West Norfolk MP slams devolution ‘steamroller’, as council chief backs local decisions

Election Count at Lynnsport King's Lynn
Henry Bellingham ANL-150805-111717009
Election Count at Lynnsport King's Lynn Henry Bellingham ANL-150805-111717009
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The money being offered to East Anglia is not enough to justify the imposition of an elected mayor, North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham has claimed today.

Yesterday, communities secretary Greg Clark admitted councils in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire would have to accept the new structure if they wanted to be part of a proposed devolution settlement.

Borough Council of King's Lynn and West Norfolk Councillors ENGANL00120130214162648

Borough Council of King's Lynn and West Norfolk Councillors ENGANL00120130214162648

He also stressed that authorities will not be forced to sign up to the new combined authority.

But, having spoken out against the mayoral idea in the House of Commons earlier this month, Sir Henry has now urged ministers to phase in the changes.

He said he would be prepared to accept a mayor in the future, if the public voted for it in a referendum, but added: “I am not prepared to accept us being steamrollered into this at rapid speed. It’s not acceptable.”

However, West Norfolk Council leader Nick Daubney, who was among the political and business leaders who met Mr Clark during his visit to Wisbech on Wednesday, said the scheme could help to secure a better investment deal for the region.

He said: “What I want to do is ensure the East of England starts to get its fair allocation of money.

“The mayor will have to work with all the councils and make funding decisions locally, not in Whitehall. I believe that to be a good thing.”

Under the current timetable, county and district councils have until the end of June to decide whether they want to be part of the new combined authority for East Anglia, with the first mayoral election planned for May 2017.

But Sir Henry says a regional committee comprised of council leaders, local enterprise partnership representatives and police and crime commissioners should be set up first.

He said: “If, in three to four years, we see there is a democratic deficit, I would be prepared to go along with that (an elected mayor), subject to a referendum.”

He maintained he did not want to be a “roadblock” to additional investment, but feared that much of it would be taken up by extra bureaucracy.

He added that he would be seeking a meeting with Mr Clark when MPs return to Westminster after the Easter recess.

However, Mr Daubney argued that being able to spend money locally instead of from central government departments would benefit the region, despite the anxieties over a new political structure.

He said: “I know it’s (the funding offered) not enough, but we know the reality of the situation.

“Whatever happens, district councils will have a genuine say in how that money is spent.”