Agenda item

Members of the Environment and Community and Regeneration and Development Panels have been invited to attend for this item.


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The Chief Executive presented the report and reminded Members that the Borough Council (BCKLWN) agreed at the Council meeting on 30 March 2023 to make a clear public position on the County Deal for Norfolk before Norfolk County Council (NCC) made a final decision at the NCC Council meeting on 12 December 2023.


The Chief Executive advised that Chris Starkie, Director of Growth and Investment from Norfolk County Council (NCC) was present on Zoom to answer any technical questions.


It was highlighted that all Councillors had received updates and briefings on the County Deal.


Members were advised that there was no requirement for a response to NCC but the report was in response to the Motion at Full Council and included in the meantime of writing the report and going to NCC 12 December, if any other changes were needed an update would be given.  The report set out broad governance arrangements and details were available on NCC website.


The Chair, Councillor Dark thanked the Chief Executive for the report and invited comments and questions from the Panels and Councillors attending under Standing Order 34.


The Chair thanked Chris Starkie for attending to answer questions on any aspect of the County deal.


Councillor Long declared an interest as a County Councillor and explained that he had been appointed to the Norfolk County Councillor Working Group which was looking at the constitution reforms and looked at what the deal meant and together with the briefings received was therefore well versed as to the current position where and why.   Councillor long outlined what this would mean for the Borough Council, where it would have a say or a veto on the proposal for an elected Leader.  Councillor Long highlighted that the most important thing personally for him was adult education because a range of courses were required for different job skills available in West Norfolk.


Councillor Long sought clarification on development corporations and invited Chris Starkie to confirm that the information he had outlined to the Panels was correct.  In response, Chris Starkie confirmed the information was correct and outlined the powers which were passed to the Directly Elected Leader compared with Council as a whole and indeed borough and district councils.  All powers handed down from Government would be to NCC rather than to the Directly Elected Leader with the exception of the ability to establish development corporations.  Councillor Long correct development corporations can only be established in partnership and with the agreement of the local authority and in this case the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk and budget would need to be agreed by NCC Cabinet.


Councillor Blunt commented that he had read and agreed with the recommendations in the report and added that giving support to the negotiation process was fundamental to ensure that the  Borough Council was in the game.  Councillor Blunt expressed concern regarding comments made previous to this document by the Leader and emphasised the views should be from the Borough Council and not individuals.  Councillor Blunt also expressed concern on the governance and the role of the Elected Leader and how this would affect the Borough Council.


Councillor Kemp declared an interest as a County Councillor.


Councillor Kemp commented that in her view the proposal diminished the role of the Borough Council because it took away the Shared Prosperity Funding which would go to NCC in March 2025 and that there might not be any new funding available. Councillor Kemp outlined the reasons why in her view the deal was wrong for Norfolk and should not be accepted as currently proposed.


In response to the comments made by Councillor Kemp, Chris Starkie explained that the comments made by Councillor Kemp were opinions rather than facts.  The Panels were informed that the investment  fund would require legislation to take the money away and outlined the difference between the directly elected Leader and the current Leader.


Chris Starkie responded to questions from Councillor Bubb in relation to the allowance received by the elected Leader, what would happen if the elected Leader failed to inspire, vote of no confidence, etc


In response to comments made by Councillor Kemp, the Chief Executive explained currently the shared prosperity funding came direct to the Borough Council and going forward there was no indication from Governance that shared prosperity funding will be available as part of the county deal.  The Chief Executive advised that as far as individual projects there were ongoing discussions with District Leaders and Norfolk Chief Executives and outlined the role of the Investment Board where every district would have a representative on the Board.  The criteria would be set out and included within the NCC policy framework to ensure transparency for considering bids equally.


Councillor Long commented on the points made by Councillor Bubb and explained that the Constitution could be changed for a Directly Elected Leader and outlined the options available.  Councillor Long commented that it would be a Full Council decision to change the Constitution.


Following questions and comments made on the directly Elected Leader allowance, Chris Starke explained that the allowance would be set in the same way as current practice.  Councillor Long added that an independent panel set Member allowances and NCC would look at and deter role and that it meant.


Chris Starkie responded to questions from Councillor Blunt on the criteria for the appointment of a Directly Elected Leader.


Councillor Dark declared an interest as a Norfolk County Councillor.


The Chair, Councillor Dark explained the Borough Council’s  role  in the deal between NCC and Government and that the vote would take place at NCC on 12 December 2023.   The report invited the Panels to express a view.  The Chair outlined the variables set out in the Deal to be explored by NCC.  The Chair outlined the views of the previous Administration when he was Leader of the Council.  The Chair drew attention to the recommendation in the report to allow the Leader and officers to continue to engage in the County Deal discussions with NCC on behalf of the Borough Council and there was the opportunity for the Council to state if it supported or rejected the recommendation to seek the best outcome for West Norfolk.   The Chair, Councillor Dark outlined the question asked by Councillor Long of the Leader at the last Full Council.


