Norfolk councillor condemns devolution as ‘fiscal recklessness’ ahead of key votes

Alexandra Kemp ENGANL00120131028142036
Alexandra Kemp ENGANL00120131028142036

A Norfolk county councillor has condemned devolution proposals covering the borough as “fiscal recklessness” ahead of crucial council votes on the issue.

Borough councillors in West Norfolk will meet tonight to decide whether they want to join the proposed new combined authority for Norfolk and Suffolk or not.

And draft orders that would establish the new body if councils agree to it have now been published.

But, despite repeated claims about the economic benefits of the scheme, the new documents have raised fresh concerns about the potential impact on existing councils.

The doubts relate to the question of whether, and how, the authority would be able to borrow money in order to fund projects.

The papers, which have been published ahead of Monday’s scheduled Norfolk County Council meeting on the issue, said: “We are not yet in a position to say what the CA’s borrowing powers will be as this will be contained in the generic finance order.

“In the event that the CA is not givenborrowing powers under the finance order it will need to borrow indirectly, using existingcouncils or creating vehicles.”

But Lynn independent councillor Alexandra Kemp, a persistent critic of the project, has described that as an “extremely serious” flaw in a project which she believes must be rejected.

She said: “The deal is fiscal recklessness. It will be like signing a blank cheque for this council to foot the bill for the Mayoral Authority’s borrowing, or even borrow on behalf of it.

“How can we do that when government has cut councils’ funding by 40 per cent?”

But the order also says the proposal has been deemed to meet the requirement to “improve the exercise of the statutory functions in the area.”

And officials have warned that, despite claims an alternative deal could be negotiated in the future, the chance will be lost if councils say no.

Their report said: “The opportunities to develop the benefits of the devolution process, access additional funding offered in the deal and establish greater local determination over policy and spending priorities will no longer be available.

“The deal is an ambitious first step in securing greater local autonomy, accountability and control over new and existing centrally held powers and funding.

“It offers the opportunity for a step change in the relationship with government and having local certainty and control over resources that will help local people, places and businesses reach their full potential.”