Don’t let devolution cash slip away, warns Andy Wood

Lincolnshire flag. EMN-160710-163814001
Lincolnshire flag. EMN-160710-163814001

The businessman who negotiated the current devolution deal for Norfolk and Suffolk has urged councils not to let the opportunity “slip through our fingers.”

Authorities across the two counties, including West Norfolk, will start to make their final decisions on whether to join the proposed new combined authority next week.

But, although there remains fierce resistance to some elements of the deal, Andy Wood, chairman of the counties’ leaders’ group, said the chances offered by it must be taken.

He said yesterday: “Communities have told us that they want more decisions that affect them taken locally rather than by central government.

“We must now seize this once in a lifetime opportunity.”

The proposed settlement offers the proposal, which offers £130 million of investment over the next five years for housing, plus a £25 million annual fund for 30 years.

But critics say an additional tier of government is unnecessary and the funding on offer does not compensate for the cuts councils are having to make to services.

One West Norfolk councillor, independent Alexandra Kemp, has already vowed to vote against the plan when it returns to the county council on November 21.

She fears the plan could eventually lead to the abolition of either county or district councils, and possibly even both.

She said: “This deal makes Norfolk and Suffolk the rural guinea pigs for an untested system that won’t work for Norfolk.”

But Mr Wood warned that ministers had made it clear the deal would be withdrawn without authorities’ support, as has already happened in the north-east of England.

He said: “We must not allow more than £1bn of funding slip through our fingers.”