Norfolk devolution deadlock as no deal reached during latest talks

Incinerator costings press conference held by Henry Bellingham MP, Liz Truss MP and Nick Daubney the Leader of the Council. ENGANL00120140131161835
Incinerator costings press conference held by Henry Bellingham MP, Liz Truss MP and Nick Daubney the Leader of the Council. ENGANL00120140131161835
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The future shape of local government across Norfolk remains highly uncertain today after no agreement was reached during devolution discussions.

Norfolk County Council officials have admitted there is still much to be done to find a solution, following the latest of a series of meetings held in a bid to thrash out a deal.

And West Norfolk Council’s leader admitted the talks have been “difficult.”

Authorities across Norfolk and Suffolk have been engaged in talks about how they could benefit from central government proposals to devolve additional powers to local government.

It had been suggested that the councils had until Friday, when the latest talks took place, to submit their ideas to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

Norfolk County Council has confirmed no plans have been submitted, but denied that any deadline had been set for proposals to be completed.

A spokesman also insisted that the government department was happy for the authority to continue working on ideas for a possible way forward.

She said: “The DCLG has made it clear that they would like Norfolk and Suffolk to work together.

“There is an enormous amount to gain from the two counties working together but there is also an enormous amount still to do.”

One of the key sticking points in the negotiations is thought to be the long-standing ambition of both the Norwich city and Ipswich borough councils to become separate unitary authorities, rather than being part of any larger bodies.

It is also believed that the state of Norfolk County Council’s finances is another area of concern, given that the authority is already working on measures to find at least £110 million worth of savings in its budgets over the next three years.

However, while answering questions on the issue during its meeting on Thursday, West Norfolk Council leader Nick Daubney revealed that a further anxiety related to the administration of health and social care services in the two counties under any future arrangements.

Labour group deputy leader Andy Tyler called for a reassurance that any new powers would help to ensure an improvement in care standards.

Mr Daubney said: “This is a very complex procedure and is trying to be achieved in a short space of time.

“I think you’ve hit on the one aspect that is most difficult and because Suffolk is so far ahead in its organisation of these services and we don’t know where Norfolk are. They’ve been reluctant to give us much information.

“There would be no point in taking on a service that’s going to bankrupt us.”

Mr Daubney admitted the talks had been tough, but insisted the project was still worth pursuing, despite the setbacks.

He said: “These are difficult negotiations but the prize, if we get it right, is enormous.

“It’s key to me we don’t sell a very successful council to ones that aren’t as successful.”