What’s the point of this talk about English devolution?
- Credit: PA
I’ve been covering politics in this region for the best part of a quarter of a century – longer if you include my early years traipsing around the parish councils of East Suffolk.
But I don’t think I’ve ever come across such a pointless waste of time as all the current discussion about devolution for the region.
The discussions between councils in Suffolk and Norfolk seem monumentally pointless because no-one knows what the government’s thinking on the subject is – probably because no one government seems to be thinking seriously about it anyway.
What has now happened is that a real dog’s breakfast of ideas has been thrown into the mix – giving the Tory district councils in Norfolk the opportunity to slag off the “rainbow coalition” running the county council there while those from the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and Suffolk County Council make increasingly desperate attempts to persuade the rest of us that there’s something worth talking about here.
Because English devolution is a woolly concept that few people – outside the corridors of council buildings – care about.
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It is a concept that had its birth on the steps of Downing Street in the early morning after last year’s Scottish devolution referendum when David Cameron was relieved about the scale of the victory – and had just had the Queen “purring down the line” to him, as he helpfully told former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In fact Mr Cameron opened his mouth without engaging his brain. He spewed out some motherhood and apple pie-style nonsense about devolving power to England without having a clue about what he wanted.
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The idea Norfolk is floating of a “combined authority” sharing some departments with Suffolk is a non-starter. The two authorities have completely different structures – not to mention political make-ups that are the polar opposite of each other.
The most logical new structure would be a directly-elected regional authority covering Suffolk, Norfolk, and Cambridgeshire responsible for big strategic issues like major roads, economic development, health and social care and schools (yes, including free schools and academies).
There could then be single-tier super-districts – Greater Ipswich, Greater Norwich, Greater Cambridge, Greater Peterborough, east Suffolk, west Suffolk, Yartoft, north Norfolk, south Norfolk, west Norfolk, north Cambridgeshire and south Cambridgeshire providing all the direct services like planning, leisure, social work, maintenance of minor roads, waste collection and disposal.
But it’s clear that no politicians, either in council chambers or in Westminster, will have the guts to propose such a radical change that would really affect the way we are governed – just think of all the councillors we’d lose!