Ian Coutts, CBE: Norfolk County Council leader and Norwich City director

A campaigner for value-for-money and strict financial discipline in public spending, Ian Coutts, who led Norfolk County Council in the late 1970s, has died aged 84.

In his 45-year career, he was influential on the local and national stage, later serving as a senior member of the Local Government Audit Commission and also the Association of County Councils.

While critics dubbed him 'Mr Cuts' Coutts, sometimes unfairly, he fought to get a fair deal for Norfolk. As a senior partner of Norwich-based chartered accountants Martin & Acock, he had a deep-seated loathing of waste and inefficiency.

Never one to skirt controversy, when he was a council member of the University of East Anglia in 1985, he argued for cuts to the non-teaching budget. He criticised the UEA for employing 55 security staff and porters for 4,000 students – the same number of police a town of 33,000 people had to be satisfied with.

Born in Ipswich, he went to Ipswich and then Culford Schools. He had signed articles to train as an accountant aged 16 but had three years in the Army between 1945 and 1948, when he was commissioned into the 1st Battalion the Essex Regiment. He qualified as a chartered accountant in 1949, becoming a partner two years later.

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He started as a parish councillor, then in 1963 was elected to Forehoe & Henstead Rural District Council.

Five years later, he was vice-chairman and in 1970 he became a Norfolk county councillor. His rise was rapid and by late 1973 he was county council leader. As inflation soared, often unpopular cuts had to be made. He was determined to get value for money, he told ratepayers at the first public meeting of a policy committee at Downham Market in 1975. But the shire counties got a poor deal, he argued. In 1977, he told Whitehall officials (and Labour ministers) that East Anglian counties received between �50 and �60 per head of population while urban areas got �86 and London �104.

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He was involved with many organisations and was president and secretary to the Norfolk Caledonian Society because his father, a pharmaceutical chemist, had been born in Aberdeen. In 1978, he chaired a national working party, writing a well-received report on the future provision for under-fives.

Invited to become a director of Norwich City in 1976, he made his mark during his eight years in office. At his last annual meeting in 1983, it made a trading profit for the first time of �172,506 – a turnaround of about half a million on the previous year. Then chairman Sir Arthur South accepted his resignation with 'deep regret.'

A regular at Conservative party conferences, he told delegates at Blackpool in 1977 that social security benefits should not be paid for the first week or two of sickness or unemployment. 'After 40 years of reasonable prosperity, we should not expect the State immediately to shoulder responsibility for our individual misfortunes,' he said.

He stood down as council leader to fight Norwich South in the 1979 general election, which was a bruising affair. In 1982, he was appointed a CBE and received his award from the Queen at Buckingham Palace. He was liked by his political colleagues. Speaking in January 1985, Gillian, now Lady Shephard, then vice-chairman of Norfolk County Council, said: 'He's not troubled by self doubt,' adding: 'He has great charm.' John Alston, council leader, said: 'The public image of the man is very different from the real man. He's a person of great loyalty and warmth.'

He stood down in 1989 after 25 years as a district and county councillor, saying: 'I feel I have given all I can.'

Mr Coutts was also a member of Eastern Electricity Board in 1982, later a director of the public company until 1995. Appointed by Downing Street as a member of the Forestry Commission between 1984 and 1993, he came under fire for reportedly backing a plan to sell off the commission in early 1986.

He enjoyed sailing as he told the County Councils Gazette in 1981, explaining that he had sold his ocean-going craft because he could neither justify the expense nor spare the time to enjoy it. However, he still kept a boat on the Norfolk Broads.

He had five children, Maureen, Penelope, Michael, Matthew and Laura and five grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at St Faith's Crematorium on Tuesday, December 6 at 2pm.

Michael Pollitt

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