Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Setting out the case for devolution in the south

Really pleased to say our ambitious plans for the devolution of powers from Government to West Sussex, East Sussex and Surrey County Councils have taken a step closer after they were heard by Communities Minister Baroness Williams in a very positive meeting.

We have been working on plans for devolution over the last year, on the back of a small piece of work undertaken looking at the Cost of Success; i.e. working and operating in a strong economic area. That thinking has helped shape our devolution proposition. Our bid was submitted with our partners last September and last Friday we had the first conversation with Baroness Williams. This was an extremely productive, helpful and useful meeting.

You might be surprised to hear that the 3SC area (East Sussex, Surrey and West Sussex) is one of the strongest economic areas in the county with a combined Gross Value Added (GVA) of £74 billion. You read that right – billion not million. That’s £20 billion more than Wales and £17 billion more than Manchester. The figures are astonishing. GVA is the contribution to the UK economy that each individual producer, industry or sector makes.

With £923 million raised in business rates each year, £800 million in stamp duty and £1.4 billion in council tax, we are talking seriously big amounts of money. With devolution we are looking to have some of that redirected to 3SC to ensure we can deliver on infrastructure and skills ambitions.

By working together as one cohesive group, including our Local Enterprise Partnership and two others adjoining the 3SC area, we think we can really put together the case for improved infrastructure, such as roads and rail which we know is really needed and is something residents and businesses regularly raise as an issue. We know there is a need to ensure people have the right skills for employers and interestingly this is similar to other devolution bids from across the country. I think this reflects the fact that each area is different with different skills needs and therefore skills demands. Through devolution we can at a very local level meet the local demands in a targeted way rather than on a national basis.

One of the issues around the cost of success is the provision of low cost housing. For many getting on the property ladder is very difficult and indeed often impossible in the 3SC area. At present there are 34,000 homes planned to be built by 2020 in the 3SC area. This is not a number plucked out of the air but based on figures in the local plans prepared by the 23 District and Borough Councils across East and West Sussex and Surrey.

However, we know there are brownfield sites and redundant ‘public realm buildings’ which could be brought forward to provide low cost housing which would help many including key workers. There are some fine examples of attractively designed high density homes across the country and it would be good to see what could be done here.

Working with our District and Borough Council colleagues to streamline work, so making it easier for our residents to access our services, is also an area we will be working on – known as Double Devo. There is no doubt that working together will drive down duplication and costs.

This is a very exciting and also a very big project. It is not about increasing bureaucracy but more collaborative working to ensure we meet the demands and needs of the 2.5 million residents living in the 3SC areas – this is the driving force for all of us.

Keep an eye out for updates in future blogs.

Best wishes,
Louise

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