West Sussex, East Sussex and Surrey county councils will join forces to lead the call for greater powers and freedoms to be devolved to the South East.
All three council leaders have signed a letter that has been sent this week to Greg Clark – Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government – in which they call for a meeting to discuss how to progress plans.
In their letter, the leaders describe their determination to deliver better services for local residents, communities and businesses being at the heart of their proposals.
They write: “Together we can ensure that the right decisions are made in the right places to guarantee that the current contribution to our nation’s success and finances is not only continued but also expanded to the full potential it can reach. Our three counties are special places with a strong sense of identity and place. They are achieving the delicate and fundamental challenge of balancing strong growth and preserving a beautiful environment. However, their ability to sustain that crucial balance needs us all to work differently.”
The three authorities have identified a list of ‘devolution offers’ to manage the impact of economic growth like pressures on school places, road and rail infrastructure, housing and social care. To tackle those things the councils seek access to more of the taxes that are raised locally, the ability to influence road and rail infrastructure decisions, additional powers over apprenticeships and skills to promote employment and support small businesses as well as new ways of supporting services that provide care to the elderly and vulnerable. They believe that doing these things across a larger area will make a real difference.
Other partners, especially district and borough councils, would also have a crucial role to play in a successful devolution process with the potential to reshape many services at a local level as the region takes on greater autonomy.
Louise Goldsmith, Leader of West Sussex County Council, said: “Our region plays a critical role in the UK’s economy and we must nurture that. I’m excited to be taking forward our proposals with my colleagues from East Sussex and Surrey County Councils and I know we will all be working closely with our respective district and borough councils who will be key to making this a success.
“I do think devolution is the future for local government. It is as exciting as it is challenging. But it will allow us to deal with those difficult issues so much better if we have greater powers and freedoms. Such opportunities do not happen often in local government but if and when they do we should embrace them for the benefit of those we serve.”
Keith Glazier, Leader of East Sussex County Council, said: “We want decisions about how services are delivered made closer to the people affected by those decisions. With more autonomy we believe we can help to grow the local economy and encourage greater investment in our county and our region.”
David Hodge, Leader of Surrey County Council, said: “Our residents and businesses are at the heart of our plans and only through collaborating and working as one team – using the local expertise we possess – can we be certain to make the services people rely upon fit for the future.”
The proposed partnership will operate to simple and powerful principles:
· one place one budget
· to grow at scale you operate at scale
· strategic interventions need planning over time not annual bidding rounds
· strong local governance produces better value and outcomes.