East Anglia may soon have its own equivalent of a Boris Johnson overseeing a combined authority for Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.
The Chancellor George Osborne announced as part of today’s budget having reached devolution deals with East Anglia, Greater Lincolnshire and the West of England.
The East Anglian region would have a budget of £30 million a year for the next 30 years to invest in infrastructure and another £175 million for housing.
The agreement with 22 East Anglian local authorities, plus the region’s local enterprise partnerships, says: “There is no intention for the Combined Authority to take existing powers from local authorities or existing city deal governance structures or funding without agreement.”
The directly elected Mayor for The East Anglia Combined Authority will ‘autonomously exercise new powers’. with the ‘locally accountable’ authority acting as his cabinet. Mayoral elections will be in May 2017 alongside county council elections.
As well as UK funding, it is expected to seek European regional funds.
It is expected to take a regional approach to housing, planning, infrastructure and transport, including franchising buses and establishing a regional travel card system.
It will also oversee flood defences and coastal management and will work with the Regional Schools Commissioner and other key local education stakeholders establish an education committee.
Suffolk County Council described the deal as setting out ‘a fundamentally different relationship between Government and local public services’.
Cllr Jennie Jenkins, chair of Suffolk Public Sector Leaders’ Group said: “The deal reflects the fact that Suffolk and the rest of East Anglia delivers some significant economic benefits to UK PLC and beyond through agriculture, on and offshore energy and research and innovation in science and technology.
“However, it is important to be clear that what has been published today isn’t a ‘done deal’. It requires ratification by each of the local councils and the LEP Boards.
“We will also be carrying out extensive engagement over the coming months with local communities and businesses across Suffolk with feedback being used to inform the paper that councils will consider in the summer.”
George Nobbs, leader of Norfolk County Council, welcomed the deal saying it was a profound transfer of powers from Whitehall to the region.
He added: “I have always believed that key decisions on public services are best made by locally elected politicians, answerable to the public, rather than distant bureaucrats in Whitehall.
“Each and every council in the region will now debate the draft document as details are worked up. I am personally delighted that this is a deal specifically for East Anglia. This is not a region created by central dictate, it is deeply rooted in English history and has possessed a distinct identity for more than a thousand years.”
Suffolk and Norfolk’s Green Party, while welcoming the idea of devolution, criticised the deal for its lack of consultation, the size of the region and what it feel was lack of consideration to the rural nature of the area.
Suffolk County Councillor Mark Ereira, said “While working with our Norfolk neighbours would be preferable to Whitehall decisions on infrastructure, the proposed authority covering most of East Anglia is too large for meaningful democracy to succeed.”
Councillor Richard Bearman, who leads the Green Group on Norfolk County Council, said “These plans walk all over local people and take power away from districts and boroughs. The dominance of economic growth at all costs is a concern for Green councillors,”
Sarah Howard MBE, President of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce. “The news is welcome and as plans progress it is vital that business is fully engaged in the decision making process since the development and success of devolution will ultimately be dependent on business and economic growth.”