The East needs a voice to compete with other regions

Ed Balls has raised the idea of an Easter Powerhouse.

Ed Balls has raised the idea of an Easter Powerhouse. - Credit: Archant

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls came up with a splendid suggestion the other day for an “Eastern Powerhouse” to drive forward the region’s economic growth.

I do hope its a suggestion that is adopted by whoever forms the next government after next May.

But there will need to be several questions answered about his proposals – the lack of detail in what he said was significant although in fairness as it was the first time he had raised the proposal that’s not wholly unreasonable.

His Conservative opponents Mark Bee and Ben Gummer have, not surprisingly, leapt to criticise the proposals as an unwanted extra tier of government.

If it did turn out to be an extra tier of government then I would be totally opposed to it. The idea of a regional assembly taking major decisions for an area stretching from Watford to Winterton and from Felixstowe to Peterborough is completely bonkers.

However we are already seeing increasing administrative co-operation between county councils.

Suffolk and Norfolk have a number of agreements, and Suffolk is also talking to Cambridgeshire and Essex about sharing services.

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It strikes me as entirely sensible to bring a level of democratic oversight to these processes – not by creating a new structure, but setting up a committee of senior councillors from the various counties to meet as and when needed.

Such a committee could, for instance, look at major infrastructure projects – like persuading the government to hand over substantial sums of money to improve the A140 between Ipswich and Norwich.

It could look at ensuring fire services that work together follow the same operating principles. It could provide a planning strategy for an area wider than a single county.

However it would not need to have its own headquarters building or its own staff – the days of EEDA and the Regional Assembly have long since been consigned to history.

There is no reason why a senior officer from Suffolk could not take the lead on developing a strategy to improve the A134 from Kings Lynn to Colchester while an officer from Norfolk takes the lead on developing the A140 from Cromer to Coddenham.

My message to Labour and Ed Balls would be: Don’t get hung up with developing a bureaucratic structure before you know what you want it to do, in fact just don’t develop a bureaucratic structure.

And to the Tories I’d say: Don’t dismiss the idea of an Eastern Powerhouse just because the phrase has been coined by one of the politicians you love to hate.

The East needs a voice – politicians need to look at how to provide it, not at reasons not to provide it!