England

Talks on 'flawed' plans for directly-elected mayor continue

Norwich Cathedral
Image caption The mayor would be responsible for transport links between the region's key towns and cities

Councillors have voted for negotiations to continue over plans for three counties in East Anglia to have an elected mayor with devolved powers.

But George Nobbs, Labour leader of Norfolk County Council, leading the campaign, has admitted that the proposals are "flawed".

The mayor would look after transport, strategic planning and skills training in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

MPs and other councils in the three counties have criticised plans.

Role 'optional'

Mr Nobbs said: "There are lots of things to be said for this scheme, and lots of things to be said against it."

Liberal Democrat Group leader Marie Strong questioned the need for a directly-elected mayor.

"We were told the role of mayor was optional; when did it become compulsory?" she asked.

Mr Nobbs replied: "We were told by ministers it's that or nothing."

Conservative group leader Cliff Jordan said the plans so far had generated "a lot of confusion".

Answerable to cabinet

The plan is for the mayor to be chosen by voters in the three counties in May next year. He or she will have the power to increase business rates to fund infrastructure projects.

The mayor will be answerable to a cabinet made up of nominees from the 23 local councils.

Some Conservative MPs from the region have said the idea of an elected mayor is not popular with many people, while others said the money on offer - £1bn over 30 years - is "not much".

The Department for Communities and Local Government said: "We are committed to the deal and will continue to work with all the councils. Councils in East Anglia have until June to decide if they want to take part in this historic opportunity."

Image caption Councillors and business leaders from Norfolk and Suffolk met government officials to discuss devolution plans

Comment by Andrew Sinclair, political correspondent, Look East

The 70-7 vote in favour of proceeding with negotiations over devolution masks the fact that nearly every councillor who spoke expressed serious reservations about the plans for a combined authority and directly-elected mayor for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

"I don't believe an elected mayor is good for Norfolk; I don't believe it's what people want," said Conservative councillor Bill Borrett.

"We were told that the Mayor was optional; when did it become compulsory," asked Marie Strong, the leader of the Liberal Democrat group.

"Why can't we have a referendum, why can't the people of Norfolk vote if they want a mayor or not?" asked UKIP councillor Colin Aldred.

Labour's George Nobbs replied that ministers had made it clear, it was a mayor or no deal.

Mr Nobbs admitted he was doing his best "to sell a pig's ear". "These plans are flawed and they are far from perfect," he said.

He believes that with the extra money and powers on offer, it is worth continuing with the negotiations.

The only councillor in favour was Labour's Mick Castle who said people in London had been suspicious of a mayor but had come round to the idea.

Norfolk joins Cambridgeshire County Council in making it very clear that it is not happy with the deal currently on offer. The negotiations will continue but with the government wanting this to be agreed by all 23 councils by the end of June, there is not very long to go.

East Anglian devolution looks far from certain.

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