Should Norfolk have an elected mayor?

Ken Livingstone was Mayor of London. It is not clear whether Norfolk would get an elected mayor. Pho

Ken Livingstone was Mayor of London. It is not clear whether Norfolk would get an elected mayor. Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Stark differences in opinion over the drive for devolution for Norfolk and Suffolk have been revealed, after the Eastern Daily Press quizzed key players over the future for local government.

Stark differences in opinion over the drive for devolution for Norfolk and Suffolk have been revealed, after the Eastern Daily Press quizzed key players.

We sent questions to councils in Norfolk and Suffolk, the government and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership – which has a vital role in devolution deal talks.

And the responses showed:

• The government insists a combined authority would not be granted 'major powers' unless it adopts a directly elected executive mayor


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• Despite the belief of some involved in the process, the government has not ruled out unitary councils

• Whitehall says, despite Norfolk's view, that there should have been no confusion over when bids needed to be lodged

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• Consultants were paid £16,000 to help decide what Norfolk should apply for

• Suffolk councils have stressed, despite the exploration of joint devolution ideas with Norfolk, that its own proposition will remain the 'bedrock' of its bid

• Cambridgeshire has not been approached over a three county bid

• Commitment to a devolution deal remains, despite private claims after a fractious meeting over the way forward that a deal was 'dead in the water' and a 'train wreck'.

With the government encouraging councils to take advantage of its offer of devolved powers, both Norfolk and Suffolk lodged expressions of interest for those on county lines.

But the government subsequently said it would look more favourably on a Norfolk/Suffolk bid and that has been the focus recent meetings, with negotiations between council leaders, the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and the government.

Norfolk County Council's policy and resources committee has agreed in principle to a Norfolk and Suffolk combined authority, although exactly what new powers that would seek - or how it would be governed - remain unclear and up for discussion.

However, one of the answers from the questions we put to the Department of Communities and Local Government is likely to cause some consternation.

We asked whether a combined authority would have to have an elected mayor, and the DCLG responded: 'We have been clear we will only transfer major powers to areas that adopt a directly elected executive mayor for the full combined authority area.'

Yet Norfolk County Council believes that would only apply in metropolitan areas. While Greater Manchester and Sheffield - as announced by chancellor George Osborne, last week, will have elected mayors through their devolution deals, Cornwall will not.

Just last week, Alan Waters, leader of Norwich City Council, told a meeting at City Hall that 'an elected mayor is unlikely to be acceptable to this, or any of the other councils in Norfolk.'

And Suffolk councils' response to why unitary authorities could not be pursued instead to make savings - that 'the government has been clear that unitary councils are not an option' - was contradicted by the DCLG.

In response to the same question over unitary, the DCLG said: 'This government is keen to see close working locally whether in the form of combined authorities, unitaries or through authority mergers. This can only be achieved through local consensus and this government will not impose an arrangement on an area.'

The DCLG seemed unsympathetic to Norfolk's belief that the deadline of September 4 for expressions of interest did not apply to them.

Norfolk County Council said: 'Up until July 29, we thought we had plenty of time and September 4 was just for the Northern powerhouse.

'However, shortly after that, based on various ministerial statements and conversations with civil servants it became clear, that September 4 was important in relation to the autumn statement so to secure first mover advantage we needed to get something in for then.'

But the DCLG said: 'The deadline for proposals to be submitted to the government was September 4 for areas that wanted to negotiate a deal by the spending review and this was communicated clearly to all local authorities.'

Cambridgeshire has not been formally approached to join with Norfolk and Suffolk in applying for a devolution deal, but Norfolk County Council leader George Nobbs did meet his counterpart over the border to 'ensure that the Cambridgeshire leader did not feel pressured into joining a bid'.

After a tense first meeting between Norfolk and Suffolk council leaders - where it is understood the Conservatives left the room at one point over a dispute on who should represent the authorities in future discussions with the government - there were privately-expressed views by some involved that a deal was 'dead in the water' and a 'train wreck'.

