Hampshire councils launch bid to drag powers back from Whitehall

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CITY leaders have spoken of the importance of gaining financial independence as part of a regional bid to the government for more powers.

Hampshire’s authorities and the Isle of Wight have submitted a joint application to chancellor George Osborne to become a combined authority that has more responsibility over services.

The area is not strategically fulfilling its potential for a number of reasons. We need to get the right people with the right skills.

David Williams, Portsmouth City Council chief executive

And top of their shopping list is the ability to keep all business rates they collect, and in return give up their revenue support grants from the government.

Currently, the region’s 15 councils collect a total of £705m in rates, but only keep £262m with the majority – £444m – going to the government and another one per cent going to the fire and rescue authority.

At a press briefing yesterday, Portsmouth City Council’s chief executive David Williams said securing the extra cash would lead to the creation of new business hubs, more jobs, and councils being able to spend more on training workforces.

And he said that could lead to an extra £3bn being pumped into the economy.

Mr Williams said: ‘The area is not strategically fulfilling its potential for a number of reasons. We need to get the right people with the right skills.

‘We also know that in engineering, there is an ageing population in that sector and there is a whole raft of people who will be retiring quicker than people coming through.’

The government has received 25 offers for combined authorities and decisions over who is successful will be made from late autumn onwards.

Councillor Donna Jones, Portsmouth leader, said: ‘We are probably a year away from it happening. There is a lot to go through and I think negotiations will take months.’

Fareham Borough Council leader Cllr Sean Woodward said if successful, the bid could lead to benefits in housing, economic development and the establishment of new greenbelt areas.

He said: ‘We don’t have an greenbelts in Hampshire and I think it would give people a lot more confidence if there were areas we could grant statutory protection to.’

Gosport Borough Council leader Cllr Mark Hook said the bid would not mean more bureaucracy, but more authority for people at a grassroots level. He said: ‘I see it as a stepping stone for devolving power all the way through to giving community groups more responsibility.’

(Additional reporting by Stuart Anderson)