Norfolk County Council unveils �8m budget boost for young people

Norfolk County Council leaders have revealed their budget plans for the next 12 months, which includes spending more than �5m so vulnerable children are looked after in the county and �3m to create jobs for young people.

The spending plans include building a new children's home, possibly near Norwich, and extra care places to help cut the �16.3m bill of looking after more than 90 children in residential homes outside the county.

The budget proposals also include making �3.5m available to fix the county's roads, which will enable an extra 100km to be treated next year.

Much of the money has been made available because the council intends to freeze its share of the council tax in 2012/13, landing the authority an �8.6m government hand-out.

Council leaders said, despite a �17.1m reduction in government grant, they remain on track to deliver more than �44m savings as agreed in last year's Big Conversation.

With a slight underspend on the revenue budget and the extra council tax freeze money, councillors said they wanted to spend the money on services.

At a meeting on Monday, Norfolk County Council leader Derrick Murphy will recommend a revenue budget of �595.7m and a capital programme of �78.2m for the year ahead.

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It will include:

• �5.4m to provide 40 extra places for Looked After Children to be cared for in Norfolk and extra support for children and young people at risk of coming into care. It will include a new children's home for emergency short-term assessment places

• An extra �3.5m investment in road maintenance to allow in the region of 100km more of Norfolk's roads to be treated next year

• �3m to provide extra apprenticeships for youngsters to help them into the jobs market and �500,000 to support work placements for young people. The package would include a 'wage subsidy' to encourage firms to take on apprentices

• �2.5m for adult social care prevention which will be used to help smaller voluntary groups adapt to a new and very different funding environment while helping older people stay independent for longer.

Mr Murphy said the budget was a package for youth. He said: 'We are acutely aware that times are hard, and whilst we have a clear course for the future, I believe it is right to invest where we can and use one-off funding to make a difference now, particularly for those most vulnerable, to give hope to our young unemployed.

'In addition, we can offer substantial practical help for Norfolk's hard-pressed road users by intervening early to help prevent potholes from forming.

'These measures include more support for our Looked After Children. We know that children in care do better in their home county and we want to bring as many as possible back to Norfolk, near to their schools, friends and support network.'

There are currently 1,034 children in care in Norfolk and the council has been trying to encourage more residential and fostering places in Norfolk.

Mr Murphy also announced a planned �123,000 saving in managing Norfolk's public rights of way would no longer be needed and that a �50,000 planned reduction in the county council libraries bookstock would also be cancelled.

The �51,000 cost of free travel for eligible blind pass holders and free travel for companion pass holders, announced earlier this week, will be funded by increased income received from the county council's farms estate, Mr Murphy added.

Paul Morse, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: 'There is nothing original in the Tories' proposals. Their plans look a lot less ambitious than ours were.

'The Tories needlessly decimated the main support services for young people last year thus making a bad situation even worse.

'I do find it incredibly ironic that last year our ideas were completely rubbished by the Conservatives yet this year we find them taking many of our ideas on board, it's a shame they didn't listen last year when many of the support services for young people could have been saved.' Richard Bearman, leader of the Green group, said his group would be putting forward an alternative, but was not yet in a position to elaborate on the details.

George Nobbs, leader of the Labour group, said: 'I welcome the restoration of some things which were to be cut and that money has been found for some projects. 'However, I cannot help thinking that this confirms the suspicions of many that the initial cuts were much harsher than they needed to be.'

dan.grimmer@archant.co.uk

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