Norfolk in talks with Suffolk and other Eastern region councils as devolution agenda gathers pace

Mark Bee and George Nobbs at Beccles bridge.

Mark Bee and George Nobbs at Beccles bridge. - Credit: Archant

Norfolk County Council's chief has raised the prospect of working with Suffolk to claw more powers and control of budgets from Whitehall.

It is one of a number of options being looked at ahead of a devolution meeting between Norfolk's county and district leaders to be held today.

Managing director Wendy Thomson said ministers had hinted that they would want to see economic powerhouses created along the lines of the current local enterprise partnerships, which includes New Anglia for Norfolk and Suffolk. Although parts of Norfolk and Suffolk are also members of the Greater Cambridgeshire and Greater Peterborough Lep.

She said: 'The fact the Government signalled that as a scale, we would be wanting to see what the scope would be for working with Suffolk.'

Suffolk County Council leader Colin Noble said the council was 'keen to work with Norfolk', but questioned how a bid for powers and budgets might come together.

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While there are no specific proposals yet, those working on the issue in Suffolk are looking at a model based very much on the existing county boundaries.

At this stage they are not looking at a regional solution, including neighbouring counties like Norfolk, Essex or Cambridgeshire – but are looking at ways of bringing together various public sector organisations within Suffolk.

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But Mr Noble added; 'The Government is looking for all of us to come up with our bids relatively shortly, and we are very open to whatever Norfolk can come up with?'

Norfolk County Council leader George Nobbs admitted Suffolk was further down the line on its devolution plans.

But he said: 'What I favour is talking with our neighboring counties and looking at those things we feel we could do better ourselves rather than the Government. We are talking about real devolution of responsibilities and budgets. Things like road and rail infrastructure, clearly the eastern counties feel they can do better than central government. Flooding and coastal defences. At the moment we have responsibility but not one iota of power. 'There are all sorts of areas where all counties in the east think they could spend the budget more efficiently than central government.'

But he said that he was also 'very sympathetic' to the natural desire of places like Norwich, Cambridge, Ipswich and Peterborough to become city regions, and said they had been talking to members of the Greater Norwich Growth Partnership.

'The two things can work in tandem. Powers can be devolved down from central government to groups of counties, at the same time counties can devolve powers down to districts. It clearly isn't one pattern that fits all counties.'

West Norfolk council leader Nick Daubney said he thought the Government wanted areas of a size and combination that would demonstrate excitement and growth.

'If that happens to be Norfolk and Suffolk together, I would certainly be in those discussions. But one thing I get from the Government is that these will be district level up. It is not a case of Norfolk County Council and Suffolk County Council, it is a case of Norfolk councils and Suffolk councils coming together to create a large economic area. I got the impression from the messages I heard that the Government is looking for really substantial economic growth.

'It is not secret we have had active discussions with councils outside Norfolk. At the end of the day we have to build a sensible economic unit that works and will be of interest to the Government.'

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