Is independence for Suffolk really a serious possibility?

A sign of things to come? Not quite!

A sign of things to come? Not quite!

After Scottish and Welsh devolution, the government has turned its attention to how to transfer more powers to local people in England.

Could we see independence for Suffolk? Could the East Anglia kingdom of Raedwald and Edmund be resurrected? Despite the romance, that is way off the agenda.

There is no blueprint yet on what devolution could mean in shire counties – and in Suffolk and Norfolk there are very different ideas of what could be in store for local residents.

In Suffolk – which is seen as being one of the leading authorities in the race for devolution – it is all about bringing services together, running them with a common administration but serving councillors from a number of different authorities.

It could see district council services like planning and waste collection, county council services like roads and social services, and NHS services from running surgeries to health education being run by a single administration.

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Co-operation is already seen across the county where Babergh and Mid Suffolk have formed a single administrative unit, and similar co-ordination is seen in Suffolk Coastal/Waveney and St Edmundsbury/Forest Heath.

There is also co-operation with the police – shared offices on the edge of Ipswich – and the health service.

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In Norfolk, which is some way behind Suffolk in the devolution stakes, officials have talked about working with other counties on joint services – although councillors insist no final decisions have been taken.

Suffolk County Council leader Colin Noble said: “From our point of view we are certainly working very hard with our districts and boroughs and public sector leaders in Suffolk towards what that means and how we could put a bid in.

“But certainly as we look to our bid we have a long track record of working together. We do have a public sector leaders group. We do meet on a monthly basis.”

He did not discount working with Norfolk in the long-term, but felt it was necessary to establish the concept in Suffolk first.

Mr Noble said making services as easily accessible as possible was vital. “People don’t think ‘I want these services from the county, these services from the district, and these services from the NHS’.

“They just want to be able to get services as easily and efficiently as possible – and that is essentially what devolution is all about.”

The working group looking at proposals in Suffolk is led by Forest Heath council deputy leader Robin Millar. He said: “There are some very good discussions going on about this and we are preparing our response to the government which they will be looking at after September.

“We are clear that we want to look at solutions that are best for the people of Suffolk – making it easier to access services more efficiently.”

The government has been impressed by the way Suffolk has taken on the devolution issue. Last year it awarded the county £3m from its Transformation Fund to help with the integration of police and NHS functions with its own services.

Sources in Whitehall have said that while Suffolk is seen as being an authority in the vanguard of moves to devolve more services, Norfolk is some way behind and is unlikely to feature heavily in early changes.

See here for more on what devolution could mean for Suffolk

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