Radical reform needed, Norfolk County Council boss warns

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Radical reform is needed to sustain local services to residents in West Norfolk against continuing spending cuts, the boss of Norfolk County Council has warned.

Councillors are being asked to draw up plans to slash another 25 per cent from the authority’s budgets over the next three years.

That equates to another £169 million off the council’s budget, on top of the £245 million it says it has already saved over the last four years.

And managing director Dr Wendy Thomson said the Conservatives’ general election victory means the financial challenge will continue.

She said: “If anything, it has confirmed that local government is at a crossroads in terms of its future, and that there is a small window in which to make significant changes.”

The process of identifying where money could be saved will begin on Monday, during a meeting of the council’s policy and resources committee.

Although the authority says it needs to find £111 million of savings, the equivalent of 15 per cent of its current budget, officials say seeking £169 million will enable them to choose between differing priorities.

Leader George Nobbs said: “We are being open and frank from the start of this process about the mountain we have to climb. Despite unprecedented efficiencies we still find ourselves having to take out more from the council.

“Whilst we need to make savings equivalent to 15 per cent over the next three years, at this stage we are asking councillors to plan for a 25 per cent reduction.

“This will give us headroom for choice, and some contingency, should we have to find more.

“But even with this, we will still be a billion pound organisation and we need to use every penny of that to get the best possible results we can for the people of Norfolk.”

The committee will consider a report by Dr Thomson called Re-Imagining Norfolk, which calls on the authority to form alliances with other councils to reduce costs and focus on four key priorities – education, job creation, infrastructure and support for vulnerable people.

And the report reveals that the chief executives of all eight Norfolk councils, including West Norfolk’s Ray Harding, have commissioned preliminary research on the possibility of securing additional powers for the county, as part of the government’s devolution agenda.

Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech set out plans to transfer powers over areas such as housing, transport, planning and policing to major cities, such as Manchester. Ministers have also set out plans to extend similar arrangements across England.

And Dr Thomson said: “Greater autonomy over such strategic issues as transport, economic development, strategic planning supports the ambitions for Norfolk, and discussions about possible devolution will shape Re-Imagining Norfolk going forward.”

All council committees will be asked to look at their spending ahead of the setting of the council’s budget for the next financial year in February.