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Fenland councillors vote to accept devolution deal

Fenland's district councillors have voted to accept the proposed Cambridgeshire and Peterborough devolution deal, which is designed to put more money and powers into the hands of local people.

Devolution deal vote

They approved the proposal at a full council meeting yesterday afternoon (November 17). Peterborough City Council followed suit last night.

East Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire councils had already given it their backing, as had the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership Board. Cambridgeshire County Council, Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire will decide next week.

The deal is acknowledged by the Government as one of the most ambitious in the country and would generate at least £270 million in investment in the area over the next five years.

Following the vote, Fenland District Council leader Councillor John Clark said: "I'm pleased our Members have voted to accept this deal, which has the potential to make a huge difference to this whole area.

"If it goes through, it will bring hundreds of millions of pounds of extra investment to improve infrastructure, support economic growth and help create better quality jobs.  

"We badly need that investment in Fenland. So we need to be at the table when all the crucial decisions are taken about where and how that new money will be spent."

At yesterday's meeting councillors were asked to agree to Fenland becoming a constituent member of a Mayoral Combined Authority for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to enable various powers, responsibilities and new funding to be transferred from central government.

They were told that the estimated running costs of the Mayor's office and Combined Authority over the next five years were likely to be about £6 million, which would be funded by a government grant. That investment would generate £270 million of funding during that period. "In other words, each £1 spent on running the Combined Authority for the next five years will generate income of £45 to be invested in our areas." 

The proposed deal includes a new £20 million annual fund for the next 30 years - £600 million in total - to support economic growth, development of local infrastructure and extra jobs.

Other potential benefits include support for the delivery of the Wisbech-Cambridge rail link and the Wisbech Garden Town and a devolved skills and apprenticeship budget.

Cambridgeshire County Councillor Steve Count, chairman of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Devolution Partnership, said: "The decision by the council to back the devolution deal is a step closer to putting powers and decisions over £600 million in funding into the hands of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough communities and away from Westminster.

"This deal, which has been described by Government as one of the best in the country, is just the first phase. Further phases could see us looking at further funding and powers that will directly improve the lives of our residents, create jobs and tackle deprivation."

Earlier, outlining the proposed deal to Members, Councillor Clark had said: "I genuinely believe this is the best devolution deal we will get, so today is make up your mind day. We have to consider what is on offer and how it could benefit Fenland.

"It could be argued that Fenland has never received its full quota from Cambridgeshire and I believe this agreement goes a long way to put that right, giving us one of the nine votes on the Combined Authority."

He added: "My old boss used to say: 'With any deal be in for the meat and leave the gravy for others'. I don't think this deal will get any better and we will never see another offer with this amount of funding attached."

Referring to speculation that a Mayor was "negotiable", Cllr Clark said: "The short answer to that is 'No'. Sajid Javid [the Secretary of State] has said: 'I am not going to devolve significant powers and more taxpayers' money without a corresponding increase in local accountability. It's a real red line for me when it comes to negotiating devolution deals'."

Article added November 18, 2016