COMMENT: Strong appetite for devolution across the country

Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex County Council (photo submitted). SUS-150522-082832001

Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex County Council (photo submitted). SUS-150522-082832001

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No one can be under any illusion about the appetite for devolution across the country.

I think recent announcements about the Manchester Powerhouse should be applauded - together with the recent appointment of a Minister for City Devolution.

But devolution shouldn’t be all about cities. Counties have an equally important role to play.

At full council today I will talk to councillors about work WSCC is doing to make the case to government for greater powers and freedoms to be devolved to the South East.

Devolving powers from Whitehall to county council level will enable a co-ordinated approach to delivering better services for local people, improving the economy across the areas and attracting more investment.

Seeking these powers is the natural next step in our journey I believe.

The South East plays a critical role in the UK’s economy. Its economy is growing faster than the rest of the UK, but that success comes with challenges.

We have commissioned research that has highlighted that:

- The south east region of councils produced more than £133 billion in GVA in 2012 – making it the third largest contributor to the UK’s economy.

- The population of the south east region is 5.9 million – second only to London – across all the UK’s regional ‘powerhouses’

- There are more active enterprises in the south east region than Scotland and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority together

- The south east economy is growing faster than the UK economy.

It’s clear that we need to take a more proactive approach with government.

The work done already emphasises the potential benefits of change and the need for central government to change.

Through the initial work that has been done we believe we need to make the case to be able to make an offer to government that will help sustain growth for the whole UK economy.

We’ve identified an initial list of potential “devolution asks”. These are grouped into five areas.

- Fiscal devolution – access to defined additional funding sources.

- Road and Rail Infrastructure – to influence or share planning decisions.

- Employment and Skills – roles in areas such as apprenticeships/troubled families.

- Social Care and Health – additional roles in influencing the care market.

- Infrastructure for the Future – broader longer term initiatives.

We know these are really important areas for our residents and in one way or another help towards improving outcomes to the residents we serve – and at all times that has to be our priority. Together we provide a stronger force to deal with such issues.

It’s very, very early days but I do think this is the future for local Government and I think this represents a really exciting opportunity for the South East and West Sussex in particular.

I will keep you posted on progress.

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