CIVIC leaders have signed Portsmouth up to the proposed Solent Combined Authority – quashing all talk of a public vote to determine whether the city should have any involvement in the contentious deal.
It took six senior Tories just 15 minutes at a meeting yesterday to decide Portsmouth will sit on a board with Southampton and the Isle of Wight that is ruled by an elected mayor with control over government money and powers.
The devolution project has been met with controversy as only 743 residents and businesses in Portsmouth had their say while it was out for consultation – equivalent to just 0.5 per cent of the population.
Critics said the survey was too complicated and a public poll should have determined any final outcome.
And there are questions over the appointment of a mayor, who sceptics say will command a salary of £80,000 a year.
But in approving the plans, Tory council leader Donna Jones said: ‘This is something that will deliver huge benefits for residents of Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight.
The cost of running a referendum across the city would cost over £100,000, which is a huge amount of money to spend.Councillor Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City Council
‘The Solent Combined Authority would secure £30m a year, every year, for the next 30 years, so that’s £900m to spend on improving roads, helping create jobs and delivering good quality, new homes.
‘This is a positive and exciting step forward for residents and businesses in south Hampshire which will give them better opportunities for years to come.’
When asked why the council did not want to run a public poll, asked for by the Lib Dems, Cllr Jones said: ‘The results would have been inconclusive; because students wouldn’t have been able to take part, huge chunks of the population wouldn’t get to vote.
‘The cost of running a referendum across the city would cost over £100,000, which is a huge amount of money to spend.’
But Lib Dem leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, who lobbied for a public poll to be held, which he said would be paid for out of a fund set aside for the maintenance of the Guildhall, said he’s concerned ‘politicians are running scared of public opinion’.
It is now down to Southampton and Isle of Wight councils, along with the government, to decide whether the deal should go ahead. Though the Isle of Wight has agreed in principle it would hold a referendum first.
What happens next?
BOTH the full councils of Southampton and the Isle of Wight will discuss the combined authority plans on October 19.
Southampton’s cabinet will meet straight afterwards to make a decision over whether to sign up before the Isle of Wight cabinet decides what to do on October 24; though it was said at a meeting in June that a referendum would be held with islanders.
Should all three councils agree, the plans will go to local government secretary Sajid Javid. He needs to be satisfied ‘meaningful’ consultation took place and with the way the authority would be governed, before it goes before parliament.