Why Norwich City Council unanimously voted against continuing with the devolution process
There are a number of important reasons why Norwich City Council, by a unanimous vote at its full council meeting on 28 June 2016, decided against continuing with the devolution process to create a combined authority with an elected mayor.
Let me stress that my colleagues and I believe in ‘devolution’. A genuine exercise in devolution has to be based on:
- a decision by central government that certain powers of government become the formal responsibility of the devolved authorities;
- that the devolved authorities are able to act in other broadly defined areas for the general good of their communities;
- a financial settlement which gives tax raising powers to the devolved authorities;
- sufficient resources to cover the formal responsibilities and incorporating flexibility to act in the 'other areas';
- the devolution package and the financial settlement should be constitutional entrenched, so that there is a procedure for change, which will involve both central government and the devolved authorities.
What was on offer fell a long way short of that.
- The offer on the table was weak. Small sums of money to be spread between 16 councils at the same time that each council would be making cuts in its own budgets as a result of continued government imposed austerity. No guarantee of government funding beyond five years.
- Norwich would be losing more money that it would be gaining.
- The process was (and is) rushed. Too many promises of ‘jam tomorrow’.
- Insistence on an elected mayor (a government fixation) who would be in charge of a predominately rural combined authority, overwhelmingly of one political colour, leaving Norwich potentially marginalised and the city council’s resources stretched.
We came to the judgment that Norwich would be better able to meet the needs of its citizens and its economy by focusing on delivering jobs, homes and economic growth through concentrating on the Greater Norwich City Deal (signed with the government in 2013) and the city’s central role as part of the Greater Norwich Growth Partnership (Norwich, Norfolk, Broadland & South Norfolk Councils). In that way, we can also bring significant benefits to the wider area. Norwich creates the jobs, homes and economic growth for Norfolk and North Suffolk. Best we apply ourselves to that purpose than be shackled to an underpowered combined authority.
Economic growth is driven by cities and we are working with four other ‘fast growth cities’ to get investment from government to grow our economies – the benefits of which will be spread across a much wider area.
It is difficult to know whether devolution for Norfolk and Suffolk will go ahead. The Brexit vote presents the UK economy with very significant challenges and will tie up government time to the end of this decade. Devolution may not be a priority. I certainly do not think, unless it is recast in the way I defined ‘true devolution’ the current proposals are worth pursuing. Having said that, Norwich will continue to play an active part working with other councils and through the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and other cities.
See the full presentation I gave to full council on 28 June 2016.
Councillor Alan Waters, leader of Norwich City Council.