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Coronavirus means not right time for ‘navel-gazing’ council shake-up debate, says leader

PUBLISHED: 13:24 21 September 2020 | UPDATED: 14:25 21 September 2020

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

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

Norfolk County Council/Neil Perry/Denise Bradley

The last thing Norfolk needs at the moment is a “resource-hungry, navel-gazing” debate over whether local government needs to be reorganised, the leader of the county council has said.

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

A Covid-19 recovery and devolution White Paper is due to be published later this year - which would reignite the debate over devolution, elected mayors and unitary councils.

The wounds from previous attempts to get unitary status and 2016’s rows over devolution, with an elected mayor for Norfolk and Suffolk, still run deep in Norfolk, where councils were set against councils in a fight for survival.

And, at a meeting of Norfolk County Council today, county councillors voted not to devote any time on the possibility of local government reorganisation for the time being - and to focus efforts on the impact and recovery around Covid-19.

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Conservative council leader Andrew Proctor said: “Would I as, leader, want to drag this council into a period of resource-hungry, navel-gazing against this sort of background? No to that.”

He said Norfolk residents would expect the council to be focusing on dealing with the effects of coronavirus on the county and helping its economy recover.

He added that, at a time when the county council has its own financial balancing act to strike, the council should wait until the White Paper is published before considering what to pursue.

He said: “Even then, we need to be confident there is a big enough prize to go for.”
Steve Morphew, leader of the opposition Labour group, who was leader at Norwich City Council in 2010 when it was awarded unitary status - subsequently quashed by local government secretary Eric Pickles - also said it was not the right time.

He said unitary status was “no quick fix” and would be a “massive distraction”. He said: “Timing is everything and the timing is not now.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Sarah Butikofer, who is also leader of North Norfolk District Council, said: “It’s not the right time now. And I am hearing rumours over the weekend that suggest central government is realising now is not the right time, as well.”


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