Hampshire County Council has advised Government that it is not prepared at this stage to progress the proposed Solent Devolution deal and confirm the County Council’s membership in the timescales set by Government.
Leader of Hampshire County Council, Councillor Roy Perry said: “We have worked extraordinarily hard and effectively as a partnership across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to develop a devolution deal for the whole of the county, in partnership with Government for many months. That work was going very well and I was convinced was offering a deal that would be good for the county as a whole and good for local democracy.
“Regrettably, at virtually the last minute, Government insisted that no deal would be possible without a directly elected Mayor at its head. They have never offered a rational explanation for why that model must be imposed, against the will of the local democratically elected bodies, in an area totally unsuited to a single person carrying so much individual power over different cities and areas. Government’s insistence has had the effect of splitting the county on the whole subject. That caused the Solent authorities to develop a separate proposal.
“Hampshire County Council has been under tremendous pressure to join a Solent deal covering just part of Hampshire despite its implications for the whole county and the fact that no such arrangement – a split county – exists anywhere else in the country. We have responded positively to that pressure – from Government and our Solent partners – but I have been expected to endorse a deal in an unmanageable short timescale without any opportunity to formally refer in advance to elected representatives. The area proposed makes little sense. Whilst it covers Southampton, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight and the Districts in between the cities, it also includes East Hampshire which is overwhelmingly rural and stretches up the A3(M) to the Surrey border, whilst parts of the Solent LEP area in Winchester, Test Valley and New Forest are excluded.
“I have reached the conclusion that I cannot endorse this – certainly not in the time allowed and with the lack of clarity on profound and complex issues to do with the resources and responsibilities of the County Council. I have stressed to Government that this is one of the highest performing and most cost effective local authorities in the country. My democratic duties to the County Council and the people it serves prevent me from doing so.
“I am going to take time to debate these vital matters more closely with the Elected Members of the Council. I remain of the view that our original proposal is the right one for the economic prosperity and democratic accountability of the whole area, particularly for those who live in the south of the county. I do not understand the Government’s insistence on their imposed mayoral model. “I hope we are given time to think through a more logical model that reflects the area and is genuine devolution. I have not given up hope that the true principles of devolution may be rescued alongside the best deal for the whole of this great county.”