Fenland and East Cambridgeshire District councillors accuse government of ‘bulldozing’ through plans for an ‘Eastern powerhouse’

Lorna Dupre

Lorna Dupre - Credit: Archant

Opposition councillors in East Cambridgeshire and Fenland have accused the government of trying to bulldoze through plans for an elected mayor who would head up an ‘Eastern’ powerhouse.

Michael and Virginia Bucknor

Michael and Virginia Bucknor - Credit: Archant

Leaders of both Fenland and East Cambridgeshire District Councils have signed up ‘in principle’ to progress the Chancellor’s devolution plans which would see Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk combine.

George Osborne is expected to announce his plans for an “Eastern powerhouse” when he delivers his budget next week.

Councillor Lorna Dupre leader for Cambridgeshire, Peterborough, Norfolk and Suffolk, Liberal Democrat group said the process so far has been ‘top secret’ with no proper consultation and with council leaders apparently being pressured into signing up to the chancellor’s plans.

She was sent a 32-page document on the proposals by East Cambridgeshire’s Conservative leader Councillor James Palmer on Wednesday. He did not want to comment on the proposals until after the Chancellor’s announcement.

John Clark

John Clark - Credit: Archant

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Cllr Dupre fears the proposals will see yet another tier of local government taking power further and further away from a local level and putting it into the hands of an elected mayor who is less and less accountable and more and more distant giving the public less opportunity to influence or challenge decisions.

“I believe decision making should brought down to a more local level but this is doing exactly the opposite. It is sucking the power away and allowing it to go to a remote and distant office. People already feel the police commissioner is remote and that role covers just one county. This new mayor will cover three. Cambridge City Council has refused to sign up and that is a real concern.

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“This is supposed to unify three counties but how it can do that without Cambridge as a part of it I’m not sure,” she said.

Cllr Dupre’s concerns were echoed by Councillors Michael and Virginia Bucknor, the independent councillors representing Wisbech’s Waterlees ward on Fenland District Council.

James Palmer

James Palmer - Credit: Archant

Cllr Mrs Bucknor said all Fenland councillors were invited to a presentation on Wednesday when they were handed the 32 page document.

She said: “We were handed the document, we were not allowed to read it in advance and we were therefore trying to read the document and have a presentation at the same time. We also had to hand the papers back before leaving the meeting.

“We are extremely concerned that this is yet another tier of government. We have no details, no explanation of what the thinking behind this is, but we were expected to vote there and then on whether we agreed in principle.

“The residents of Fenland have not been consulted. It is not democracy, there is no transparency. We would welcome looking at the various tiers of government but this not what is happening her.

“There will be a mayor and a super cabinet running these three counties, but there will be no funding to run it. Really? How will that work. Why it is suddenly being bulldozed through without anybody having the opportunity to properly examine it, I don’t know.”

Fenland District Council this afternoon (Friday) issued a press statement saying: “Fenland District Council continues to support a devolution deal for the East “in principle” but councillors are yet to formally decide whether or not to back the Government’s offer.

“Councillors were provided with a fuller understanding of what is proposed in the deal on offer to the region, which comprises Cambridgeshire, Peterborough, Norfolk and Suffolk at Wednesday’s all-member seminar at Fenland Hall.”

Councillor John Clark, Fenland District Council leader, said: “We now have a much clearer idea of what is involved in the proposed deal and we agreed that at this stage we are prepared to support it in principle.

“While there are clearly benefits to be had from the deal that is on the table, there are many complex and important issues involved, both as regards the overall funding and in relation to some of the powers that could be devolved. They need further close examination.

“All members will now have more time to consider the whole package, with a view to debating it at full Council, when we will need to make a formal decision on whether or not to support it.”

The press release added: “The Chancellor is expected to include an announcement of the proposed East Devolution Agreement within next Wednesday’s Budget speech.

“Subsequently the proposed agreement is likely to be made public to give local councillors, key stakeholders and the public the opportunity to examine and debate its contents.

“The proposed deal will be debated at Fenland District Council’s next full council meeting on May 12. The Government is pressing for early decisions by all the local authorities involved.”

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