Councils in Hampshire have exchanged heated words, following disagreements on how best to change the structure of local government in the county.
Portsmouth and Southampton City Councils and some of the districts have backed plans to create a combined authority for the Solent area. However, Hampshire County Council said independent research shows a new unitary authority would be a better way of saving money and protecting public services.
In the latest dispute, the leaders of Portsmouth and Southampton City Councils have hit out after the leader of Hampshire County Council, cllr Roy Perry, said new responsibilities shouldn't be given to an underperforming area.
The two councils dismiss this claim, saying the latest economic figures show the strength of the area. The councils highlight the fact the Portsmouth area placed ninth for the value of goods and services produced per worker in the latest Centre for Cities report, while Southampton was fourth place in the Demos/PwC Good Growth Index.
‘It is ridiculous for Roy Perry to claim the south of Hampshire is underperforming,’ said Portsmouth City Council leader, cllr Donna Jones.
‘The county's record of achievement managing services in the south of Hampshire is no better or worse than that of Portsmouth and Southampton, and our schools compare favourably to those run by the county.’
Leader of Southampton City Council, cllr Simon Letts, added: 'The Government has recognised the Solent region as a viable economic area and seen the potential it has to grow even more. It would be nice if the county could support us in getting the best outcomes for residents and businesses rather than looking out for its own interests.'
Cllr Perry stands by his assertion that southern Hampshire has higher unemployment and higher levels of deprivation than the rest of Hampshire. ‘If in making this point too forcefully I have offended anyone, then of course I apologise – I was not in any way criticising councils or residents in south Hampshire, who all work hard to raise the prosperity of the area,’ he said.
‘However, if we are to address the problems faced by residents I think we have to face up to the reality that on many measures the south Hampshire economy is not performing as well as other areas. Access to jobs and markets, transport connections and the skills of the local workforce all need to be improved.
‘No one local authority can influence all these areas, and it requires a holistic approach by not only the county council, but every other council in the area as well as the Government. This is why I remain a staunch advocate of working together, keeping Hampshire whole. Together we can achieve so much more.’