Over recent weeks the pace of politics has been difficult to follow, with huge questions hanging over the UK’s political and economic direction. Throughout this period councils have been getting on with the delivering on the ground, including seeking the South East’s first devolution deal.
Devolution is a pretty wide concept. In the UK it previously referred to the establishment of bodies such as the Scottish Parliament or GLA, but the devolution now taking place involves passing central government powers down to local government.
So far this has tended to involve Whitehall handing down additional responsibilities and flexibilities around service delivery combined with some new funding, rather than genuine decision-making or revenue raising abilities. These powers are devolved to combined authorities, essentially councils of councils, with directly-elected mayors providing single point accountability for ministers and residents. The mayoralty has been the most contentious element for various reasons.
The 3SC devolution deal proposed for our area would cover Surrey, West Sussex and East Sussex excluding Brighton, and focuses on the sub-region’s infrastructure deficit. We live in one of the UK’s most economically vibrant areas, but our infrastructure is creaking and requires major investment to bring it up to the level residents expect and enable the economic growth the UK desperately needs.
The deal which is being sought is based upon the area’s projected infrastructural needs over the next 30 years, having identified both the deficit in the current funding available to meet those needs and how that gap can be made up. A number of models have been put forward for this, but they all involve two elements: the 3SC borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board to put in place the infrastructure for growth and the government enabling the 3SC to retain a share of the increased taxes generated from that growth to finance the debt.
There are many questions hanging over this, particularly how 3SC would be governed, but ultimately what we have to decide is whether the prize of closing our local infrastructure deficit is worth the risks and the limitations government will impose upon us in return.