‘Rainbow alliance’ at Norfolk County Council faces committee switch acid test

The strength of the so-called 'rainbow alliance' at Norfolk County Council could be severely tested next week - because of divisions over a proposed shake-up of the way decisions at County Hall are made.

Following May's elections, Labour and the Liberal Democrats formed an administration, supported by the UK Independence Party.

One of the reasons the parties came together was because they were united in their desire to move towards a committee system.

At the moment the council operates a cabinet system, which means key decisions are taken by a group of eight councillors - currently Labour and Liberal Democrat portfolio holders.

A working group has been looking at switching to a committee system and, on Monday, the group's recommendations will be put to the full council.

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However, Labour leader George Nobbs has concerns about the model they have come up with, which would see the creation of up to 10 committees.

Officers, in a report which will come before councillors, say that could cost up to £292,000 a year more than the current system and lead to 132 meetings a year.

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Mr Nobbs said. while he remained in favour of a committee system switch, he was not convinced the model proposed was workable - or how budgets would be set through it.

He said: 'I support the committee system in principle, but it must be a committee system which does not lead to paralysis.

'The council needs to look at something which is at least cost neutral and not adding to the cost of running the council in these difficult times.

'I don't think we have to rush into this. It is better that we get it right, rather than rush and get a flawed system we would be stuck with for five years.'

That view looks likely to set Mr Nobbs on collision course with other members of the alliance. Marie Strong, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: 'In authorities where a new style committee system is in place the councillors have stated that there is more genuine debate and quality decision making.

'Some of our councillors say we have yet to perfect a system right for Norfolk. However one of several values of a committee system is that once in place we can agree changes.'

Matthew Smith, UKIP councillor for Gorleston, said Mr Nobbs had voted in favour of the proposed change to a committee system in May.

He said: 'If his support for a committee system that would address the democratic deficit at Norfolk County Council was an integral part of his leadership bid, he should continue to strive for a committee system now, and ensure that his Labour councillors do likewise.'

• What do you think? Write to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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