Pot of £7.7m to help Norfolk recover from virus, but critics ‘underwhelmed’

Norfolk county councillor Graham Plant. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

Norfolk county councillor Graham Plant. Picture: Jamie Honeywood - Credit: Archant

A £7.7m pot is to be created to kickstart Norfolk’s economic recovery from the impact of coronavirus - with the hope the government will double that figure.

Labour leader Steve Morphew. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Labour leader Steve Morphew. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

Norfolk County Council’s Conservative-controlled cabinet is due to agree to invest £1m into the Norfolk Strategic Fund, matched by district councils and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership.

That money, which council leaders hope the government will double, would be available to support businesses hit by the effects of COVID-19, to help develop new businesses and to speed up strategic schemes to create jobs.

A two-stage Norfolk and Suffolk Recovery Plan is being created, with partners, including the New Anglia LEP, having drawn up a ‘Restart’ plan, to be followed by a ‘Rebuild’ plan for the longer term.

That Restart plan includes what it described as an “unprecedented package” to get businesses up and trading again, but critics said they have been left underwhelmed by what has been proposed.

Liberal Democrat county councillor John Timewell. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Liberal Democrat county councillor John Timewell. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

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The plan includes redundancy support programmes, advice for businesses, moves to help more businesses embrace digital technology, measures to help workers have the skills they need and work on supply chains so more products and services are sold locally.

It is supported by a Norfolk Delivery Plan of immediate and short term actions and Graham Plant, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for growing the economy, said: “As a local businessman, I know how tough the last few months have been and it’s vital we take swift and decisive action.

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“I’m confident that, working with our partners, we can kickstart a range of actions that get the economy back on its feet.”

But Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group, said: “This is really disappointing. It fails to recognise the heroes of the emergency. Where is the support for developing small community shops and businesses that were the backbone during lockdown? “Where’s the long overdue recognition of the importance of the care sector to our economy and those who work on the front line?

“Why are there no plans to make us self sufficient in peronal protective equipment and harness those businesses that have proved so agile?

“Why are the same old schemes being rebadged, when from the sadness, comes an opportunity to protect our county and do better? How we recover should be a tribute to the victims and heroes. This falls well short.’

John Timewell, spokesman for the Liberal Democrat group said: “I have been left completely underwhelmed by the New Anglia LEP Recovery Restart Plan. As the lead strategy to rebuild Norfolk’s economy it completely fails to deliver on any actual detail.

“Without a serious industrial plan that specifically directs and develops the establishment of a low-carbon, inclusive economy, there will be no new jobs for those displaced by COVID-19 to apply for, no matter how much training and support is given.

“The drive, ambition and energy that is needed is missing.

“It has to be more than just a wish list of aspirations, it should be clear on what is going to be spent and where, what the expected returns will be, and who is doing what to achieve this.

“This clear lack of leadership and direction is the last thing that Norfolk needs right now.”

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