Stronger Conservatives accused of stifling opposition voices at Norfolk County Council

The chamber at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Dan Grimmer

The chamber at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Dan Grimmer - Credit: Archant

The newly-strengthened Conservative group at Norfolk County Council has been accused of trying to stifle democracy - at the very first meeting since the County Hall elections.

The Tories had run the council since May last year, but did not have overall majority. They do now, increasing from 42 to 55 at this month's elections.

And at the first full council meeting since the election, the Conservatives voted to cut the number of councillors on committees - down from 17 to 13 on key committees.

And re-elected leader Cliff Jordan then announced he would be seeking government approval to scrap the committee system.

They want to go back to the cabinet system in place before the rainbow alliance of Labour. UKIP and the Liberal Democrats took control of County Hall in 2013.

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Dan Roper, Liberal Democrat group leader, said: 'What you are looking to do is reduce the amount of opposing voices on key committees.

'Thirteen member committees is not something you have to do, it's something you are choosing to do. You have chosen to reduce the number of people who might disagree with you on key votes.

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'Four years ago, we were talking about the democratic deficit on this council and it looks like another democratic deficit is coming our way.'

Emma Corlett, Labour deputy leader, said: 'I'm a little bit surprised one of the first things you are doing is trying to exclude more members from participating in the decision making process.'

Mr Jordan said it was hardly fair, when the working group which forged the committee system was created in 2013, that the 40-strong Conservative group only had two representatives on the working group, the same number as the four-strong group of Greens.

Announcing he would press the government to allow a rapid return to the cabinet system - where key decisions are taken by representatives from the ruling group - he said: 'I have never been happy with the way it [the committee system] was forced on us Conservatives.

It really doesn't work. It doesn't create accountability and you can't question people when decisions are made because it becomes a committee decision.'

The Conservatives also voted to create a new business and property committee, which Labour leader Steve Morphew criticised as 'too inward' facing.

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