Lib Dems in Portsmouth call for public vote on council devolution scheme

The Solent region Picture: Google Maps
The Solent region Picture: Google Maps

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PRESSURE has mounted on senior Portsmouth councillors to hold a public poll over the city’s involvement in a Solent Combined Authority.

Portsmouth Lib Dems put forward the case yesterday for the people to decide by way of a vote if the city should have a new cabinet with Southampton and the Isle of Wight, ruled by an elected mayor with greater control over money and powers.

Concerns have been raised that Portsmouth’s Tory administration wants to decide whether the plans should go ahead – even though the Isle of Wight council has voted to hold a referendum. The Lib Dems say the poll would cost £100,000 – the price of sending ballot papers to every resident – and the cash could come from a £300,000 fund set aside for the Guildhall.

Lib Dem leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘We support the combined authority and we think it will bring benefits. But our concern is, this is not a good deal. The initial view was very good; bringing all business rates to the area.

‘But what has happened since then?

‘The government has decided to do that for all local government, whether they have a combined authority or not.’

He added: ‘But the worst thing here is the lack of public response.’

A total of 734 people in the city responded to a consultation over the deal, with 404 residents saying they supported it. Cllr Vernon-Jackson said this represents 0.5 per cent of the population.

Southampton councillor Andrew Pope described the consultation carried out as a ‘sham’.

He said: ‘The people of both cities must have their say. It should not decided in back rooms by a few councillors.

‘The consultation was a sham; one in 200 people voted.

‘That’s not the fault of Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight, they were confused. It was written in so much jargon and the Conservative leader of Hampshire County Council, Cllr Roy Perry, says the survey is not a lawful consultation.’

He added: ‘This is a mess.’

But others say city leaders need to get on rolling out devolution. Cllr John Ferrett said his constituents in Paulsgrove tell him the council needs to ‘get on with it’, while warning the road network is crippling the region and desperately needs the extra government funding.

And council leader Donna Jones said this was an ‘exciting opportunity’ for Portsmouth to secure greater powers, and wasn’t about giving any away.

The Tory cabinet will debate the issue and could agree to Portsmouth signing up to Solent devolution today at 11.30am in the Guildhall.