Basingstoke’s council has reacted to claims that Hampshire should replace all of its existing authorities with one ‘mega council’ by ordering a review into how local government should operate countywide.
Hampshire County Council is due to consult the area’s 1.3 million residents over whether they would like to be ruled by a single unitary body, after claiming that the move could save more than £40million a year.
This idea has proved unpopular with borough councillors however, with 51 of 54 members voting against the proposal last month, and Basingstoke’s Labour group saying it would result in a tax rise of between £90 and £200 a year.
Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council had been planning to form a ‘Heart of Hampshire’ combined authority with five other surrounding districts before the county council floated the idea following an independent study.
And the borough has now commissioned a study of its own on behalf of Hampshire’s 14 authorities in order to help identify which option to take to best improve services, rather than save money.
Council leader Clive Sanders said: “We want all councils in Hampshire, including the county council, to work together for the good of our residents.
“It is important that we consider how to balance local voice and choice in decision making against the need to make the best use of limited resources in today’s economic reality.
“The Hampshire County Council study is an important piece of work but it is only part of the picture and there are significant areas that need to be explored more fully.
“It is important that we don’t rush into quick assessments on something that will last for years and will have a significant impact on quality of life for each of us.”
The creation of a joint Heart of Hampshire authority with Hart, New Forest, Rushmoor, Test Valley and Winchester would look to see more powers over housing and healthcare devolved down to the areas, while keeping existing councils.
Hampshire County Council called for the creation of a unitary authority after claiming the Heart of Hampshire deal and separate plans to form a Solent Combined Authority would “begin to divide the county immediately”.
But the Solent group of councils has now offered their support to the commissioned review, which will be conducted by leading advisors PwC.
Portsmouth City Council leader Donna Jones said: “I am fully behind this review. “It is important that there is a collaborative and comprehensive approach to any proposals for local government reorganisation across Hampshire.
“I would like to thank Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council for being so inclusive and inviting us and other Solent councils to be a part of it.”
It is hoped that the review will help identify the best system to meet the needs of residents in modern times, with the current system of county and district councils in Hampshire being set up 42 years ago.
Partner at PwC, Richard Parker, said: “We will work with [the] councils and other authorities to examine options to help deliver the most effective and efficient form of local government for the area.
“Our study will be independent and evidence based, providing a critical juncture in the development of a new structure for local government in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.”