'Norfolk got no Budget cash because it is a basket case'
PUBLISHED: 17:17 30 October 2018 | UPDATED: 08:52 31 October 2018
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Norfolk is set to get no new investment from the Budget because it is a "basket case" in the eyes of the Treasury, it has been claimed.
Close analysis of the breakdown of what will be spent on projects in the region – not including the share of national money handed out to the NHS – states the only cash Norfolk is in line for is spending to improve public transport in Norwich.
And the city could even miss out on that money as it has only been chosen as one of the areas that can make a bid.
Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Budget was hailed as the end of austerity as he finally loosened the purse strings with more money for the health service and a hike in the personal tax allowance.
But when it comes to infrastructure investment the county has been ignored.
North Norfolk Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb believes the region has been overlooked in stark contrast to others where the chancellor has splashed the cash such as the Cambridge and Peterborough area.
And he claims the reason is simple: The East’s failure to come to an agreement about devolution. In 2016 devolution for the region ended in stalemate with disagreements over whether it was the best option.
Mr Lamb said he believed “radical devolution” was the solution to make sure Norfolk was not left behind.
“I do think there is a risk of us missing out,” he said. “Norfolk could get nothing if Norwich doesn’t succeed in its bid. This is the price we are paying for not getting our act together on devolution.
“There was lots of debate about whether it was the right way forward and the mayor issue. The bottom line is that because other areas have got their act together and reached an agreement they are getting money to go with their greater responsibilities. We have to take our share of responsibilty for failing to coming up with a clear plan.
“The instinctive reaction of fearing change is not a good enough reason to ignore devolution. I felt at the time that it was a missed opportunity and we are paying a price. I would back radical devolution and money raising which would allow us to shape our own destiny. The danger now is that Norfolk will be left behind, The view in the Treasury is that Norfolk is a basket case – we failed to reach an agreement with them.
“We have to revisit it. We have eight councils running services and a county council in a nightmare situation financially. We need to look at what we can do ourselves to make the best use of public money.”
At Conservative party conference Treasury minister Robert Jenrick told this paper of the positives other areas that had devolved powers were enjoying.
He said: “My experience as a minister has made me feel that mayors are a very good idea and we are very open for other areas to take advantage of them.”
But Norwich South MP Clive Lewis thought there were other reasons beyond devolution as to why the region has been overlooked.
He said: “It is possible that not being devolved has had an impact. But I had real concerns with the deal that we were offered. There was an argument that it was not the right time and that remains.
“So the chancellor found this headroom and I think he was forced to spend it by Theresa May. And I reckon he has probably looked at marginal seats and pumped money into those areas. Because I do believe this was a Budget with a general election in mind.
”As far as Norfolk is concerned they are expecting the region to deliver votes – Norwich aside – whatever happens. So why worry about this area?”
He added that the biggest “scandal” was that the poorest in our region were getting no help from the Budget.
“There was not very much for those people in our city who are the lowest paid and struggling to make ends meet. There is nothing for those people who are struggling – the drudgery of it. There is nothing for them.”
But Sir Henry Bellingham said there were pluses for Norfolk in the Budget.
“I am delighted the chancellor is helping people on low pay by both raising the minimum wage plus raising the basic tax threshold,” he said.
He added that one of the key measures that would assist West Norfolk was the new high street initiative to reduce business rates and encourage a big increase in the number of habitable flats.