‘Most important day yet’ for Norfolk and Suffolk joint devolution bid

Lord Heseltine delivering a speech in Birmingham Town Hall in 2012 where he urged the government to

Lord Heseltine delivering a speech in Birmingham Town Hall in 2012 where he urged the government to spend more money on boosting economic growth in the regions. David Jones/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Lord Heseltine has given his surprise encouragement to Norfolk and Suffolk's joint bid for more powers - but leaders admitted a crunch meeting in London had not been a day for detail.

Lord Heseltine has given his surprise encouragement to Norfolk and Suffolk's joint bid for more powers - but leaders admitted a crunch meeting in London had not been a day for detail.

Norfolk County Council leader George Nobbs hailed the meeting with the former deputy prime minister the bid's 'most important day yet', after the Conservative peer told a delegation he had been excited by the proposal of a two-county deal.

But there is still no clarity on the sums involved and who would be accountable for the extra powers.

Chancellor George Osborne has said deals would only be done in return for an elected mayor, but Norfolk and Suffolk leaders argue the region's mix of urban, rural and coastal areas make it a different case to Greater Manchester, where a deal for an elected mayor has already been struck. Although Lord Heseltine reportedly said no mayor would be imposed, it has not been ruled out of the plan.

The team were also questioned by Lord Heseltine about the possibility of teaming up and creating a bigger authority with Cambridgeshire, but they told him that 'informal collaboration' worked well and that the neighbouring county was not as far forward with its plans.

There has been criticism, including from this newspaper, that the brakes should be put on in the dash for devolution, but County Hall officers and councillors have said they cannot afford to procrastinate

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Jennie Jenkins, Chairman of the Suffolk Public Sector Leaders' group, said: 'I think it is ours to lose. There is an awful lot of work to do. We now have to go back and do the detail on housing, infrastructure, innovation, skills, finances. We have to build up the detail behind it so we can sell it to the ministers.'

Mr Nobbs said they had been 'immensely encouraged by Lord Heseltine's evident enthusiasm for the proposal'.

'He wants to keep on talking to us and what we are going to do is to go back to our respective authorities and continue working on our proposals to government. This is by far the most important day in this process.'

But he added; 'Today wasn't a day about details.'

'It was Lord Heseltine making it clear to us he was excited about what we were doing and he was anxious to make sure this progressed,' he said.

New Anglia local enterprise partnership chairman Mark Pendlington said: 'The outcome of the meeting was he was saying this was exciting and let's look at the detail to see what the priorities are and how we can bring it all to life.

'I have come away from the meeting very positive and encouraged and I think we now have to do a lot of extra work to refine the detail and keep talking to government about how we want to make it work.'

'The next stage is to go right down into the detail to make sure it is affordable and workable and achievable and all those things. I think we put some exciting ideas forward and Lord Heseltine was in not doubt that we were really up for this step change in how we develop our economy and deliver services.'

Ministers have been hoping to announce a rural devolution deal in this month's Autumn Statement, but Mr Pendlington said:

'It would be wrong to put stakes in the ground to say it will be done by then as it is a flexible timetable. It may be flexible but it is purposeful. We do want to keep the pace on this. We want to persuade the Government it is worth supporting us.'