INDEPENDENCE is the in word in politics at moment – now council chiefs in Hampshire are following the Scottish parliament by demanding more control over their own affairs.
The Conservative-run authority has joined forces with other county councils to call for radical tax and borrowing powers and greater control over key public services.
The package would give Hampshire control over lucrative receipts from stamp duty and business rates – and even the right to raise its own bonds.
And it would go much further than the City Deal recently agreed for Southampton and Portsmouth, as well as for England’s other big cities.
Councillor Roy Perry, Hampshire’s Conservative leader, pointed out the combined population of Hampshire, Southampton and Portsmouth was similar to that of Wales and half that of Scotland.
And he said: “People in the shire counties of England are not being given the same responsibilities as in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – and that’s unacceptable.
“The Government is talking about increasing legislative devolution to Wales and Scotland, but it’s high time to start trusting English people to run their own affairs.
“If they trust the people of Scotland to run education, then why not trust the people of Hampshire, instead of controlling everything from London?”
Cllr Perry urged ministers not to leave Hampshire in the slow lane of devolving powers in England, because the focus was on signing City Deals.
He said: “It’s not just the cities of England that are wealth-creating areas. Shire areas like Hampshire are also important.
“We are facing a huge increase in demand for care, because there are increasing numbers of older people, and we need certainty about our finances.”
Cllr Perry spoke out as the Commons local government select committee carries out an inquiry into “fiscal devolution” within England.
Hampshire is a member of the 36-strong County Councils Network, which has proposed a “more ambitious approach”, including devolution of:
• All of business rates – at present, only a proportion are retained by councils.
• Stamp duty – something proposed for London, by Mayor Boris Johnson.
• Capital gains on property development.
• A proportion of extra tax revenues from local economic growth – an “earn back” scheme, being pioneered in Manchester.
• Skills funding and employment programmes.
• Increased borrowing – through municipal bonds.
Cllr Perry said he had doubts about some of the ideas – including bonds – but said: “We support this submission. These are the things we are asking the Government to look at. Stamp duty is definitely one property tax that should be considered for local authorities – we would not be against that at all.”
He said the need for extra powers was particularly acute in the county, because it receives lower funding than other shires. Its grant per head from Whitehall was just £116, far less than Essex (£181) and Kent (£191) – which he described as “inexplicable”.
Ministers will be required to respond to the select committee’s report, due to be published in the next few months.