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Solent’s £1bn devolution deal ‘highly unlikely’ with fresh opposition

Opposition to the Solent Combined Authority devolution deal means that it is “highly unlikely” to go ahead, council leaders have claimed.

Solent local authorities including councils in Southampton, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight applied to the government last October looking to create a new mayoral combined authority, arguing that it would bring up to £1bn of investment to the region over 30 years.

However, Hampshire County Council (CC) has resisted the proposals, arguing that the creation of a new county-wide unitary authority would be a better way of saving money and protecting public services.

Following a meeting between council leaders and Hampshire MPs earlier this week, Portsmouth City Council leader Cllr Donna Jones conceded that Hampshire’s opposition may now have scuppered the deal, declaring herself “deeply disappointed”.

“Hampshire County Council was the only remaining partner in the Solent that refused to support the Solent Deal,” Cllr Jones said. “Because of this, and following the meeting with the Hampshire MPs it now looks highly unlikely that the current deal will go ahead.

“If it fails this will mean the £1bn investment to the Solent area has been lost. The additional pressure this places on our roads and rail is huge – this area has been under-invested for decades and we are losing out to the north of England.”

Hampshire CC is not the only council now opposing the Solent deal, with Isle of Wight Council now also believed to reject the move following the resignation of the council’s leader last week.

The new Isle of Wight leader Cllr Dave Stewart has apparently confirmed to MPs that his newly-elected cabinet team will not be supporting the bid.

Cllr Roy Perry, leader of Hampshire CC, responded to Cllr Jones’ statement by repeating the council’s opinion that the Solent deal made “no economic sense”.

“The Solent bid would not help the local economy, it would do it harm by isolating the area from the economic resources of the wider county as well as forcing the dismantling of vital county services – now and in the future,” Cllr Perry said.

Cllr Jones stated that should the Solent deal fail, council leaders should consider merging some of Hampshire’s 14 councils, saying that replacing the current two-tier model with four or five larger unitary councils would save the taxpayer around £100m a year and ease the way for any future devolution deal.

Cllr Perry also disagreed with this, expressing preference for a county-wide unitary authority as are being planned in Oxfordshire and Lincolnshire in recent weeks.

“All local and national evidence shows this would do more than any other model to save money, protect vital services and cut council tax,” Cllr Perry said.

However, both leaders agreed that Solent councillors should now “get back around the table” to find a solution for their communities.

“The important thing is to deliver high-quality services for our residents at the lowest possible cost,” Cllr Jones concluded.


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