Summit meeting will attempt to thrash out Norfolk and Suffolk devolution deal bid

George Nobbs, leader of Norfolk County Council. Photo: Bill Smith

George Nobbs, leader of Norfolk County Council. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2013

A summit meeting will take place today to attempt to thrash out a fresh bid for a devolution deal for Norfolk and Suffolk.

Council leaders from across the two counties will meet officials from the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership to re-think their bid for more powers, after government officials told Suffolk its proposals for a county-based expansion of services was 'not ambitious enough.'

The government's Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is understood to believe neither Norfolk or Suffolk are large enough to be given extra powers – on issues like strategic planning, economic development, and health management – on their own.

The government has indicated a joint bid by the two counties could be successful and an attempt to hammer out proposals will be made at a meeting at Easton College today.

The initial bids by Norfolk and Suffolk each stated they were prepared to work with each other, but stopped short of proposals for how a cross border devolution package would work.

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If the bid is to be one of the first to be considered, and highlighted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at this year's Conservative Party conference in October, it will have to be submitted to the DCLG by the end of this week.

George Osborne is keen to unveil proposals from shire counties as well as the well-heralded 'Northern Powerhouse' of Greater Manchester at this year's party conference – and the government is known to see Suffolk and Norfolk as a strong candidate.

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It is understood one option being discussed is having a 'combined administration' serving two separate political entities.

Another suggestion is that a 'super council' could replace the two counties' political structures as well with a reduced number of strengthened district, borough, and city councils ensuring a greater degree of localism on issues like housing, waste collection, planning, leisure and local road maintenance.

In Norfolk there could be a new council covering Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth, new councils for greater Norwich, North Norfolk, South Norfolk and Breckland, and West Norfolk and Kings Lynn.

But councillors, MPs, and senior officers from both local authorities and the LEP are being tight-lipped about the likely shape of devolution in the region.

However, Norfolk County Council leader George Nobbs said: 'It is quite clear that the government is only interested in ambitious proposals that involve more than one authority.

'It is also clear to me that if we do not grasp the opportunity now, it will pass us by for many years and possibly forever.

'Those that embrace the government's offer at this stage stand to be the winners and those that prevaricate will be the losers. I urge all my fellow leaders not to let this opportunity pass them by.'

Suffolk County Council leader Colin Noble said that while much of the emphasis on devolution had been on economic development and infrastructure projects, he was keen to bring in health issues and linking them with social care in the future.

But he insisted any devolution proposals would have to result in saving public money in the long-term.

He said: 'I do not expect this to cost anything, in fact I expect the proposals to reduce the cost to the public purse – if that does not happen then there is no point in the exercise.'

And John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk Council, issued a warning over the format of the bid. He said; 'On the face of it the government is dangling a carrot and there is a big opportunity, but we have got to take care not to be fixed in our minds a clear geography before we decide what to do. 'The geography should follow what we want to do. There is an enormous prize here - funding for infrastructure which otherwise would go to other parts of the country.'

• What do you think? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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