Plans to forge an alliance between Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire in order to attract more government funding to the region took a step forward today.
Leaders of the three authorities signed a declaration of intent to form a ‘combined authority’, which could see the three Conservative-led councils working together on major road plans, public transport initiatives and housing strategies across their borders.
In what is being dubbed a ‘tri-county alliance’ between the three powers, the councils are calling on the Government to allow the move to go ahead, which they say will essentially give the region greater clout in bidding for pots of government funding.
Leader of Northamptonshire County Council, Councillor Jim Harker (Con, Ise), said the alliance would give the counties a ‘golden opportunity’ to drive economic growth by using their “combined strengths”.
“It will essentially take the form of a forum where the leaders, leading members and chief officers of the three authorities will get together on a regular basis,” he added.
“This idea is about us saying in some of the areas we are responsible for - such as public transport - we could do these better if we did them collectively.”
Councillor Harker unveiled the plans alongside leader of Oxfordshire County Council, Councillor Ian Hudspeth, and Buckinghamshire leader, Councillor Martin Tett, at the Silverstone racing circuit, before posing for photographs on the winners’ podium today.
He said one such scheme that would benefit from working directly with the county neighbours two authorities could be a joint public transport scheme.
“At the moment buses between Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire don’t exist – but people need to commute between both places for jobs,” he said. “We don’t want people to have to move to Oxfordshire and vice versa, just because of the poor connectivity.
“This is something we could look at resolving.”
The opposition Labour group said it was against establishing a new authority, and has instead called for closer working between all the councils within Northamptonshire.
Councillor John McGhee (Lab, Kingswood), the labour leader at Northamptonshire County Council, said the Tory alliance with Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire seemed to be “more about politics than what is best for Northamptonshire.”
He said: “It might suit the Tories to work with their chums in Buckinghamshire, but we will take a lot of convincing that this is the best way forward to Northamptonshire’s economy and public services.
“It seems the partnership is based on motorsports, which are a great part of what we do, but there are many strings and strengths to our economy and the combined authority should have wider ambition for our county.
“A Northamptonshire-focused combined authority with the county and borough/ district authorities working together, drawing in the countywide Local Enterprise Partnership would be a better starting point.
“However, we firmly believe that key stakeholders including local people should be consulted on different options before any decision is taken.”