“Robust” meeting as councils hammer out devolution proposal

Suffolk County Council leader Colin Noble

Suffolk County Council leader Colin Noble

Hopes of securing more powers for local authorities across East Anglia remain alive despite a “robust” series of meetings in Norfolk yesterday according to Suffolk County Council leader Colin Noble.

He insisted that Suffolk’s plan to bring extra powers to councils in on both sides of the River Waveney was still in place and could form the basis of a devolution bid to be lodged within the next three weeks – putting the region in the first phase of potential English devolution proposals.

But it was clear that some of the Norfolk councils present were keen on a detailed debate at the meeting which was organised by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership which is trying to broker the bid.

Officials from the Department for Communities and Local Government in Whitehall were also at the meeting.

Mr Noble said: “It has been a long day and there have been some robust conversations, but we have made progress and we will be pushing ahead with a smaller group to try to come up with a workable proposal.

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“I certainly feel we are getting somewhere and we should have a something for the government within the next two or three weeks.”

He said it was important that everyone recognised that it was in the interest of Suffolk and Norfolk that more powers should be devolved from Whitehall – whatever the political complexion of individual councils.

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Norfolk and Suffolk had previously lodged expressions of interest in a devolution package, but government officials told Suffolk its proposals for a county-based expansion of services was “not ambitious enough”, while indicating a joint bid by the two counties could be successful.

Yesterday’s meeting was an attempt to come up with a solution which could curry favour with the government – but it is understood there was conflict regarding the way forward.

However council leaders remain adamant a deal can be agreed.

Mark Pendlington, chairman of New Anglia LEP said: “It was a constructive meeting with all the key people attending.

“Together, we will be setting out a clear work plan of the main issues we want to present to Government. We are now going to get on with the detailed work and the hard graft required to put the best possible case to Government.

“We are confident of a compelling outcome and will be consulting with partners and sharing the details of our plan in the forthcoming weeks.”

Nick Daubney, leader of West Norfolk Council, who chaired the meeting, said: “I think progress was made. It’s fair to say there was some robust debate, but I think the upshot is we have now agreed in principle to a single proposal.”

Norfolk County Council’s policy and resources committee is due to meet on Monday, when the devolution bid is one of the items on the agenda.

The committee is due to be asked to agree the principle of a Norfolk and Suffolk Combined Authority.

But Norfolk’s leader George Nobbs stressed that did not mean a merged Suffolk and Norfolk County Council.

He said the councils had been seeking new and additional decision making power and resources from the government which would be exercised jointly.

Speaking after yesterday’s meeting, Mr Nobbs said: “We have to convince the government that we are mature enough to work across boundaries and across parties and even across personal interests in order to achivee a devolution deal for East Anglia.”

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