Norfolk councils to join forces to combat cuts
Key organisations across Norfolk, including councils, police and health bosses, have agreed to join forces to explore ways to save money so front-line services are stopped from bearing the brunt of government cuts.
With predictions of cuts in budgets of between 25pc and 40pc when the government announces its spending plans in less than two week's Norfolk's MPs fear the county is facing a 'dire' situation.
Two county MPs yesterday held a trailblazing 'summit' to look at ways to save money and stop those cuts from taking a terrible toll on vital services for Norfolk families.
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb and South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon gathered together fellow MPs, chief executives and leaders from councils and representatives from organisations including Norfolk police, NHS Norfolk, Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health NHS Trust, the Broads Authority and the Department for Work and Pensions.
During a four-hour meeting at Broadland District Council's offices the organisations agreed to set up a panel to find ways to save money both quickly and in the longer term, which will include looking at whether services can be shared between councils and organisations to cut down on management costs and whether the voluntary sector could play a major role in providing the services people need.
Liberal Democrat MP Mr Lamb, said it was a chance for Norfolk to take the lead and said he expected all counties to hold similar sumnmits in the face of cuts.
He said: 'We are spending something like �7bn in Norfolk and I defy anyone to say it is not possible to achieve a more efficient use of that if we think afresh.
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'It is fair to say that a times when there is a real financial challenge it forces us to think afresh about how we do things and the priorities we have as a county.
'We are facing, in the next three years, a very significant funding fall from the national level. There can be arguments about the degree of that, but whoever was in government that would be the situation.
'We have to respond to that and if we carry on as we are the consequences in terms of services could be devastating. It is incumbent on all of us to minimise, as far as we can, the impact on services and there should be a common interest in achieving that.'
Daniel Cox, the departing leader of Norfolk County Council, said: 'We all recognise we are standing on a burning platform, with less money coming into the public sector and to stay as we are is untenable.'
The organisations, which agreed a shared ambition of reducing costs to safeguard services, also plan to enlist the aid of the University of East Anglia to map whether the cash spent on public services in Norfolk is being prioritised properly and whether there is duplication which can be prevented.
With organisations drawing up their own plans to deal with the cuts, there were calls, notably from Norfolk police, for them to share the details of their plans with each other to prevent confusion and contradictions.
Norfolk Constabulary's deputy chief constable Simon Bailey said: 'The greatest risk is that we draw up our plans [to deal with the cuts in budgets] in isolation.
'It would take a bold decision to do otherwise, but I believe that is what we need to do. We need to come together on the basis of shared understanding of the services we deliver in this county and until we achieve that we will be wasting money.
'When we have that understanding we can then look at how we can reduce costs.'
He added there were examples int he county where one family could find themselves dealing with up to 12 different agencies, when it would make more sense for just one or two to deliver the services they need.
Some councils are already sharing services, with Breckland Council and South Holland District Council now sharing a management team, Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Norfolk County Council sharing IT services and a new shared Norfolk legal service set up just last month.
The issue of saving cash through new models of government is a particularly thorny one in Norfolk, with the scars from the unitary process still raw.
The city council says it could have saved millions of pounds by becoming a unitary council, while district councils were angered when the county council put forward proposals for a single county-wide council which would have seen them abolished.
Speaking after the meeting, Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council, said: 'It's a pity that there were not more new ideas brought to the table and I think some of the MPs have a lot to learn about how public services in Norfolk work. 'If they genuinely got involved then I think they would be surprised at how efficient we really are already.
'I am not interested in providing them with political cover, but I am interested in how we protect vulnerable people being devastated by cuts in the future, so while I find the process distasteful, it is one we have to play a part in.'