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City leader still ‘confident’ despite Solent deal being on the rocks

The leader of Southampton City Council  says he is still confident that plans for a combined authority and Solent devolution will go ahead, as the Isle of Wight council executive decides whether to support it today (24 October).

However, their decision was made harder after the full council voted against plans to join the combined authority on 19 October, with 16 votes in favour, 17 against and two abstaining.

The proposed authority would see the Isle of Wight Council, Portsmouth City Council, Southampton City Council and the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) take on responsibility for some services currently managed by central government and receive £900m of new funding over the next 30 years. Earlier this year, Hampshire County Council refused to join the authority.

Portsmouth City Council voted in favour of the plans on 12 October, and Southampton followed on 19 October.

Cllr Simon Letts, leader of Southampton council, said he was “confident” the Isle of Wight would back the deal despite last week’s vote.

“We’ve successfully completed the latest stage of the process for creating a Solent Combined Authority,” he said. “Moving decision making powers and funding from central government to the local area is essential for us to deliver our ambitions to have more skilled and better paid jobs, more investment, a reduced welfare bill, improved transport integration, and more good quality new homes.

“I believe the combined authority will deliver real and positive change for the residents of Southampton, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight.”

The rocky path

In a letter published on the ‘On The Wight’ website ahead of last week’s vote, Cllr Roy Perry, leader of Hampshire County Council, told Isle of Wight councillors that Hampshire still supported a Hampshire Isle of Wight combined authority.

He added that he thought the Solent deal would “not offer the best outcomes for those unitaries or the wider sub-region”. Cllr Perry said that he thought the “constrained mayor” in the new devolution deal would not “satisfy government expectations of that role”.

He also warned councillors that Hampshire County Council would “object strongly” if the three unitary authorities widened the proposed combined authority to include parts of Hampshire.

Following the vote, leader of the Isle of Wight Council Jonathan Bacon said: “It was very disappointing that a large number of those objecting to the proposal to remain in the process appeared to either have not read the papers, were misunderstanding them or were wilfully misrepresenting them.

“I was uncomfortable at the number of Conservative members who seemed to base their view on what Hampshire CC thought or how Hampshire CC might be affected.”

He added that the vote was “about staying at the table to see what sort of deal might be offered to us. It has been made clear time and time again that no final decision would or could be made until an actual Deal Offer is made and considered by Full Council”.

Cllr Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth council, said: “I am delighted that we have agreed to progress plans for a Solent Combined Authority, this is something that will deliver huge benefits for residents of Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight.”

The Solent Combined Authority devolution deal is the latest to be thrown into doubt after Lincolnshire County Council voted against the Lincolnshire devolution deal last week.

The government also withdrew the North East devolution deal after it was rejected by four of the seven member councils, although the other three are now understood to be seeking a devolution deal on their own.

(Image: c. Alan Vincent)

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