History was made on the winners' podium at Silverstone as three county council leaders moved into pole position to jointly boost the economic prospects for nearly two million residents living across the heart of the UK.
In the first tri-county council alliance of its type, the Leaders of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire, Ian Hudspeth, Martin Tett and Jim Harker OBE, jointly signed a bold offer to Government to unlock further economic growth and significantly build on the £45 billion (GVA) the area already generates.
In the offer, called 'A shared approach to driving prosperity', the three councils call on the Government to work with them to develop a brand new 'combined authority' alliance focused on their common economies of innovation, science, technology and creative industries.
Building on the established relationships between the three county-based local economic partnerships, the alliance is asking Government to:
- allow joint new plans to be developed for transport, spatial planning and other key infrastructure
- devolve employment and skills funding so employers' needs can be properly met locally
- support a devolved approach to the local trunk road network
- incentivise the three councils so they properly benefit from encouraging new growth
- give them enhanced powers over bus services and the ability to maximise public transport between key towns and cities
- ensure the best economic benefits are unlocked from projects such as East-West rail and the connectivity of technology centres like Silverstone to the national road network.
The alliance is also asking for legislation to deliver a new and more flexible governance structure tailored to suit such a bold arrangement.
Speaking after the launch, the three county leaders said they were proud to be spearheading such revolutionary alliance and to be developing a new arc of economic growth.
Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, Ian Hudspeth said, “We are expecting more than 80,000 new jobs to be created in Oxfordshire by 2031, many of them resulting from the world-class science and technology know how in the county. This will be a major boost to our local economy but the economic benefits are not confined to local authority borders so it is vitally important that we work together with our neighbours. By joining up with Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire I believe we can maximise the benefits to the regional economy by improving transport links and strategic planning so we can connect people, jobs and homes.”
Leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, Martin Tett said, "Rural non-city locations can punch with huge economic impact, so it's absolutely right that we combine our voice locally so we can compete with other city areas across the UK. To do this we need proper and effective devolution of powers, responsibilities and resources from Government.
"I'm particularly excited about the opportunities for the whole of Buckinghamshire, the economic gain from East-West rail and the potential of a new Oxford-Cambridge expressway road. The benefits could bring billions more to our three economies, which is great news for the future."
Leader of Northamptonshire, Jim Harker OBE said, “This unique alliance presents us with a golden opportunity to drive forward economic growth across our three counties by using our combined strengths.
“Northamptonshire stands at the crossroads of so much of the country’s infrastructure whether that’s the strategic road network, the rail network or other passenger transport links. This cross-county alliance presents a unique opportunity for us to get more decision making powers to unlock the potential of this infrastructure for the wider area and vastly improve our connectivity to the north, south and west.”
Commenting on the proposals, County Councils Network Chairman David Hodge said, "This new initiative shows counties' readiness to come together and create new partnerships to accelerate local economic growth.
"We're facing an exceptionally tough financial situation, so we need to work with our partners in new ways. It's this sort of strategic collaboration that will allow counties to continue their vital work creating the right conditions for prosperity. Only by empowering counties and their partners through devolved powers and budgets in areas such as transport, infrastructure and skills can we ensure that counties can continue to support local businesses in driving the UK's recovery.”
The alliance is looking for an early meeting with government officials to discuss the offer in greater detail.