As a Norfolk resident I often joke to visitors that they’ll need a passport if they want to cross the border into Suffolk. Following the collapse of the Norfolk and Suffolk devolution deal, with five out of seven Norfolk councils rejecting it, my poor attempt at humour may be one step closer to reality.
Conversely, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough deal that was also debated at length, has now been agreed, with Cambridge City Council becoming the last council to offer their support to the deal. This means that the proposed £800m Cambridgeshire and Peterborough devolution deal will become the first non-metropolitan devolved area in England.
Perhaps this was always the way it would work out, given the huge geographical area that the Norfolk and Suffolk deal was seeking to encompass and the fact that Cambridgeshire County Council rejected the original East Anglian deal, resulting in two deals offered by government. If they can offer two deals instead of one then surely they can offer three deals instead of two!
Those familiar with devolution negotiations will not be surprised to learn of battles between different councils within a region combined with a fear of their area missing out to ensure that ultimately no deal was done and therefore no one gets the benefit.
A number of Norfolk councils had already withdrawn their support, including Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Breckland and North Norfolk, so perhaps the rejection of the deal by North West Norfolk was inevitable. Indeed, local MP Henry Bellingham applauded the decision and expressed his hope for a Norfolk only deal to be negotiated.
Despite the backing of most of the local MPs and council leaders, councillors have rejected the deal with particular concerns raised about the prospect of an elected Mayor for the region. Whilst similar concerns have been raised in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough deal, councillors in these counties decided that is was better to grab the money that was being offered than risk getting no deal at all.
Since the rejection of the deal, Suffolk council leaders have declared their intention to return to the government to request a new deal for the “coalition of the willing”. There are rumours that South Norfolk and Broadland councils may join Suffolk councils in talks to negotiate a new devolution deal for the region. Indeed, these two councils may hold the key to any deal happening. If they join Suffolk they may scupper the possibility of any Norfolk-only deal being offered. However, if they reject the Suffolk deal then central government may very well turn around and decide that neither county is worth a deal of any sort. Either way it is likely that both counties are now at the back of the queue for devolution deals.