A GROUP of local councils has vowed to launch its own breakaway authority as the power struggle over Hampshire’s public services took a new twist.
Test Valley Council is among a group of local authorities who want to create their own super authority.
It would be called the “Heart of Hampshire”, have its own mayor and look to bring millions of pounds of investment to the area.
It comes after the group spent £120,000 of taxpayers’ money on a report on their plans for devolution.
The Heart of Hampshire (HoH) authorities – made up of Test Valley, Basingstoke, Winchester, Hart, Rushmoor and New Forest district councils – are promising to “knuckle down and deliver” on creating a combined authority for the area, following the release of their self-commissioned Pricewaterhousecoopers (PwC) report.
The costly document suggests the six authorities could broker a deal with the government to create the combined authority.
It would operate as a third tier of local government working alongside Hampshire County Council and the borough, district and city councils.
However, any deal would need the support of Hampshire County Council, whose own Deloitte report, released earlier this year, suggested a countywide unitary authority could save taxpayers £40 million a year.
The HoH councils have previously raised objections to those plans and have even threatened to split from HCC to form their own unitary authorities if a major reorganisation is “forced” upon them.
As set out in the PwC report, this system would create two unitary authorities in the HoH area, one covering northern Hampshire and the other covering the middle region.
The northern council would consist of Basingstoke, Hart and Rushmoor, while the middle region would combine Test Valley, Winchester and New Forest.
However the idea is thought to be a last resort for civic bosses across the HoH area, who say they have a “principle desire” to focus on making the existing system better, rather than a major re-organisation.
Responding to the report, Test Valley Borough Council leader, 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 supporting our 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 HCC.”
The row over local government changes in Hampshire began after the HCC commissioned a £160,000 Deloitte report, in which it was suggested that a countywide unitary authority would save the county’s taxpayers £40 million a year.
The county council’s report was itself triggered after plans for a Hampshire-wide devolution deal fell through.
This led the unitary authorities in Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight to push forward with their plans for a joint Solent Combined Authority.
HCC subsequently commissioned the Deloitte report, which was met with strong objections from the six district councils in the HoH area. Meanwhile the HoH authorities proposed striking up their own devolution deal with the government, similar to that in the Solent region.
Cllr Carr added: “We need to get on and agree devolution deals for the whole of Hampshire in partnership with HCC.
“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 TVBC 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.”
The leader of Hampshire County Council, councillor Roy Perry, has also responded to the recent report.
He said: “We’re delighted that Test Valley Borough Council agree with the County Council’s view that we should make a success of the existing local government system in Hampshire.
“We look forward to working with them to making it happen.”