Suffolk seeking 'level two' devolution deal - but no county mayor
- Credit: Stephen Waller
More details have been revealed of the devolution deal Suffolk leaders are hoping to secure to give the county an enormous boost for its future.
Negotiations with central government are under way – and hopes have been voiced that potential powers already outlined are only a starting point.
Suffolk was confirmed as one of nine areas to have secured an invitation to negotiate a ‘county deal’ of devolved powers at the start of February as part of the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper.
The devolution bids are split into three levels – directly-elected mayor like London or Manchester, a county council without a directly-elected mayor, or local authorities working together.
Suffolk is pursuing a level two deal for extra powers at a county council level without a directly elected mayor as it closely aligns with existing models of governance.
It is hoped Suffolk's deal will have been shaped by the autumn.
Conservative county council leader Matthew Hicks said: “We have had the first meeting with civil servants which took place two weeks ago now. We are ambitious, eager, we want to get that work going, we want to deliver more and this is a huge opportunity. I am really pleased we are at the top table now having these discussions.”
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Among powers in the Government’s blueprint for that level are climate change priorities, local transport functions, adult education and bus franchising among others.
But Suffolk leaders driving the negotiations say there are benefits beyond those areas they are interested in securing.
County council’s head of policy Caroline Davison said: “They aren’t a minimum offer so they are not all guaranteed, and they are not exclusive so there may be other things beyond this that could be included in a deal but it does give a good starting point in terms of what Government feels would be reasonable to include in a devolution deal.
“There is a little bit of it being skewed towards the economic growth, skills, transport side of policy, rather than on the health, wellbeing and wider determinants part of policies. But equally, we are not restricted to just this framework and we would be interested in pursuing some of those because clearly that is where you get some of the biggest potential benefits.”
However, while negotiations are in the early stages, Ipswich Borough Council’s Labour leader, David Ellesmere, said the idea of a directly elected mayor should be carefully considered before being discounted.
He said: “It’s also clear that the level three deal as presented by the Government still comes with significantly more powers and funding than a level two deal, so before turning down a directly elected mayor out of hand we should be clear about what we could be giving up if we do so.
“We all want what is best for Suffolk but there is a danger other counties could be seen to be getting a much better deal for their area because they were prepared to countenance a directly elected mayor, and I don’t want us to be accused of lacking ambition for Suffolk if that happens.
“If we are going to stick with level two, then we need to quantify what additional powers and funding level three would bring and give a reasoned argument for why we think Suffolk doesn’t need them.”