Devolution and The Future of Local Government
Devolution and The Future of Local Government
Test Valley Borough Council has published the report from consultants PwC that it commissioned jointly with five other Councils to provide an independent assessment about Devolution and the Future of Local Government in the Heart of Hampshire area.
The need for the independent report was triggered when Hampshire County Council (HCC) took all 14 councils in Hampshire by surprise and unilaterally commissioned proposals for local government reorganisation from consultants, Deloittes.
The ambition of TVBC and the other councils was – and still is – to work in partnership with HCC to benefit businesses and residents by agreeing a devolution deal with the government which will attract additional government funding into the Heart of Hampshire area. The six councils are already finding that they are losing out to other areas, which have successfully negotiated devolution deals, when it comes to the allocation of future government funding.
HCC turned to the issue of local government re-organisation after the collapse of their proposals for a county wide devolution deal, which had been supported by TVBC and the other Heart of Hampshire councils.
The independent report is clear that the principal desire of the Heart of Hampshire councils is not for re-organisation but to focus efforts on making the existing system work better. The Councils believe that this will avoid the upheaval of unnecessary change, along with its associated costs and disruption to services, and will deliver benefits for local residents and businesses more quickly.
If, however, local government reorganisation is foisted upon the Heart of Hampshire authorities, the independent report identifies that there are significantly better solutions than the remote single unitary authority of more than 1.2 million people, which has been the most widely aired option from Hampshire County Council’s proposals. The report concludes that, if the Heart of Hampshire area does have to undergo local government reorganisation, then two unitary authorities for the area – one covering the north and the other the middle of the county – will best achieve the aim of saving a significant amount of money whilst providing the optimum balance between economies of scale and local accountability to residents.
But the report recognises that these changes would take time and money, resulting in inevitable disruption to services. Therefore the recommended approach is for improved collaborative working between the tiers of local government in order to provide residents and businesses with ever more seamless and better value services; whilst seeking additional powers and investment through two devolution deals, one covering the Solent councils and the other covering the Heart of Hampshire. Hampshire County Council would play a critical role in each of the Combined Authorities which would administer these devolution deals
Leader of the Council, Councillor Ian Carr said: “I am delighted that the independent PwC report so clearly recognises that local government re-organisation would be a wasteful distraction from the task of supporting our local communities and delivering services. Our focus remains on improving services for residents and businesses, and ensuring that they are able to influence decisions around service provision. I believe that there are real benefits in services being managed as close as possible to the people they affect.
"We are committed to improving the existing system in which we work alongside Hampshire County Council. Local government in the county will not change overnight but we must work together to retain high quality services, and improve efficiency and value for money for our residents in the future with reducing local government funding.
"We need to get on and agree devolution deals for the whole of Hampshire in partnership with Hampshire County Council. At the moment our local area is in danger of losing out on government money because we have not done so.
"A devolution deal will also enable us to take local decisions about matters which are currently dealt with by people in Whitehall who cannot be expected to understand the local context and conditions as well as local councillors do. It can also provide a way for Test Valley Borough Council to influence the decisions of HCC about where it makes cuts to its services and to potentially alleviate the effects of those cuts.
"Our objectives in commissioning this independent report from PwC were about efficiency, effectiveness and better services. We all now need to knuckle down and deliver.”