New leader of Norfolk County Council on chances of a waste charge u-turn

Andrew Proctor, new leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil Perry

Andrew Proctor, new leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil Perry - Credit: Archant

The new leader of Norfolk County Council has been elected today.

Graham Plant, new deputy leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil Perry

Graham Plant, new deputy leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil Perry - Credit: Archant

Andrew Proctor, currently leader of Broadland District Council, was elected at an extraordinary meeting of the council this afternoon.

He was voted leader by 49 votes to 13, with four abstentions.

He succeeds Cliff Jordan at the helm of the Conservative-controlled authority.

This morning, the Conservatives at County Hall met to vote on who they want to lead their group, with Mr Proctor beating Martin Wilby to the role.

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Great Yarmouth Borough Council leader Graham Plant will be his deputy.

Mr Proctor said: 'It's a situation which, I must admit, I didn't quite expect. Having said that, the feeling really is now is that there's a job to be done, let's get on with that job.

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'Things have to continue and as far as I am concerned, they will. I was elected, like others in 2017 on the Conservative manifesto, with those pledges. What we now need to do is perhaps move faster with more urgency to deliver those. You can't wait too long.

'We have an administration here. We have a programme of work, we need to get on and deliver.

'From my own personal point of view, my background is international banking, some years ago I must admit, but I'm not afraid of big numbers.

'My only fear is, can we deliver eye-watering savings £34m next year and £60m the next year - that's £94m. We've got to have a proper strategy for that. 'We've got to have a proper strategy for that. We've got to make sure we deliver the right savings, not ones the community kick back and say 'no, no, this is not what we want'.

'But the other side of that is, can we earn our own money? I don't agree with the idea that we just hold our hand out to government and say 'here's our begging bowl, put some more pennies in it'. That's not the approach.'

One of the biggest issues - and divides - Mr Proctor will face is the issue of a potential local government shake-up in the future.

Mr Jordan had spoken of his desire for a unitary Norfolk council, but others, including South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss have said they would like to see two unitaries - one in the west and one in the east of the county.

As leader of Broadland District Council, Mr Proctor has been leading a move to share officers with South Norfolk Council.

On the issue of unitary, he said: 'I am certainly not going to stand up and say I advocate or I want a unitary form of governance for the whole of Norfolk. That's not the way I'd like to see things done.

'I firmly believe we have a far, far better opportunity to work together across the districts and other tiers of local government as well - the parishes and the towns - to make and create a better place for the future.

'Structural changes don't always generate all the things you need to. People talk about how there's lots of lots of savings. I'm not so convinced of that. There's always costs involved.

'Now, we've got the other side of the argument, whereby government may turn around and push the local government reorganisation button. What do we do?

'If that happens, we need to plan accordingly, but I don't want to start shouting from the roofs, unitary, unitary, unitary, that's not my style.'

Mr Proctor has signalled that he will stand down as leader of Broadland District Council, a role he has held for eight years, although he intends to continue as district councillor for Brundall.

He said it was a 'heart-wrenching decision' to have to end his tenure as leader at Broadland, but it was not feasible to continue.

One of the most controversial changes Norfolk County Council introduced as part of its savings package this year was to start charging people to dispose of DIY waste at the council's recycling centres.

On whether he would row back on any of the savings his group had introduced in their budget Mr Proctor said: 'That's always the big balance to try to think are there any things the community have kicked back on and I know perhaps where you're coming from - the waste charges. That's something which, I must admit, did not sit particularly well with me.

'But I think we've got to look at these situations in the round - what could we do? What should we do?

'I wouldn't want to make a knee jerk reaction and say, well that wasn't a good decision, therefore let's change it. Let's evaluate the situation, as I would do in any professional environment. What's the business case? Should we do it? Shouldn't we do it? Why are we doing it?

'I think some of the messages that have come out are 'we need to make savings, we need to make savings'. What we do need to say more often is say 'we need to make savings because...' and make sure we get the 'why' part of it. And also see how we can improve things through those savings as well.'

Mr Jordan resigned from the council last month, after revealing that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

His deputy Alison Thomas had been serving as acting leader.

Mr Jordan had been county councillor for Yare and All Saints since 2001, leader of the Conservative group since March 2015 and council leader since May 2016.

A by-election for his county council seat will be held next month.

Before today's meeting, the council's chaplain led prayers, including for Mr Jordan and his family.

There were also tributes to Mr Jordan's work paid by council chair Margaret Stone, his former deputy Alison Thomas.

Labour group leader Steve Morphew, Liberal Democrat deputy Steffan Aquarone and independent group leader Mick Castle also paid tribute.

Following the meeting, Phil Kirby, chief executive of Broadland District Council said: 'On behalf of Broadland District Council, I would like to congratulate Mr Proctor on becoming leader of Norfolk County Council.

'We know from his eight years here as leader what tremendous passion, commitment, determination and knowledge he will bring to the role and we are sure that Norfolk as a whole will prosper under his leadership.

'In terms of how this affects our council, I will meet with Mr Proctor and his cabinet next week to discuss the way forward.'

Mr Plant, who will be Mr Proctor's deputy, does not intend to stand down as leader of Great Yarmouth Borough Council.

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