THE two unitary councils in south Essex are leading the way to the region’s future prosperity, Thurrock Council Leader, Cllr John Kent told Wednesday (14 January) evening’s meeting of the cabinet.
Thurrock and Southend were working together both to maintain the area’s Thames Gateway partnership – also involving Basildon, Rochford and Castle Point – now Essex County Council was withdrawing, and also talking about creating a “combined authority” concentrating on transport and growth.
Cllr Kent said: “Since Essex County Council unilaterally decided to withdraw from South Essex so ending the very successful Thames Gateway South Essex Partnership, our joint working with colleagues in Southend has strengthened further as we consider possible successor options.
“A combined authority is one of these options.”
He explained: “Thurrock and Southend are two unitary councils in south Essex connected by the River Thames, by transport corridors, by commuting flows, by business supply chains and by markets.
“Bringing our authorities closer together to enhance business networks will support business productivity and competitiveness as well as creating more job opportunities for our communities.”
He said that where a combined authority had been created in Greater Manchester it had attracted “a number of additional powers and funding streams by the government, as part of a ‘Deal’”.
Cllr Kent said he wanted to see Thurrock heavily involved in the “devolution debate in England”, saying: “I want Thurrock leading the way and I want Thurrock working with our all our south Essex partners to get the best possible deal for delivering the infrastructure and growth needed to benefit all of our communities.
“As with our shared services with Barking and Dagenham our initiative is supported by government – this time specifically by Communities and Local Government Minister Penny Mordaunt when she visited Thurrock last week.”
The government is consulting on allowing councils “that do not share a boundary to form a combined authority" and it would also “allow a county council to delegate some of its transport functions for part of its area” which could include at least the three south Essex districts.
But the combined authority proposal was a long way off, said Cllr Kent, and “we need a pragmatic partnership for the 21st century based on economic realities and we both – Southend and Thurrock – will ensure a new economic partnership for south Essex is in place by April 1st, as a successor to the Thames Gateway South Essex Partnership”.
He said this “will become a partnership that continues as one of the four integral federated areas of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership” and will ensure “it continues to provide support to business, enables growth and creates opportunities for Thurrock and south Essex communities”.
This new partnership will have a private sector chair – Kate Willard from Stobarts, “who was also enthusiastic at the minister’s visit” said Cllr Kent.
He concluded: “We are in a time of political upheaval, a time of political uncertainty, a time when we are not sure what will happen after May’s elections, but while I am Leader I am certain this council will continue to engage with businesses, it will continue to liaise with local people and it will keep everyone informed of the latest position on this and other initiatives.”