However, there is a public insistence that a deal can be struck. Norfolk County Council says there are 'remarkably few' cross-border tensions, while Suffolk councils say 'working across boundaries is challenging but also extremely worthwhile', although it stressed its own proposition must remain the 'bedrock' of any bid.

The answers also reveal that all eight councils in Norfolk contributed £2,000 each to pay the New Local Government Network to investigate options for devolution.

Here is the full list of the questions and answers:

Department for Communities and Local Government

1) When did you first contact local authorities in Norfolk and Suffolk about the potential for them receiving devolved powers? What did that contact involve? If a letter/email was sent, can we see a copy of that letter?

A) Local authorities were invited to submit proposals on July 21, 2015.

2) There seems to have been some confusion about when expressions of interest had to be submitted. Our council seemed to believe the September 4 deadline did not apply outside of the so-called Northern Powerhouse. What did the DCLG do to correct this confusion and when? If a letter/email was sent to councils in Norfolk and Suffolk, can we see a copy?

A) The deadline for proposals to be submitted to the government was September 4 2015 for areas that wanted to negotiate a deal by the spending review and this was communicated clearly to all local authorities.

3) We understand councils have been told that the need for an early application is so an announcement can be made at the Conservative Party conference. Is that true?

A) The timetable has been dictated by the desire to agree deals as quickly as possible so we can deliver devolution throughout this parliament. We will continue to consider submissions from all places.

4) Why has the DCLG said bids should fit in with LEP areas? Please explain the rationale behind that.

A) LEPs are important local economic areas but it is for local areas to come forward with their proposals.

5) If a Norfolk/Suffolk combined authority does happen, would it be appropriate for the chairman or other non-local authority member of the LEP to sit on it, given they are unelected?

A) It is ultimately for local areas to decide the arrangements for any combined authority structures – including voting rights of its members.

6) There has been some debate about how any devolution deal must be fiscally neutral, Can you explain what that means? If a council is devolved powers over, say transport or health , how will it be worked out how much funding they will get to exercise those powers?

A) The aim is to devolve existing budgets and funding streams to local partners along with powers so they can come up with proposals and make decisions that suit local conditions without increasing demands on the taxpayer.

7) There has been criticism that this process has been unnecessarily rushed and councils have been pressured to get in early bids? What is the DCLG's response to that criticism?

A) We disagree. We have provided significant time and support for local authorities to put together bids. Devolution will provide significant benefits and we want local people to benefit from them as soon as possible.

8) Would a combined authority have to have an elected mayor?

A) We have been clear we will only transfer major powers to areas that adopt a directly elected executive mayor for the full combined authority area.

9) In all of this, has anybody thought perhaps we should scrap the county councils and go to one-tier government? Why is unitary such a toxic word? Won't the preservation of two tiers merely result in extra costs as officials and councillors travel between two areas?

A) This government is keen to see close working locally whether in the form of combined authorities, unitaries or through authority mergers. This can only be achieved through local consensus and this government will not impose an arrangement on an area.

Norfolk County Council

1) Norfolk County Council, together with other councils in Norfolk, brought in consultants to consider the devolution question. When was that decision taken? Who made the decision and in what forum? What was the wording agreed for the remit of those consultants? How much was paid to those consultants?

A) The consultant used was the New Local Government Network. We asked them to carry out some research and analysis on the devolution agenda and potential opportunities to inform a potential Norfolk response/bid.

The decision to engage the consultant was taken by the chief executives of the eight councils at a meeting in March 2015. This followed on from a meeting of the leaders of the eight councils in December at which they tasked chief executives with developing information about the potential opportunities for devolution for them to consider. The total cost was £2,000 per council.

2) When was the first contact between the council and the government over the issue of devolution? Was it an email/letter/telephone call? And at that time, what was the belief of the council in terms of the timescale the devolution agenda was operating to?

