Just another layer of government, just what we don’t need:

One of the re-occurring theme I have heard these past few weeks at Business Breakfasts, in discussion with Parish and Town Councils and on Twitter both in tweets and retweets at my Devolution Twitter surgery on Wednesday, and at public engagements events in Lowestoft on Thursday lunchtime and Saturday morning in front of the Apex in Bury St. Edmunds is a worry that the Combined Authority and the Mayor will cost a lot more and why would we want that.

And you know what, it’s a fair question.  The first part is simply dealt with, it will be staffed by existing officers and Chief Executives alongside Council Leaders and no one will be earning anymore.  In Suffolk, we have experience of this with a strong and active Suffolk Public Sectors Leaders board where we often take decisions as a collective. This then leads to the question, well, why do you need a Combined Authority, can’t you ‘just do it’?  In part that would be possible, albeit that many of the powers we need are a part of the devolution deal to ‘just do it’, without Devolution this would mean the money would not be forthcoming and you know what, it’s a lot of money, so we would be daft not to explore this further. It’s fair to say that a Mayor and a Mayor’s office would come with costs. Whoever stands to be the proposed Mayor must seek to deliver real savings in local government, far beyond the cost of its creation; offering efficiencies across the entire system to protect front line services that local people rely on.  This is about building on the partnership working that already takes place within local government and with health and business, offering residents the quality of service they have a right to expect.

I think that Devolution is a new and real opportunity for the proposed Mayor and Combined Authority to deliver real savings in local government, far beyond what we currently think of being local government.

Please do have a look at www.eastangliadevo.co.uk and fill in the questionnaire to have your views heard.

New trains for all!

Abellio imageGreat news yesterday that the new rail franchise confirms Abellio Greater Anglia be responsible for delivering rail services in Suffolk and throughout East Anglia over the next nine years, I said in a press release: “Having a commitment to deliver both Ipswich in 60 and Norwich in 90 as part of the new franchise award is a significant achievement. Its inclusion is a testament to the patient, persistent campaigning and real team work, particularly from MPs Ben Gummer and Chloe Smith, Mark Pendlington and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, local councillors and members of the public”.

Like the Oscars there are so many people to thank but throughout the key messages of new rolling stock, the punchy Ipswich in 60 and Norwich in 90 campaign and the need to better link Ipswich and Cambridge, Cambridge to Norwich have all been well made and are reflected in the detail of the new franchise.

So now Abellio must can get on with ordering new trains and improving the journey times and their punctuality.  They must improve the connects to Lowestoft and in partnership improve services to Kings Lynn and make the stations nicer places to be and improve the car parking capacity so people can arrive at stations and park. Councils and the NALEP for our part must also delivery and help invest in sorting out the bottle neck of Ely and some of the single track sections that so hamper capacity.

Not everyone is pleased with Abellio winning the contact and a number of people have said its reward for failure over the past 4 years and for anyone who daily has to use the Norwich and Ipswich trains I can completely understand their frustration but to be very fair to Abellio until they were awarded this franchise of 9 years, beyond a little window dressing, how could they invest in new trains costing billions? Some of the problems on the lines, as we all know, are simply beyond their control and the rolling stock they inherited is so old.  I can remember when I first used to get the train from Stowmarket to London in the mid 80’s the rolling stock was not exactly new then and some of it is the same stock!

This is the beginning of a huge challenge for Abellio Greater Anglia.  Over the next nine years they need to make good on the promises they have made. They make some very clear commitments to speed up journey times and significantly improve on what customers currently experience, including introducing new trains. I know from conversations yesterday, we all will continue to work with and challenge Abellio Greater Anglia and Network Rail to ensure Suffolk’s residents see the improvement in services we all want and frankly for what we pay to travel, deserve.

So this Devolution thingy?

We know from the previous Ipsos Mori public engagement with a cross section of the community in Suffolk, residents are clearly interested in finding out how devolution can deliver tangible long term economic growth, and improvements to transport and health within Suffolk and their immediate community.

The deal on the table for Suffolk and Norfolk is one of the best in the country.  It offers our communities significant opportunities for new job creation, with new housing development to support our growing economy and the money to invest in roads and infrastructure to connect our communities and businesses with the rest of the region and beyond.

As I said in my blog on Monday Ipsos Mori are conducting an extensive telephone survey but we also want to hear what everyone thinks and to hear from as many people as possible. But do the public agree?  So, yesterday as a part of the work being undertaken across Norfolk and Suffolk, saw me, standing outside Ipswich railway station handing out leaflets to busy commuters as they rushed for their train asking them to have a look at the web site and to fill in the questionnaire. Tonight, I will be at a Suffolk Association of Local Councils (SALC) meeting (that’s Parish and Town Councils to you and me) at Pakenham to discuss the deal, the Combined Authority and the Mayor and asking them to spread the word.

So please have a look at www.eastangliadevo.co.uk


Another step closer to Devolution in Norfolk and Suffolk

Norfolk & Suffolk Leaders in WhitehallToday the County Council Network gather in Guildford for our annual conference and no doubt there will be much debate on the latest Devolution meetings taking place with DCLG.  For Norfolk and Suffolk the week before last, a group of council leaders from across both counties, including myself took our case for devolution to Government.  This was our opportunity to pitch our ambitious proposals for Suffolk and Norfolk to the Government team, led by Lord Heseltine, alongside senior civil servants from the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Over recent weeks and months, all sixteen councils across Norfolk and Suffolk have been working collaboratively to develop these exciting proposals, the main focus of which centre around ways in which we can boost investment in our infrastructure, productivity, housing, education and skills across our communities.

I want to see us continuing to build on both Norfolk and Suffolk’s already great economic strengths, growing our local economies and increasing skills levels, as well as increasing the number of well paid jobs.

The meeting was very productive and our ideas and suggestions were welcomed by Lord Heseltine, who took a keen interest in the proposals we presented.  We set out the areas over which our collective councils and LEP hope to take more control and I am confident that we demonstrated that the bid we are planning to submit will fully support the ambitions which Suffolk and Norfolk share to enable the future growth and delivery of effective and efficient public services for all our residents.

I am very proud that we are held in high regard for our strong track record in collaborative working.  It was certainly recognised that we have put in an incredible amount of effort and hard work already and I feel that this shows we are well placed to take things to the next level.

Of course, we still have a way to go and we have more work to do in refining our bid to align with Government’s asks.  But it still remains that the agreement of any deal we submit will need political and democratic sign-off by all of our 16 councils and the New Anglia LEP.

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