Council rejects ‘bias’ claim over Norfolk-Suffolk devolution plan

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A bid to force council officials to give the public more information about devolution proposals for Norfolk and Suffolk has been rejected today.

A public consultation is continuing over the plan to set up a new combined authority for the two counties, which would be led by a directly elected mayor.

But critics have claimed that a leaflet delivered to residents about the consultation gave inadequate and biased information about the plan.

However, a motion calling for Norfolk County Council to issue further detail to the public was defeated by 38 votes to 34, with three absentions, during a meeting in Norwich this morning.

The motion was proposed by Labour councillor Steve Morphew, who claimed that the leaflet presented a “limited and biased view” of the proposals.

That claim was rejected by the council’s leader, Cliff Jordan, who insisted the document was not biased.

He previously urged councillors to continue with the process when they voted to put it to a public consultation last month.

But the Green Party’s Andrew Boswell said: “Rather than really engaging with people, this is just about winning the outcome, and is another sad reflection of post-truth culture prevalent at the moment.

“It’s sad that this council is sinking to this post-truth norm with the consultation so far.”

The consultation continues until August 23. People should visit www.eastangliadevo.co.uk to have their say.

Meanwhile, business people in West Norfolk are being urged to co-sign a joint letter in support of the devolution plan.

Business engagement events will also take place at University College Suffolk in Ipswich tomorrow, the Norwich University of the Arts on Thursday and the West Suffolk College in Bury St Edmunds on Friday for traders to find out more about the scheme. All three sessions will run from 8 to 10am.

The sessions and letter have been jointly organised by the counties’ Chambers of Commerce and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

LEP chairman Mark Pendlington said: “This is a defining moment for our economy and everyone that lives and runs a business here.

“We have a massive opportunity to bring even greater prosperity, more funding and release even more potential from Suffolk and Norfolk.

“This is a rallying call that will leave the Government in absolutely no doubt that we are up for the challenge of building on our successes and achievements so far and driving forward our ambitions.”

Norfolk Chamber chief executive Caroline Williams added: “Norfolk needs continued investment in skills and infrastructure to enable the local business community to retain and create new jobs and drive the economy forward.

“It is essential in these discussions and those going forward that the business community are seem as an equal partner in driving forward the right agenda for Norfolk.”

Dr Peter Funnell, former president of the Suffolk Chamber, added: “We believe that devolution offers new and important opportunities for the business community in Suffolk and Norfolk.

“In particular, the focus of devolution on infrastructure investment has the potential to offer long-term benefits for the competitiveness of the two counties within the UK and in international markets.

“Critically, we also see devolution as creating new opportunities to work with the Mayor and Combined Authority to ensure that the voice of business informs decisions and priorities, and that the economic and social contribution of business is recognised, acknowledged and supported.”