A) Conversations between officers began shortly after the post-election spending review which announced the Northern Powerhouse and asked other authorities to send proposals by September 4. However, it was thought that this only applied to metropolitan authorities – this was certainly the view of those with government connections.

3) When did it become clear to the council that an expression of interest had to be lodged by September 4? Council leader George Nobbs has said 'late in the day there seemed to be a change', how did the council learn of that change? Is there frustration that this process is being rushed? Is it true that councils have been told they must get bids in so there can be an announcement at the Conservative Party conference?

A) Up until 29 July we thought we had plenty of time and 4 September was just for Northern power house. However, shortly after that, based on various ministerial statements and conversations with civil servants it became clear, that September 4 was important in relation to the autumn statement so to secure first mover advantage we needed to get something in for September 4.

No we are not frustrated, although it is difficult to work at pace when so many different authorities are involved.

In terms of the link with the Conservative party conference – there was some suggestion in informal conversations that important dates in the process would include the spending review in November and the Conservative Party conference in October. It is now quite clear that work on devolution will go on well beyond the conservative party conference.

4) When was the first discussion with Suffolk about a joint bid and/or a combined authority? Who was involved in those discussions? Are there any minutes?

A) The councils from both counties submitted their proposals on September 4. These proposals made it clear that while each had been worked up on an individual county-wide basis, both counties would be happy to work with others on taking on devolved control over key services that have a regional impact. This approach was supported by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, which covers both counties.

Officials from the DCLG and Cities and Local Growth Unit attended a meeting of leaders and officers on September 9 to provide feedback on the Norfolk and Suffolk devolution submissions. The clear message from central government was that a Norfolk and Suffolk combined authority deal has a much greater chance of success than a bid from a single county.

5) What is happening now with regards the devolution deal? What conversations has the county council had with the government? What further talks need to take place if it is going to happen? Will they be made public?

A) This a process involving all of the councils in Norfolk and Suffolk, not simply the county council. The officer lead in Norfolk, for instance, is the chief executive of West Norfolk Council. There will be many meetings and discussions amongst council officers and between officers and Whitehall official over coming months.

6) Has Norfolk County Council approached Cambridgeshire over the possibility of it becoming part of an alternative bid? If so, what was the response?

A) No, the county council has not approached Cambridgeshire over the possibility of it becoming part of an alternative bid. The leader of Norfolk County Council visited the Cambridgeshire leader as a courtesy as they had not previously met. Mr Nobbs understood that Cambridgeshire was not interested in a bid and was exploring other options. He wanted to meet face to face to ensure that the Cambridgeshire leader did not feel pressured into joining a bid – even if there was speculation about this. This visit was welcomed.

The government is encouraging us to pursue a joint bid with Norfolk and Suffolk Councils. However the door will remain future to co-operation with Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

7) Some have described the Norfolk/Suffolk deal as being 'dead in the water'. Does the county council agree? If not, explain why not.

A) Absolutely not, and it is disappointing to hear speculation about this.

8) The recent meeting to discuss the joint bid was a tense one, which suggested cross-border working will be difficult. A) How big a challenge is it to get everybody on board?

There are remarkably few cross-border tensions.

9) If the devolution deal goes through, who would the county council expect to be on the executive board of a combined Norfolk/Suffolk authority? How difficult would it be to form that board given Norfolk County Council has a committee model and Suffolk County Council a cabinet model of governance?

A) Both Suffolk County Council and Norfolk County Council would expect to play a role in any combined authority, as would the cities and districts of East Anglia. Governance models of individual councils would not be an issue as it would be a separate entity.

10) How much has all this cost so far? And, if it does go ahead, can you reassure taxpayers it will not cost them more money?

A) The cost has largely been officer time. We have no intention of creating new bureaucracies.