The Chair, Councillor Dark expressed concern regarding the letter from the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk in response to DHLUC formal consultation.  The Chair added that he had been given a copy of the letter from Councillor Parish and that had questioned the legality of the consultation and advised against proceeding.  The Chair had checked the request by the NCC Leader to sign the letter and the legality of the consultation with the Borough Council’s Monitoring Officer.  The Monitoring Officer had confirmed that the question of legality had not been raised with her.  The Chair expressed disappointment and concern that the correct process had not been adhered to and outlined the reasons why he was concerned.


The Chair, Councillor Dark added that there was a genuine concern that the report set out the officer recommendation to go forward with the County Deal to vote today,  but the Leader had got in front and had written to one of the parties and the formal response stated he was against it and this information had also been published in the press.  The Panel decision was therefore either vote with officer report or vote with the Leader’s position against the proposal.  The system for one reason or another had gone out of kilter.


Under Standing Order 34, Councillor Ryves asked the following questions:


·         What was the outcome of previous court actions?

·         Clarification on failure to accept the deal had previously had cost Norfolk £120m.

·         Consultation undertaken with the public appeared to be unsatisfactory.

·         Multiple questions relating to a directly Elected Leader, including power of impeachment of NCC councillors to end the deal.


Chris Starkie responded to the above questions and explained that with regard to the court action,  a couple of district councils had served a letter which had never been followed through and July was the deadline and it was now past that date.  The second point on how much money was lost by Norfolk, it was noted this was £120m relating to housing was a good working figure by not proceeding with the deal.  In response to the comments made on consultation, it was explained that consultation questions were thoroughly tested with “experts” in the field and the level of engagement was reasonably high and higher than other devolution areas.  With regard to power impeachment to directly elected Leaders there were two things to note, firstly the Directly Elected leader  as an individual would have to get votes through Council to pass a budget, corporate plan, etc.  A workable majority would have to be formed as the Borough Council did following the May Election.  Secondly, if a change was to be made to the Constitution this would be a Full Council decision.


Under Standing Order 34, Councillor Morley commented that he supported the Officer recommendation to support the County Deal through to Full Council.  Councillor Morley added there were two aspects he would like highlighted to the recommendation as set out below:


·         Leverage for priorities for levelling up and what were the priorities – education, jobs and growth.

·         Partnership more widely used in the recommendations

·         “West” be inserted prior to the word Norfolk on recommendation 2. 


In response to the comments made by Councillor Morley, Chris Starkie explained that the meaning of leverage other funds in and provided an overview of his previous role within the Local Enterprise Partnership.  Members were informed that  Government was transferring the functions of local enterprise partnerships to the democratically accountable bodies and into NCC and Suffolk CC.  It was explained that two Boards (Business Board and  Skills  Board) would be developed and would have Borough and District representatives.


Councillor Moriarty declared an interest as a Norfolk County Councillor but had not firmed up a decision in relation to the County Deal.


Under Standing Order 34, Councillor Moriarty commented that the Borough Council was not the only Council to have had a change of leadership in recent months and there was also a new NCC Leader.  Councillor Moriarty explained that the new NCC Leader met with Cabinet in the summer and his understanding was that the Leader was responding to some discontent expressed by various Conservative District Leaders also on NCC.  Officers and the Leader of Council were re-engaging in negotiations with DHLUC and  Central Government  in order try and improve the deal.


Councillor Moriarty added that nothing had changed from the Borough Council’s perspective since the formal response to the consultation which Councillor Dark and the Chief Executive had submitted and signed.  Councillor Moriarty explained that what had happened was that the Conservative District Leaders and the NCC Leader were keen to negotiate for the strongest position possible.    Councillor Moriarty stated that in his view the district council role was simply not strong enough.


Chris Starkie responded to questions from Councillor Moriarty in regard to the recommendation set out in the report and the Council’s position.


Under Standing Order 34, Councillor de Whalley addressed the Panel.


In response to the points raised by Councillor de Whalley in relation to the Council’s position once signed up and who could change the arrangement/consultation arrangements, Chris Starkie explained that it was almost certain there would be at least one follow up devolution deal.  It was noted that a level 3 deal was required to go beyond level 2 (without the directly elected leader) which was democratic choice.  It was explained that this would not cover any of the sovereignty  of borough or district councils but  would look at some of the functions and powers of central government more locally. Chris Starkie highlighted that the virtue of the deal was not to create an extra democratic layer and that by using the existing mechanism of the Norfolk Public Sector Leaders Board would lead the consultation and that there would be both borough and district council involvement from the start.  In conclusion, the Panel was advised that NCC had already been in consultation with Borough Council officers on some of the schemes put forward to enhance the negotiations to get a better deal for West Norfolk. 


