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'Focus on Covid, not devolution', Norfolk County Council report warns

Officials in Norfolk should wait for the detail before considering a fresh devolution settlement for the county, a new report says.

The issue is back on the political agenda nearly four years after plans for the county to join a regional authority with Suffolk were rejected by several councils, including West Norfolk.

A Government White Paper, which is expected to set out proposals for further reorganisation of local administration, is due to be published before the end of the year.

Devolution plans are expected soon from ministers, but council officials say they want the detail before they respond.
Devolution plans are expected soon from ministers, but council officials say they want the detail before they respond.

But a report to be presented to Norfolk County Council's cabinet next Monday, September 7, said now is not the time to consider the issue and officials' focus should be on containing coronavirus, rather than preparing for, as yet, unknown proposals.

The report said: “Whilst we would certainly welcome further funding and devolved decision-making that would enable us to get the best deal for Norfolk, we do not yet have sufficient detail of the government’s White Paper proposals and requirements.

"Until such time as the White Paper is published, initiating work on potential re-structures to unitary models or working up a potential deal is premature and not the best use of our collective resources.”

The previous devolution proposal was finally scrapped in late 2016 after councillors in West Norfolk joined its neighbours in Breckland and North Norfolk in rejecting it.

One of the key stumbling blocks was the government's insistence on an elected mayor heading the proposed authority, as is the case in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

But, while opposition members have questioned whether reform would benefit the public, West Norfolk Council leader Brian Long claimed earlier this year that political leaders would be "remiss" not to look at the idea again.

County council leader Andrew Proctor said: “Norfolk’s response to the pandemic has proven how well our councils can work together and I’m committed to continuing that, as we move towards recovery and renewal.

“While I welcome the potential benefits of devolution and I’m not opposed to the principle of local government reform, we need to wait for the Government’s white paper, later this year before we respond.”

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