11) In all of this, has anybody thought perhaps we should scrap the county councils and go to one-tier government? Why is unitary such a toxic word? Won't the preservation of two tiers merely result in extra costs as officials and councillors travel between two areas?

A) The last two previous attempts to reform local government were extremely divisive, and so there is little appetite to go down the unitary model. It is an expensive upheaval and there are better ways to get a better deal for local residents.

12) If the government says a combined authority is acceptable, but only with an elected mayor, would the proposal still be pursued or is that a deal-breaker?

A) The legislation, which has yet to finish its journey through the house makes no specific demand for a mayor outside of the metropolitan areas, so this issue will probably never arise.

Suffolk Councils

1) Norfolk County Council, together with other councils in Norfolk, brought in consultants to consider the devolution question. Did Suffolk's councils do likewise? If so, what was the wording agreed for the remit of those consultants? How much was paid to those consultants?

A) We have used outside expertise on very specific aspects only of what became the Suffolk devolution proposal (ie support for a finance workshop and initial advice on the shape of submission (each one day)). Overall, we have relied upon our own in-house resources and our professional networks.

2) When was the first contact between the councils and the government over the issue of devolution? Was it an email/letter/telephone call? And at that time, what was the belief of the councils in terms of the timescale the devolution agenda was operating to?

A) There was informal contact with ministers prior to the General Election. Suffolk was invited by a minister to send in an early expression of interest prior to a meeting. Following the election result and the publication of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, Suffolk leaders agreed in early summer to try to submit a proposal by the end of September. government then published the document 'A Country Living within its Needs' and Suffolk's leaders made the decision to submit before the government's Spending Review deadline of 4 September . We did this in order to give clarity to detail of Suffolk's devolution hopes and maximise 'early mover' advantage. We have followed the original timescale with our respective cabinets, councils and clinical commissioning groups considering the content of Suffolk's devolution bid. Following the budget and publication of Spending Review consultation documents September 4 became the government's official deadline.

3) When did it become clear to the council that an expression of interest had to be lodged by September 4? Norfolk County Council leader George Nobbs has said 'late in the day there seemed to be a change'. Were Suffolk's councils similarly surprised that they did need to submit something by September 4? Is there frustration the process is being rushed? Is it true that councils have been told they must get bids in so there can be an announcement at the Conservative Party conference?

A) September 4 was the deadline for submissions to the Spending Review rather than a compulsory deadline for devolution propositions. Suffolk's leaders felt it would be useful to submit our ambition and expression of interest in negotiating a detailed devolution deal with government at that point as it would ensure Suffolk was considered along with any other areas' submissions.

There isn't a 'process' as such but government is keen to move quickly with those areas it feels are ready to do a devolution deal and we want to be as involved as possible early as possible to help shape the content, process and thinking to maximise benefits to our communities and businesses. rather than waiting to be 'done to'. There is a lot of activity in this initial stage leading up to the Comprehensive Spending Review at the end of the November, but this is not 'devolution'. The process and arrangements will take much longer and will involve formal consultation and wider opportunities for development. This is a long-term change to public service delivery for the benefit of people in Suffolk – all partners are committed to this principle.

No specific deadlines have been issued by government officials but previous experience with the Manchester and Cornwall deals is that pre-established milestones (eg, autumn statements, budgets etc) in the government calendar have been when deals are announced.

4) When was the first discussion with Norfolk about a joint bid and/or a combined authority? Who was involved in those discussions? Are there any minutes?

A) There have been informal discussions between officers and political leaders over the summer to align our devolution thinking in some areas, particularly as they relate to economic growth and skills. The first meeting, albeit and informal one, of Suffolk and Norfolk leaders with Government officials and the New Anglia LEP was on September 9.

5) What is happening now with regards the devolution deal? What conversations have the councils had with the government following last month's meeting? What further talks need to take place if it is going to happen? Will they be made public?

