Elected mayor debate set to be reignited as fresh bid for Norfolk devolution nears

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil Perry

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil Perry - Credit: Archant

A new bid to get the government to give more powers to Norfolk councils through devolution - which could see a huge shake-up and an elected mayor - is likely to be launched.

But leaders say it is too early to say what could happen - or what could be sought.

Four years ago, the government offered Norfolk and Suffolk a deal which would have seen powers devolved to local councils, bringing in £750m of new funding for infrastructure and £130m for new homes.

But the government insisted the two counties must have an elected mayor - which led to Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Breckland and North Norfolk councils withdrawing from the process. Other councils voted against it and the deal was removed.Local government secretary Robert Jenrick has said a Covid-19 recovery and devolution plan will be published later this year - which will reignite the debate over devolution, elected mayors and unitary councils.

Last year, the Norfolk Leaders’ Group commissioned the East of England Local Government Association’s Talent Bank to look at ways for councils to work better together - with the county council contributing just under £10,000.

As part of that work, with consultants Blue Marble, the devolution question has been considered, although it was not part of the initial remit and work is not yet finished.

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Questions about devolution were asked by Sandra Squire and Steffan Aquarone, leaders of the Independent and Liberal Democrat groups at a council meeting on Monday.

Mr Proctor said: “With regard to devolution, the initial thinking was the best approach was to get a deal - a deal over the right geography to make things work and leverage more money and powers into the area.

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“We did, unfortunately, have a failed situation four years ago and I’m hoping that will not be failed situation when we start the whole process again.

“When we were talking about it initially, it was talking about as reorganisation coming as a consequence of devolution and that would be considered on that basis.

“But things seem to have now changed a bit. The bill is not due out until September, but the trailer from government is that reorganisation should come first.” Mr Proctor said anything done should have “unanimity” through Norfolk, which he accepted “could be difficult to achieve”.

He said devolution needed to be based on facts and evidence and added the cost of reorganisation work, given the state of local government finances, should not fall on councils.

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