Agenda item

Devolution (Agenda Item 15)

Report of the Leader of the Council.


The Leader of the Council presented the report and informed Members that they had a free vote on the recommendation.


He highlighted the risks of the Council ‘walking away’ from the deal, in terms of reputation, influence, money and benefits. 


Power and funding would be devolved to the Combined Authority.  If the Council was not signed up to the deal it would not be part of the decision making process when it came to prioritising projects or deciding where funding would be spent.   As part of the Combined Authority it would be in on the debate and able to fight for the things that Breckland wanted.


Whilst the Leader did not support the proposal for a Mayor, he would be willing to accept a Mayor if it meant getting projects delivered.  He knew that he was asking Members to make a leap of faith, but he believed it was best to stay involved and work with the Partner Authorities.  He then invited questions from Members.

The Chairman advised Members that as a result of the outcome of the Referendum paragraph 12 on page 100 relating to the management of EU funding, was no longer relevant and would be removed from the final document.


Councillor Sherwood thanked the Leader for allowing a free vote.  He could not support the proposal and urged other Members to vote against it.  If the Government was serious they should offer a deal that really devolved power, this did not.


Councillor Gilbert agreed.  He thought the proposal put too much power in the hands of one person.  He did not think it was about devolving power, it was about the Government controlling one person rather than 13 Councils.


Councillor Brame asked for confirmation that if the majority of Councils supported the proposals and Breckland voted against them the deal would go ahead.  The Council would be side-lined and projects such as the Thetford Enterprise Park (TEP) might not go ahead.

The Leader of the Council confirmed that he was correct.  If the Council did not sign up to the deal and the other authorities did, the Council would be on its own.


Councillor Sharpe said that he could not sign up to the deal without knowing how much it would cost.


The Leader agreed but said that at the moment the Council was only being asked for permission to go out to consultation on the deal.  He believed that information about the cost would be available by the end of the summer, before the Council was asked to sign up to the agreement in October.


Councillor Claussen thought the Leader should be allowed to stay ‘at the table’ until October.  The money was important and if the Council was not involved in the negotiations it was unlikely that the money would be spent in Breckland.


Councillor Jermy was against the deal.  It was not democracy.  It would dilute the influence of District and County Councils and have very little added value.  He was not willing to take the risk.  A new tier of Government was not what people wanted, it would add to bureaucracy and costs and should be rejected.


Councillor Bambridge had attended many meetings about Devolution but still felt ill informed.  However, there would be another opportunity to reject the proposals in October and therefore he could see the merit of staying ‘at the table’.

Councillor Crawford was against the deal.  The money on offer was not enough and an elected Mayor would put too much power in one person’s hands.


Councillor Oliver had previously raised concerns about index-linking of the money; opt-out of Breckland’s assets; operation of the two-thirds majority provisions in the scheme, the power of veto; and the Mayor, etc.  The document did not contain any answers.  The money did not add up, it was a meaningless amount.  He would vote against the proposal and if the Council supported it, the decision would be open to judicial review as there was no good evidence base.


Councillor Smith agreed that the funding was problematic.  He was concerned about the complicated structure which would add another layer and more cost to local government.


The Deputy Leader of the Council was in a difficult position.  He was anti an elected Mayor but felt he should allow his residents to have an opportunity to comment.  The Thetford Sustainable Urban Extension was in his Ward and affected parishes should have their say.


Councillor Hollis felt that the Council was ‘damned if we do and damned if we don’t’.


Councillor Dimoglou thought that devolution was sucking up time and energy and the Council should be brave enough to stop it.


Councillor Sharpe asked how Breckland’s consultation would differ from Norfolk County Council’s consultation.


The Chief Executive explained that the aim was not to duplicate their methods.  NCC were planning a county-wide leaflet delivery to all households signposting them to the website, whereas Breckland would piggy-back existing community meetings to get the message out.


Councillor Brame asked if the points raised by Councillor Oliver would be addressed by October and if it could be guaranteed that opting out in October would not hurt residents.


The Leader said the guarantee was at Recommendation 5 on page 83.  If the answers were not known in October the Council could walk away.


The Chief Executive said that work had already started on what the Mayor would cost, but it would depend on what existing resources were used.  At the moment there were no details, but in four months options and costings should be available.


Councillor Wilkin thought it was a leap into the unknown; his head said ‘in’ and his heart said ‘out’.


Councillor Claussen said it would be wrong to pull out now.  The Council should take the opportunity to consult and give residents the opportunity to receive the information and decide if they supported the proposal.


Councillor Oliver said it was not a consultation that asked understandable questions.  It didn’t even ask if people wanted a Mayor.  Elected Members already knew there was nothing good about the deal and he urged them to vote against it.


Councillor Duigan suggested that if the Council agreed to the consultation it should set its own questions.

The Chief Executive explained that the consultation questionnaire had been developed by the Norfolk and Suffolk Programme Team.  The Combined Authority had to have a Mayor, so that question could not be included, but if Councillors wished Breckland could do their own consultation.


Councillor Sherwood said that the thinking minds of the Council had commented and he had not heard many say this was a good idea.  Councillors were elected by residents to do their best for the District.    He felt the Council was being locked into a decision it did not want and that it was killing democracy.  A Mayor of Suffolk and Norfolk would not care about Breckland’s communities.  He urged Members to vote against it.


The Leader of the Council said he was pleased and proud about the free vote and the proper debate that had been held. 


In response to the questions he said that he did think it was a better deal which would bring more money.  The appointment of an Independent Chair (Andy Wood) to represent the Partner Authorities in negotiations with the Minister had brought improvements to the deal.  He had come to accept that a Mayor could enhance the Combined Authority and help it to flourish.


He reminded Members that they were not being asked to sign up to the Order which had changed many times and was still evolving.  The Order would be laid before Parliament in October – that was the significant time.  It was not necessary to walk away from the deal today.


If Members were concerned the Council could carry out its own consultation over the summer and ask residents whatever questions Members wanted.


He concluded by saying he liked the idea of devolved power, it would be good for the Council and good for the County.


The recommendations were taken en-bloc.  Members were advised that the same recommendations were being presented to all Norfolk and Suffolk Authorities.  It was not, therefore, possible to make amendments without undermining the proposals and the timetable.


RESOLVED not to support the devolution proposals set out in the report.


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