Devolution vote ‘misunderstood’, West Norfolk Council chief insists

Borough Council of King's Lynn and West Norfolk Councillors ENGANL00120130214162648
Borough Council of King's Lynn and West Norfolk Councillors ENGANL00120130214162648
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Discussions over a potential devolution settlement covering West Norfolk are continuing despite growing concerns about the implications of the proposal.

Politicians from all sides of the divide have voiced doubts over the plan, which is set to see a new combined authority created for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, in recent days.

And, earlier this week, Cambridgeshire County Council voted overwhelmingly to declare the deal as “unacceptable” in its current form.

The state of the project was high on the agenda at last night’s West Norfolk Council meeting, with Labour leader John Collop among those seeking answers.

He asked: “What does that (the Cambridgeshire vote) mean to the way forward?”

But leader Nick Daubney played down the significance of last Tuesday’s meeting.

He said: “I think there’s been a lot of misunderstanding about the Cambridgeshire vote.

“Cambridgeshire have voted not to accept the document in its current form. That can mean many, many things.

“I chaired a meeting yesterday. Cambridgeshire were very much alive and present and are joining us in the forward planning and progress.

“There’s a little way to go and there will be some quite difficult debates and discussions.”

Much of the criticism of the proposals so far has centred on the idea of a directly-elected mayor, whom voters are currently expected to be given the chance to choose for the first time in May next year, at the same time as county council elections.

Mr Daubney has maintained that the borough council would largely continue to operate as it does now under the proposed settlement.

But sceptics are worried that the mayor could undermine existing political institutions and lead to less, rather than more, money being available to fund improved services and infrastructure.

And around 600 people have now signed an online petition

Mr Collop said he understood the borough council had previously declared its opposition to the idea of a directly elected mayor.

Mr Daubney acknowledged there were a “broad range of opinions” on the subject, but stressed it was a central part of the offer made by ministers.

But he added: “This council will make its own decision in due course.”

Some commentators have claimed the entire project is at risk of collapse amid apparent calls for a major figure to be brought in to promote it.

The doubtful mood was tapped into by independent Mike Tilbury, who said: “Could I ask the leader if he understands that what is going on at present is negotiation?

“That means trying to find mutual understanding. It does not mean rolling over on your back.”

He added: “A lot of suits sat round talking. They decided they needed professional help. Lord knows where the money’s coming from.”

But Mr Daubney dismissed the remarks as “offensive” and “stupid.”