), and reshaping of office layout for enhanced collaboration and teamwork. Fluctuating fortunes of Conservative Party in power and opposition in Devon County Council since 1973 (52.10), privatisation of Plymouth Dockyard by Michael Hesseltine in 1981, and closure of old peoples’ homes by the Conservatives in Devon leading  to 16 years in opposition. Budget reductions announced September 2013 (53.50); protest against budget cuts after a youth consultation meeting (55.20); public meetings in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, structure and frequency, protests at Conservative and liberal public meetings (56.15).
Public canvassing in the 1950s, 60s and 70s (57.30), falling membership and reduced public involvement with local politics. Canvassing in 2005 and 2007 and disengagement of the general public (1.00.00). High engagement level in local politics in former decades comparative to now, e.g. branch meetings and parish council meetings, the comparative reduction in village shops, local bus services and nucleus of local life (1.03.00).
Lack of candidates for parish councillors’ comparative to district and county councillors’, and discussion of salaries in local government (1.04:07); slow development of work in local govt., building projects and permissions (1.07.00). Effects of recession, and lessening of pensions between 2008-12 (1.09.30), people living longer and the effect on cost of pensions and health, government funding of healthcare (1.10.40); doctors’ surgeries and changing approach of public to seeking medical help (1.13.00).
Central government funding to local government and uncertainties with planning budgets based on this (1.14.34). Budget cuts for children’s centres in Devon, and falling use in libraries (1.20.05); removal of welfare support funding and the impact of this on the most-needy in society (1.22.05).
Growing responsibilities on local communities to provide things for themselves (as in the 1950s) and less provision from local government due to tightening budgets, and rights and responsibilities of general public (1.24.04).
Family life, and thoughts of retirement (1.28.16). Comparative reactions to John Hart in Exeter and Plymouth, and the effect local press has on this; decision to live in Exeter and the effect of this on John’s approach to the role as head of the Devon County Council (1.32.00).
Enforced budget cuts 2010 onwards and lack of budget comparative to the early 2000s; reflections on whether value for money was found when budgets were larger (1.34.15).
Infrastructure and climate for jobs, effect of broadband on working from home and setting up business, and relative poverty in North Devon (1.36.10); development of road from Newton Abbot to Torquay, and stimulus to jobs from such infrastructure (1.38.10); necessity of value for money now in contemporary climate (1.39.10).
MPs with holiday homes in Devon and David Cameron announcing decision to stand for Conservative Party leader at the Thurelstone Hotel while on holiday (1.40.25). Recent meeting with George Osbourne, the A303, A30 and funding request for development through the Blackdown Hills, road infrastructure for Devon and Somerset (1.41.02), South Devon Link Road project, negotiations, budgetary hurdles, and government funding (1.42.00). Visiting civils servants and their lack of knowledge of Devon, and the large relative size of Devon as a county (1.44.00). Snowstorm on day of marriage, and attitude of getting on with things in Devon (1.47.00).

  • Listen here to John Hart remembering community politics and how it has changed.

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