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‘Not a decision which has been taken lightly’ - council scraps meetings and puts power in hands of select few

PUBLISHED: 11:11 23 March 2020 | UPDATED: 11:11 23 March 2020

County Hall in Norwich. Norfolk County Council leader Andrew Proctor (left) and opposition Labour leader Steve Morphew (right). Picture: Neil Perry/Norfolk County Council/Denise Bradley

County Hall in Norwich. Norfolk County Council leader Andrew Proctor (left) and opposition Labour leader Steve Morphew (right). Picture: Neil Perry/Norfolk County Council/Denise Bradley

Neil Perry/Norfolk County Council/Denise Bradley

Council meetings are being axed - and key decisions handed to officers and cabinet members - as concerns over coronavirus trigger unprecedented measures in Norfolk’s local authorities.

Andrew Proctor, new leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil PerryAndrew Proctor, new leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil Perry

Norfolk County Council has cancelled its council meetings for March and April, to observe government rules to curb the spread of coronavirus.

And crunch decisions which would normally have been made by full council and some which would have been discussed at committees, will be placed in the hands of the council’s top officer and specific councillors.

Council officers said it was “not a decision that has been taken lightly”, but one which was “necessary”.

Andrew Proctor, leader of the Conservative-controlled council, said: “We haven’t taken this decision lightly but I’m sure people will understand this is necessary, in the light of current advice.

Tom McCabe, head of paid service at Norfolk County Council. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.Tom McCabe, head of paid service at Norfolk County Council. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

“The council is playing a leading role, with partners, in efforts to support our communities and curb the spread of coronavirus.

“I’d like to pay tribute to councillors and officers who are finding a wide range of ways to help people, while limiting personal contact, as advised by the government.

“We might not be able to meet but we can still take meaningful action, as shown by the phone conference with our MPs last week.”

Steve Morphew, leader of the opposition Labour group, said: “Extraordinary times mean councillors have to set an example, whether its protecting our communities or how decisions are made.

“As councillors, our focus will be on those in our community but we mustn’t lose sight of our role holding decision makers to account.

“People are understandably concerned about their future and want councillors to make sure their concerns are heard. We can still do that on line and by phone, even if we can’t door knock.”

In the meantime, executive decisions at County Hall will be taken by individual cabinet members and will be published in the usual way.

Emergency decisions that would normally require a decision of the full council will be taken by the head of paid service, Tom McCabe and will then be published.

At the moment, the council aims to hold its annual meeting - where the leader is picked - on May 4, subject to any updated advice from the government, but that could also be under threat.

Sandra Squire, leader of the independent group at County Hall, said: “It is important for councils to take the lead to try and keep both our staff and councillors safe by taking all the measures we can to try and halt the spread of Covid-19. Even though we won’t be as visible as usual, residents can be assured that we are all working to support our residents as usual.”

Other councils have also cancelled meetings, although some are aiming to still deal with planning and licensing matters. However, Norwich City Council is likely to agree a temporary measure next week which would mean an increased number of planning application decisions can be made by officers.

However, those decisions that would otherwise have been referred to the planning committee - such as if people had objected - should be subject to consultation with the chair or vice-chair of the planning applications committee.

Broadland District Council’s full council was due to meet at 7pm on Tuesday, but has cancelled it due to government advice.


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