East Anglian Devolution looks like it is holed below the waterline, as Norfolk County Council look set to vote against the deal.
Westminster hopes for a deal between Suffolk and Norfolk appear to be fading fast, as Norfolk County Council looks set to walk away from a multi-million-pound deal over concerns about the proposal for a Mayor of East Anglia.
Devolution was proposed by Suffolk County Council after the Government asked for volunteers to show how devolved power could be shared in rural two-tier communities. But the County was rebuffed by the Government, who insisted that the population was simply too small to make a deal possible.
Instead a deal including Norfolk was encouraged, based around the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, which has been seen by the Treasury as key to all the devolution deals so far. A deal seemed certain, but Westminster overreach saw former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine attempt to drag Cambridgeshire and Peterborough into the deal as well.
Concerns about the requirement for a Mayor to lead the Combined Authority, described as a new layer of local Government, began to surface across Cambridgeshire and then spread across Norfolk; there has been less concern about a Mayor in Suffolk, though councillors have made very clear that they were unhappy with the idea.
Yet the pubic consultation indicated that a slim majority backed the idea of a single person to make decisions for Suffolk and Norfolk, who could be held accountable for decisions. Potential Mayoral candidates included Suffolk County Council leader Colin Noble, who expressed an interest to Spy, and other names mentioned included Andy Wood, Chief Executive of Adnams and the Independent Chair of the East Anglia Devolution Leaders Group, and Mark Pendlington, the Chairman of the New Anglia LEP.
However, it is reported that the Leader of the Conservatives on Norfolk County Council, Cliff Jordan, has given a free vote to his colleagues on the issue, and doesn’t believe he can win a vote on the current deal. Labour’s former (Norfolk) Council leader George Nobbs, who signed an agreement to work more closely together with former Suffolk County Council Leader Mark Bee, has publicly opposed this deal, and several Norfolk councils have rejected the proposals.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Gauke has made clear that without a Mayor the deal is dead, and the former Northgate pupil is unlikely to do a deal to allow Suffolk to go it alone. If Norfolk’s councillors cannot be persuaded by the time Suffolk votes on 23rd November, then devolution won’t happen in Suffolk or Norfolk; the Government plans to lay orders in Parliament to allow the process to move forward on 24th November, and if a deal hasn’t been agreed then there won’t be another chance.