Business bosses urge Norfolk and Suffolk councils to ‘seize devolution opportunity’, but MP demands withdrawal

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Business chiefs in Norfolk and Suffolk have urged councillors to back new devolution proposals for the two counties ahead of a series of crunch meetings this week.

Norfolk County Council will meet this morning to discuss the latest plans for a new combined authority for the region, while Suffolk’s county councillors will debate the scheme tomorrow afternoon.

But senior officials from the New Anglia local enterprise partnership (LEP) have urged the counties’ politicians to follow their lead and endorse the scheme.

In a letter sent to leaders of all the county and district councils covered by the scheme, LEP chairman Mark Pendlington said: “We believe that this is an opportunity none of us can afford to let pass.

“The additional devolved powers and funding on offer - £25 million a year for 30 years and £130 million for new homes - will help us realise our ambition to create a £43 billion economy in the East, making Norfolk and Suffolk one of the best places in the world to live, work and learn.

“The result of the EU referendum and the period of uncertainty it brings means it is all the more important to seize the opportunity presented by devolution.

“The deal provides an opportunity for the East to make its mark on a national and international stage, enabling us to attract more funding from Government and private sector investment from at home and across the globe.

“The East is already at the leading edge of vital industries including food and agri-tech, energy and digital innovation, and Norfolk and Suffolk are at the heart of it all.

“This deal offers a once in a generation opportunity to go even further, to transform the economic landscape, and I strongly urge you and your members to give it your full support.”

Norfolk county councillor and West Norfolk Council leader Brian Long has given guarded backing to the proposals in his report to the borough authority, which meets in King’s Lynn on Thursday evening.

He said: “The process has been intense, However, I now feel we have a deal that, whilst not perfect, is as good as we will achieve in the time frame available to us.”

But North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham, a consistent critic of the idea of an elected mayor to lead the new authority, has called on the government to withdraw the proposals in the light of the EU referendum result.

He said: “Given that these proposals have been backed up by various assurances from different Ministers, there is a strong possibility that incoming Ministers may take a very different view. This is why these proposals should be immediately withdrawn.

“However, if they are not, I would urge all of Norfolk’s Councils to reject them in their forthcoming Full Council meetings.”