The leader of Hampshire CC has warned against splitting the county’s highways and transport functions in half under proposals – which Hampshire rejects – for two separate combined authorities in the county.
The Needles at the western end of the Isle of Wight
On Monday Cllr Roy Perry presented the council’s cabinet with a report by consultants Deloitte, which argued that a ‘new single unitary council based on the existing Hampshire county borders’ could provide annual savings of over £40m.
The county is in the middle of a devolution battle, with two groups of district and unitary authorities seeking to make separate devolution deals and largely rejecting Hampshire CC’s argument that a unitary structure would make most sense.
Cllr Perry said there had been a 'breakdown' in devolution negotiations, there were 'all sorts of reorganisation scenarios are being promoted' including proposals for combined authorities in the north and south of the county, requiring directly elected mayors.
He said: 'Rather than simplifying and reducing the cost of services to residents, the two combined authorities models would add an additional layer of local government including elected mayors, thereby, increasing bureaucracy and adding extra cost.
‘Unfortunately, these proposals (for the two combined authorities), would bring very few powers down from central Government, but would transfer, and therefore split, some of the county's key services such as highways and transport, as well as threaten those critical services for the whole of the county - such as safeguarding vulnerable adults and children. These are services that are recognised as being some of the best in the country.’
Cabinet members agreed a paper from the council’s chief executive, which observed that the Government’s devolution process had forced the council to actively consider local government reorganisation and that the two devolution deals had placed the integrity of its services ‘at risk’.
The paper presented the proposals for a unitary council as the option that ‘clearly offers the best combination of financial benefits for the public purse, service quality and continuity, prospects for sustainable economic growth and potential for devolution to community level’.
The council’s cabinet agreed to give the chief executive £150,000 to commission an independent consultation on ‘a wide range of options for the future of local government’.
These include ‘elected mayors, combined authorities and unitary councils’, as well as an earlier proposal for a combined authority for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
According to the paper, that proposal ‘was favourably received but became stalled in February 2016 after Government suddenly demanded that all such proposals needed to include a directly elected mayor’.