Over the last months discussions have been going on about the possibility of a Combined Authority. Initially the interest was from Southampton, Portsmouth, Fareham and some other Solent LEP based authorities who were looking to form a Solent based Combined Authority.
In recent months this has been quietly dropped as a Hampshire Wide (and Isle of Wight) Combined authority has been explored in more detail.
In the last few weeks EHDC have voted at Full Council to participate further in discussions to see what this could lead to – perhaps more along the lines that we are ‘better in and having an input than out’ and a formal prospectus outlining areas of interest has been submitted to the Government with ideas we would like to develop.
At this point, nothing has been agreed. If the government accepts our proposals then there will be a number of rounds of discussion, more detail, public consultation and then formal votes in each of the member authorities.
So what has been put forward?
Here is a short summary of what has been suggested to the Government that a Hampshire Wide Combined Authority might include:
In return for retention of 100% of business rates we will forego the revenue support grant. Essentially tax is collected through business rates and this goes to the government. the government then gives funds back to local authorities to help them run and about 50% of our income to function at EHDC comes from central government. This government grant has been reduced over the last 5 years and we see it petering out to nothing which is why at EHDC we have been working hard on an investment strategy and are still in surplus unlike other councils who are in deficit. Depending on how the business rates are disseminated this could leave us in a more secure position with the incentive to encourage business to generate more funding which can then be put back into supporting more business.
We will build more homes. That is the wording but we have very strongly qualified our position at EHDC that it will NOT be beyond our commitments in the Local Plan and Allocation Plan. Some areas like Winchester have a supply of 5,000 more homes than the plan requires and there are other opportunities to direct additional housing to larger brownfield sites like former military land in Portsmouth and Gosport. Some local authorities are actively seeking more housing – for us our position is clear, we are a semi rural community and staying that way. If this is not possible then we will step away from any interest in supporting a Combined Authority. The housing gets directed to the right places.
We will boost Enterprise, Skills and Employment. Locally funded enterprise zones will be created to exploit strengths in technology and engineering. for us, Land East Of Horndean is a great opportunity to bring in high quality local employment and we are already working with the LEP to explore this further. We could then focus on areas like the empty industrial units at Hazleton Interchange and see if we can bring in better quality businesses and jobs to prevent some of our community commuting out every day.
We will help businesses expand. Support with UKTI to directly access international growth using our specific skills in maritime and aerospace. These are well connected now, but further improvement is to our benefit.
We will invest in Infrastructure. Closer links and working with Network Rail, 10 year transport investment fund, better management and integration of the roads network and faster broadband are issues here.
We will transform public services. This could focus on health and social care integration to improve these growing services locally with local decisions.
We will bring decision making closer to communities. The proposals are for some of these powers to come to Parish and District Councils so services can be co-designed with communities.
We will protect the local character of our diverse area. A key aspect is making sure that we grow our economy without destroying what makes them special. green belting is being discussed and of paramount importance to EHDC is that we have been through our local plan which identifies our housing need and this is as much of our District that we are willing to see developed.
Some good ideas perhaps but the fundamental principal for EHDC to support this further is that any change has to bring greater benefits to our electorate, whether this is delivered through HCC or EHDC or elsewhere. We are not going to support something which is just another layer of governance and administration. It has to make real change.
To read the full prospectus, click on this link here: Hampshire and Isle of Wight Devolution Prospectus September 2015 (2)