Concerns raised over Norfolk-Suffolk devolution consultation

editorial image

People living in West Norfolk are being urged to have their say on devolution plans covering the borough.

A consultation exercise on the scheme, which proposes the establishment of a new combined authority for Norfolk and Suffolk, was launched on Friday afternoon.

Residents will have just over six weeks to take part in the process, which runs until August 23, before councils who voted to support the scheme so far make their final decisions on whether to sign up.

However, concerns have been raised over the depth of the consultation, which includes online and phone surveys.

Polling company Ipsos Mori will carry out more than 3,000 telephone interviews across the two counties during the consultation in what officials say is an attempt to obtain a “representative sample” of opinions.

But there have already been calls for a referendum on the proposal and the number of phone interviews proposed only equates to around 0.2 per cent of the total population of the two counties.

And, speaking ahead of the announcement, Ian Sherwood, who represents Swaffham on Breckland Council which voted to reject the deal two weeks ago, said he was worried the consultation would be “limited.”

He added: “I certainly don’t think every member of the public will have the chance to see and take in the detail.”

However, West Norfolk Council deputy leader Alistair Beales, who backs the scheme, said the recent votes were primarily about putting the scheme out to public consultation at all.

He said: “I think it’s right we hear what they think. People will be given every opportunity.”

Borough council officials will also be holding a training session for parish councillors today and are planning to hold public meetings during the consultation period.

The new deal offers £25 million of annual funding to the combined authority over 30 years, plus £130 million for new housing over five years, £225 million for transport over four years and control of funds worth more than £20 million a year for adult skills and apprenticeships.

Norfolk County Council leader Cliff Jordan said: “Politicians have been talking about devolution for long enough so now is a chance for the people of Norfolk to have their say.

“I want to hear from the people of Norfolk about how they feel about decisions being taken closer to home rather than in Whitehall, and what they think of the deal that’s on offer.”

Mr Sherwood stressed that he respected the right of other authorities to take a different decision from his own.

But, while he said he was not against the principle of devolution, he fears it will be even harder for the public to engage with the new authority than it is with their district or county council at the moment.

He said: “I don’t see it working in the way they suggest.”

Mr Sherwood added that he had also been informed that council electoral services teams had been told to prepare for an inaugural mayoral election to take place in May next year, coinciding with the scheduled county council elections.

However, that claim has been denied by West Norfolk Council.

To find out more about the deal, and to have your say on it, visit www.eastangliadevo.co.uk.