Following Andrew Turner MP’s involvement in a debate in the House of Commons earlier this week, where he raised the topic of devolution and the Solent Deal, Councillor Jonathan Bacon, Leader of the Isle of Wight Council, has issued a response.
Cllr Bacon has said:
“I welcome Andrew Turner MP’s efforts to secure further meetings with government officials and Marcus Jones MP’s commitment to meet with us. It is important that we keep a dialogue with government about the Island’s financial challenges and we have had extensive meetings with civil servants, ministers and the previous secretary of state, over many months. However, we have yet to see a benefit from any of these meetings or others over recent years in terms of additional financial support for the provision of public services on the Isle of Wight. And, whilst many county councils and rural authorities benefitted from last minute amendments to this year’s Local Government Finance Bill, the Isle of Wight missed out, again.
“We are, therefore, developing bold and ambitious plans to create a more prosperous and sustainable Island built on the pillars of regeneration, growth and productivity. We hope that this will provide other means of funding public services on the Island to the same level as those enjoyed by people who live on the mainland. Although, this will not replace services or the funding we have lost during the age of austerity, which amounts to some £63 million in the six years from 2011/12, and a further £22.5 million over the next three years.
“I am keen that the council uses its land and assets to drive the prosperity agenda and I am very conscious of the need to secure public and private sector investment to secure the improvements we need to see. To do this at the pace and scale needed may require some form of investment from public funds to unlock the growth that will create jobs and wealth, and improve the Island’s economy. The funding offered through a potential devolution deal with our partners in Southampton and Portsmouth is so far the only hint of any resources from government that may be available to help us realise our ambitions and secure financial sustainability for the Island.
“When we met with the former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Rt. Hon. Greg Clark MP in June, he made it abundantly clear to us that a devolution deal with government was the Island’s only opportunity to secure any additional funding support from government. In a letter of 20 May 2016, Mr Clark stated: ‘It is my firm conviction that the devolution deal offers the best opportunity to improve the economy of the Isle of Wight and, consequently, provide a more sustainable footing for local services.’ So whilst I do not feel pushed into accepting a devolution deal, there is nothing else on offer from government that could help us deliver our ambitions or develop tailored services to meet local need from those currently delivered by government.
“Shortly after his appointment in July I wrote to the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Rt. Hon. Sajid Javid MP, seeking a meeting to discuss the council’s ambitions and financial challenges. I will also use that opportunity to clarify the ‘fresh thinking’ or ‘alternative, more appropriate solutions’ proposed by government, of which I have yet to be made aware.”