Devolution and Revolution.
There are big structural changes in government coming up – at all levels, Local and National. With the EU referendum in June it will be interesting to see what our National and International political structure looks like in 2 years time.
Lets start off at the national level. Currently we have about 650 members of parliament and each of these represents between 21,769 (in the Western Isles) and 108,804 constituents (The Isle of Wight). MP’s in urban areas tend to represent smaller communities then rural and the result is different levels of workload as well as disproportionate representation by vote.
The Government is looking to set an average of 79,000 constituents for every seat with a 5% tolerance. The good news is that this would reduce the number of MP’s from 650 to 600 and thus reduce some of our costs of administration. Fairer representation is also ensured but at the risk of some odd shaped constituencies that will cross over county boundaries.
The Boundary Commission is carrying out an independent review to propose the new layout and we are advised that consultations for this will be held later in the year around September.
In the last parliament the proposals to carry this out were scrapped and if they went ahead this would have affected our Meon Valley constituency which would have been wrapped up with adjacent seats and scrapped. With us becoming ‘Horndean and Fareham’ constituency.
We will have to wait to see what the new proposals are and the commission says there are no guarantees the proposals will be the same but on a local level our rural interests are not always the same as Havants urban needs.
Locally it might be a good opportunity to consider some of the odd boundaries we have – for example should all of LEOH be in the Parish of Horndean? It is not at all clear if the review will extend to this level of governance (it probably will not) but the recent planning means that some of the wards will become very large – in cases twice the size of adjacent areas.
The second major topic is Combined Authorities and the dash for a ‘Southern Powerhouse’ has finally fallen flat on its face. The vision of local control with “no new level of governance” and new powers being given to well placed local authorities to manage them has been dashed with the need for an elected mayor, large back of house officer structure, alarmingly the ability to raise more local taxes through the council tax and a drive to build more houses than our local plan (our objectively assessed need) to kick start the economy. No, no no and no thank you.
For us as local Councillors these are not an option and as a result East Hants is not a signatory to the Hampshire Devolution bid which seems doomed to fail as other local authorities have also felt unable to commit their support.
One thing is clear – there will be a change in the structure of local governance and this may be imposed on us so the next 6 months are about looking to propose a structure that makes sense and importantly ensures out local communities get the best local representation they can, and the best deal out of devolution wherever it comes from.
For East Hants this will become interesting. We are the ONLY local planning authority we know of that has reduced its precept (let alone our plans to reduce our share of Council tax to Zero without cutting services) and we are focused on achieving this by 2024. Making sure that any changes in local government structure result in better terms for our communities without additional layers of governance are important and are something we will continue to make sure are present in any bid we support.
Keep watching here – the next steps in local governance, national structure and our link with the EU are going to be interesting and will affect us all, whatever the outcome.