Pulling out of devolution debate ‘irresponsible’, says West Norfolk Council leader

Council  Leader Nick Daubney ENGANL00320121220125803

Council Leader Nick Daubney ENGANL00320121220125803

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The outgoing leader of West Norfolk Council has warned it would be “irresponsible” to pull out of devolution discussions while the shape of a settlement is still being finalised.

Discussions have been continuing between council chiefs from across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire over the planned establishment of a combined authority for the three counties.

But concerns were raised during last night’s full council meeting about whether signing up might put West Norfolk even further down the queue for vital investment.

And the authority has now become the latest to indicate its unwillingness to accept a directly elected mayor as part of the deal.

Labour’s Gary McGuinness highlighted the perception of local government being centred around Norwich.

He asked: “In entering a devolution deal with two other counties, three other cities, are we going to be further down that pecking order?

“We need to know how it affects West Norfolk.”

Addressing his last full council meeting as leader, Nick Daubney said members would ultimately have to judge whether or not the borough would be better off participating in the project or delaying a decision to sign up.

But he added: “We must, at least, understand the best deal that is available and to leave the process at an early stage would be frankly irresponsible.”

He was also critical of the way information about the project had been released to the public so far, describing communications as “really quite poor.”

He said: “It’s not a very easy thing to communicate, particularly if all the facts aren’t there, but I think you will see a massive improvement quite quickly.”

Two motions related to devolution, which were tabled ahead of the meeting, were also referred to the council’s cabinet.

One, submitted by the late Mike Tilbury, called on members to oppose the imposition of a directly elected mayor for the region.

The other, by Mr Daubney himself, called for a full and proper debate of the devolution issue to take place by the end of June, the deadline by which authorities have to decide whether to sign up or not.

However, it also called on the council’s cabinet to make clear its opposition to the mayoral idea.

Both motions were submitted ahead of last week’s Westminister debate on the project, in which ministers indicated they were not prepared to re-open discussions about the shape of the devolution deal.

The meeting was also told that no district would be able to take part in the deal if its county council chose not to sign up itself.

However, Mr Daubney said he understood the borough could submit a separate application once an agreement had been completed.

If that happened, he said they would inherit powers over areas such as strategic planning and transport, but would not take other powers currently held by Norfolk County Council.