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We’re not another Northamptonshire, says Norfolk council boss

PUBLISHED: 08:46 09 February 2018 | UPDATED: 13:31 09 February 2018

Alison Thomas, deputy leader at Norfolk County Council. Photo: Norfolk Conservatives

Alison Thomas, deputy leader at Norfolk County Council. Photo: Norfolk Conservatives

Norfolk Conservatives

The deputy leader of Norfolk County Council wants to increase the authority’s reserves to protect it as more councils get drawn into a funding crisis.

Norfolk County Council meets on Monday to debate its budget for the next financial year and has to find cash to fill a £100m funding gap by 2022.

To help do that Conservative-controlled County Hall hopes to increase council tax in 2018/19 by almost 6pc.

Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association, which represents local councils, said yesterday some authorities were “perilously close” to financial collapse.

On Friday Northamptonshire County Council stopped all new spending as its finances are in such a bad state.

Analysis by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) shows how many councils, including Northamptonshire have relied on their reserves to fill funding gaps since 2013.

Norfolk’s deputy leader, Alison Thomas, said they were not in the same situation as Northamptonshire but they did need to increase their general reserves - the amount saved for an emergency or rainy day.

At just over £19m, the County Council has the smallest amount of cash in its general reserve pot of any county council in east England.

Suffolk, a smaller council, has £51.5m, while Cambridgeshire has £35.5m.

Mrs Thomas said: “The reserve level we have got is within safe parameters as judged by our finance director, but he certainly wouldn’t like them to be any lower.”

The council has got an extra £3.4m from the Government in 2018/19 which its finance director Simon George is recommending be put into reserves.

Mrs Thomas added: “The Northamptonshire example shows you can use reserves to avoid making difficult decisions, but that difficult decision doesn’t go way, you just defer it.

“It is a conundrum for councils when you make a decision, people don’t like it and there may be a lot of public resistance, but you are there to do the right thing and make that difficult decision.”

She said the council had little choice but to raise council tax to help ease the strain on its finances.

The council’s total reserves have been depleted by £95.4m - almost 70pc - since 2013/14, according to the TBIJ analysis.

Suffolk County Council, meanwhile, has used up a third of its total reserves in that time.

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