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South-east councils make joint devolution bid

Three county councils in the south east have written to the communities secretary asking to begin negotiations for devolved powers.

In a letter dated 11 June, the leaders of Surrey, East Sussex and West Sussex councils do not stipulate what exact powers they are seeking but say they are interested in a fiscal devolution deal. The letter does not mention any plans for a combined authority or mayor, which have been key stipulations of the government up to now.

Areas that the authorities are particularly interested in include improving transport infrastructure, especially around Gatwick and the A27 – but also rail and road planning.

They also specify digital infrastructure including plans for 5G, employment and skills and reducing red tape to support small businesses.

Powers around health and social care also appear to be a priority. The letter states the authorities wish to concentrate on increasing skills in the care market to support the NHS.

In highlighting the areas case for a deal the leaders point out that that the gross value added (GVA) for the region is £63.5m, larger than that of both Wales and Greater Manchester.

The population covered is also similar to that of Greater Manchester, at 2.5 million compared to 2.7 million.

The county councils say they are looking to build on the success of the South East 7 partnership.

The letter finishes: “We are committed to working with the government and our local partners, especially the district and borough councils across the area, to explore these and other areas and are keen to meet to start discussion as soon as possible.”

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