A) Suffolk, Norfolk and New Anglia LEP leaders and staff are involved in informal discussions with government officials which are designed to test, challenge, explore and evaluate our joint devolution ideas. We will be working to produce a similar document to that submitted by Suffolk on the September 4.which is already in the public domain.

6) Have Suffolk councils approached Cambridgeshire over the possibility of it becoming part of an alternative bid? If so, what was the response? And has there been any contact with Essex about an alternative bid?

A) Our position has always been that we are open for business in talking to any number of neighbouring councils and other partners. As far as the Suffolk Public Sector Leaders' group is concerned, we have our bedrock – our own Suffolk proposition. If anyone else wants to join us to make that bid – and theirs - even better for our own and their residents and businesses then we would certainly welcome any contact. This also depends on discussions in Cambridgeshire, and, in any event, we will be discussing the ongoing relationship between Cambridgeshire's, Norfolk's and Suffolk's devolution ambitions and arrangements.

7) Some have described the Norfolk/Suffolk deal as being 'dead in the water'. Do the Suffolk councils agree? If not, explain why not.

A) Absolutely not. We are working hard to secure a deal that will deliver the best outcomes for Suffolk and our discussions with Norfolk colleagues and those in the New Anglia LEP are an important part of that process.

8) The recent meeting to discuss the joint bid was a tense one, which suggested cross-border working will be difficult. How big a challenge is it to get everybody on board?

A) Reinventing and improving the public sector is a challenge – a massive challenge. If it was easy it would have been done years ago. We have shown in Suffolk that working across boundaries is challenging but also extremely worthwhile.

9) If the devolution deal goes through, who would the Suffolk councils expect to be on the executive board of a combined Norfolk/Suffolk authority? How difficult would it be to form that board given Norfolk County Council has a committee model and Suffolk County Council a cabinet model of governance?

A) At this stage, our focus is on function (what powers we would like to have from government), rather than form (the structures in which those powers would be delivered). Form follows function. The discussions about form will happen in the future. The organisations of both counties and central government will have to sign off governance proposals and there will be consultation on these proposals.

10) How much has all this cost so far? And, if it does go ahead, can you reassure taxpayers it will not cost them more money?

A) The government is clear that devolution deals must be 'fiscally neutral' (ie at the very worst costs will be no greater than at present) and that there is no additional funding available. As the councils across Suffolk who share services or are involved in some form of partnership working there are huge savings to be made by cutting duplication and working together more efficiently – to the real benefit of taxpayers. We are clear that better integration across public services, not just between local government, has the potential to save money and provide better more joined-up services such as healthcare, housing and infrastructure.

In terms of the cost to date, this has been achieved within existing resources and budgets.

11) In all of this, has anybody thought perhaps we should scrap the county councils and go to one-tier government? Why is unitary such a toxic word? Won't the preservation of two tiers merely result in extra costs as officials and councillors travel between two areas?

A) The government has been clear that unitary councils are not an option.

12) If the government says a combined authority is acceptable, but only with an elected mayor, would the proposal still be pursued or is that a deal-breaker?

A) We are not aware of any 'deal-breakers' because as yet there is no 'deal' on the table. What we have are discussions and ongoing negotiations. So it's far too early to answer this question.

The New Anglia Local Enterprise

1) Given the critical nature of these discussions aimed at devolved government for Norfolk and Suffolk, why is the timetable so rushed - as various leaders have indicated to us?

A) The government has set the framework and we are all working to its timetable. This is a great opportunity for Norfolk and Suffolk and we are up for this challenge, but as with any challenge there are tight deadlines, it is up to us all to deliver on them if we want to be successful.

2) What are the timescales the LEP has been given on this project and who gave them?

A) As above

3) Who asked the LEP to chair these discussions and what date was that request made on?

A) We are not chairing the discussions. It was agreed by both counties that a single point of contact would be useful for government, and the leaders agreed to establish a group to fulfil those requirements. That group includes Mark Pendlington – which was agreed by a unanimous vote - as well as leaders from Suffolk and Norfolk.

