UPDATED: County joins Suffolk councils voting for devolution

Forest Heath leader James Waters, left, and St Edmundsbury's leader John Griffiths ANL-160208-151935001
Forest Heath leader James Waters, left, and St Edmundsbury's leader John Griffiths ANL-160208-151935001

Regional devolution has gained the backing of more borough and district councils as Suffolk looks ready to go it alone.

The plan that would have given Suffolk and Norfolk control of transport and housing budgets, and a regional mayor, was left dead in the water by Nelson’s county last Thursday when West Norfolk District Council voted 44 to 14 against devolution and Norfolk County Council dropped a planned decision meeting on Monday.

Suffolk County Councillor Colin Noble ANL-161105-125214001

Suffolk County Councillor Colin Noble ANL-161105-125214001

But the majority of Suffolk Councils have now voted in favour of approaching the Government to try to get a deal for the county alone.

St Edmundsbury and Mid Suffolk District decided to back devolution on Monday. Forest Heath and Babergh District Councils also approved it last night, with the latter voting 31 for and 7 against.

Suffolk County Council this afternoon voted by 57 votes against seven abstentions to support a similar recommendation to that approved by the districts and boroughs.

Leader of Suffolk County Council, Colin Noble said: “The people of Suffolk told us that they wanted greater local control over how money is used to invest in transport, housing and employment opportunities.

Mid Suffolk District Council leader Nick Gowrley ANL-160429-115119001

Mid Suffolk District Council leader Nick Gowrley ANL-160429-115119001

“We have therefore voted to continue discussions with Government to establish options for a potential deal for Suffolk.

“It is a great shame that some authorities in Norfolk ended any chance for a joint Suffolk and Norfolk deal last week but we are committed to explore what can be achieved for Suffolk.”

Cllr John Griffiths, leader of St Edmundsbury, said: “Members of St Edmundsbury Borough Council have voted overwhelmingly in favour of continuing discussions with the Government about devolution.

“While we are naturally disappointed that the Norfolk and Suffolk Combined Authority seems no longer able to go ahead, we firmly believe that devolution is the right way forward for this area.

Babergh leader Jennie Jenkins ANL-150508-153211001

Babergh leader Jennie Jenkins ANL-150508-153211001

“Devolution was, and I hope still is about devolving powers to areas where people actually live and work, and about securing millions of pounds of additional funding to help us deliver homes, roads, jobs and the necessary infrastructure both for our local and the national economy.

“So while, the Norfolk and Suffolk deal may be off, we will be seeking urgent talks with the secretary of state and are optimistic that a devolution deal can still be developed and progressed.”

Nick Gowrley, Leader of Mid Suffolk District Council, said on Tuesday: “Members of Mid Suffolk District Council last night voted unanimously to reiterate their commitment to Devolution and to seek an urgent meeting with government to find out what sort of deal could now be available to Suffolk.

“While we are disappointed that the combined Norfolk and Suffolk deal is no longer an option, I and my fellow Mid Suffolk councillors feel that a revised Suffolk deal, with the potential for more money to spend locally, is a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ and we mustn’t let this slip through our fingers.”

Forest Heath councillors voted overwhelmingly in favour of restating the council’s commitment to devolution as a means for ‘delivering accelerated growth in the local and national economy and helping local people and places fulfil their potential’.

It says the approval means it wants to meet the Secretary of State to ‘discuss his intentions around devolution and work with the Government and local partners on an alternative deal’.

Cllr James Waters, Forest Heath leader, said: “We had a deal on the table but that’s now been taken off by the Government so we’re back to the beginning.

“Now we are going to go back to Government and tell them that we’re still up for a devolution deal – there’s a vast amount of money and support available and we want to make sure Suffolk gets its share.”

Babergh voted to authorise its chief executive to discuss with the Secretary of State the Government’s intention on devolution and to work with Government and local partners to agree an alternative devolution deal.

After the vote Babergh leader Jennie Jenkins said, “Members of Babergh District Council have tonight voted in favour of the revised recommendation put before them on Devolution since it became clear that agreement could not be reached on a Suffolk and Norfolk deal.

“Councillors are now keen that we grasp the opportunity and work with government and local partners to agree an alternative devolution deal as soon as possible.

“As Leader, I am committed to securing the very best devolution settlement possible for our residents and businesses, not just in the district, but for the whole of Suffolk.”

On Friday, Cllr Jenkins, speaking as chairwoman of Suffolk’s Public Sector Leaders Group, said West Norfolk’s decision was ‘disappointing news’.

But she added: “It is important for those of us in Suffolk who wish to explore the potential opportunities for devolution further, to continue conversations with government and to meet as planned during the next seven days to vote on the commitment previously given to each respective authority in Suffolk.

“We will be seeking to explore the potential for a Suffolk-based devolution deal and to investigate options for establishing interim governance arrangements for any such alternative deal.”

The promised Suffolk and Norfolk deal includes £750 million over 30 years to support economic growth, infrastructure development and jobs plus £130 million over five years for homes and control over a £225 million four-year transport budget.

A Suffolk devo-deal also has the backing of the county’s chamber of commerce.

Peter Funnell, immediate past president of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said today that the chamber regretted the loss of the Norfolk and Suffolk deal because of the funding potential it offered.

But he added: “We are ready to work with Suffolk County Council, other public sector partners, New Anglia LEP and the wider business community to explore the opportunities for a Suffolk-only deal.”