West Norfolk councillor urges review of county’s political structures

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County Council ENGANL00120131028171152
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The structure of Norfolk’s local government must be reassessed so it can be sustained for the future, one of West Norfolk’s county representatives has claimed.

A motion will be put to Norfolk County Council on Monday, calling for the authority to examine all the available options for reforming the county’s political structures.

The proposal has been put forward by UKIP group leader Toby Coke, who represents the Gayton and Nar Valley division.

And he believes the county’s politicians must act quickly, amid the likelihood of further severe reductions in government funding for council services.

This week, chancellor George Osborne launched the government’s latest spending review and revealed that departments whose spending is not being protected, such as local government, have been told to draw up plans to reduce their spending by between 25 and 40 per cent.

And Mr Coke said yesterday: “The current model is completely unsustainable with the scale of these cuts.

“If we do nothing, it’s likely a deal will be imposed on us that nobody actually wants.”

The motion, which has been seconded by Swaffham councillor Paul Smyth, calls for the council to review the options available under the government’s plans to offer greater powers to local authorities.

The proposal says a review should be undertaken “with a view to identifying significant savings.”

West Norfolk Council officials have already indicated their interest in examining the possibilities of taking additional powers.

And Mr Coke’s motion comes only two months after county councillors were asked to begin drawing up plans to cut service budgets by up to 25 per cent over the next three years.

That represents a further £169 million potentially being removed from the authority’s budget on top of the £245 million that it claims to have saved over the past four years.

A report published at the time, called Re-imagining Norfolk, also urged the council to form alliances with other councils to reduce costs and focus on four key priorities – education, job creation, infrastructure and support for vulnerable people.

But the structure of local government in Norfolk has been a hot political issue in recent years, after the county council’s bid to establish itself as a single unitary authority in the county was finally rejected in 2010.

Those plans faced fierce opposition from political leaders in West Norfolk.

And Mr Coke admitted that any fresh moves towards creating a single authority would have to proceed cautiously after what he described as the “bloodbath” that followed the previous proposals.

He wants an advisory poll to take place across the county so that voters can have their say on how they think local services in their areas should be run.

He said: “We want to get a feeling of what the people want.”

He insisted he was not proposing one option over another, but said nothing should be ruled out at this stage.