Devolution

In the past couple of weeks, we have seen lots of discussion on Devolution both national and locally.  Unsurprisingly, a couple of weeks ago, the vote to withdraw by Kings Lynn and West Norfolk Borough council from the devolution process resulted in the Government scrapping the Norfolk and Suffolk deal.  South Norfolk and Broadlands voted overwhelmingly to continue but Norfolk County Council then decided to cancel its meeting.  In Suffolk, however the Leaders, including myself, decided, following some useful conversations with DCLG Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, that we should attempt to conclude a deal for Suffolk alone (which might or might not include some willing partners Council areas from Norfolk and/or Essex).

Accordingly, last week across Suffolk meetings scheduled to approve the Norfolk/Suffolk deal went ahead and Councillors were asked to debate the following ‘amendment’ to the motion:

That Council agrees:

  1. To reiterate the commitment, given at its June meeting, to Devolution as a means for delivering accelerated growth in the local and national economy and helping local people and places fulfil their potential;
  2. To authorise the Leader and Chief Executive to:
  3. a)      seek an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss the Government’s intentions around devolution;
  4. b)      work with Government and local partners to agree an alternative devolution deal as soon as possible
  5. That further reports are presented to the Authority, as appropriate, as the Devolution process progresses.

During the debate at Suffolk County Council, myself and the CE Deborah Cadman set out the broad terms of what Devolution for Suffolk would bring in the first instance of new funding and local determination and talked about where a Combined Authority might look to take Devolution next, drawing on the route map that Manchester has established.

What emerged was as you might expect, those who see the journey and think it’s worth taking, those who are deeply suspicion of Government but will hang in there for now, those who just want a unitary Council for Suffolk and those who think it’s a distraction from the significant task ahead for the County Council to balance delivery of vital services with the savings that must be made.

The motion was carried overwhelmingly by 57 votes, with 7 councillors abstaining, and so we continue to talk with Government about Suffolk Devolution.

To my mind its relatively simple, is the solution to protecting front line services from our schools to our hospitals and social care to growing our economy or addressing the long-term funding gap that faces public services, in the gift of the County Council or best served by a reorganisation of local councils, of course not.  The way forward for the delivery of better way forward in Suffolk is together, a more joined up way forward and a way that allows for real decisions to be taken here in Suffolk rather than in Whitehall.  Now that is worth pursuing.

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