What could Combined Authorities mean for the Transport & Logistics sector?
One of the issues that was skimmed over in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement last week was that of Combined Authorities, particularly where the South East of England is concerned. There was no mention of any devolution deal for the Solent area in particular, although the statement did say that “the government remains committed to devolving powers to support local areas to address productivity barriers”.
Given Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight are moving forwards with their proposal for a Combined Authority it is worth considering some of the issues at stake. There are clearly a number of local political interests involved, so why should this matter to business, and particularly those in the Transport sector? I suggest it matters because the traditional purpose of Combined Authorities since their introduction in the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 is to enable the transfer of transport and economic development functions to the Combined Authority, and when operating in any sector of business it is important to know where decision making powers lie at both national and local levels.
Objectively, one might consider that the co-ordination of efforts between local authorities on issues of economic development and transport makes sense, particularly where these are currently performed separately by each authority.
Also, given the Government’s encouragement of the creation of Combined Authorities by the promise of additional funding and the freedom in terms of potential future devolved powers (such as the administration of business rates) one can see that there is a positive case for such bodies.
Furthermore, a key responsibility that Combined Authorities could take on is Strategic Planning, which is one of those missing links in the planning system that the Government should seek to rectify by introducing this as a priority for Combined Authorities.
However, there are questions remaining; will the creation of Combined Authorities lead to some future reorganisation of local authorities and responsibilities in an ad hoc fashion, rather than this being planned – and what does this mean for authorities who have performed well in terms of their historic and legislative functions but do not fit with the geography of the new authorities? Also, the way in which the system is supposed to work means that selecting bits of different local authorities to be included in the Combined Authority area cannot work. So, for example, whilst the inclusion of Whiteley in a Combined Area for South Hampshire might work from a transport management- and strategic planning -point of view, it cannot be carved out of Winchester City Council’s jurisdiction for that purpose.
It remains to be seen what will transpire in the final shake down of this particular issue, but it is fair to say that if no solution is arrived at for any part of Hampshire that will be a great shame and a missed opportunity for local democracy, economic development and transport.