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Special investigation: Norfolk County Council, get your act together

PUBLISHED: 10:03 21 December 2013 | UPDATED: 10:04 21 December 2013

Norfolk County Council leader George Nobbs.

Norfolk County Council leader George Nobbs.

Archant © 2008

The EDP posed the question at the start of this week as to whether Norfolk County Council is fit for purpose.

That question formed the jumping off point for a series of special reports focusing on some of the most controversial issues the council is involved with.

Now, we were never conceited enough to think that, five days later, we would be in a position to completely answer the question of whether the council is indeed, fit for purpose.

But what we do know is that the success of the county council and, by extension, of this wonderful county of ours, is dependent upon the authority.

The county council has an annual budget of £1,5bn, employs thousands of people and is responsible for services which are absolutely vital.

From the care our vulnerable people receive to how well our children do at school - the county council has a crucial role to play.

Major projects which would have a massive impact on people’s lives, such as the incinerator proposed for King’s Lynn and the Norwich Northern Distributor Road - those are county council issues.

And, despite the recently-formed Local Enterprise Partnership. the economic prosperity of the region still hinges to a considerable degree on decisions which are made at County Hall.

The bitter arguments that Norfolk would be better served by at least one unitary authority have taken place and been consigned, for now, to history.

But that’s not a reason for the county council (and the districts) for that matter, not to be looking at ways to do things better.

Ultimately, the success or not of Norfolk County Council will come down to two sets of people. The councillors and the council officers.

With no party in overall political control at County Hall, that’s really a time when you need strong leadership - at a political and a managerial level.

So it is regrettable that there is a state of flux at the top echalons of the authority, with so many interim bosses. Yet, that could also be an opportunity for the culture of the council to be changed for the better.

However, council officers aside, the people who should be making the decisions are the councillors.

And the EDP today issues a challenge to all 84 of them - get your act together.

We have no doubt that the vast majority of councillors are passionate, principled and hard-working, that they got involved not simply because of the allowances which are available, but to represent their constituents and Norfolk as a whole to the best of their ability. We know they work hard.

Yet there remains a perception that Norfolk has been making mistakes. The words ‘democratic deficit’ have been levelled at the previous administration and at the current one.

The only people who can change that perception are the councillors. With the government continuing to squeeze local councils for cash, next year will be a tough one.

Cuts are inevitable, but it is essential that the councillors listen to the views of the public on those proposals.

And, it is equally important that councillors behave in a mature way when it comes to setting the council’s budget. This is not a time for political point-scoring. That has disillusioned the Norfolk public for long enough.

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