OXFORDSHIRE is drawing up plans to create a new combined authority with Buckinghamshire and North-amptonshire, it has been revealed.

Yesterday Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth joined his opposites Martin Tett and Jim Harker at Silverstone to announce the three councils’ plans to petition the Government over the proposal.

Mr Hudspeth said the new – and as yet unnamed – regional body would cover a population of two million people and make decisions on certain areas, such as improvements to major roads and investments to business including helping with apprenticeships and training.

It is hoped the new body could also strengthen calls for more devolution of spending powers from central Government and boost economic growth.

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Last night Mr Hudspeth stressed that each council would continue to exist separately, but admitted some decisions – such as those on infrastructure – could be made outside of Oxfordshire.

He said: “The councils would remain the same, but if we got agreement from the Government there would be a body making decisions on what the priorities of the region are.

“It would give us a strategic view of where infrastructure is needed and sometimes that is about looking beyond just Oxfordshire.

“This is still in the very early stages, but there have been clear signs from the Government it is looking for councils to work together more.

“This would send a strong message that we are standing up for the shires and are ready for business.”

s Continued from Page 1 The new authority would also be able to bid for larger slices of Government funding, Mr Hudspeth said, and could lead to more joint services.

He added: “If we find it is a good working relationship then we can look at other joint areas.

“The biggest challenge we face is reducing our costs, but that would be much further down the line.”

The three authorities will draw up detailed proposals in the new year, but in a joint statement they said they wanted to create a board – with executive powers – made up of the leaders of the three authorities.

That is likely to need primary legislation to be passed by Parliament.

The councils will ask for greater powers over public transport, funding for business support and training initiatives and strategic decisions on where housing could be built.

They also want a greater say on future improvements to the A34 and create better transport links between Oxfordshire’s Science Vale, Oxford, Northampton and Aylesbury.

Mr Hudspeth said he hoped it would also boost calls for the councils to gain control of business rates and other national taxes from the Government.

The announcement was welcomed by business groups.

Adrian Shooter, chairman of the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, a body made of business leaders and all the county’s local authorities, said: “We are keen to explore initiatives that help us to deliver our economic ambitions and know a high-quality transport infrastructure and improved connectivity is key to unlocking growth.

“We will be working closely with all of our council colleagues as their thinking develops.”

Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said: “As other parts of the country are putting forward bids for more devolved powers, it makes sense for Oxfordshire to pull together with neighbouring authorities to make sure we don’t lose out on funding for economic development and housing.

“The danger is that big sub-regional authorities are a bit distant from local people and communities.”

But the proposals were criticised by Oxford City Council leader Bob Price, who said his authority had not been consulted.

He said: “The area covered makes little sense in economic terms.

“The natural links for most of Oxfordshire are with the Thames Valley and the Cotswolds and – for Cherwell – with the southern part of the Midlands.

“In the county council’s desperate financial position, they may be looking to save money by merging county services.”

What it means.

  • Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire will draw up a joint plan for a combined authority and pitch it to the Government in 2015.
  • If the Government agrees, primary legislation could be passed by MPs to enable the creation of a statutory committee. This would be a ‘stepping stone to a more robust governance model’, the councils said.
  • Eventually they want to make an executive board of council leaders, with powers focussing on transport and funding support for businesses.
  • They want the combined authority to take more spending powers from central Government.

Unitary question.

  • In July Mr Hudspeth said there should be a debate in Oxfordshire about whether the county should be run by just one authority.
  • At present there are five district councils – West Oxfordshire, Cherwell, Vale of White Horse, Oxford, South Oxfordshire – and a county council.
  • Mr Hudspeth said it could present ways to save money across services.
  • But Bob Price, leader of Oxford City Council, said the priorities of the rural districts are different to that of the city.

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