Business chief issues a warning over rejecting devolution proposal

Mark Pendlington speaking at the official opening of the new University Centre at the College of Wes

Mark Pendlington speaking at the official opening of the new University Centre at the College of West Anglia. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Sticking with the status quo and rejecting devolution presents a greater threat than accepting an elected mayor, the chairman of the business-led New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership has claimed.

In a speech urging doubters to back a multi-million-pound deal for power over millions of pounds of spending and an elected mayor, Mark Pendlington, the partnership's chairman, said the move would transform the region's economy. Four councils in Norfolk have already opted out of the deal.

However writing for the EDP today, an opponent of the scheme, Sir Henry Bellingham, sets out his concerns about an extra tier of government and urged leaders to kill off the proposals. He calls for a wider, more comprehensive, look at local government across Norfolk, suggesting the creation of a 'mini Royal Commission' to look at the future structure of local government in the county.

Norfolk and Suffolk MPs met ministers earlier this month to discuss the plans. They were told that they could either take or leave the deal.

Sir Henry has been pushing for the elected mayor element of the proposal to be dropped, but MPs were told there was no room for manoeuvre.

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Following a consultation over the summer, councillors will now decide in November whether to push ahead with the agreement, which would also see a combined authority created.

The government wants to hold elections for a new mayor for Norfolk and Suffolk, with new powers over £25m a year to invest in the region's transport network and skills, plus control over a further £130m over five years for housing, next May alongside cities including Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands.

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But speaking at the New Anglia local enterprise partnership annual meeting, Mr Pendlington said: 'Put simply, this is the biggest opportunity our region has ever – will ever – be granted.

'In devolution, we in the East have the chance to shape our region's economy, to take more of the big decisions here, locally, where the knowledge is and where the difference will be felt, and of course to tap into an investment that will be truly transformational.'

'Devolution is not a threat; the status quo certainly is. Let's stick together, trust each other and work with each other to build a Norfolk and Suffolk that is recognised as one of the best places in the world to live, work and learn.'

Sir Henry Bellingham column – Page 27

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