South Norfolk Council cabinet agrees council tax freeze and Localism funding

A 'ground-breaking' project that will pump around �1m a year into a Norfolk council's Big Society scheme has received the go-ahead.

A pilot project, which aims to give local people more say over where public money is spent, received backing from South Norfolk Councillors today.

Cabinet members agreed to put a third of New Homes Bonus money into its five neighbourhood boards as part of the Conservative council's bid to embrace the government's Localism Act.

The decision came as leaders backed plans for a fourth council tax freeze in five years, which will keep the district precept at �130.68 in 2012/13 on an average band D property.

The council is also looking to increase its reserves by a further �415,000, despite a need to make an extra �1m of savings up until 2015.

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John Fuller, South Norfolk Council leader, said the authority was taking a 'national lead' on Localism and the allocation of funds to neighbourhood boards would provide the incentive for local people to get involved.

'The Localism Act expects us to engage with people in a meaningful way and we are providing meaningful resources rather than just a talking shop.'

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'It is in everybody's interest to get this right to make South Norfolk one of the best places to live and give volunteers the resources they need to make the most of their talents and every parish in this district will benefit in a material way without excessive bureaucracy,' he said.

The authority is looking to put an average of �110,000 each into its five neighbourhood boards in 2012/13, depending on the size of population and level of new housing growth. The cash is set to rise to �250,000 each by 2014/15.

But Murray Gray, leader of the South Norfolk Council Liberal Democrat group, said there were now three different South Norfolk funding streams in the district, which could cause confusion.

'They're unnecessary because there is nothing in the Localism Act that requires us to do this. They're overambitious because of the bureaucracy that's being set up to administer the process and they are expensive because we may need a lot of this money for core council services in the future,' he said.

The localism initiative will be funded from 30pc of the council's New Homes Bonus, 50pc from second homes cash and 5pc of the new Community Infrastructure Levy. The council predicts to receive �1.7m from the New Homes Bonus in the next financial year.

As part of South Norfolk Council's budget setting for 2012/13, the authority is looking to increase leisure charges, but has ruled out car parking charge increases. A final decision will be made at a full council meeting later this month.

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