Solent devolution dealt blow as MPs raise concerns

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TOP leaders in Hampshire are split over long-awaited plans to roll out a Solent combined authority ruled by a mayor, it has emerged.

Some members of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight All Party Parliamentary Group – made of MPs locally – believe more work needs to be done if the government is to approve the devolution deal, which supporters had hoped would be granted in the Autumn Statement.

We have to ensure we are not lumped with picking up the bill for things for the sake of some money up front.

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt

Sceptics believe businesses must have more influence over the plans and the public need to know more about the role the mayor – who could net a salary of £80,000 a year – would play. While there’s still concern over Hampshire County Council’s hostility to the plan.

It comes as a blow to the Portsmouth, Southampton and Isle of Wight councils as they have formally backed the bid to form the super authority – which would have greater control over the economy and secure £900m for the area over 30 years – and are awaiting the go ahead from Whitehall.

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt said: ‘We want to ensure we are not just having a re-organisation of local government for the sake of it.

‘There has to be tangible benefits to the area.

‘We have to ensure we are not lumped with picking up the bill for things for the sake of some money up front.

‘There needs to be much greater engagement from business. We still don’t do very well in this area for engaging them in these sorts of decisions.

‘The only time we did it well, is with the maritime task force, and there we had businesses writing the plan.’

Havant MP Alan Mak, parliamentary group vice-chairman, said: ‘More work needs to be done to explain how devolution would benefit each area, including Havant.

‘Outstanding issues like a directly-elected mayor, the role of existing borough councils, and the relationship with Hampshire County Council all need to be worked on.’

But city Tory council leader, Cllr Donna Jones, says the majority of MPs back the deal – and says there’s a meeting in the Commons on January 25 to go over full details.

She said: ‘I am delighted that the vast majority of MPs in the Solent area are strongly behind devolution.

‘I am hoping the meeting on January 25 will give Penny Mordaunt the opportunity to fully understand what devolution means, the the benefits for the Solent area.’