Essex ready to make its case for becoming a regional powerhouse

Could County Hall win more powers for Essex?

Could County Hall win more powers for Essex? - Credit: Lucy taylor

The areas outside Britain’s cities are powerhouses in their own right, a leader will say today as he sets out the case for Essex devolution.

Essex County Council leader David Finch and Braintree’s district chief executive Nicola Beach will bang the drum for more powers for areas beyond the so-called “northern powerhouse” at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.

Councils across Greater Essex submitted a joint letter of intent to the Government setting out their ambition for devolved powers in September – something Mr Finch said was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”.

The bid was signed by 15 authorities, including Essex County Council and the unitary authorities of Southend and Thurrock,

It claimed the region could create the fastest growing economy outside London, increasing economic output from £32.5billion to £60bn, develop key transport hubs such as London Stansted, Southend Airport and port clusters in the north and south of Essex and see a 20% increase in the number of higher apprenticeships.

Mr Finch said: “There is a great opportunity to redefine local government within counties, clearly with the districts and parishes. The powers that are being given to cities clearly should be given to counties as well.”

Chancellor George Osborne has said that devolved powers for areas of the United Kingdom wanting devolution will be given in return for an elected mayor, something Mr Finch said should not stand in the way of Essex’s aspiration. “We already have police and crime commissioners and we could have health commissioners,” he argued.

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He said that he expected the Government to be interested in what Essex was up to when it announces the results of its spending review next month.

Asked about the message he was taking to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, he said: “Do not just devolve to cities. We are powerhouses in our own right.”

He admitted that there would be hurdles. “The first is going to be making sure that we keep all the players – districts and unitary – working with us. Second is the clarity of evidence that we use to convince the Government and the Treasury there is a deal worth having with Essex.”

But he warned that the opportunity should be seized.

“In three years’ time, if the economy is booming and the there is greater employment, the Government might not be so keen to devolve powers.”

He said that a formal bid was expected to be submitted in December, when they would talk to ministers and civil servants and further conversations would be held in January.

Areas will also have to create combined authorities with the clusters of councils in return for the new powers.

Mr Finch suggested that with a “fair wind” and with support from civil servants and councils leaders an agreement could be in place by the end of next year.

“It is no good rushing it, but we need to act at speed in a way that is thorough,” he warned.

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