23rd November 2016

Devolution is about giving us – the people of the East and Norfolk – much more power and control over our planning, infrastructure and public services.

With better joined-up planning of housing, road, rail, broadband and local public service delivery we could deliver a better model of growth with new funds for our infrastructure in a way that suits our area instead of having the wrong sort of ‘development’ forced on us.

Imagine if our councils could keep more of the profits from housing to put back into frontline services.

Imagine if we could use the massive housing coming to the East to invest in improved rail and public transport services.

Imagine if we could use the business rates from the fast growing Norwich Research Park to fund the A47 dualling improvements.

Imagine if we could put the track and train back together in an integrated East Anglian Railway Company which reinvested its profits into better stations and train services.

Imagine if we could do a deal with government in which we could keep savings from council and other public sector efficiency drives to reinvest locally instead of give back to the Treasury.

Imagine if housing, highways, benefits, public transport, leisure and other essential services were run by a single council in each area instead of 25 across Norfolk all running different bits. Imagine.

This is what Devolution is about – an opportunity for new freedoms and funding for local areas to take more control and bring together currently fragmented services.

But it obviously requires a new model of local leadership and a simplification of how our services are delivered.

The original devolution deal with its insistence on a mayor was designed originally for urban areas like Manchester.

If we have an exciting new structure with significant spending powers we obviously need properly democratically accountable leadership – if mayor is the wrong term then we need something better suited to Norfolk and East Anglia.

Somehow we need to be able to tackle the big infrastructure challenge for the East – big money for better rail and road links like A47 and Norwich – Cambridge Railway, better broadband and mobile signal, and a better plan for housing (why don’t we build a wonderful New Town at Lakenheath or Mildenhall on the NorCam railway, to relieve congestion and housing pressure on our villages?). That surely means some form of joint ‘infrastructure partnership’.

Last week Breckland and South Norfolk and other councils along the A11 Corridor in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk launched just such a partnership which could be the basis of something bigger.

Here in Norfolk we need to look seriously at how we could better organise our eight councils and all the many agencies running services into more of a one-stop-shop to provide a better service to users and better value for local Council tax payers.

With everyone looking at new models of health and care being properly integrated, perhaps its time we looked at a county based integrated health and care authority – as in Manchester – and then unitary local councils doing the rest of the joined up local services?

With continued pressure on public finances – the country is still spending more than it earns despite having been the fastest growing economy in Europe. We need to look at every way to spend less on the back office and more on frontline services.

Now that the government’s original devolution deal has been rejected by councils let’s come together and set out a positive vision and plan for how we can run services better in Norfolk that we can all support.

The people of Norfolk need all of us in public office – regardless of party politics – to come together and set out a plan for 21st century public services, planning and infrastructure.

If we don’t – Whitehall will do it for us. Or worse – we will miss out on the new funding that the government is making available for areas which have a real vision and plan.

This is our moment. Let’s seize it for the people who pay for and rely on these services. And for the county we love and serve.

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