Chairman, as someone who is passionate about local government, and passionate about Norfolk’s communities, I’ve followed the devolution discussions intently.
I’ve listened to the arguments in favour and frankly they’ve become absurd.
Firstly, we’re told that this offer is a good one, it’s going to really help Norfolk, apparently we need to accept it and get on with it – but not yet. It’s so good, so transformative, we’re going to sit on it for 15 months, delaying the election of the new Leader until 2025. How ridiculous. If it’s so good, why are you not getting on with it now?
Ensuring the election takes place at the same time as the county council election to save costs was one of the more fanciful arguments recently put forward, ignoring of course we have a Norfolk-wide election in 2024 anyway, for that other wonderfully successful experiment in directly elected roles – for the Norfolk police and crime commissioner.
We’re also told that we need a directly elected leader to give Norfolk’s residents a voice. At the recent Cabinet meeting, one Member rattled off a list of Norfolk’s communities seemingly denied such a voice currently. Weeting, Brancaster, Acle and Upwell – what do they all have in common? Well, they all have Conservative County Councillors for a start, if they’re not being represented, perhaps we should look at why that might be the case.
Seriously, what makes anyone think a new directly elected leader will be listened to by this Conservative government any more than the current directly elected leaders that we have now?
For all the hype, these proposals surely represent nothing more than the longest admission of failure in history.
So incapable have successive leaders of this council been at getting the government to listen and address the challenges that exist, that we need to make the current leader of the council role redundant, and create a new one.
At an estimated cost of a quarter of a million pounds – the devolution proposals are not only the longest admission of failure in history but probably the most expensive too.
We do not need new structures in local government, we do not need added layers of bureaucracy OR fancy new job titles. We need respect and support for the existing structures. We need to address the never-ending policy of austerity when it comes to council services. We need to end the short term approach and the shelving of the difficult decisions.
The elephant in the room is clear – Norfolk does not need this devolution deal, we need a new Government and a new County Council, and ideally we need both!