Pressure mounts as crunch meetings near on Norfolk and Suffolk devolution

Brian Long, leader of the Borough Council of King's Lynn and West Norfolk. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Brian Long, leader of the Borough Council of King's Lynn and West Norfolk. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Crunch meetings on the future of the Norfolk and Suffolk devolution deal will begin next week - and, if just one of the 12 councils involved in the process says no, the whole devolution deal falls.

And, with North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham one of the most vocal critics of what has been offered, his influence could yet play a major part on how West Norfolk Council votes next Thursday – the first council to do so.

Leader Brian Long, also a county councillor, stressed his group would be given a free vote, but that he hoped the council would back the deal.

He said: 'My own opinion is that we have reached a position where the mayor's powers are the weakest we could get while still getting the deal, with all the housing and investment that will bring. I think that makes the mayor a price worth paying.'

He said having Sir Henry so publicly against the deal 'had not helped', but hoped councillors would vote for the deal.

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The government's insistence over an elected mayor – with elections earmarked for May 4 next year – was part of the reason why Norwich City Council, Breckland District Council, North Norfolk District Council and Great Yarmouth Borough Council decided they did not want to be part of it.

People living in those areas will not be able to vote for a mayor, if the deal goes through.

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The remaining Norfolk and Suffolk councils and the Local Enterprise Partnership will be asked to agree to a draft order for approval by Parliament which covers the powers the government is proposing to transfer to a Norfolk/Suffolk Mayoral Combined Authority.

The draft order was produced after the secretary of state for communities and local government considered a summary of the more than 10,000 responses to the consultation carried out during July and August.

Andy Wood, independent chair of the leaders group said: 'Communities have told us that they want more decisions that affect them taken locally rather than by central government.

'Devolution would deliver exactly that - improving people's lives and the places in which they live. The Secretary of State has confirmed the government's commitment to Devolution for Norfolk and Suffolk – locally, we must now seize this once in a lifetime opportunity.

'There have been some concerns about those areas of Norfolk who would currently not be covered by the combined authority. The Secretary of State has been clear that once the combined authority has been formally established the four areas would be very welcome to apply to join, should they so wish.

'It is also important to be clear that only if all the councils agree the draft order will devolution for the two counties proceed.

'In early September a strong message was sent to the North East where some councils voted against their proposed Devolution deal, which saw government promptly withdraw the deal.

'The secretary of state has clearly stated that this is one of the most ambitious devolution deals in the country. He has been equally as clear that if we don't agree the deal the funding on offer will be spent elsewhere in the country, where Devolution plans are agreed. We must not allow more than £1bn of funding slip through our fingers.'

Earlier this week, Norfolk County Council agreed its leader Cliff Jordan should continue representing them at meetings about devolution, but that he make clear the authority has 'substantial reservation' about the governance, including an elected mayor.

Mr Jordan subsequently sent a letter to councillors stating that he had spoken to communities secretary Sajid Javid about their concerns.

He said: 'I told him the outcome of the morning's meeting and, following the instruction from full council, made it very clear that the county council has concerns about the governance – particularly that they do not want a mayor.

'I explained that I had to deliver that message to him strongly, and he clearly understood it, although he did stress that the deal on the table is with a mayor.'

The key decisions are:

Broadland, South Norfolk, West Norfolk – Thursday, November 17

Norfolk County Council, Mid Suffolk, Suffolk Coastal, St Edmundsbury – Monday, November 21

Babergh, Forest Heath – Tuesday, November 22

Ipswich, Waveney –Wednesday, November 23

Suffolk County Council – Thursday, November 24

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