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County Hall refurbishment plan outlined as council warns of £130 million budget shortfall

Nearly £3 million could be spent on refurbishing Norfolk County Council's headquarters – even as the authority warns it might have to find £45 million in savings next year.

Officials say the plans, which are set to be considered early next month, are essential to make the building more accessible and reduce the risks of spreading coronavirus.

But they have also demanded "sustainable, fair funding" to protect services which they say are now under even greater pressure.

Norfolk County Council headquarters (3027764)
Norfolk County Council headquarters (3027764)

The plans are due to be considered at a cabinet meeting next Monday, September 7.

A report published ahead of the meeting said the civic area of County Hall, which includes the council chamber and other meeting rooms, is largely unchanged since the building opened in the late 1960s and warned of the presence of asbestos.

It continued: "As a result there is a significant maintenance backlog and the area does not meet the needs of councillors and residents, particularly those with disabilities.

"There are issues with lighting, heating and cooling, and public gallery access. In addition, the lack of air handling does not meet Covid regulations.

"Officers have explored, with our architects, different options, but the nature of the works, mean fundamental redesign, particularly to allow accessibility."

The work is expected to cost an initial £2.7 million, which the report says would be drawn from anAccommodation Rationalisation capital budget, and is expected to be completed by next February.

But the same document reports that the authority's financial situation has worsened as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials are now forecasting a budget gap of nearly £130 million over the next four years and warn that they will have to find £45.4 million in savings next year alone unless further funding is obtained from central government.

Andrew Jamieson, the authority's cabinet member for finance, said: “We’ve been dealing with austerity for a decade and Covid 19 has added to our pressures, through extra costs, reduced Council Tax and other income and ongoing additional demand. The challenges we face have got even tougher.

“We’ve got an excellent track record of balancing the books in testing circumstances but this is getting harder and harder to achieve.

“The Government relied on what it called the “unsung heroes” of local government, during the peak of the pandemic.

"It’s time to recognise that local government and adult and children’s social care need sustainable, fair funding, to ensure we can continue to keep our communities safe and supported."

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