Norfolk budget approved on decision day - including 5.99pc council tax hike

Norfolk County Council headquarters. County Hall Martineau Lane, Norwich. Photo: Steve Adams

Norfolk County Council headquarters. County Hall Martineau Lane, Norwich. Photo: Steve Adams - Credit: Archant

A £388.8m budget for Norfolk has been agreed after crunch talks, despite last-minute efforts to prevent cuts - but another £95m in savings must still be found over the next four years.

Norfolk County Council met on Monday to debate its £388.8m budget for 2018/19, which, after debate and three failed amendments, was approved by 47 votes to 23.

Contentious proposed savings around bus subsidies and gritting runs have already been scrapped, but the budget includes a review of daycare services, which the council hopes will save £2.5m, and plans to renegotiate contracts for children's centres, which will see the budget for the services reduced from £10m to £5m.

MORE: People in Norwich could see council tax bills rise by nearly £100

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People in Norfolk will also see a 5.99pc increase in the county council's share of their council tax bills, generating an additional £4m.

It means someone living in a band D property will pay an extra £74.79 a year.

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Before the budget-setting, the council was looking to plug a £125m funding gap by 2021/22. After, it said thee was still £94.7m worth of savings to find before then.

Speaking at the meeting, Conservative council leader Cliff Jordan described it as a 'budget for the future'.

He said: 'It puts the welfare of people in Norfolk at the heart of every decision we make...

We do not set out to cut services but to redesign how they are delivered to fit the current financial climate. Change does not mean a reduction in service.

'We continue to invest in both adults and children's services, despite diminishing budgets.'

Both the council's Labour and Liberal Democrat groups put forward amendments at the meeting to halt the reductions in children's centre service funding.

Steve Morphew, leader of the council's Labour group, said: 'This budget does hold together but frankly it balances by the skin of its teeth. It balances, but the gaps of the future gape, and yawn.'

Labour's Emma Corlett spoke about 'reckless' plans to reduce funding for children's centres, and criticised the consultation on the plans, which she said left many parents feeling as though they didn't have the 'faintest idea' what it would mean for them.

MORE: Children's centres to be hot topic on Norfolk County Council budget decision day - with 5.99pc council tax hike on cards

Labour's amendment would have also seen £1m invested in a project to speed up a project to see all street lighting made LED.

But it was defeated by 45 votes to 26, with one abstention.

The Liberal Democrats amendment - which hoped to scrap the children's centre savings, reduce daycare savings and rephase cuts to both adult social services and housing support services - also came to a similar fate, with 46 votes against and 26 votes for.

Steffan Aquarone, who put forward the amendment, described the group's suggestions as 'principled and pragmatic'.

The independent group then put forward their amendment, which proposed putting £10m into the council's capital programme to build a new school for children with autism in west Norfolk, as well as putting aside £250,000 to look into a scheme to regenerate Great Yarmouth's riverside and town centre.

MORE: Plan to cut £5m from children's centres budget could take step forward today

Councillor Sandra Squire said it was time for 'action' and to improve chances for children with autism.

She said that, last year, the council spent almost £1m in a three-month period sending children with special educational needs and disabilities to private placements.

'Do we think this represents value for money for Norfolk taxpayers?' she asked.

While the plans, in principle, were welcomed by several councillors, proposer Mick Castle was asked to withdraw the amendment so the plans could be discussed at committee level first.

And a final amendment put forward by independent councillor Alexandra Kemp to stop reductions to the building resilient lives programme, which provides housing support services, was also defeated at 47 votes to 23.

As councillors turned to the all-important vote, deputy leader of the council Alison Thomas said 'no stone has been unturned when it came to finding savings', and said the council had focused on back-office cuts, rather than those affecting front-line services.

While she said it was 'regrettable' to increase council tax, she said in the current climate it was 'essential to help maintain the services we provide'.

But she warned that it did not mean 'difficult decisions are over' - and that while the method of providing services may change, the council's commitment to delivering them had not.

According to the council, the budgets for its departments are:

Adult social care: £252.4m

Children's services: £186m

Environment, development and transport: £103.9m

Communities: £46.9m

Business and property: £8m

Digital innovation and efficiency: £13.2m

Policy and resources: -£221.6m

Total net budget for committees: £388.8m

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