Modernisation of the council and road repairs are at the top of the agenda for Devon County Council’s new leader who will also be shouting for rural areas.

Conservative James McInnes who has represented Hatherleigh and Chagford since joining the local authority in 2005, says he has big boots to fill, succeeding John Hart (Con, Bickley and Wembury) who was leader for 15 years.

“It’s a big step up for me and John was a great leader, but you have to do your own thing. Everybody has something slightly different to bring to the role,” he said.

A long standing member of Dartmoor National Park, Cllr McInnes knows his way around local government. He has chaired development management (planning) committees and been cabinet member for Devon’s children’s services for seven years and adult social care for the past three years.

He is a champion for unpaid carers, without whom he claims the health system would collapse, and is keen to reconnect all sectors of local government and individual councillors so everyone knows each other after the “disconnection” of the covid years and beyond.

This he says will allow “better judgement and far better decisions”.

Cllr McInnes says rural living has taught him that “you can’t live beyond your means” and added: “No one like to reduce staf,f but we have a duty to make sure our spending is right. Whatever decisions we take, they will be made sensitively and staff will be kept informed every step of the way.”

The council has agreed an extra £12 million for potholes and road repairs this year and this will be a top priority for the leader.

The Conservative council leader said investment in roads has suffered because of 10 years of austerity, the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis.

“We do need to support people who need care and our children in care, but we also need to look after the basic infrastructure across Devon and that is our roads, and that is why we have agreed extra funds for this and I hope that will continue in future years.”

The backlog of repairs will cost in the region of £200 million to fix.

He is enthusiastic about the Devon and Torbay devolution deal, which is currently on hold because of the general election, which he believes will make every area of the county better off in terms of housing, transport and adult education.

And he wants to make sure that district councils have a big say in the decision-making when the combined county authority is created.

“I have not forgotten my rural roots and I am very proud of them and I shall be making sure that the council appreciates that Devon is a very large rural county.”

Cllr McInnes said he was known for giving everyone a fair hearing, especially during his time as chairman of the development management committee.

“I will listen to everyone’s arguments,” he said.