Councils could merge together to become one to attract funding

The Solent region
The Solent region
Father Christmas with Samantha Roberts and her daughter Chloe Blanford, four, and Sheila Blanford 

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CIVIC leaders say council mergers may need to be explored in the future following the apparent collapse of a £900m devolution deal.

A super unitary authority for the area’s four councils is now being touted for the future as a method to bring in more funding from central government in order to maintain local services.

It follows the breakdown of the bid for the proposed Solent Combined Authority (SCA) last week when Councillor Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City Council, said the deal looked ‘highly unlikely.’

Portsmouth and Southampton city councils would have been part of the deal along with the Isle of Wight council and local authorities in Fareham, Havant and Gosport had all voiced interest in joining the authority once it had been set up.

Cllr Jones said last night that while no decision had been made on the SCA, a ‘discussion’ on council mergers could take place.

She told The News: ‘An application has been submitted to government for a Solent Combined Authority, and while there are concerns around this, we haven’t had a decision on it yet.

‘Should it be unsuccessful, we would have to work with neighbouring councils to discuss what is best for our area, how we can get more powers and funding. That is likely to involve a discussion around bringing councils together to form a bigger unitary council.’

The SCA deal is for £30m every year from government for 30 years. For local authorities to get more power and funding, an alternative to combined authorities is to reorganise councils into bigger unitaries.

Councillor Sean Woodward, leader of Fareham Borough Council said that a council merger could see Fareham, Gosport and Havant councils break away from Hampshire County Council under the current two-tier system for local services and come together for a super unitary authority.

Cllr Woodward said: ‘If we are forced to look at other options for funding than a unitary authority for all four areas could work. Although, we would need a similar financial deal to the SCA for it to work.’

Cllr Mark Hook, leader of Gosport Borough Council said: ‘The two-tier system is not sustainable in the long-run. I can understand that looking at local government reorganisation as a natural progression to increase funding but nothing has been discussed yet.’

Cllr Mike Cheshire, leader of Havant Borough Council said: ‘As a council, we will look at all the options in the future to see what would be the best fit for the residents of Havant.’