Under Standing Order 34, Councillor Rust questioned how good the deal will be for King’s Lynn and that she agred with  the proposal on time to get best deal but that it was not necessarily the fairest and should be for the equitable needs of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk who was equally important as Norwich because of the demographics. 


Under Standing Order 34, Councillor Joyce outlined his reasons why he supported the officer recommendation.


Councillor Kemp outlined her reasons why she could not support the officer recommendation to support the deal.


Councillor Colwell declared an interest as a Norfolk County Councillor and outlined the reasons why he supported the recommendation.


Councillor Devulapalli highlighted the importance of getting the best deal for West Norfolk to address the education and skills needed.


Councillor Dark commented on the suggestion made by Councillor Morley and proposed that the word “West” be inserted prior to the word Norfolk on recommendation 2.  Councillor  Long seconded and was agreed by the Panels.


The Chair invited the Leader, Councillor Parish to address the Panel, a summary of which is set out below.


The Leader, Councillor Parish advised that he had not publicly stated anywhere  he was against the Deal but had advised that he had stated that he did not think it was good enough.  With regard to the letter, Councillor Parish apologised if he gave incorrect information the request came from the Leader of NCC who had chaired the Norfolk District Leaders meeting.  An email was received asking Borough and District Leaders to sign the Letter on 11 July 2023 to meet the deadline prior to Government recess on 20 July 2023 and therefore there was not sufficient time to debate the letter with anyone or via the Panels or Council.  Members were advised that the essential elements of the letter to the Secretary of State from all the District Leaders was to make formal representation during their consideration for a devolution deal for Norfolk.  The Panel was advised that the thrust of the letter was to improve the deal for districts in Norfolk.  Members were informed that a response had been received from the Secretary of State.


The Leader went on to say that part of the information in the press article was incorrect and outlined the content of article and reiterated that he had not stated publicly anywhere did not support the deal but that he wanted a better deal for West Norfolk.  The Leader welcomed the addition of “West” to the recommendation put forward by the Panels.


The Leader explained that he had included the County Deal in his report to Council on 19 October and outlined the content.


Members were informed that the County Deal report would be a Cabinet decision to go forward to Full Council in November prior to the NCC Council meeting on 12 December 2023 when all Councillors would have the opportunity to debate on the County Deal.


The Leader provided an overview of a discussion he had immediately following the District Leader’s meeting with officers regarding the £20m per year for a period of 30 years and the Government reduced funding to Councils.


The Leader commented on the pros and cons on the proposal for a Directly Elected Leader.


In conclusion, the Leader explained that he had never publicly stated he was against the deal and would accept the decision of Cabinet and Full Council.


The Chair, Councillor Dark read out the recommendation.


Councillor Long asked for clarification on information given by the Leader in relation to the NCC Leader chairing a meeting of Norfolk District Leaders.  Councillor Long explained that it was his understanding that the Chair of Norfolk Leaders Board alternated between NCC and one District Council, but the meeting of District Leaders did not include the Leader of NCC unless invited for a specific reason and that Chair would therefore be a District Leader.  Councillor Long asked if it was a Norfolk Leaders Board or District Leaders meeting.


The Leader confirmed he could not say one way or another.


In response, the Chief Executive advised that it was a Norfolk Leaders meeting and not the Norfolk Leaders Board.


Chris Starkie added that the meeting of all Norfolk Leaders was chaired by the rotating Chair, the Leader of NCC but subsequently there was a District Leaders meeting which the Leader of NCC was not invited to attend.


The Panel voted on the recommendations set out below with the addition of the work “West” be inserted prior to the word Norfolk on recommendation 2.  The vote was carried (14 for, 2 against and 1 abstention).


RESOLVED: That the Corporate Performance, Environment and Community and Regeneration and Development Panels support the recommendation to Cabinet and Council as set out below:


It is recommended that:


1)            The Leader and Chief Executive continue to engage in the County Deal discussions with NCC on behalf of the Borough Council with a focus on:


·         This Council’s powers and sovereignty remain undiminished.

·         West Norfolk will have a fair say in the priorities being set for any new funding under the ‘deal’.

·         West Norfolk will have a fair opportunity to access such funding to secure the best deal for West Norfolk.


2)            That BCKLWN gives its support to NCC to negotiate with Government to secure the best deal for Norfolk subject to 1) above.


Supporting documents: