A senior county council chief has warned against restructuring local government and getting bogged down in ‘bureaucracy’ as ministers try to give combined authorities more flexibility.
The Government recently unveiled final proposals – put out to consultation until 26 January - to allow county councils to delegate transport powers to combined authorities which overlay their boundaries and to allow councils with non-contiguous boundaries to join or form combined authorities.
The plans provoked a strong reaction from the leader of Hampshire CC - which has discussed with Southampton and Portsmouth a possible Solent region authority.
‘We don’t want any structural reorganisation of local government or dividing of authorities. All boundaries can be argued over but any attempts to cut authorities in half isn’t really a constructive way of getting ahead,' Cllr Roy Perry told Transport Network.
Mr Perry, who said the local Solent authority plans were too 'parochial' and did not provide enough range in areas such as transport, added that ‘the delegation of transport powers to parts of a county’s area is a recipe for confusion’.
He went on to suggest instead that a conglomeration of two or three counties could be a way forward in terms of the devolution of transport and other powers.
‘In general terms the local authorities would retain existing responsibilities and services so they are an association of equals but with additional powers handed to them from bodies like the Highways Agency. I think it is pathetic that if we want to put a sign on an A-road we have to ask London.’
He went on to add the transport network in the south west was in a ‘pathetic state’ and said there a case for councils to have more of say over local train services in the area, where high paying passengers were being treated as a cash cow by the wider rail network he suggested.
The County Councils Network struck a more conciliatory tone, with Cllr Martin Hill OBE, spokesman for infrastructure, stating: ‘It makes sense for these decisions to be taken locally, and our recent research showed 74% per cent of members agreed that combined authorities were suitable to take on devolved powers. That approach would ensure that clear, transparent and effective decision-making is maintained.
‘However, we need to be clear how different stakeholders, including Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), will work together to avoid overcomplicating matters and getting things bogged down in unnecessary bureaucracy. But overall, we believe this is a step in the right direction.’