The Leaders of Portsmouth and Southampton City Councils have hit back at claims of Hampshire being let down by underperformance in the south of the county.
The two cities are among eight councils working to bring new powers and £900m of funding to the Solent area, but these plans have been condemned by Hampshire County Council’s Leader, Cllr Roy Perry, who said the responsibilities shouldn’t be given to an underperforming area.
The underperforming accusation comes despite latest economic figures showing the strength of the area.
The latest Centre for Cities report places the Portsmouth area (including Gosport, Fareham and Havant) at ninth in the UK for the value of goods and services produced per worker.
The Demos/PwC Good Growth Index places Southampton fourth in England.
In 2015 the Solent region had 77.2% of people in employment versus the south east average of 76.9% and the national average of 73.6%.
The Solent area is responsible for generating more than half (£386m or 55%) of the business rates collected in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
Portsmouth City Council Leader Cllr Donna Jones said: “It is ridiculous for Roy Perry to claim the south of Hampshire is underperforming. The county’s record of achievement managing services in the south of Hampshire is no better or worse than that of Portsmouth and Southampton, and our schools compare favourably to those run by the county.
“We have an opportunity to make a real difference for our area with government offering new powers and £900m funding, and Roy is blatantly trying to prevent that happening because he wants to safeguard his own position as Leader of the county.”
Southampton City Council Leader Cllr Simon Letts said: “At almost £95m, Southampton generates more business rates income than any other local authority in Hampshire. The cities in the south of the county create the jobs that people living in the wealthier rural and urban areas of Hampshire commute to every day. But we are the poorest part of Hampshire – which is why government wants to invest in the area to raise living standards and provide even more opportunities. It is a shame that for his own selfish reasons Roy Perry is seeking to stop this.
“The government has recognised the Solent region as a viable economic area and seen the potential it has to grow even more. It would be nice if the county could support us in getting the best outcomes for residents and businesses rather than looking out for its own interests.”
As well as Portsmouth and Southampton, East Hampshire, Eastleigh, Fareham, Gosport, Havant and the Isle of Wight councils are working to bring greater powers to the area, along with the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership.
It is expected that government would give a Solent Combined Authority control of approximately £30m of additional funding per year to improve the infrastructure in South Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. This will allow decisions to be made locally rather than in Westminster. The combined authority would also keep all business rates generated in the area, meaning it would have better control of its financial future.
A combined authority would have responsibility for working with partners to increase business productivity, creating better jobs and more jobs, and aligning adult education and training to local business needs. Bringing these responsibilities together in the Solent area will simplify and strengthen support for business growth and innovation as well as focusing training in the skills local businesses want people to have. As a result, more people would get jobs, businesses would prosper, and the whole of South Hampshire & the Isle of Wight would become better off.
It would control a dedicated transport budget, franchised bus services and the network of strategic local authority-maintained roads.
It is also anticipated that once the combined authority is in place it would be able to demonstrate its successes and negotiate with government to agree further powers and opportunities to be devolved, potentially in areas such as health and criminal justice, as the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has done.