Friday, April 11, 2014
3:06 PM

A radical shake-up is on the cards for how decisions which affect hundreds of thousands of people in Norfolk are made - after proposals were published to overhaul the way Norfolk County Council works.

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With councillors increasingly feeling they were being sidelined by the current cabinet system, following last May’s elections they pressed for a return to a committee system at County Hall.

And a steering group set up to explore how that might work has now published its proposals, which would see the biggest change in how the council makes decisions in a decade.

The council voted in November, by 41 to 35, with two abstentions, for a proposal to move away from the current cabinet model in favour of a form of committee governance from May this year.

Those who voted in favour wanted to move away from the current system - where the vast majority of decisions are made by the 10 councillors on the cabinet - to a system largely based on committee decision making.

While the council will elect a leader each year, the group is proposing five committees, which will be able to make decisions. But any which commit the authority to spending more than £100m will have to be taken by a full meeting of the council.

And, if the relevant committee, or the council leader and managing director feel a matter is of “great significance”, it will be referred to the full council.

The leader will be chairman of a new policy and resources committee, which will help develop the council’s budget.

The number of meetings held by the council each year will be similar to the current level. Membership of the committees will be constituted on politically proportionate lines and the new arrangements will come into force at the end of this May.

UKIP councillor Paul Smyth, who represents Swaffham and chaired the steering group which came up with the proposals, said the move would strengthen the role of the council’s 84 elected members.

He said: “Hopefully, it will bring greater democracy, transparency and accountability to the Council by giving councillors from all parties a much larger role in decision making.

“The proposals we have developed over time will provide us with a strong council, well defined delegations of authority and clear divisions of responsibility that should promote good governance in Norfolk.”

The proposal will be discussed on Monday by the authority’s constitution advisory group and a decision will be made by full council on April 28.

If approved, it would start in May, with a six-month review in case it becomes clear changes need to be made.

George Nobbs, leader of the council, said: “There has been widespread discontent with the cabinet system – not just in Norfolk but across many counties – and we have answered the many calls for reform.

“But remember this new arrangement is largely the work of the ordinary members and they have worked tirelessly over the past few months to arrive at today’s proposals. They deserve the support of all of us.”

The drawing up of the proposals has not been without drama. In January the two Conservative representatives on the steering group walked out, saying they would no longer participate in an “undemocratic process”.

• Do you think the change is needed? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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