East Anglia could elect own mayor next year
- Credit: PA
A multi-million pound pot of cash to pay for roads, rail and housing projects will be handed over to an elected mayor for East Anglia under plans set out in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s budget.
Elections for the powerful new political figure could be held next year if councillors give the green light to a deal which includes a local transport budget of £30million each year for the next 30 years from the Treasury, and a further £175m up to 2021 to kick-start house building in the region.
But he could yet face a backlash from backbench councillors opposed to the idea of an elected mayor, and those concerned the deal does not go far enough.
Communities secretary Greg Clark said there was no downside to agreeing the deal. “It is all upside. This is new money that is available. The functions of the councils continue in the same way. It is all money and powers that have come from central government.”
Ipswich Borough Council leader David Ellesmere said the news that the Government was prepared to give powers to the regions was to be welcomed. “The Government is looking to move powers out of Whitehall and when you look at what has happened elsewhere in the country, that builds up its own momentum.”
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He said that eventually a regional mayor could lead to other changes to council structures as the extra tier could see voters electing seven different structures of government.
He added: “When you look at the announcement on devolution and the changes that are being made to education, it is clear that the role of county councils is being diminished.
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“I know there is no appetite for major local government reform and that is a question that can get bogged down – but in the years ahead I think there will be questions asked about whether we need county councils.”
Babergh District Council leader Jennie Jenkins, who is chairman of Suffolk Public Sector Leaders’ Group, said there was still a great deal of work to be done before a final devolution deal was agreed.
“The deal reflects the fact that Suffolk and the rest of East Anglia delivers some significant economic benefits to UK plc and beyond through agriculture, on and offshore energy and research and innovation in science and technology.
“However, it is important to be clear that what has been published today isn’t a ‘done deal’. It requires ratification by each of the local councils and the LEP Boards.”
She said Suffolk’s councillors would be talking to businesses, local bodies, and voters over the next few months to try to ensure the best possible deal for the county was achieved.
Mark Pendlington, chairman of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership said the deal would give them greater influence, control and decision making over vital areas of the economy from creating jobs, boosting skills, supporting businesses and building the homes that we so desperately need.
“We want to attract the brightest and the best to the East, to live, learn and work here, devolution offers us a way to achieve our ambitions and showcase our great industries from off-shore energy and ICT and creative digital excellence to world-leading agri-tech research nationally and across the world.
“But it is business that will drive the growth, create the jobs and spark the innovation, so they must continue to be at the heart of devolution discussions over the coming months including discussions on the role of a future East Anglian mayor.”
Mr Clark said that in time the deal could pave the way for more powers from the centre.
Greater Manchester took on health and social care responsibilities a year after an initial deal was agreed,
He also said he did have the power to impose a deal if one council rejected it, but said all of the deals struck so far had been done with consensus.