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MP George Freeman calls for 'courage' to tackle cuts to council services

PUBLISHED: 14:45 13 November 2017

George Freeman looking relaxed before casting his vote at Litcham Jubilee Hall. Picture: Ian Burt

George Freeman looking relaxed before casting his vote at Litcham Jubilee Hall. Picture: Ian Burt

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A Norfolk MP has claimed "the time for urgent reform" of local government is now.

George Freeman added that “courage” would be needed to tackle the problem of swathing cuts in frontline services while “back office bureaucracies” continued to be duplicated.

The Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk was talking after this paper reignited the debate over the future of services and local authorities with a series of in-depth articles last week.

MPs and council leaders have been giving their views as another round of cost-cutting looms amid dwindling money from Westminster. And since the start of the decade £189m has been cut from Norfolk County Council’s budget.

The government has signalled it will stop the revenue support grant for councils by 2019/20 which means the county council is set to lose nearly £80m a year. Services provided by County Hall include protection for older people and vulnerable youngsters.

The council has already set about identifying ways to save £41.6m on services before 2020 including reducing spending on bus subsidies, fixing roads and gritting and attempting to slash the number of children in care.

Council leader Cliff Jordan has said he believes that savings did not necessarily mean services will suffer but that is a claim hotly disputed by opponents.

And Mr Freeman said radical changes were required: “The time for urgent reform has come. It’s no longer acceptable to go on cutting frontline services, whilst spending so much on duplicating back office bureaucracies.

“We cannot go on pouring precious taxpayers’ money into a system which spends it on itself before passing on an increasingly small amount to the frontline. All of us need to have the courage to tackle this problem. And fast.”

Mr Freeman’s views echo those of Liberal Democrat counterpart Norman Lamb who believes and elected mayor with devolved powers would be the best solution.

The North Norfolk MP said: “I want to see Norfolk have control over its destiny, I want to see Norfolk have far more power to raise money and to be able to decide how it is spent and decide what our priorities are. We could take control to deliver the best schools in the country, to deliver the best integrated health system ... but we are held back by the dead hand of Whitehall.”

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