This morning I represented Crawley at our first meeting as members of the Greater Brighton Economic Board.
Greater Brighton formed part of the first wave of devolution to local authorities, securing a ‘City Deal’ package of funding and powers based around economic development from Government, using legislation passed under Labour.
The board consists of councils, universities, businesses and economic organisations, tasked with delivering growth. Unlike later deals, there’s no mayor, council leaders instead take turns chairing and consensus is sought on issues.
The decision to join last Autumn faced significant opposition from those Conservatives who also serve as county councillors. West Sussex has always refused to join the board, presumably due to large sections of the county having little economic connectivity with those of us based within the Greater Brighton area. With Crawley joining, our sub-region’s economic centre is now clearly focused along the A23/M23 corridor.
Why did we join? Well, there are investment and delivery opportunities, but at the core was the importance of devolution. I supported devolution long before I ran for council. Decisions taken closer to the frontline tend to be both more democratic and more effective at delivering for their area.
A key example for us is the Brighton Main Line. By 2040, trains leaving Brighton will be completely full, there will be no space for Crawley residents. The works to prevent this will take 20 years and it is critical for us they begin right away. However, the UK has one of the most centralised democratic governments in the world, making it difficult to attract national focus onto critical local issues, at this point Brighton Main Line simply isn’t a priority for them. It’s only by working together that we can gain the voice we need to attract the investment we require to deliver for our residents.