Hunt for plan B likely over jobs and growth plans

Backers of rival jobs and growth partnerships for Norfolk and East Anglia might have to turn to plan B today if ministers reject the plans.

Ministers are expected to give details of around 20 so-called local enterprise partnerships (Leps) which will get the green light, including a proposal for Cambrigeshire/Peterborough and West Norfolk taking in King's Lynn. A bid for a Lep covering Essex/Kent and East Sussex is also expected to get support.

But a plan for a single Norfolk bid and another for East Anglia are not thought likely to get the go-ahead with sources at Whitehall indicating that the government is instead keen on a Norfolk/Suffolk tie-up.

That sparked a frantic exchange of letters and phone calls among policymakers locally to try and promote the idea before today's announcement in order to get the idea included in the first wave.

Norwich City Council, which favoured an East Anglia Lep, swung in behind the idea with a letter from deputy leader Brenda Arthur to business and enterprise minister Mark Prisk to help try and get the idea off the ground and secure something for both counties.

The EDP also understands the government received a joint letter from backers of the East Anglia bid including Jeremy Pembroke, leader of Suffolk County, and Steve Sharratt, chairman of Space for Ideas and CBI East of England, stating they would support a Norfolk/Suffolk proposal.

Members of the East of England Energy Group were also believed to be keen to push the idea.

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But backers of the Norfolk Lep, which included the county council and all district councils apart from Norwich, were sticking to their plan, opting to wait for official confirmation that the idea was a non-runner.

They insist it was the failure to secure Norwich's support which derailed the Norfolk bid and it did not fail on grounds of scale or competence.

In her letter Mrs Arthur said the city was a strong supporter of the East Anglia Lep but if there was strong support within government for a Cambridgeshire Lep and another for Essex/Kent the second preference would be for a Norfolk/Suffolk partnership if the government was minded to support it.

'It has been suggested erroneously that Norwich does not support a Norfolk Lep,' she wrote. 'We have always said that if the government favoured a Norfolk LEP we would support it. Our concern around a Norfolk-only LEP is that it lacks critical mass. By combining with Suffolk we would create a more powerful player that would punch above its weight in a national and international arena. We believe that significant businesses in the area are likely to support this approach.

'But let me reiterate again that the City Council will get behind whatever decision is made,' she added.

Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis said while he still favoured the Norfolk option he was prepared to be pragmatic.

'If Norfolk doesn't secure a Lep, I think the business community of Norfolk and Suffolk are pragmatic and forward-thinking enough to ensure they come together with an exciting proposal which hopefully will make it impossible for the government to say no,' Mr Lewis said. 'Norfolk and Suffolk link together down the coast and you have to go through both to get to each other, while there is a lot of synergy between Ipswich and Norwich.'

Ian Mackie, deputy leader of Norfolk County Council, said: 'The business community, districts and the county council are very much behind the Norfolk Lep until we hear that's no longer on the table. We want to get Norwich on board but if that isn't on the table we will have discussions with the Lep board. We do have good relationships with Suffolk but that will be something for the Norfolk Lep board to consider should that be a proposal that comes out.'