Norfolk pushes ahead with devolution talks, despite anger over elected mayor
- Credit: PA
The imposition of an elected mayor and how far the money being offered through devolution for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire would go, were two of the prime concerns raised by county councillors as they debated the deal.
But, despite reservations from many, members of Norfolk County Council today agreed to push ahead with negotiations for a deal - with the public due to be consulted in the summer.
Chancellor George Osborne announced in last month's budget that an Eastern Powerhouse would be created, with a draft devolution deal on the table for the three counties.
If agreed, the deal, which needs to be put to 22 local authorities, would see the Treasury hand over £30m a year for the next 30 years, along with £175m of housing money.
The new mayor, as chairman of a combined authority, would get to draw up spending plans for transport, strategic planning, and major government infrastructure projects.
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But the government's insistence that there must be an elected mayor has sparked anger.
At Cambridgeshire County Council, 64 councillors backed a motion which 'regrets that the deal, in its current form, is not acceptable to this council'.
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But at Norfolk, there was no such motion, despite widespread concerns over the process across all political sides.
Conservative Bill Borrett said he was in favour of devolution in principle, but said: 'I don't believe an elected mayor is good for Norfolk and that's certainly the feedback from parish level.
'We should stand up and say that we don't want an elected mayor.
Fellow Tory Michael Carttiss branded the idea of an elected mayor as 'absurd' and said he would have liked to vote against the whole deal there and then.
Labour leader George Nobbs acknowledged the deal, which he stressed was not his, had flaws, including that the combined authority which would be created would not be politically balanced.
But he said the leaders of Norfolk and Suffolk had made clear during discussions that they did not want an elected mayor.
He said: 'That point was made over and over again.'
But he said ministers made clear there would be no deal without an elected mayor.
And his Labour colleague Mick Castle said Norfolk should not 'cut off its nose to spite its face' because of unhappiness with the mayoral model.
He said: 'it's important that county councillors' aversion to an elected mayor does not cause East Anglia to miss out.'
But, demonstrating the divisions with parties, his Labour colleague Steve Morphew said the £30m a year on offer was 'peanuts'.
But the overall view was that it was better to continue the talks at this stage.
UKIP's Paul Smyth, said it was better to be at the table, despite reservations.
And councillors voted, by 70 to seven, to keep negotiating.
Public consultation will take place in July, assuming full council agreed on June 27 to go ahead with that.
A final decision on whether the county wants to be part of the deal would be taken in September.