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Five things we learned at the latest meeting of Norfolk County Council

PUBLISHED: 15:40 24 September 2019 | UPDATED: 15:46 24 September 2019

Norfolk County Council's headquarters at County Hall in Norwich. Pic: Neil Perry.

Norfolk County Council's headquarters at County Hall in Norwich. Pic: Neil Perry.

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Climate strikes, the Western Link and Brexit were among the issues which came under the spotlight when Norfolk County Council's full council met on Monday.

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council.Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

While the impact of cuts on disabled people in Norfolk were among the main topics which were debated, here are seven other things which came out of the meeting of all the county's elected representatives.

1. Conservatives not all keen on children leaving school to take part in climate strikes.

Conservative Barry Stone made headlines recently when he said he did not think children should be out striking over climate change - and should be in school.

Liberal Democrat county councillor Steffan Aquarone. Pic: Dan GrimmerLiberal Democrat county councillor Steffan Aquarone. Pic: Dan Grimmer

And, at the council meeting, the Liberal Democrats challenged not one, but two leading Conservative councillors to give their views on whether children should be out of school protesting.

Andrew Proctor, Conservative leader, said answering that was a difficult call, to which the Lib Dem asker, Tim East, yelled: "That's why I asked it".

Mr Proctor said: "If it was my grandchildren saying they were going to do this, I'd say, if you have got good logic, bearing in mind what you should be doing, being in lessons, then that's fine."
But he added: "As a general point, it's probably not the best thing to do, given education must be a high priority for everybody."

John Fisher, cabinet member for children's services, said he was very keen on the environment and welcomed some of the action that had been taken, as it had raised awareness of climate change.

Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at Norfolk County Council. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYSteve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at Norfolk County Council. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

But he said he was happy to see children involved on Saturdays and Sundays, less so on school days.

He said: "If I was a parent of children that age, I would not be encouraging my own children to take time off school. I think it sets a bad example."

2. Labour blasted over Western Link

The Conservatives had a pop at the Labour group over their decision to come out against the mooted Western Link of the Norwich Northern Distributor Road.

The county group followed in the footsteps of Norwich South MP Clive Lewis in adding their voice to the opposition to the road.

But Conservative Stuart Clancy attacked that move, while fellow Tory Martin Wilby said it was "a great shame" that the Labour group had taken such as stance.

Mr Clancy questioned whether the Labour group would now also oppose the dualling of the Acle Straight.

Labour leader Steve Morphew stressed his group were not anti-road, but it was specific concerns about the Western Link which concerned them.

3. Government cash does not solve all the council's problems

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The government recently announced extra cash for councils, but that will not solve all the authority's well-documented financial pressures.

But it almost certainly will mean people in Norfolk will be paying more in council tax, after the government agreed, once again, that councils can include a 2pc precept specifically to raise money for adult social care.

Andrew Jamieson, cabinet member for finance, said the money was welcome, but stressed it was only a one year settlement, which would not help with longer-term financial planning.

He said it would mean about £14m more for adult social care in Norfolk. In May, Mr Jamieson had warned the council was looking at a £71m gap over the two years from 2020/21 to 2021/22.

He said the extra cash would enable a balanced budget to be set next year, but the one-off nature of the funding meant the council was still under pressure.

4. Brexit had an airing.

There's no escape from the B word. The Liberal Democrats tabled a motion calling for the council to provide regular updates, including on social media channels, as to what measures the county council has in place for coping with no-deal Brexit.

Lib Dem Brian Watkins warned of the impact of Brexit on NHS staff in the county, while Steffan Aquarone, the mover of the motion, said it was crucial that the county council be prepared for all scenarios.

Deouty leader Graham Plant had little time for the motion. He said: "It's not surprising you get this panic from the Liberal Non-Democrats, as said by their own leader at their own conference."

He said the council had produced documents and had been ready for different scenarios since the date the UK was originally due to leave the EU."

The motion was defeated by 40 votes to 21, with one abstention. Conservative Bev Spratt did, however, concede: "I don't think our government has done the best they could have done as we should have been out by now."

5. When is a minute not a minute?

At the start of all council meetings, the minutes of previous meetings are gone through and agreed. Sometimes corrections are made.

Two which were made this time around was Labour councillor Colleen Walker's surname and her gender, which had somehow been wrongly minuted.

But, with council meetings now recorded and live streamed, there was an issue raised about what happened when inaccurate statements were made at meetings and whether they should be corrected.

Labour's Emma Corlett raised this in relation to a comment made at a previous meeting about how much council money is being spent on social care and what percentage of the population that assists.

It led to a debate about whether the council's constitution needs to be "tightened up" to address whether audio recordings count as minutes which can be corrected.

But, that is for another day, vice-chairman Keith Kiddie decided.

In the meantime, Conservative leader Andrew Proctor spent a while explaining what the council spends its money on.

Those figures were then questioned by the Lib Dems as being different to what the council website states. So it will be interesting to see how that gets dealt with in next month's minutes.

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