It’s ‘sour grapes’ says Norfolk County Council leader as opponents put him on the spot

Norfolk county council leader George Nobbs.

Norfolk county council leader George Nobbs. - Credit: Archant © 2008

The leader of Norfolk County Council defended his administration's 'strategic vision' as Conservative opponents quizzed him over whether he was thinking of hiking council tax to cover the authority's budgetary black hole.

In a sometimes bad-tempered meeting of the cabinet scrutiny committee yesterday, Labour leader George Nobbs accused the Conservatives of playing party politics, which he said had delayed the recruitment of social workers to tackle the problems in children's services.

Earlier this month, at a meeting of the council's cabinet, Mr Nobbs had unveiled the Labour/Liberal Democrat administration's 'strategic vision'.

He said the council had three key priorities – excellence in education, real jobs and good infrastructure.

At the same time, the administration announced that £16.5m would be spent in children's services - including £2.7m to bring in 40 frontline social workers straight away and £2.3m for the two years after that for 40 permanent social workers.

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However, the Conservatives were disappointed the 'vision' was only revealed moments before the cabinet meeting, which hampered their ability to ask questions there.

So Conservative county councillors Alison Thomas, Shelagh Gurney and Cliff Jordan 'called in' the paper to yesterday's cabinet meeting, which was chaired by their leader Bill Borrett.

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Mrs Thomas, the former cabinet member for children's services, who kicked off the questioning of Mr Nobbs, asking him to explain what he meant by basing his financial approach on 'sound sustainable funding'.

Mr Nobbs replied: 'My understanding is sound sustainable funding means funding which is sound and sustainable, so there's money coming in to supply the funding. I cannot make it any simpler than that.

'I am at a loss as to what you are trying to find out here, other than you embarking on a fishing trip.'

Mrs Thomas and fellow Conservative Margaret Somerville questioned whether the administration, facing a £182m funding gap, intended to ask the government for more money, or whether it planned to increase council tax.

Mr Nobbs said bridging that gap through council tax would require a 60pc increase over three years and it was 'ludicrous' for the Conservatives to suggest that was what he was planning.

He criticised the call-in, which he said had delayed the recruitment of the social workers in a children's services department where Ofsted had serious concerns.

Afterwards, he branded the meeting 'a masterclass in sour grapes'.

Scrutiny chairman Bill Borrett said he thought there had been 'some constructive conversation and dialogue' as a result of the call-in.

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