SPLINTER groups need to be united if Hampshire stands any chance of creating a new super council – unlocking a potential £1bn of future government cash for the area, a top councillor has said.
Councillor Roy Perry, leader of Hampshire County Council, has urged all the area’s civic chiefs to unite under a single banner to resurrect a bid to create a combined authority.
The area had originally submitted a bid for the new super council in 2015. However, a row erupted between council leaders over whether the government should green-light the creation of a Solent combined authority – or have devolved powers falling under Hampshire as a whole.
Heads of Solent councils, which includes Portsmouth, Fareham, Gosport and Havant, wanted to form a committee with an elected mayor that would control a pot of government cash to spend on projects.
The south Hampshire councils would remain as they are and see them decide what should be spent in areas such as education, health and transport as opposed to ministers in Whitehall.
But Cllr Perry was ‘vehemently opposed’ to the plan and backed the creation of a separate super unitary that would swallow up all districts and rule the whole county outside of Portsmouth and Southampton.
Now he claims Sajid Javid, communities and local government secretary, would only back a bid for Hampshire if the county council was in agreement with its neighbouring authorities.
Cllr Perry said a bid by any other area could destabilise Hampshire and lead to a ‘division’ of the county.
‘Disrupting a county like Hampshire would be a very expensive and time consuming exercise,’ he said. ‘It would also devastate some of the best local government services in the country.’
Portsmouth council leader Donna Jones said she was eager to work with Cllr Perry on a bid, adding: ‘I’m delighted that Councillor Perry, having been vehemently against a combined authority which has cost Hampshire and the Isle of Wight over a billion pounds of investment, has now seen the light.’
Cllr Keith House, Hampshire’s Lib Dem leader, was dubious of the county’s prospects. He said: ‘When Hampshire last floated this it was clear the government’s strings included an all-powerful mayor based at the county, centralising rather than devolving power.
‘If that’s what’s on offer again, led by a county that has hiked up council tax by 15 per cent in three years and axed critical local services, I doubt it will find favour.’