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Behind closed doors decision to award Norfolk charity £700,000 branded ‘scandalous’

PUBLISHED: 15:03 24 November 2014 | UPDATED: 15:03 24 November 2014

The Herondale care home and day centre in Acle. 

Picture: James Bass.

The Herondale care home and day centre in Acle. Picture: James Bass.

(C) Archant Norfolk 2013

A behind closed doors decision by county councillors to award a Norfolk charity £700,000 to help tackle its pension deficit has been criticised as “scandalous” by opposition councillors.

Norfolk County Council agreed to make the award to Age UK Norfolk at a private meeting, with no members of the public allowed to be present, last year.

The council had been told that a decision to decommission the Herondale care service, run in Acle by the charity, would have a “major financial impact” on the charity.

Coupled with a pension deficit which put the future of the charity in question, the council’s cabinet agreed to make a one-off investment to the Norfolk Pension Fund.

While opposition councillors criticised the decision, the council said it had saved the authority money and “made financial sense”.

Catherine Underwood, director of integrated commissioning at Norfolk County Council, said: “In August last year, members of the County Council’s Cabinet agreed to decommission the Herondale respite service in Acle, run by Age UK Norfolk. The facility had been under-used for a number of years and the building required significant investment to maintain a suitable and safe environment.

“In making this decision, members were informed that decommissioning the service would have a major financial impact on the income of Age UK Norfolk and, coupled with a pension deficit, the future of this well-respected charity that provides a valuable service in Norfolk was under threat.

“As a result, members agreed to make a one-off investment of £700,000 to the Norfolk Pension Fund to reduce the pension deficit facing the charity.

“This arrangement made financial sense for the county council as it enabled yearly recurring savings of £311,000, freed up the Herondale site for potential alternative uses and protected the future of a Norfolk charity which offers vital support to both the voluntary sector and the County Council.”

But Tom FitzPatrick, leader of the opposition Conservative group at County Hall, said, while Age UK Norfolk did a lot of very important work, the decision to award the money was “scandalous”.

He said: “This scandalous decision to give away tax-payers’ money was opposed by the Conservatives.

“The Labour-Liberal cabinet, in coalition with UKIP and the Greens, gave away the money with no public discussion; no business plan and no formal application from the charity.

“This information was buried at the end of a report about ending respite provision at Herondale.

“That this money was a gift at a time when a number of excellent charities supporting vulnerable people have faced reductions in grants or business from Norfolk County Council makes it that much worse.”

The council said the item was taken “below the line” because the report contained exempt information.

• What do you think? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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