A COUNCIL leader is not giving up hope on a £900m deal for the Portsmouth region.
Councillor Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City Council, says community secretary Sajid Javid’s approval of local government reorganisation in Dorset has put the Solent Combined Authority deal back on the government’s radar.
The deal would devolve powers to Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight and could be worth £30m a year over a 30 years. In recent years the plan has seen the city councils at loggerheads with the county council, which does not want it to go ahead and is opposed to an elected mayor.
Cllr Jones said: ‘I remain hopeful that we can still get this deal through government. The approval for the reorganisation of Dorset’s council has set a precedent that when consensus is not unanimous, the government can still provide backing for those deals.
‘This £900m deal is so key to the future of the region’s economy. For years, this area has missed out on millions in funding. A combined authority would give us those funds.
‘We know from previous discussions with government ministers that our bid was one of the best that was being considered.’
Cllr Jones’ comments come as The News can reveal how the relationship between council leaders worsened during the last stage of the Solent Combined Authority.
But Roy Perry, the leader of Hampshire County Council, said a combined authority plan would only work if it includes the Hampshire and the Isle of Wight all together.
And Cllr Perry maintains the view the Solent Combined Authority proposal would cause too much disruption to the county’s services.
He said his relationship with other council leaders remains ‘perfectly cordial’ despite tensions over the apparent break-up of the proposal, which has been directed at the reluctance of the county to consider it.
Cllr Perry said: ‘The SCA proposal failed, not merely because the county council did not support it, but also because the local MPs were not in favour of the proposal. Our lack of support was due to the integrity of Hampshire as a whole, and the risk of disruption to the efficient and effective delivery of services.
‘Also, we remain deeply unconvinced by the financial and economic arguments in favour of such a deal. All our evidence tells us that Hampshire and the Isle of Wight is the functional economic area with the right scale and scope to make a Combined Authority work.
‘History tells us that if the area is split, economic success can be compromised.’
When questioned on his reluctance to support a directly-elected mayor, Cllr Perry said: ‘I do not believe an elected mayor is necessary or desirable for democracy to operate at a local level. It introduces an expensive and isolated tier of administration, and I think it is aimed at producing an easy conduit for central government to impose its will on one person.’
He said it would cost £1m a year to fund a mayor’s office.
Meanwhile, Fareham council leader Sean Woodward says devolution could be in place for the area if it was not for the Conservatives’ much-maligned manifesto during this year’s General Election.
Cllr Woodward said that if it was not for Theresa May’s poorly-received manifesto, then devolved powers would have reached our councils as he claims a better manifesto would have led to a Tory majority in government and devolution deals would have more time to be considered.
In June communities secretary Sajid Javid poured cold water on the suggestion that the SCA deal was dead and a spokesperson for the Department of Communities and Local Government said: ‘The Secretary of State is considering the Solent Combined Authority Plan and will respond in due course.’