Council leader is not convinced yet about devolution benefits

Peter Axworthy at the OffBeet cafe

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THE announcement of a ‘devolution revolution’ for Hampshire has been cautiously welcomed by a council leader.

Ferris Cowper’s comments come as chancellor George Osborne announced at the Conservative Party Conference that he would let councils retain millions of pounds in business rates instead of handing them over to central government.

It comes as all 15 local authority leaders in Hampshire have signed a 38-page report asking the government to give the county new powers over transport, housing, health, the economy, and business rates.

But from the start of the negotiations Cllr Cowper, leader of East Hampshire District Council, has taken a cautious approach.

He said: ‘The headline proposal that local councils can retain 100 per cent of business rates has to be set in the context of a 100 per cent sacrifice of all central government grants.

‘If true, in the case of EHDC there could be a small surplus but the gains match the losses almost pound for pound.

‘However, the national press reported on Tuesday that the “tariff”, which is a further payment to the government on top of the 50 per cent widely reported, will stay in place. If correct, then EHDC and all district and borough councils in Hampshire, will be out of pocket by a very large sum and of course we would reject that proposal.’

He said the council remained in the bidding process with ‘cautious optimism’.