This week marked the return of Suffolk’s ‘devolution’ deal after being put on ice since 2022.

It’s fair to say that the response has been underwhelming, and it’s not difficult to see why. Of course, £16 million isn’t loose change, and I welcome any new money for Ipswich and Suffolk, but in the wider context of central Government funding for Suffolk’s public services, this cash barely scratches the surface. Since entering power 14 years ago, the Conservatives have slashed funding for Suffolk’s local councils by nearly £130 million a year. Suffolk County Council’s budget is in excess of £750 million and the administration there have just waved through brutal cuts amounting to £65 million.

It’s also worth noting that this £16 million won’t rise with inflation either, meaning that, in real-terms, this funding pot will diminish over time. So is a figure worth just two per cent of Suffolk County Council’s current budget going to have a transformative effect? No, it’s a sticking plaster. In effect, the Conservatives are giving us back a quid for every tenner they’ve taken from us and are expecting us to be grateful.

However the problem with this deal isn’t just about the money – it’s also about the farcical nature of the new political set-up that comes with it.

I’ve had my own criticisms of the Conservative administration’s fear of proper scrutiny and accountability in the past. During my time as a councillor they abolished the education scrutiny committee despite the catalogue of problems relating to special educational needs and disabilities, school transport and children’s centres, and they still get tangled up trying to deflect criticism instead of taking responsibility.

Yet, the plan to have a directly elected leader in parallel to the existing set-up means that, after next year’s county council election, we could have a council leader completely at odds with the majority of the rest of the council.

In a desperate attempt to quell unrest within their own party, the Conservatives have delivered a bizarre scenario which could result in political stalemate for nearly half a decade. For a council which is already infamous for its snail-like pace of change, that would be catastrophic. Ironically, yet entirely predictably, those rebellious Conservative councillors are still not satisfied. So why are they going to all this trouble over a relatively small pot of money? When the challenges facing our county are so great, it’s clear the Conservatives’ confused ideas of what devolution should look like falls far short of solving them.

Research by the Centre for Cities has shown that productivity grew by just 0.1 per cent each year between 2010 and 2022 in Ipswich under the Conservatives. Under the last Labour government, productivity increased by 1.5 per cent per year. If disposable income had continued to grow at pre-2010 levels, the average Ipswich resident would have had £17,400 more to spend.

For too long, Conservative economic incompetence and a lack of foresight and ambition – both locally and nationally – has squandered the potential in Ipswich and across Suffolk. It has resulted in low growth, poor productivity and less money in people’s pockets. Under a Labour government, this would change.

Longer-term funding agreements and more powers for local government would mean we can work with local people to deliver the services they need, whilst also offering local businesses and institutions certainty.

Replacing the broken Apprenticeship Levy with a new Growth and Skills Levy is imperative, and Labour will also properly combine and devolve adult education budgets, and create a new national institution, Skills England, too.

This is what devolution really needs to look like: a sustainable boost to Suffolk’s economy, making sure local people have access to the services they need, and giving them the opportunities they deserve.

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