Written by James Wood
Senior Account Executive
With devolution still leaving many people scratching their heads, Remarkable Engagement will attempt to bring the topic of southern devolution into sharper focus.
In our sights in a future blog will be Hampshire County Council’s consultation, which is referred to as ‘Serving Hampshire’. This consultation is running in parallel with consultation on the devolution bid put forward by the Solent authorities of Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight Councils.
To understand why two separate consultations have emerged, we first need to know a little more about the existing structure of governance in the region.
At the top is Hampshire County Council which, as the most senior administrative body in Hampshire, is responsible for delivering all major services, not controlled by Westminster, across the region including education, transport and social care.
The second tier of local governance is constituted by district/borough councils. In Hampshire, there are a total of 11 district/borough councils (East Hampshire, Basingstoke and Deane, Eastleigh, Fareham, Gosport, Havant, Hart, New Forest, Rushmoor, Test Valley and Winchester). These bodies are responsible for things like waste collection and planning applications.
However, in some parts of the county so-called unitary authorities exist to deliver all the aforementioned services under a single-tier authority. Put differently, unitary authorities are an amalgamation of the upper (county) and lower (district/borough) tiers of local government.
There are three of these unitary authorities in Hampshire: Southampton, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight Councils. What this means is that these councils do not fall under the remit Hampshire County Council and are therefore free to pursue an independent agenda on devolution.
It is for this reason that, on the face of it, two separate factions have emerged within Hampshire. On the one hand is Hampshire County Council and the 11 district/borough councils of Hampshire while, on the other hand, are the three unitary authorities of Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight.
However, the plot thickens somewhat when we consider that a number of district and borough councils within Hampshire may, in time, opt to align themselves with the Solent bid. While Hampshire County Council, led by Councillor Roy Perry, is hoping to demonstrate that a united Hampshire is in the best interests of all its residents, it is possible those living in Fareham, Havant, Gosport, Eastleigh and East Hampshire may vote to join up with the Solent authorities.
If the people of Hampshire do not return the verdict Hampshire County Council appear to be hoping for, this could pave the way for the aforementioned councils to break free; although this would require Hampshire County Council to consent by relinquishing some key powers.
Some figures in the Solent authorities have been critical of Hampshire County Council’s proposal for an all-encompassing authority, describing it as “localism in reverse” on the basis that any move towards centralism is the very antithesis of devolution.
This is not to say that prospects for a united Hampshire are off the table. The Serving Hampshire consultation puts forward an option in which Hampshire County Council could join up with Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight Councils – more on this and the other proposals next time.
Read the introduction to southern devolution here.
Solent consultation runs from 22nd July – 18th September.
Hampshire consultation runs from 27th July – 20th September.
If you would like more information on how southern devolution could affect the planning process, contact us.