Consultants paid £25,000 to look at case for council merger

The sun sets over the Humber Bridge
The sun sets over the Humber Bridge
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Consultants are being paid £25,000 to examine the benefits of merging two Humber authorities as a combined authority.

Hull Council have engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers to report back “expeditiously” on the “options, costs and benefits” of merging the administrations of Hull and East Riding Councils.

Their findings will feed into an independent review into expanding the city’s tightly-drawn boundaries, which is expected to report back in the next few weeks.

Hull Council leader Steve Brady insists councils need to act now to avoid being left behind.

However East Riding Council Steve Parnaby has said the discussion should wait until there is clarity after the General Election.

Coun Brady claimed yesterday he had support from other Labour leaders on neighbouring authorities but said no one wanted to put their heads above the parapet to avoid the “toxic” word “Humberside.”

The council leader said he expected Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn statement next Wednesday to give more devolved powers to West and South Yorkshire, where combined bodies have already been set up.

Coun Brady said the councils would remain separate identities but functions like regeneration, planning, housing and transport would be merged.

The finer detail would emerge through negotiations, but would “not necessarily” lead to redundancies.

He said: “After Scottish devolution this is the biggest talking point in England. It is the only way the Government is going to release central Government money to run our authorities - they are not going to let cities do it on their own.”

There’s been bad blood between the two councils over Hull’s expansion plans, including moves to build on land they own in the East Riding.

In a referendum in September people in 12 East Riding parishes voted overwhelmingly against any expansion of Hull’s boundaries.

However Coun Brady said a combined authority was a completely different matter: “Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle have all put the factions and problems behind them. They know this is the way the Government and the Opposition are thinking. The problem is if we are not in the first wave; we need to get in and show willing. Any reason civil servants have in London for not letting powers go, they will jump at the chance.”

Coun Parnaby was not available yesterday. But at last week’s full council he said given uncertainty from all political parties, it wasn’t sensible to waste time and money before a General Election “establishing new ways of working that could be scrapped, massively altered or turn out to be totally unnecessary.”

He also criticised Hull’s commission of inquiry as a “complete miscalculation and exceptionally poor timing”, saying Hull Council had come out in favour of a combined authority before the commission had a chance to return its “independent” findings.

Referring to Humberside County Council, which was dissolved in 1996, he added: “If we try to impose something that is not acceptable it will be doomed to fail.”

Labour leader of North East Lincolnshire Council Coun Chris Shaw has said he doesn’t see any extra value in having a combined Humber authority. “We already have a joint Humber committee working successfully with the other three councils to drive forward the investment and other agendas on behalf of the whole sub-region and currently I see no reason to change those arrangements,” he added.