Norfolk ‘needs radical reform’, says councillor

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A West Norfolk councillor says the county must plot its own course of political reform, or risk the government enforcing change.

The warning from Hunstanton borough and county representative Richard Bird came as councillors completed the process of setting budgets for the coming year last night.

But the area’s MP says debate about the future should be put off until after May’s elections.

Earlier this week, Norfolk County Council raised its portion of council tax by 4.8 per cent, adding around £57 to average annual bills.

West Norfolk Council was also expected to raise its share by £4 at a meeting last night, after the Lynn News went to press.

But Mr Bird, who supports the idea of a single unitary council for Norfolk, says the continuing financial pressure on local government shows the need for radical action.

He said: “We can’t keep shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic. It’s a not a question of if. It’s a question of when. Let’s focus on what is the most beneficial to the people of Norfolk.”

But North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham said the debate should take place after voters go to the polls on May 4.

He said: “We’ve got vital elections coming up. I personally think if we have a big debate about unitary, it would be a major distraction from what people should be voting on.”

Earlier this week, Lincolnshire County Council leader Martin Hill said he regarded moves towards a unitary council there as “inevitable”, even though plans for a poll on the issue have been shelved.

Voters were set to be asked for their views on May 4, the same day as the county council elections, only for the plan to be halted after several of the county’s district authorities objected.

A public consultation is now set to take place later this year.

Unitary supporters argue the move would make significant savings in the cost of running local government and point out several counties are already pursuing the idea.

Mr Bird said Lincolnshire officials estimated the structure could save the county around £100 million over five years.

He said: “That’s the difference between social services working in Norfolk and not.”

But Sir Henry said a single unitary for Norfolk would be too big, and argued two authorities, splitting the county into eastern and western sections, was a better solution.

He said: “The opportunity would be there to have a strong council based in King’s Lynn and a strong council in the east.”