Essex councils discuss devolution – but ‘snub’ MPs

Cllr Howard Rolfe, leader of Uttlesford District Council.

Cllr Howard Rolfe, leader of Uttlesford District Council. - Credit: Archant

Senior councillors and council officials from across Essex have met to discuss devolution of powers from central government.

Leaders, chief executives and other top officers from Essex County Council and the borough, district and city councils gathered at the Weston Homes Community Stadium to discuss the benefits of such a move.

The meeting came in the wake of Manchester being given additional powers from the government to run more of its own affairs.

Benefits could include more control over growing the local economy, spending skills funding to ensure training matches jobs within the county, and tackling transport and infrastructure issues.

A letter expressing the interest of Greater Essex councils in exploring devolution will be sent to Eric Pickles, secretary of state at the Department for Communities and Local Government and Brentwood MP in the near future.

However Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell said he was disappointed none of the county’s MPs had been involved.

The Liberal Democrat said: “I am astonished such a meeting should be convened, in secret, and not invite any of the 18 Members of Parliament who represent Essex constituencies.

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“Bearing in mind the subject under discussion, this was a big snub.

“When it comes to devolution, the county council should look at its own track record – which is appalling.

“There is more centralisation now in Essex than at any time in the history of local government, of which central control of matters as local as filling in pot holes and street lights are the two most recent and worst examples.”

Howard Rolfe, leader of Uttlesford District Council who led part of the meeting, said: “Now is the time to make our interest clear to government and to remember what the prize is – a key feature of any devolution deal is that it must deliver better outcomes for tax payers, residents and businesses.

“The opportunity remains tantalising and we have the basis of an exciting offer.

“But it needs to be taken at the right pace. Running too fast will not work as there are many questions still to answer.

“We can, however, put a marker down with Government that discussions across Greater Essex are progressing.”