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Norfolk County Council budget consultation criticised

Norfolk County Council’s decision to consult the public over a further £16m in savings has slammed as “confusing” and “disgraceful” at a meeting of an oversight panel.

The authority's scrutiny committee ‘called-in’ the Conservative-controlled cabinet’s decision to put plans for 2020/21 budget proposals to the public and said there was not enough detail to merit an informed response.

The plans will see a further £15.8m in savings, on top of just over £31m already agreed.

Norfolk County Council's headquarters, where calls for DIY waste recycling charges to be scrapped are set to be debated next week (3090376)
Norfolk County Council's headquarters, where calls for DIY waste recycling charges to be scrapped are set to be debated next week (3090376)

They include a near four per cent council tax rise in addition £7.2m in savings at adult social services and £3.8m saved from children’s services,

The current consultation is open until the end of the year and the council will outline specific budget proposals in January.

But, during a scrutiny committee meeting on Tuesday, councillors disagreed over the wording of the cabinet’s decision.

The opposition argued the public should be given more detail in order to respond to the plans, while a council legal officer said the proposals were simply budget outlines, and specific savings or service changes would undergo a separate consultation process.

Scrutiny committee chairman and leader of the Labour group Steve Morphew said: “The call-in is because, and I certainly believe, there is not enough information in there for a proper consultation to take place with the public and for councillors to understand what’s being proposed.”

Liberal Democrat Tim Adams said: “These are serious issues which people’s lives will be affected by.

“To consider that the public should not be consulted is embarrassing and disrespectful.”

He claimed the council were avoiding “delving into the detail”, which he called “disgraceful”.

Labour councillor Emma Corlett claimed the public would find the decision “confusing”.

But Andrew Jamieson, cabinet member for finance, told the committee: “Consultation is not required when a council is considering a budget.”

He added that the council had gone beyond the legal requirement for consultation, and said: “We would always like to have a fair, open and transparent decision on these matters and that is what I think this process is.”

Helen Edwards, chief legal and monitoring officer, added: “It’s never the case that at this stage we would have worked up proposals.”

The committee voted against returning the decision to cabinet.

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