England

Call for action to stop East Anglian mayor plan collapsing

Norwich Cathedral
Image caption Devolving powers from Whitehall could help boost transport links to the region's key cities such as Norwich

Supporters of East Anglian devolution are lobbying government ministers to "get a grip" and intervene to stop the deal from collapsing.

Chancellor George Osborne announced the proposals for an elected mayor covering Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk in his budget last week.

But some local MPs already fear the plan is starting to unravel.

It follows a unanimous vote by Cambridgeshire County Council to reject the deal in its present form.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Eastern Powerhouse plan is being backed by Chancellor George Osborne

There has also been criticism over the past few days by senior political figures including Sir Henry Bellingham and Lord Tebbit.

At Westminster Conservative MPs from the region have, off the record, used words such as "shambles", "dog's dinner" and "not properly thought through" to describe the current state of play. One senior Tory told the BBC: "I'm glad I have nothing to do with this."

The BBC understands MPs and a handful of local councillors from the East have approached the Treasury within the past 24 hours and asked it to appoint a senior figure, either a politician or a local business person, who can oversee the negotiations between the 23 councils.

They are also asking for longer to conclude a deal. At the moment the government wants all the councils to have agreed to it by the end of June.

Image caption Lord Tebbit, speaking in the House of Lords, criticised the plan for elected mayors, warning it would raise costs and introduce another layer of government

Some MPs said the idea of an elected mayor was not popular with many people, while others said the money on offer - £1bn over 30 years - was not very much.

Government sources accepted there was a lot of unease at the moment and the idea of bringing in someone to oversee the negotiations and win widespread support for devolution was being considered. But they added agreement needed to be reached quickly and that a mayor for the region was non-negotiable.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "We are committed to the deal and will continue to work with all the councils in the area. This is a bottom up process and 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 their devolution plans before they were announced

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