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Norfolk County Council leader demands 'radical' change to local government funding system

Norfolk County Council chiefs have backed plans for a near four per cent tax rise, amid demands for "radical" change to local government funding.

Members of the authority's ruling cabinet approved budget proposals for the 2021-22 financial year when they met yesterday.

But the council's leader, Andrew Proctor, warned the sector was "lurching from one year to the next" without clarity on long-term financial arrangements.

Norfolk County Council's headquarters, where calls for DIY waste recycling charges to be scrapped are set to be debated next week (40342399)
Norfolk County Council's headquarters, where calls for DIY waste recycling charges to be scrapped are set to be debated next week (40342399)

He said that, while is continuing to invest in services, the costs of delivering them are rising while the county's demographics are also changing.

He added: "That must be recognised in a long overdue, radical change by central government in how we are funded for them.

"I think we all agree the present system is simply not sustainable."

Andrew Proctor. (42328060)
Andrew Proctor. (42328060)

The council is proposing a 3.99 per cent increase in its share of council tax bills, which equates to around £56 more on an annual bill for an average band D home.

A general increase of 1.99 per cent is planned, plus a further two per cent which is earmarked for adult social care.

Around £46 million of investment is proposed to help meet rising services costs, plus a further £102 million in the authority's infrastructure programme, raising it to more than £530 million.

The council is also planning to set aside nearly £19 million to meet further costs of dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

But there are also proposals for more than £40 million worth of additional savings from departmental budgets.

Mr Proctor said the budget aimed to build a platform for economic and social recovery post-Covid, but argued that the lack of certainty over funding was "in effect" forcing councils to increase the burden on ratepayers.

However, he dismissed the idea that the council should use some of its own reserves in order to reduce tax rises, adding: "Reserves can only be used once and when they’re gone, they’re gone forever."

The plans will go before the authority's scrutiny committee on February 17, before a final decision is taken at a full council meeting on February 22.

Earlier in the meeting, finance portfolio holder Andrew Jamieson reported a forecast budget underspend of £165,000 during the current financial year so far.

But he reported that all council departments were close to their budgets “purely because of the way we have utilised emergency grant funding this year.”

He went on: “There is absolutely no indication, for now, as to whether the same level of funding will continue into the next financial year.

"What will certainly remain, however, are the impacts felt across the council from the pandemic in general and the second wave in particular.”

West Norfolk Council's cabinet is due to discuss its budget proposals at a meeting this afternoon.

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