On Thursday, Suffolk County Council voted to put the agreed plans for “Devolution” out to the people of Suffolk for consultation. The County Councillors were originally being asked to “endorse the draft scheme for a Norfolk & Suffolk Mayoral Combined Authority”. Labour Councillors were and are convinced that Suffolk residents do not want a “Mayor for Norfolk & Suffolk”. We put forward an amendment to the County Council which made it clear that we were NOT endorsing a Mayor, that we would ask Suffolk residents specifically WHETHER they wanted a Mayor, and that we retained the right to support a deal which did NOT include a Mayor if that is what the people of Suffolk told us in the consultation.
Several people have spoken to me today, wondering why the Labour Group supported this scheme. It was certainly not the scheme we would have designed if we had been given the chance. We don’t want a Mayor. We can’t really see the point of having a Combined Authority. We think the most democratic thing would have been for the Government to hand more money, more power and more responsibility to the County and District Councils that Suffolk residents have already elected.
But that wasn’t what was on offer. If, as a young person just starting out independently, a rather mean and irritating uncle offers to give you a Vauxhall Corsa, you don’t say “no” because you want him to give you an Audi. The Government ought to be investing in houses for young families, in better roads, in better public transport, in flood defences and apprenticeship programmes and superfast broadband, as a matter of course. And they ought to be empowering local government to help deliver those things, because local Councils are far more accountable and efficient than Whitehall departments. But that wasn’t what we are being offered. Should we really have turned down an extra £25 million per year for infrastructure such as broadband AND £26 million for new homes AND a guaranteed £225 million annual transport budget across the 2 counties, just because we were not keen on some of the government’s methods? Weren’t we right to actually ask Suffolk people what they think? – because that is what we have voted to do.
All Councillors – from whatever party – have been elected to do our very best for the residents of Suffolk. I don’t think that means turning down real tangible benefits, on behalf of our residents, without even asking them. It would be easy to just protest against everything the Conservatives do. The Labour Group will certainly protest, but we also think we have a duty to try to make life better for people in Suffolk. Our Group has ensured that Suffolk people WILL be asked whether they want a Mayor for Norfolk & Suffolk. I am fairly sure they will say “no”. If they say no, and if the Government sees sense and removes this ridiculous idea of a Directly Elected Mayor from the equation, then we will support the rest of this package in the Autumn, despite it not being perfect, because we are focused on the things that will make a real difference to real people’s lives, and not just scoring party-political points.
Sandy Martin, Leader of the Labour Group