CALLS have been made for Hampshire to have its own mayor with devolved powers in a bid to boost the county.

A major report published today makes the case for a 'strong mayoral office' together with a lobbying group promoting the county as the UK's Southern Gateway, in a move akin to the work of the Northern Powerhouse.

Key leaders across Southampton have contributed to the white paper called Unlocking Hampshire's Potential, including port director Alastair Welch, University Hospital Southampton chief executive David French, and University of Southampton vice-chancellor Professor Mark E Smith.

The paper - compiled by the city's Paris Smith legal firm - calls for a united approach to unlocking investment and says action must be taken now.

It says: "The fallout from Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, combined with the cost-of-living crisis and the competition for levelling up funds means that now is the time to act. Complacency isn’t an option, particularly in the battle for public funds."

Hampshire County Council has already pitched for a pan-Hampshire devolution deal including the Isle of Wight.

In the report, Rob Humby, county council leader, said: "What the North are better at is that they do all their dirty washing behind closed doors, but when they speak publicly, they speak as one voice. That is very powerful.

"We need to be better at doing that."

The report added: "The push for greater collaboration needs to happen whether or not Hampshire as a county achieves devolution.

"The biggest challenge will be in finding common ground in a county which is so economically, geographically and socially diverse.

"This includes broaching traditional rivalries between the neighbouring port cities of Portsmouth and Southampton, and marrying their needs to the larger rural and agricultural areas that dominate much of the county, not to mention northern hubs such as Basingstoke and Aldershot which might feel more aligned with neighbouring Berkshire and Surrey."

Figures in the report reveal how 4.2 per cent of Southampton's population claim Universal Credit, compared to the southeast's 2.8 per cent.

Ross McNally, Executive Chair of the Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, says there is 'a good levelling up argument to be made' for areas including Southampton.

Peter Taylor, Senior Partner at Paris Smith: “Hampshire's diverse assets provide the ingredients for a compelling story.

"However, it is vital that stakeholders speak with one voice to attract and retain investment.

"The findings in this report provide a roadmap grounded in the insights of local leaders.

"I am grateful to the many contributors for sharing their expertise; together we can build on this momentum to champion the county's immense potential regionally, nationally and internationally.”

The report highlights the key steps needed to take while progressing with devolution.
These include accessing levelling up cash, promoting Hampshire as the Southern Gateway, continuing with the Solent Freeport, boosting maritime, transport, green technology and defence hubs, addressing skills and education gaps, and take a county-wide approach to tourism.