4) Given the LEP is unelected and its meetings not open to public scrutiny how much consultation has there been with the district councils of Norfolk and Suffolk, some of whom are discussing their own 'power councils' Is it right that an unelected body should be playing such a pivotal role?

A) Greg Clark, secretary of state for the DCLG has stated that LEPs must be 'at the heart' of any devolution deals. New Anglia LEP plays a key role in economic development and business growth and support across both counties - working with local authority partners it has been responsible for delivering £221m of growth funding to Norfolk and Suffolk to create jobs and boost innovation and skills. Devolution includes discussions on those important issues so it is only right we are involved. But the LEP is not involved in areas of devolution that do not cover our remit – such as social care or emergency services.

The LEP is private sector led, but its board includes elected members from councils across Norfolk and Suffolk.

5) What is happening now with regards the devolution deal? What conversations has the LEP had with the government? What further talks need to take place if it is going to happen? Will they be made public?

A) Discussions and meetings across the counties and with government will continue over the coming weeks and months. We would expect any bid for devolution to be made public once it is submitted – as happened with the September 4 proposals

6) Has the LEP approached Cambridgeshire over the possibility of it becoming part of an alternative bid? If so, what was the response? There is another LEP in Cambridgeshire - is this a difficulty?

A) No, we have not approached Cambridgeshire for an alternative bid. Cambridgeshire local authorities and the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP have submitted their own proposal for devolution and did not approach authorities in Norfolk or Suffolk to join in their bid. Our focus is on Norfolk and Suffolk and government support that approach. However we and colleagues in Cambridgeshire are committed to building a stronger working relationship. As a LEP we already work closely with GCGP LEP, we have shared projects and funding programmes with them (such as the Eastern Agri-Tech Grant scheme) In fact we are meeting the leaders of GCGP this week to see how we can further collaborate, drive innovation and work on integrated transport plans.

7) Some have described the Norfolk/Suffolk deal as being 'dead in the water'. Does the LEP agree? If not, explain why not.

A) No. Discussions are ongoing

8) Mark Pendlington is the chairman of the LEP. Given he spent 12 years as a Conservative Party official. Is there any conflict of interest in him chairing the discussions locally?

A) Mark is a business leader in his own right, it was on that basis he was elected unanimously to the board in 2011 and elected unanimously to be chair of the board in 2013. This endorsement included public and private sectors as well as cross-party interests. He has not been involved in active politics for 23 years.

His role is strictly apolitical with a focus on economic growth and what is best for the region

The LEP is a business-led organisation, independent and non-political. LEPs are tasked by government to drive economic growth. The chairman is accountable to the board which includes both elected leaders of Norfolk and Suffolk County Councils as well as district and city/borough councils elected members. And ultimately the LEP board and Mark are accountable to government for its performance and delivery.

We are not chairing the discussions, but we are part of them because of our role in driving economic growth and business support.

9) If the devolution deal goes through, would the LEP expect to be on the executive board of a combined authority?

A) It is far too early to talk about who will sit on any combined authority, but whatever devolution looks like, the LEP would expect to have a role within it, due to our remit for economic growth, business support, innovation and skills and infrastructure funding.

10) Mr Pendlington has previously said the LEP model shows that cross-border working is possible. The recent meeting to discuss the joint bid was a tense one, which suggested otherwise. How big a challenge is it to get everybody on board?

A) Cross border working is absolutely possible and we have already proved it can work, successfully, for the past five years, bringing growth, jobs and boosting skills and innovation across both counties, through projects like the Enterprise Zone (Great Yarmouth & Lowestoft) our Growing Business Fund (over 100 companies have secured funding across Norfolk and Suffolk since launch) and working with multiple local authority partners to secure City Deals for Norwich and Ipswich.

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