Norfolk council to ask: ‘How should we spend your money?’

Tens of thousands of north Norfolk taxpayers will be asked how they want their money to be spent - and whether they would be prepared to pay more council tax to fund services.

North Norfolk District Council is planning a springtime survey of all electors to find out people's priorities as the government cash squeeze continues.

The news came as NNDC revealed it was forecasting a �1.8m funding shortfall in the coming three years - following on from two years of cuts that have seen staff redundancies and some services shed or shared.

Despite the expected cash gap, NNDC leader Keith Johnson said he was 'fairly convinced' that there would be no further loss of services or staff redundancies.

Mr Johnson said NNDC's share of council tax bills would be frozen again in 2013/14, but the survey would establish whether electors wanted that to remain in force for the subsequent years.

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The government announcement about grants going to local councils will not be made until December, meaning finance chiefs are having to make a best guess of what they will be getting.

But NNDC chief executive Sheila Oxtoby explained that changes to the way that councils were being funded would present 'opportunities' to generate additional income to cover any shortfall.

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They included:

? Forty per cent of business rate income going direct to councils, rather than to central government to be distributed across the country - giving an incentive to NNDC to 'grow' its tax base by encouraging more local businesses

? A 'new homes bonus', giving councils money for building houses. Mrs Oxtoby said NNDC was 'ahead of the game' because its local development framework had already identified development areas

? Increased council tax charges of 150pc for homeowners who left buildings unoccupied and run down. Councils would also get a bonus from the government for each house that was brought back into use.

Wyndham Northam, cabinet member for finance, said NNDC was 'debt-free' with reserves of �6.5m, which could be used to cushion any blow as the council worked to increase it income.

And he said 'at the moment' the ruling Conservatives could see 'no reason' to further increase car parking charges.

Mr Johnson said: 'The days of the government giving out money are gone. Instead, we are going to be given the incentive to generate more of our own money. The more we grow, the more we will be rewarded.'

He said the public consultation could have a 'huge influence', and added: 'We want it to be meaningful and not a paper exercise.'

Mrs Oxtoby said there was still a 'drive to create efficiencies', and the possibility of more sharing of services with other councils would be looked at.

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