In the March 2016 budget, the (then) Chancellor set out devolution proposals for East Anglia, involving 23 local authorities in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Victoria McNeill, nplaw’s practice director, has had the lead on governance since the start of negotiations and has been working flat out on the devolution proposals for several months now.
In accordance with the statutory process for the creation of a Mayoral Combined Authority, a Governance Review was conducted, which concluded that the most effective way to improve statutory functions across East Anglia was through the creation of two Mayoral Combined Authorities.
On 17th June 2016, two separate devolution deals were published: one for Norfolk and Suffolk, and one for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. In each case, the proposals involve Westminster transferring some decision-making powers relating to transport, infrastructure and jobs to a combined authority chaired by a directly elected mayor, with additional money being made available to build affordable homes, new roads and transport links and to deliver other community services.
Each of the sixteen Norfolk and Suffolk authorities met in June 2016 to decide whether to consult the public on the proposals. Twelve of the sixteen, including both County Councils, decided to go out to consultation on the Scheme of Governance. Four Norfolk councils voted against accepting the proposals.
The next stage of the legal process will be feeding back the consultation responses to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, who must then decide whether to lay an Order in parliament for the creation of a combined authority. Before he does so, he must obtain the agreement of the twelve participating councils to the laying of the Order. Victoria will be negotiating a draft Order with the Department of Communities and Local Government and Treasury officials, drafting a Constitution and framing options for the operational set up and running of the combined authority. The draft Order could be laid before Parliament before the end of the year, and new Mayoral Combined Authorities could be in place by May 2017.
If the proposals are accepted, the combined authorities will be the first non-metropolitan, two tier (county and district) devolution deals of any scale. The relevant legislation was not really designed with two tier areas in mind, but Victoria has been working closely with colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Treasury to find solutions.
For more information on the devolution proposals and, if you are a Norfolk or Suffolk resident, to have your say by completing the online survey or the hard copy version, visit www.eastangliadevo.co.uk