Leader plays down speculation Essex could join Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire devolution deal
Speculation that the devolution deal with Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire could be extended into even more of East Anglia has been played down by the leader of Essex County Council.
It is understood that, if the government does offer a three-county deal, then the possibility of Essex getting involved has been mooted in some quarters.
But David Finch, leader of Essex County Council, distanced himself from such a move, saying the county was focused on its own bid for a devolution deal.
Councils across Greater Essex submitted a joint letter of intent to the government setting out their ambition for devolved powers in September.
The bid was signed by 15 authorities, including Essex County Council and the unitary authorities of Southend and Thurrock,
It claimed the region could create the fastest growing economy outside London, increasing economic output from £32.5bn to £60bn, develop key transport hubs such as London Stansted, Southend Airport and port clusters in the north and south of Essex and see an increase in the number of higher apprenticeships.
Norfolk and Suffolk had initially submitted bids for devolution on county boundaries, but the government made clear a joint bid from the two counties was needed. Cambridgeshire, like Essex, was also minded to go it alone, but an intervention by communities secretary Greg Clark means the government has now asked Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambrideshire to work on a three-county bid.
Leaders will meet Lord O’Neill, the commercial secretary to the Treasury in London today, to discuss a possible deal, which could see Whitehall powers devolved to a three county combined authority - with an elected mayor.
Mr Finch, however, was cool on the possibility of Essex becoming part of an even larger East Anglian devolution deal. He said: “Within Essex, we have been working for the last year with districts and two unitary authorities on a bid with a combined authority model.
“We don’t exist as an island and we do talk to different authorities, like Kent, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk as we have conversations about cross border issues anyway.
“We have been chatting to other leaders and I had a conversation with Cambridgeshire County Council leader Steve Count just to see how their devolution talks are progressing.” But he said he had not had formal talks about Essex seeking a devolution deal with Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgesire.
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