Cllr Ron Woodley, Leader of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and Thurrock Council Leader, Cllr John Kent, jointly signed the letter to Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
In addition, councils across the whole of Essex are also approaching government with a proposal which says: “The local authorities of Greater Essex are exploring a combined authority model which captures the cumulative strength and advantage of Greater Essex but which is based upon our natural economic areas and proposed four growth area boards.”
The Southend-Thurrock letter explains how the two unitary councils – backed by local businesses - have been working with local districts (Basildon, Castle Point and Rochford) on creating a combined authority for the area while at the same time liaising with Essex County Council, which would have to be involved in any South Essex link, on its plans for a Wider Essex Authority.
Of the wider-Essex plan, the letter says: “We welcome the very strong emphasis placed on the role of growth areas that will form the basis for any future governance arrangements, enable decisions affecting South Essex to be taken locally and for delegations to the area to be maximised.”
And it adds: “In parallel we have worked together with other South Essex authorities, including Essex County Council, on exciting and more bespoke devolution proposals for the Thames Gateway South Essex area. These build upon our strong track record of delivery, the significant ambitions we share for growth and the strength of our partnerships, including with the business community.”
Speaking after signing the letter, Cllr Kent said: “Creating a combined authority does not mean current council responsibilities will be run by a central authority, however the government’s devolution agenda does throw up some interesting possibilities.
“We in south Essex have a very large and very exciting programme for creating jobs and growth and working more closely together on that and related subjects like transport, has to be a good idea – not least giving us a bigger and louder voice to counter that of London.”
Cllr Ron Woodley, added: “We have seen nationally how Combined Authorities can act as a real driver for jobs and improved transport links, acting as a stronger voice for more investment and powers to deliver change locally.
“Our ambition would be to deliver transport, skills, education and economic policy more effectively over a wider area and build on the work already done by partnerships such as the TGSEP and the South Essex Growth Partnership.”