Devolution and the Future of Local Government

Test Valley Borough Council and five other Councils in the ‘Heart of Hampshire’ [1] commissioned consultants PwC to provide an independent assessment about Devolution and the Future of Local Government in the Heart of Hampshire area. That report was published on 24th November 2016.

The ambition of Test Valley Borough Council and the other councils is to work in partnership with Hampshire County Council 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.

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 imposed upon the Heart of Hampshire authorities, the independent report identifies that there are significantly better solutions than the single unitary authority of more than 1.2 million people, which has been the most widely aired option from the proposals for local government re-organisation put forward by Hampshire County Council. 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.

The Council’s Press Release on the Report is available here.

Consultants PwC provided a parallel report to the “Solent” councils (East Hampshire, Eastleigh, Fareham, Gosport, Havant, Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and Southampton). They also produced a Summary Report in which they set out their overarching conclusions from their independent assessments of various options for the future of local government in both the Heart of Hampshire and Solent areas.

[1] The six Heart of Hampshire Councils are Test Valley, Basingstoke, Hart, New Forest, Rushmoor and Winchester.