Government ‘devolution’ undermines local communities

15 March 2016

Rushed, secretive plans to change the way the country is governed will see less power in the hands of local people in Norfolk and Suffolk, Green councillors have argued.

The government has been pushing regions to present proposals for a ‘combined authority’ that would have responsibility for certain areas including transport and health. Regions would be governed by an elected mayor. Norfolk, Suffolk, Peterborough and rural Cambridgeshire have put forward a joint bid, but there has so far been no consultation with the public, and barely any even with elected councillors.

“While working with our Norfolk neighbours would be preferable to Whitehall decisions on infrastructure, the proposed authority covering most of East Anglia is too large for meaningful democracy to succeed,” said Suffolk County Councillor Mark Ereira.

The dominance of economic growth at all costs is a concern for Green councillors, who want to see a social and environmental concerns given priority in any deal agreed by the councils and government. “These plans walk all over local people and take power away from districts and boroughs,” said Councillor Richard Bearman, who leads the Green Group on Norfolk County Council.

“Most of the major infrastructure being discussed would increase carbon emissions, which is contrary to tackling climate change as agreed recently at the international talks in Paris.”

Although the word ‘devolution’ suggests power will be held more locally, the Greens argue that the opposite is the case. “The fact that the whole process is being managed by the Treasury, and not the Department for Communities and Local Government, shows that this is all about the financial bottom line,” said (Ash Haynes, leader of the Green Group on Norwich City Council). “These plans just create a new body that strengthens Whitehall’s power over regional issues.”

The government should not be imposing deals in this way. It has been made clear that even if individual councils don’t agree, the Treasury has the power to force them to participate. In the absence of any kind of public participation, we urge councils to reject these dangerous and undemocratic proposals and to push for real local decision-making powers.

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