Think tank calls for devolution for Norfolk and district councils scrapped

Could Norfolk councils be in for a shake-up? Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Could Norfolk councils be in for a shake-up? Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

An influential think tank has called on Norfolk's district councils to be merged to stop the county being 'left behind'.

A report by ResPublica claims millions could be saved if a single unitary council model was adopted.

The paper, Devo 2.0, also called for Norfolk to elect a mayor adding that a devolved county would gain new powers similar to London and Manchester.

The move comes after a week of special reports in this newspaper reignited the debate around the future of local government in the region. Council leaders and MPs agreed that a new approach is needed with many also backing full devolution.

Phillip Blond, Director of ResPublica, said: 'The needless confusion that frustrates the ambitions of business and government alike in our county areas must end now. With Brexit on the horizon and our city-regions already benefitting from devolution, we can't afford the waste and complication that the current system creates. Single councils at the county scale are the future and we call on the Government to move rapidly to encourage them'

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Chris Richards, head of business environment policy at EEF, the manufacturers' organisation, said: 'Today's ResPublica report is another hammer blow to the columns holding up the outdated two-tier local government system. Its central recommendation – that district councils should be abolished and functions merged into larger unitary councils – will be well received by manufacturers.

'The report echoes EEF's Manufacturing Local Growth report in identifying the benefits from moving to larger unitary councils including allowing businesses to benefit from a reduction in the number of voices.'

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Last year, then chancellor George Osborne announced an Eastern Powerhouse would be created, with a draft devolution deal on the table for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. The deal offered a combined authority new powers over transport and planning along with a £30m a year cash boost from the Treasury guaranteed for the next three decades.

But the insistence on an elected mayor proved controversial. Norwich, Breckland, Great Yarmouth and North Norfolk District Council withdrew and the plans collapsed. Finally communities secretary Sajid Javid scrapped the offer,

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