‘Robust’ debate over devolution deal bid for Norfolk and Suffolk

Nick Daubney, leader of West Norfolk Council. Picture: Ian Burt

Nick Daubney, leader of West Norfolk Council. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

The future of a devolution deal for Norfolk and Suffolk today remains uncertain, after what is understood to have been a fraught summit meeting where council leaders attempted to thrash out a revised bid.

Councillors from across Norfolk and Suffolk came together at Easton and Otley College yesterday to meet officials from the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and the government to discuss their bid for more powers.

Norfolk and Suffolk had previously lodged expressions of interest in a devolution package, but government officials told Suffolk its proposals for a county-based expansion of services was 'not ambitious enough', while indicating a a joint bid by the two counties could be successful.

Yesterday's meeting was an attempt to come up with a solution which could curry favour with the government - but it is understood there was conflict regarding the way forward.

However council leaders remain adamant a deal can be agreed.

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Nick Daubney, leader of West Norfolk Council, who chaired the meeting, said: 'I think progress was made. It's fair to say there was some robust debate, but I think the upshot is we have now agreed in principle to a single proposal.

'There's a lot of detail to be built around the financial model and fleshing out the proposals and that is work which has to be done.

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'In terms of considering a combined authority, I think there's a bit of a way to go. We have got a lot of councils involved, with a lot of political persuasions, but I am reasonably optimistic.'

Norfolk County Council's policy and resources committee is due to meet on Monday, when the devolution bid is one of the items on the agenda.

The committee is due to be asked to agree the principle of a Norfolk and Suffolk Combined Authority.

But County Hall's leader George Nobbs stressed that did not mean a merged Suffolk and Norfolk County Council.

He said the councils had been seeking new and additional decision making power and resources from the government which would be exercised jointly.

Speaking after yesterday's meeting, Mr Nobbs said: 'We have to convince the government that we are mature enough to work across boundaries and across parties and even across personal interests in order to achivee a devolution deal for East Anglia.'

Colin Noble, leader of Suffolk County Council, said: 'It has been a long day and there have been some robust conversations, but we have made progress and we will be pushing ahead with a smaller group to try to come up with a workable proposal.

'I certainly feel we are getting somewhere and we should have a something for the government within the next two or three weeks.'

He said it was important that everyone recognised that it was in the interest of Suffolk and Norfolk that more powers should be devolved from Whitehall – whatever the political complexion of individual councils.

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