Suffolk businesses sign up to support East Anglian devolution deal

New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, together with Norfolk and Suffolk Chambers of Commerce, hos

New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, together with Norfolk and Suffolk Chambers of Commerce, host a business engagement events at UCS, to give businesses in the East the opportunity to learn more about the benefits of devolution. Panel of speakers Chris Starkie Chris Bally Dr Peter Funnell Andy Wood OBE Mark Pendlington answer relevant questions

Business leaders from across east Suffolk have come together to back proposals for the region to get more devolved powers from the government.

The meeting to discuss the implications for business of devolving power from Whitehall to a new Norfolk and Suffolk Joint Authority was called by the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

The deal with government for power to be devolved to the two counties was agreed following tough negotiations brokered by leading Suffolk businessman Andy Wood.

He told the meeting: “It is one of the best devolution deals in England – don’t take my word for it, look at the other deals (offered to other regions)!”

Mr Wood is chief executive of Suffolk brewers Adnams and was called in to act as an “honest broker” in talks between local authorities – many of which were sceptical about the proposals – and the government.

He told the meeting: “It is one of the toughest, if not the toughest, negotiations I have ever been involved with during my career in business.

“You had 32 council leaders, Whitehall officials, ministers, and SPADs (special advisors), But we made progress – and actually it happened faster than I had dared hope.”

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The meeting, at UCS, gave business leaders the chance to show their support for the proposed devolution.

While there was a general welcome for the principle of devolving powers from Whitehall to the region, together with a budget of £25m a year for 30 years and extra money for council investment in new homes in Ipswich and Norwich, there were concerns about introducing a new layer of government bureaucracy with a directly-elected mayor.

Peter Funnell from the Chamber said that while the principle of devolving power to the region would be widely welcomed, it had to be accompanied by a new way of making decisions.

However Chris Starkie from the LEP said the new “Joint Authority” would have a co-ordinating role with existing councils and would probably only employ three or four people – it would not be a new level of bureaucracy.

After the meeting business leaders signed a pledge of support for the principle of devolution – and there will now be similar meetings in Bury St Edmunds and Norwich.

The public is currently being asked for views on devolution, and councils are set to vote again on the proposals in October.

A final decision should be made by the government in November – and that would allow the first elections for a regional mayor to be held in May next year, alongside the vote for new county councils.