Plea to protect most vulnerable in Norfolk

The impact on just about every aspect of people's lives of the �155m cuts in Norfolk County Council's budget was under the spotlight at a public meeting in the heart of Norfolk.

The forum on Friday night at Swanton Morley Village Hall, near Dereham, on Friday night came after the county council's Big Conversation deadline had passed.

But the contributors who sent in 23 questions to the meeting were promised their issues would still be taken into account by the county councillors before final decisions are made.

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said his role at the meeting was to listen and help justify the national cuts and why Norfolk County Council would have to deal with the huge deficit.

'Countrywide we would be paying �76bn in interest on the national debt and the government is trying to tackle that.'

Mr Freeman said the economic crisis was an opportunity for councils to become 'less top heavy.'

'Frontline cuts should come at the end of the process and not the beginning.'

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A series of questions were asked about day centres such as Dereham, cuts affecting peeople with special educational needs and youth services.

Peter Crate, chairman of Mid Norfolk Mencap, asked about changes to eligibility criteria for funding and said 770 people would be affected in Norfolk.

He said it was 'a disgrace' that the county council was considering hitting the most vulnerable people.

Swanton Morley Parish Council chairman Roger Atterwill - who was among a four-strong panel - made an impassioned plea to safeguard some of the services which are under threat.

He called for senior officers to have their pay cut, councillors' expenses to be reduced and savings on council magazines to be made to reduce the deficit.

Also on the panel was county council cabinet member Bill Borrett said very tough decisions would have to be made and there would only be '75pc of the money to provide 100pc of the services.'

Chris Perry, headteacher at Beeston Primary School asked about the future of rural schools in the context of the vast majority being below the government's threshhold of what is a small school.

Mr Borrett said village schools 'are absolutely vital' and the county was looking to share headteachers among them and reduce red tape.

Several questions were raised about delegation of services to parish councils and the worries from local communities that they would get more responsibilities but not support and training.

Mr Atterwill said: 'To devolve services is good in theory but the problem is where does the money come from and the taxpayers in the village will be left to foot the bill.'

Mr Borrett said he was a 'great believer in local government and the localler the better.'

Breckland Council's purchase of two shops and a car park in Thetford for �3.5m as well as the authority buying Barnham Broom Hotel and golf complex were also discussed.

Breckland's deputy leader Adrian Stasiak said they were both 'shrewd investments.'

The issue of a rise in flytipping was raised with fears that reduction in opening hours at waste recycling centres.

Roger Atterwill, Swanton Morley Parish Council chairman, said the long-awaited Dereham centre should have been planned before the old Beetley site closed.

George Northall, chairman of Swanton Morley Cricket Club, asked about funding for school sports partnerships.

Mr Freeman said he was pleased that the government had made a 'tyre-screeching U turn' on the issue.