Norfolk County Council has agreed to proceed with a devolution deal which will see £20 million allocated to the county each year
Norfolk County Council has agreed to proceed with a devolution deal, which will see a new mayor-style leader take control of the region.
The level-three deal includes an investment fund of £20 million a year for 30 years, control of a £12 million budget for adult education, and £7 million for brownfield development.
However, one of the key elements of the scheme – for Norfolk to have its own directly elected leader picked by the people of the county – has been pushed back a year to 2025.
The elections will now coincide with the rest of County Hall.
Government funding will start transferring to Norfolk next summer, if councillors vote in July to stage the first election for a leader in May 2025.
While the majority of members voted in favour of the scheme, Brian Watkins, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said delaying the election “creates increased uncertainty” over whether the deal will ever be fully implemented.
He warned that there was likely to be a general election in the meantime which could see changes in government, and new ministers may want to see a different deal for Norfolk.
Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group, argued the delay was “kicking it down the road” and that inflation would “rip a hole” in the value of the cash for the county, making it worth less each year.
“You will struggle to convince the sceptical public, and me, that delay is an improvement,” he said.
“This is not devolution, it’s more like desperation. This is not a deal worthy of its name, or the resources spent on it. It’s at most a distraction.
“Moving the date is little more than a cynical ploy to cover up how poor and divisive the deal is.”
Several Conservative members, including council leader Kay Mason Billing, said they had initially been sceptical of the deal but now believed it was a good option.
“I know this is a good deal for Norfolk and I will support it to the hilt,” she said.
“We are not Birmingham or Manchester, but they have devolution deals, they have elected mayors or leaders and they get the money and the prosperity that goes with it.
“Why shouldn’t we have that, why shouldn’t we have a seat at that table, why shouldn’t we benefit in the same way they do, why not Norfolk?”
Brian Long said if the deal were rejected it would put Norfolk “further in the backwaters” with the cash needed to help invest in businesses and support adult education.
Fifty councillors voted in favour of the deal, with 14 against and one abstention. The arrangement will be brought back before the full council in July.