New devolution plan ‘not workable’, Hunstanton councillor warns

Candidates for the Norfolk County Council Elections May 2013 ENGANL00120130426153630

Candidates for the Norfolk County Council Elections May 2013 ENGANL00120130426153630

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A Hunstanton councillor has branded new devolution proposals for Norfolk and Suffolk as “unworkable”, because of what he claims is a lack of political proportionality.

Richard Bird spoke out on the day that Norfolk County Council officials published papers outlining why they believe the authority should sign up to the latest ideas.

Councillors have been urged to back an agreement for a new combined authority, that would be still headed by an elected mayor, when they meet in Norwich next week.

But, at a meeting of Hunstanton’s town council on Friday night, Mr Bird argued the plan, which replaces one for a single authority covering Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, is flawed.

He said the main weakness was the lack of political proportionality within the new authority, which is currently proposed to be made up of the leaders of the participating county and district councils.

He said: “In this area, it’s all blue. Those of us who support the blue side may feel that’s not a big problem, but two thirds of our population did not vote blue.

“It falls down from there and gets more ridiculous. I haven’t met anyone of any political colour who thinks this is workable.”

If implemented, the plans allow for £25 million of annual funding to the two counties for 30 years, only £5 million less than what was previously on the table for Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough put together.

A separate authority for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has been offered a further £20 million.

It also offers £130 million of investment in housing, which is claimed will enable the construction of more than 10,000 new homes, over the next five years, plus a further £225 million for transport.

The body would also take charge of existing apprenticeship and skills funds, worth more than £20 million a year, and be expected to take a leading role in areas such as health, flood defence and internet capacity.

Andy Wood, who was appointed to lead negotiations with the government on behalf of the region’s councils and local enterprise partnerships, said: “The main focus of all our discussions has been to ensure we got the best possible settlement for the people of East Anglia.

“I believe what is on the table is one of the best settlements in the country.

“The timeframes have certainly been challenging but I believe the proposed deal represents a great opportunity for Norfolk and Suffolk.

“Government has recognised the importance of East Anglia to the economy, and the different needs and opportunities of its towns and cities.”

But Mr Bird said it was the structure of the new authorities, not the money that they would spend, that was the main issue.

He said: “We want money coming from central government to be spent locally. What we’re saying is why can’t we have something like what they have in Wales rather than creating this mish-mash?

“We’ve spent weeks and months on this, in officers’ and members’ time, discussing something that, at the moment, appears to be totally unworkable.”