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Unitary bid shelved in face of public opposition

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Proposals that would spark a reorganisation of local government in Hampshire are set to be shelved due to a lack of public support - although plans could be revisited should circumstances change.

A report due to go before Hampshire CC’s cabinet on Monday says results from a representative telephone survey by Ipsos Mori showed only 25% of about 1,500 residents in the county supported the creation of a single unitary council for Hampshire. Just 17% supported the creation of multiple unitary authorities while more than half (51%) did not want any new unitary councils to be created.

However, the results should not be seen as an “obstacle” to reorganisation in the future, the report said. It identified seven triggers which would “necessitate” the county council to think again.

The triggers include a further “significant deterioration” in the county council’s financial prospects; a “clear indication from ministers that local government reorganisation is their preferred outcome in Hampshire”; and any proposals for a combined authority to incorporate some of the county’s districts.

Cllr roy perry hants cc

Roy Perry

Roy Perry (Con), Hampshire CC leader

County council leader Roy Perry (Con) said he “remains strongly opposed to parts of Hampshire joining” the proposed Solent Combined Authority made up of Isle of Wight Council, and Portsmouth and Southampton city councils. Eastleigh, Fareham, Gosport, Havant BCs, and East Hampshire DC had previously been involved in developing a deal for the Solent area before they were ditched from discussions in July.

Should they, or any other Hampshire districts, re-enter the fold Cllr Perry said: “This would lead to services the county council currently provides to the whole of Hampshire, such as highways and transport, being broken up and handed over to a Solent mayor. If this was to happen, the county council’s planned investments in major road schemes could be seriously jeopardised.”

The report said the Solent leaders had written to Cllr Perry inviting the county council to join the proposed combined authority as a constituent member “and offering areas for negotiation”. A meeting between the leaders is due to take place tomorrow.

Hampshire CC needs to save £140m a year by 2019-20.

Analysis by Deloitte, commissioned by the county council, showed a county unitary, which would replace the county council and 11 district councils, could deliver an estimated £40m of savings each year.

In June Basingstoke & Deane BC, with the backing of Hart and New Forest DCs, Rushmoor and Test Valley BCs, Winchester City Council, and the three Solent unitary authorities, commissioned PwC to carry out its own review of local government reorganisation in the county. The results of that study have not yet been published.

The cabinet report said “it may be inevitable that the £40m a year that could be saved through a unitary council for the county should be among the options put to the public in the next budget consultation”. It added it was “conceivable that the public appetite for reorganisation could increase if it is seen as an alternative to otherwise inevitable and significant further front-line service reductions”.

The “generally perceived logical endpoint” of the government’s policies was “an increase in unitary councils”, said the cabinet report which added: “The developing financial challenge will only serve to accelerate this move towards council mergers and unitarisation.”

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