Eastern Powerhouse: Do we really need yet another tier of administration?

Norfolk County Council have agreed to push ahead with negotiations for a deal on devolution for Norf

Norfolk County Council have agreed to push ahead with negotiations for a deal on devolution for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. - Credit: PA

There are still a few old village sages who rarely set foot outside their parish boundaries.

They know every little lane and nook, where the best blackberries grow, where to find sloes in autumn and old overgrown orchards which still yield a good harvest of cider apples.

But as communication improved and car ownership became universal, so others learned there was life outside the village and town.

Where once we merely cycled to the next parish for a darts match, now driving 20 miles to the coast is the norm. And so our horizons expanded to include districts rather than parishes, and then counties.

Now that is not enough, for if rural areas are to prosper they must be part of a much larger area. And so we have a so-called Eastern Powerhouse, a coming together of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire to become some massive economic force for good.

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The point seems to be that by speaking with a common voice we will attract more investment for all, and all will prosper.

Ignore all the political blather, the facts are quite simple. Cambridge is one of the most exciting areas not just in the country but in the world, with its universities and research centres producing bright young techies speaking in tongues few of us can understand.

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Cambridge is, basically, full. So if we can persuade these highly-successful companies to move down the road we'll all be better off.

The idea to use an old airfield at Downham Market as the perfect place for a new Cambridge hub seems credible.

Here in Norfolk we have exciting technical and research centres around the UEA, and any number of vibrant small businesses which one day might just become multi-nationals.

But for this expansion to succeed, do we really need an elected mayor to run a new authority? Do we need a figurehead with a back office costing millions to bring together an area which already is starting to function as a powerful region?

We already have parish, district and county councils. Do we need a regional assembly as well? After all, every tier of administration is another potential trip hazard for 'getting things done'.

And if counties can't make their economic case for better rail and road communications at the moment, what difference will yet another talking shop make?

Another problem is getting people to turn out and vote if the government pushes through the idea of having an elected mayor for these three counties. If it's anything like the lamentable turnout for electing a police and crime commissioner, there'll be precious few who will bother.

And then you have the problem that the elected mayor of the three counties will have precious little authority, as he's assumed his or her office backed by a tiny proportion of the electorate.

Market forces are already bringing about change without another talking shop and certainly without another mayor.

As we're all supposed to be our uppers, an elected mayor will not be value for money.

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