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Cross-party East Anglia MPs attack ‘out of the blue and unwelcome’ devo deal

The planned devolution deal for East Anglia suffered a scathing attack from the region’s own MPs yesterday.

Stewart Jackson, the Conservative MP for Peterborough, secured the debate in Westminster Hall, saying that although he wasn’t opposed to devolution in principle, the government needed to explain its decision to announce new devolution deals for East Anglia, the West of England and Lincolnshire “out of the blue and with limited consultation” in the last month’s Budget.

The devolution deal has already been rejected by Cambridgeshire County Council.

Jackson echoed the council’s concerns that the areas proposed to be joined under a combined authority, including the Suffolk coast, south Suffolk, St Neots, King’s Lynn and the city of Peterborough, aren’t really compatible, adding: “Unless we count Boadicea and Hereward the Wake, no one has ever decided it would be a good idea to have an overarching governance structure for the whole of these three counties in East Anglia.”

He also drew MPs’ attention to a recent National Audit Office report warning that the devolution process lacks oversight and said that the current deal risked duplicating duties between local enterprise partnerships, the combined authority, county councils and district councils – although it wasn’t clear which, if any, of these bodies would be abolished.

Jackson also noted the proposed devolution deal would allow just £13 funding for every person in East Anglia, compared to £22 a head for Sheffield, £20 a head for Liverpool and £23 a head for the Tees valley.

Sir Henry Bellingham, Conservative MP for north west Norfolk, supported Jackson, adding that he was concerned that police and crime commissioners would be abolished after just four years because of the devolution deal.

Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge, noted that he was “unusually” in agreement with Jackson, saying that Cambridge County Council was “horrified” at the risk the deal posed to affordable housing.

He added: “The devolution deal at the heart of this debate, while much trumpeted by government, is not much welcomed by anyone else.

“It is a devolution deal for Norfolk and Suffolk, with Cambridgeshire bolted on as a last-minute add-on, with an unwanted elected mayor bolted on top of that. Let us be clear: Cambridge and the surrounding area need the freedom to make the investments needed to tackle the housing and transport challenges.”

He called for “more flexibility and funding” for Cambridgeshire instead of an elected mayor.

Jackson added: “It is clear that there is a broad welcome for the central concept of devolution, albeit multi-speed and multi-layer.

“It is clear, though, that unlike places such as Cornwall and Manchester, East Anglia is not based on established geographical and institutional arrangements, and things such as coterminous local enterprise partnerships and healthcare economies.”

He also noted that the government do not have the power under the 2016 Cities and Local Government Devolution Act to compel local authorities to accept devolution deals.


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