While I support the principle of devolution, the proposed deal on the table for Norfolk and Suffolk is not the right one and I hope that it will be rejected when it comes before NCC in November.
The Government’s take-it-or-leave-it attitude, accompanied by the usual threats that this is the only chance we will ever get at devolution, smacks of Project Fear in the recent referendum, has led to a top-down, rather than bottom-up approach with many aspects of the deal detrimental to Norfolk’s long-term prosperity. The amount of money on offer for this first phase of devolution is derisory in terms of infrastructure projects. Over half of Norfolk’s electorate were disenfranchised when Breckland, Norwich, Great Yarmouth and North Norfolk voted against the deal in June, which is likely to mean that the Mayor will always be from Suffolk. The sovereignty and integrity of Norfolk as a county will be diluted, but perhaps most importantly, the Mayor and his office will create another layer of expensive bureaucracy at a time when all local authorities are under increasing financial pressure.
Surely the priority must be to give Norfolk’s electorate the options for local governance in next May’s local elections with the financial implications clearly spelt out for each option, including the status quo, which, in my view, is not financially sustainable without large annual increases in council tax.
Some of the options available to the electorate would save huge amounts of money, but breaking the status quo is never easy as you are up against the vested interests in maintaining it. Nevertheless, if this can be achieved, a form of devolution built from the bottom up could be presented to government in the years ahead. If the Government imposes the current devolution deal on Norfolk without proper democratic consent I foresee a major backlash against the Tories in next May’s local elections.
Cllr Richard (Toby) Coke
Leader, UKIP, NCC