'˜Portsmouth region is letting down Hampshire's economy' claims county council leader
THE Portsmouth region is bringing the rest of Hampshire down and is the most under-performing area in the county.
That’s the damning verdict from the leader of the county council as a row intensifies between leaders over whether central government should enable the creation of a Solent combined authority – or have devolved powers falling under Hampshire as a whole.
The heads of Solent councils, which includes Portsmouth, Fareham, Gosport and Havant, want 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 Councillor Roy Perry, leader of Hampshire council, opposes that plan and supports the creation of a separate super unitary that would swallow up all districts and rule the whole county outside of Portsmouth and Southampton.
He does not believe the Solent region can be trusted with overseeing the economy as it is the ‘poorest’ area.
In a scathing attack, he said councils across the Portsmouth area are ‘under-performing’ and underachieving’.
And it is now feared the proposed Solent devolution deal could be in ‘very real danger’ of collapse.
Tory Cllr Perry said: ‘When you start to look at what is being offered in the Solent deal, it’s very little.
‘There’s £30m a year over 30 years, and that’s not very much when you look at how much money is needed to put into the M27 so it’s not blocked up every week.
‘The mayor would have powers over highways and transport, and key roads. So effectively, our environment and transport duties are split in half, which we currently have responsibility for.
‘If it’s split in two, with a bit held by mayors and councillors in the south, we have a department being provided in two teams.
‘We could also see our work on economic development being impacted, because part of economic development would be in the hands of the Solent combined authority, and we would be left with the rumps of the cut.
‘Our economic development should be for the whole county, and not part controlled by the poorest part of the county, which is the south.
‘The underachieving, under-performing parts of Hampshire.’
Responding to the comments, Gosport council leader, Cllr Mark Hook, says Cllr Perry is playing a ‘dangerous game’.
He said: ‘It’s disappointing to see Roy using that sort of language.
‘It just inflames the situation and puts the districts against the county.
‘One question the county has to ask is, if it is responsible for economic development, why hasn’t the south of the county fared as well?
‘And why is it then that the south wants to break free of those shackles?’
Cllr Sean Woodward, Fareham council leader, said: ‘It’s a very real danger that the south Hampshire deal will just end up in the too difficult pile with all of this going on, and then south Hampshire will miss out on a great deal.
‘It’s a great deal to enable decisions to be made locally, and not by faceless bureaucrats, with nearly £1bn being brought in.’
He added: ‘It is true to say, that as a whole, south Hampshire does under-perform and that’s why it’s so important there is a deal with south Hampshire from government, that focuses on skills, infrastructure investment and further education.
‘The county has to get on board.’
THE leader of Portsmouth City Council has hit back at Hampshire’s attack on the Solent region.
Councillor Donna Jones says cities Portsmouth and Southampton are ‘leading the way’ in the county and together helping to drive up economic prosperity.
Cllr Jones said: ‘Portsmouth and Southampton are two of the best performing council in terms of economic regeneration.
‘Our budgets are in a healthy position because of long term planning, and we have the lowest levels of unemployment in the whole of the south east.
‘In terms of their connectivity, Portsmouth and Southampton are really important.’
But Cllr Jones praised Cllr Perry for the work he has done on Hampshire County Council.
She said: ‘Hampshire County Council should be congratulated for delivering some of the quality services across the country. I have full respect and admiration for Roy Perry and the excellent team at the county council.’
It comes after a report by consultants Deloitte was looked over by the county’s cabinet at a meeting yesterday.
The dossier demonstrates how savings of over £40m a year could be saved if a unitary authority structure was adopted in Hampshire.
It’s the same local government model which is already in place in Cornwall and Wiltshire, and is also the model being proposed for Dorset.
In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, all local government is delivered using the unitary model.
The key element of the report was that before any changes are proposed there must first be a consultation to find out what residents want.
Cllr Perry said: ‘Hampshire’s council leaders have an obligation to residents to ensure we represent people’s views from the entire county, deliver the best possible services to all residents at the lowest achievable cost, and to spend taxpayers’ money wisely. In that vein, district and unitary councils will be invited to contribute to the consultation document before residents’ views are sought.’