Minister steps in to urge leaders not to miss wider East Anglia devolution opportunity

George Freeman looking relaxed before casting his vote at Litcham Jubilee Hall. Picture: Ian Burt

George Freeman looking relaxed before casting his vote at Litcham Jubilee Hall. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

The opportunity for a joined-up East Anglia must not be lost, a senior minister has warned business leaders in a 'game-changing' intervention about the region's devolution future.

Life sciences minister and Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman has written to top Cambridgeshire executives, and the Norfolk and Suffolk leaders, to tell them a powerful alliance of the country's top brass believe a wider regional deal must be considered.

It came as Norfolk and Suffolk council leaders met in Needham Market where they agreed to continue pursuing a devolution deal for Norfolk and Suffolk, but have not given up hope Cambridgeshire can be brought on board.

Cambridgeshire leaders previously informed Norfolk and Suffolk they would look at an informal partnership, but would not be part of a formal devolution bid.

The question of whether any deal would include an elected mayor remains an area of conflict following the Treasury's insistence there would be no deal without an elected mayor. It is a move which would not be supported by leaders in Norwich and Ipswich.

In his letter Mr Freeman, who previously built and financed businesses in the Cambridge area, said he was concerned the potential of the area would be lost if the city was not properly linked to its surrounding area.

He cited support from chancellor George Osborne, his devolution adviser Lord Heseltine, communities secretary Greg Clark, Lord Sainsbury and University of Cambridge vice-chancellor Leszek Borysiewicz.

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He said: 'I believe when the scale of what is on offer through the devolution deals becomes clear, and the benefits it could mean for East Anglia this idea will gain momentum and support.'

John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk Council, said the move was 'game-changing' and said the Norfolk and Suffolk deal could act as a 'benchmark' for Cambridgeshire to compare with, in terms of what infrastructure and jobs are needed in the region.

George Nobbs, Labour leader of Norfolk County Council, said: 'There is a rich prize in devolution for the people of East Anglia, although there are still negotiations to be done. The question is do we have the courage and the wisdom to seize it? I hope and believe that we do.'

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