The last 2 months in National Politics has been interesting and the EU referendum a major victory for some people and a major concern for others. It was a shame there was not a more convincing result with voters feeling happier the issues were clearly and honestly set out but the next steps are clear.
With the change of Prime Minister, the challenges in the Labour Leadership and the endless field day for press coverage some other local issues are struggling to get the coverage that they perhaps should.
I have blogged in the past about the plans to form a Combined Authority or other structural link with the Councils in the Hampshire area and this has been developing in the background and it is fair to say it has suffered its own significant political shenanigans too.
Any form of devolution of power from Westminster could be good news for us locally – it is it delivered to the right organisations – but the extent to which a combined authority is structured may affect the remit and powers of existing Councils – and this is a challenge to overcome.
Take 1: Solent Combined Authority: Just about a year ago PUSH (Partnership for Urban South Hampshire) announced its proposals to look at forming a Combined Authority which would largely replicate the PUSH or Solent LEP region. This would have left 4 of the PUSH councils out of the plans as a Council needs to be fully IN or OUT of a combined authority. (EHDC, Winchester, Test Valley and New Forrest District Council).
Take 2: Hampshire Wide Combined Authority: The Solent plans were put on hold when Hampshire County Council proposed a County Wide Combined Authority. There was a significant drive for additional housing by central government (which the County Bid was pressing to support) as well as a directly elected Mayor with significant powers. as these plans developed it became clear all of the new powers were goingn to sit with the County Council with little opportunity for Districts and Boroughs to support their communities. Two of the biggest concerns for most Councillors were the immense power of a Directly Elected Mayor, and the proposition of a Hampshire wide housing board which would allocate housing across the county. In East Hants we have got our local plan in place and know what our commitments are over the next decade and a bit – and don’t want this to be threatened. The Hampshire bid finally died when pretty much all of the District and Borough Councils felt they could not sign up to it.
Take 3: South Hampshire and Isle of Wight CA: A number of Councils along the South Coast have been working on a ‘South Hampshire and Isle of Wight Combined Authority’ and this had the support of ALL of these councils – including Hampshire County Council who signed the bid – and then unsigned it the next day! With strong central government support this has caused some considerable strain between the elected officials of the District / City / Borough and County Councils as well as some changes at Cabinet level. Without the support of the County Council this bid can not legally proceed. Hampshire County Council have followed this up with a decision to publicly consult on their County Wide Bid (despite this not having the support of any of the local authorities)
Take 4: The Solent Combined Authority: Under existing legislation City Councils can form a Combined Authority and Southampton, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight have announced plans to create a Combined Authority which will be up and running by March. This will also bring in £900m of investment over the nest 30 years.
For the time being the new Combined Authority will be built up around just Portsmouth. Southampton and the Isle of Wight and District and Borough Councils can not be involved in these negotiations to propose how this might be structured as Hampshire County Council has chosen not to be involved in this bid but once the Solent Combined Authority has been set up they can invite Districts and Boroughs to join in.
Currently Southampton, Portsmouth and the I.O.W. are developing their plans which if agreed would lead to a public consultation for their residents this summer before they decide whether or not to proceed.
For us locally we are effectively parked away from the discussions but as a restructuring of local government is expected during this parliament it is important we are able at some point to participate and ensure we get the best position for our communities.
For me the following are key issues:
- EHDC remains on total control of our local plan. A wider scale housing board would risk additional housing locally.
- Any proposals for a directly Elected Mayor need to have significant controls to ensure a key figure from a very urban area does not suddenly have absolute control over significant issues impacting our community
- There has to be a overall cost saving to the community – by delivering local services better, cheaper and faster
- We currently have Parish Council, District Council, County Council and Central Government. We do not want to see a new fifth tier of government with overheads, premises and administration. Lets structure this so the current organisations are given the right reposibilities they are best placed to manage.
Some relevant links below: