Norfolk and Suffolk councils in headlong rush for more powers - and merger

PUBLISHED: 11:38 16 September 2015 | UPDATED: 11:51 16 September 2015

The leader of Suffolk County Council Colin Noble

The leader of Suffolk County Council Colin Noble

Norfolk and Suffolk leaders have been pitched into a race against time to draw up a plan to take more power from Westminster.

Cllr George Nobbs leader of Norfolk County CouncilCllr George Nobbs leader of Norfolk County Council

Despite years of debate about “northern powerhouse” devolution, they have been given a tough deadline of just days to come up with a proposal, with chancellor George Osborne wanting to announce a deal which might pave the way for a combined authority of Norfolk and Suffolk councils on November 25.

Separate proposals by the two counties appear to have been rejected by Whitehall, and Norfolk and Suffolk leaders, MPs and the New Anglia local enterprise partnership will meet communities secretary Greg Clark today to discuss a joint bid.

The move would put more power into the hands of local authorities, including Norfolk and Suffolk county councils, which have come under fire in recent years over the way they have run schools.

Reorganisation of local government has proved controversial in the past, with plans to create unitary authorities dividing councils in the region.

George Osborne wants to give more powers to regions. Photo: PAGeorge Osborne wants to give more powers to regions. Photo: PA

So far there are few details about exactly what powers the new Norfolk and Suffolk combined authority would be given, but both counties suggested in their individual bids that consensus could be reached on economic growth and transport infrastructure.

West Norfolk council leader Nick Daubney, who chairs the Norfolk council leaders group on devolution, said there could be a “significant reward” for local authorities.

“It is an opportunity I don’t want to lose because not to put too fine a point on it – since 1997 the East of England has been bottom of the list when it comes to support. The will is here, the potential is here. The ability is here.”

But he warned that leaders had to be in control of the process. We have to make sure we are not driven by close deadlines. It does have to go through all our democratic processes. That will be the bottom line. You cannot rush or force things through just on the basis of a timetable.”.

Norfolk County Council leader George Nobbs said he believed that it was a case of “now or never”.

“Many of us believe it is huge prize for East Anglia. It is up to us to show the vision and seize that chance while it is on offer.”

Questions also remain about whether there would be more power for clusters of councils within a Norfolk and Suffolk combined authority.

In a letter to local authority leaders, seen by the EDP, chairman of the New Anglia Local Enteprise Partnership Mark Pendlington, who is coordinating meetings between the two counties, said there was a “real advantage” in being a first mover, but warned that the national political energy behind it was finite.

Comment – page 30

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