Caribbean civil servants could work in Norfolk to deal with council complaints and questions

Civil servants from a Caribbean paradise could be used to deal with complaints, questions and concerns at Norfolk's largest council.

The Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) will next month hold its first elections since a 2009 investigation concluded there was a 'high probability of systematic corruption' among former government officials.

The Foreign Office ordered the TCI to undergo reform work before elections returned, with Norfolk County Council picked to mentor political staff in finance, governance and economic development.

A fourth group of TCI representatives is due to finish a visit to County Hall, in Martineau Lane, Norwich, today as part of this work.

And Derrick Murphy, Norfolk County Council leader, said ideas were being considered for the future about how the two authorities could maintain links.

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Mr Murphy, who visited TCI for seven days in May, said: 'One thing they were very enamoured with was our customer service and how we deal with customers.

'One suggestion, and it's only a suggestion at this stage, is Turks and Caicos Islands staff are seconded to work at the county council's customer services for a period of time of one or two months.

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'They would also like us to go over there and help their officers and members work well together.'

The number of complaints made against the council increased from 2,156 in 2010/11 to 2,252 in 2011/12. A report due to go before next week's cabinet meeting states this is largely because of people's 'increasing awareness of the right to complain', together with issues of spending cuts and personal care budgets.

Questions have been raised in Norfolk about the suitability of the council for the role with TCI.

Campaigners protesting against plans for an incinerator at King's Lynn sent letters on the issue to TCI's Governor Ric Todd.

One concluded: 'When it comes to transparency, accountability and democracy, Norfolk County Council has a reverse Midas Touch.'

But Mr Murphy said he believes the foreign office will use the example of Norfolk and Hertfordshire's work with the British Virgin Islands to create more links between English counties and the overseas territories.

Mr Murphy said: 'Come November, representative government will be re-established and no-one in the UK or the islands want to see any suspension again.

'The idea was initial feedback to them of how to run things, them to come over and talk on a one-to-one basis with cabinet members and senior officers and develop a much more medium-term relationship, whereby if needs be secondments from there to here will take place and we may go there to advise them.

'There's things like telly and video-conferencing now. It would suit me, I can tell you, to sit here to do a telly or video-conference than to spend 14 hours on a British Airways flight each way. It would be a massive waste of public money and people's time.'

He added all the authority's TIC costs were covered by the foreign office and he will seek full recovery on any future costs.

North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham, in his former role as a foreign office minister, has also been involved in working with TCI.

He visited the islands in June to announce new elections will be held on November 9.

Mr Bellingham, in a speech made during his June visit, said: 'I believe that today is a time to look forward, not back. This is a territory about to adopt a new constitution, about to hold an election; a territory that is finding its feet once again.'

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