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West Norfolk Council leader urges stability amid shake-up speculation

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The leader of West Norfolk Council has called for stability amid claims that a massive shake-up of local government is being considered.

Reports in recent days have suggested that existing local authorities could face the axe under forthcoming proposals from ministers.

But several council chiefs in Norfolk have already expressed unease at the idea – and borough leader Stuart Dark has now joined them.

West Norfolk Council leader Stuart Dark at his desk.
West Norfolk Council leader Stuart Dark at his desk.

In a statement, Mr Dark said he would “not normally comment on unconfirmed press reports and believe that it’s best to wait for the Government to confirm their actual plans”.

But he continued: “Given the likely level of public interest I will say this much, it’s my strong personal belief that public services are best delivered locally by people who understand the place, communities and businesses they serve.

“I, like many others, am open to constructive talks about potential regional devolution with central government and the opportunities that it may bring, as who wouldn’t be.

“But I do not think now, with everything that is going on, is the right time for anyone to be possibly talking of structural change with regard to how West Norfolk or the County could be governed.

“I believe the far greater need is offering support and effective delivery and that is always helped by stability.”

The reported proposals could see second-tier district authorities axed as part of the extension of the system of directly elected mayors which already operate in areas such as Cambridgeshire.

There have also been suggestions that governors could be introduced, with Norfolk being one of the first areas to have one.

But one of Mr Dark's predecessors, Nick Daubney, last week urged the Government to properly resource any new set-up, amid criticism of a perceived lack of funding when plans for a combined authority to cover Norfolk and Suffolk were scrapped five years ago.

Mr Dark said his view of reforming local government was reinforced by the role played by councils during the coronavirus crisis.

He added: “West Norfolk is the largest district in Norfolk and the 14th largest in England, covering 550 square miles, so we are far from small.

“I’m proud of the work and support given by officers and councillors, particularly over the last unprecedented 22 months, and am sure that this will continue going forward.”

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