‘Flaws at just about every turn’: Splits start to show in debate over devolution for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire

The flag of East Anglia, flying over County Hall. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

The flag of East Anglia, flying over County Hall. Pic: Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Submitted

The devolution deal, which would see an elected mayor for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, has come under attack - from opposite sides of the political spectrum.

There was an early indication a deal trumpeted by chancellor George Osborne in last week's budget could be in for a bumpy ride. when it was discussed by senior county councillors yesterday.

Steve Morphew, the former leader of Norwich City Council, attacked what is on the table as having 'flaws at just about every turn'.

The Labour county councillor put himself at odds with his own leader George Nobbs as he urged full council to turn down the deal when they vote later in the year.

The deal would see the creation of a combined authority, with an elected mayor. Supporters say powers from Whitehall would come to the region, giving control over millions of pounds to spend on transport and housing.

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Twenty-two of 23 local authorities have signed up to debate the draft document. Each council will need to consider whether it wants to be part of a deal.

But Mr Morphew yesterday raised concerns over the costs of the combined authority and mayoral office, which he said would add unnecessary extra tiers to local democracy.

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He said: 'Once we accept the extra two tiers and the associated costs, the sweeping away of the influence of local people and local councillors becomes inevitable. It hasn't been publicly stated, but it's happening in the shadows and opens the back door to local government reorganisation.'

He said a transport plan was needed but that powers could be devolved to achieve that without need for an elected mayor.

He said: 'There are flaws at just about every turn. They might be asking the right questions, but these are not the right answers and nor is it the right way of reaching the right answers.'

Conservative Ian Monson and Green Adrian Dearnley said they agreed with much of what Mr Morphew said.

But Mr Morphew's Labour colleague Mick Castle said he saw the deal as a positive one.

He said: 'It's a great opportunity and one we should not throw away because of doubts over an elected mayors. We need to get the best for Norfolk.'

Councillors agreed the full council should consider the draft devolution deal at a meeting next month. Other councils will do likewise.

Further talks over governance will take place, with details brought to councils by the end of June. There would then be public consultation in the summer.

Councils will consider whether to agree the final deal at the end of September, with mayoral elections in May next year.

Meanwhile, Sir Henry Bellingham, Conservative MP for North West Norfolk, also criticised the proposal.

He said: 'We are looking at a figure of £1bn over 30 years. If you break that down you end up with quite a small amount of money for Norfolk. When you look at the cost of the A47, it is not a large amount of money.

'I happen to be a huge supporter of Norfolk County Council and the current system. I am amazed George Nobbs is pushing this so hard. He will be signing a death warrant for Norfolk County Council. The two-tier system works well.'

Mr Nobbs has insisted the combined authority would not affect the existing local government structure 'in any shape or form'.

But Sir Henry said there could be a move for three unitary authorities in Norfolk, and they could end up crossing county boundaries.

He said the break up of Norfolk County Council would undermine figures such as the Lord-Lieutenants, who are the representatives of the Crown for each county in the United Kingdom and the position High Sheriff.

He also raised concerns about the turnout for an elected mayor in comparison to MPs.

'The police and crime commissioner was elected on 15pc of the vote. I imagine the mayor would be elected on probably not more than 14/15pc of the vote. There is no appetite for having more elections. There is no public demand for this.

'In my constituency along with other MPs, we are the elected person with the mandate. If I go to a factory opening or hospital or there is a big issue I am the person who takes the lead, I took the lead in the battle over the incinerator, with Liz Truss. I don't want an elected mayor coming into the constituency and saying I am going to do this factory opening.

'My message to councillors in Norfolk is think very carefully. If the money is new money and we can guarantee that, I agree with decision making at a local level. But not if you don't get new money is it worth paying the cost I have outlined.'

• What do you think? Write, with full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email EDPletters@archant.co.uk

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