South East conference keynote: Devolution - what are the opportunities?
This was a broad session which covered all aspects of devolution.
Devolution is a key new aspect of Government policy, and has kick-started in Manchester. Groups of local authorities have come together to develop a strategy to deliver housing. This contains a request and an offer: bidding for city deal funding to deliver their plans.
Ian Doolittle from Trowers and Hamlins covered the context of devolution. He explained how and why it has evolved, where and how it is currently developing and some of the barriers and challenges to devolving powers. Ian suggested that ultimately it could lead to structural and boundary changes amongst local authorities, and county councils taking a much larger role in the delivery of housing.
Nick Hibberd of Brighton and Hove Council spoke about the challenges and opportunities for devolution in Brighton and Hove. He suggested that the Brighton region could increase and that practical steps were needed to be taken to enable local authorities to come together.
Brighton and Hove Council have already secured a £100 million city deal for regeneration and have ambitious plans for the future.
However, Nick’s main concern was that devolution is very much a “top down” approach, and wonders if the voice of the local community is being lost.
While devolution will create new and exciting opportunities, the devolution approach requires close collaboration between local authorities, often of differing political backgrounds and overlapping borders and boundaries cause challenges. The South East has been slow to embrace devolution, as the environment is different from the North.