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Economic Overview

Devon County Council is the largest local authority area in the South West of England with a population of 802,400 in 2019. It comprises the eight districts of East Devon, Exeter, Mid Devon, North Devon, South Hams, Teignbridge, Torridge and West Devon. It is a predominately rural county, albeit with a number of significant urban settlements, the largest of which is Exeter. Devon also includes Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks, as well as five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The urban areas of Plymouth and Torbay are within the ceremonial county of Devon, though are independent unitary authorities that are separate from Devon County Council administration. Where they are grouped in the data on this website it is noted.

Outline map of devon areas including North, Torridge, Mid Devon, West Devon, East Devon, Exeter, West devon, Teignbridge, South Hams, Dartmoor and Exmoor


Due to the nature of data production, many datasets are produced in arrears. A significant number of datasets reflect the pre COVID-19 economic situation, although where more recent data is available, we have provided this.

Total output in Devon is £17.7bn (2018), nearly £3bn more than Bristol and accounts for that of almost half of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) area. The Devon economy grew at the same rate as the national average with output increasing by 15.5% from 2014 to 2018. However, this is from a lower base: output per person was 21.8% below the UK average in 2018. Labour productivity is also 77.4% of the UK average, and that gap has grown over the last decade.

Employment rates in Devon are 4% higher than the national average at 79.5%, with 82.2% of the working age population actively engaged in the economy (Sept 2020). The Universal Credit Claimant Count (unemployment) is at 4.5% (Feb 2021), sitting below the national average of 6.5%. Significant variations exist within Devon. The number of claimants fell significantly since the financial crisis in 2008, but then rose rapidly since 2018. Rates have risen much faster than nationally since March 2020.

Average earnings for Devon residents have been rising slightly more slowly than for the UK as a whole and are below the national average, at £21,879 per annum compared to £25,780 for the UK (2020). Full-time pay for Devon’s residents has been rising faster than part-time pay. Meanwhile, the resident earnings to house price ratio in Devon is 9.4, above the national average of 7.4 (2020).

The population of Devon is growing, but the working age population is declining as a share of the total as much of the growth is driven by a disproportionately higher increase in the number of over 65s. By 2031 the proportion of over 65s is expected to increase from 26% to 29.7%. Nationally, the proportion of over 65s isn’t expected to reach 25% until 2048.

81% of the Devon working age population is qualified to NVQ level 2 equivalent or above and 63% to NVQ level 3 equivalent or above, both of which are higher than the national average (2019), 38% are qualified to NVQ level 4 equivalent or above which is slightly below the national average of 40%.

The economy of Devon has a broad sectoral base. In 2019 the core industries of Health, Retail and Tourism accounted for 43.1% of employment. Agriculture, Education, Manufacturing, Construction and Real Estate employment were also over-represented in Devon compared with nationally. Some shift in the composition of Devon’s economy is expected as a result of the impacts of COVID-19.

Over the last five years, the number of enterprises in Devon has grown to almost 38,000 VAT registered businesses (2020), but more slowly than the rate of growth nationally. 89% of firms are micro (0-9 employees) in size and Devon has one of the highest incidences of self-employment in the country at 15.8%.

Across all indicators, the averages mask some important differences between districts. Exeter has grown relatively quickly in recent years, with a good skills base and the highest workplace earnings. East Devon has seen earnings drop considerably over the past few years, following sharp rises previously. South Hams residents generally have higher residence based incomes and skills levels than the rest of the county, although this growth has not been so strong recently. Performance in the other five districts is more mixed, and notably poorer in the north of the county. Torridge and North Devon are among the most deprived districts and this correlates with other indicators such as wages, education levels and social mobility. Most of Devon has been impacted economically much harder than nationally, as a result of impacts upon retail and tourism, with faster increases in the claimant count rate and higher rates of furlough than the UK as a whole.

Last Updated: 26/03/2021