Norfolk and Suffolk devolution meeting to go ahead after snub threat is headed off

George Nobbs, leader of Norfolk County Council. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

George Nobbs, leader of Norfolk County Council. Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

A devolution deal for Norfolk and Suffolk will be discussed by council leaders today, but only after a threat to snub the meeting amid anger over who could attend.

Leaders from councils across the two counties will meet in Needham Market, in Suffolk, to discuss progress over the deal, which would switch powers from Whitehall to local authorities.

The government has indicated it is prepared to offer a deal, although a long-standing sticking point is over the treasury's insistence that there must be an elected mayor – or there would be no deal.

That issue – and others, such as Cambridgeshire's reluctance to be part of the deal – are due to be debated today.

But Norfolk County Council had threatened it would not take part, because of an email sent in advance outlining the procedure of the meeting.

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Sent by Jennie Jenkins, Babergh council leader and chairman of the Suffolk leaders' group, it said, after 'discussions with leaders', council officers, such as chief executives, would not be permitted to attend the meeting.

That led to a furious response from Norfolk County Council. A letter signed by Labour leader George Nobbs, Conservative group leader Cliff Jordan, Green group leader Richard Bearman, Liberal Democrat group leader Marie Strong and UKIP group leader Toby Coke stated unless that changed, the county council would not attend. The letter stated: 'The draft devolution deal is what we as leaders should be discussing on Tuesday as we enter the time remaining before the next government announcement.'

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The County Hall leaders said they were 'not prepared to attend such an important meeting without the presence of professional officer support and advice', while Alan Waters, leader of Norwich City Council and Ipswich Borough Council leader David Ellesmere are also understood to have raised concerns.

That led to a U-turn, with leaders told they could take council officers to the meeting after all.

Norfolk and Suffolk had lodged expressions of interest for devolved powers on county lines, although the government said it would look more favourably on a Norfolk/Suffolk bid.

That has been the focus of subsequent meetings, with negotiations between council leaders, the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and the government.

But the meetings have been held in private and the Commons Communities and Local Government Committee recently said there had been a 'very significant' lack of public engagement over the deals.

Norfolk and Suffolk MPs have also organised a separate meeting at Westminster today to discuss devolution.

• What do you think of devolution? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email

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