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South Essex councils to formalise joint working

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Councils in south Essex are to formalise their arrangements for joint working on economic growth.

The Association of South Essex Local Authorities (Asela) was formed following the collapse of devolution discussions in 2016. The seven councils involved – the unitaries Southend-on-Sea BC and Thurrock Council, Basildon, Brentwood, Castle Point BCs, Rochford DC and Essex CC – signed a memorandum of understanding last year and are working on a joint strategic plan. They are planning to develop more formal governance arrangements over the summer.

Asela chair and Brentwood leader Louise McKinlay (Con) told LGC discussions so far had focused on how to boost the local economy.

She said: “We came together on the back of some of the devolution discussions but also realising from a planning perspective that some of the infrastructure constraints that we felt in particular were holding up development, not just of houses but economic growth in the region, were shared across boundaries. We felt we would have a much louder voice if we all came together.”

Discussions over a devolution deal for Essex collapsed after Southend and Thurrock pulled out, arguing a deal for the south of the county would make more sense as the area had little in common economically with the more rural north of the county.

Cllr McKinlay said Asela had avoided discussions over governance arrangements until now to avoid getting bogged down in process before participants had set out what they wanted to achieve. However, she said the time had come to look at that.

She said: “The summer is going to be focused on some of the governance questions: how will each area retain autonomy in terms of what’s proposed?”

“We feel we do need to have that discussion.”

Thurrock chief executive Lyn Carpenter told LGC discussions had focused on what infrastructure the area would need up to 2050, whether that be roads, community facilities or skills. She said the starting point had been job creation.

“We are not looking at combined authorities yet – devolution didn’t work for us. We are focused on an economic growth corridor and how we can generate economic growth outcomes. We need to think differently as local authorities,” she said.

“There is no requirement to do it, we are doing it because we think it’s the right thing to do.”

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