Tories in 'call us free' pledge

The new Conservative administration at South Norfolk Council started ringing the changes yesterday by announcing all incoming telephone calls would soon be free.

The new Conservative administration at South Norfolk Council started ringing the changes yesterday by announcing all incoming telephone calls would soon be free.

The change, which will take affect as soon as a suitable freephone number is sourced, is designed to show the new leadership will run an open and accountable council for all its residents.

Last week's election saw the Tories decimate the Liberal Democrats, taking 20 seats to give them a mandate for change in the district.

New leader John Fuller yesterday announced a series of policies that will see power devolved to five geographical areas in the district, and a new cabinet almost entirely made up of company executives - but no women.

Of the cabinet, outspoken Hempnall councillor Michael Windridge heads up tourism, entertainment and culture; Derek Blake takes charge of planning, housing and the built environment; and newly elected David Bills is given the environmental health and recycling remit.

Former Lord Mayor of Norwich Garry Wheatley will be responsible for staffing, resources and finance and former chief executive of Norwich Union International Jon Herbert has been given the key portfolio of commercial services.

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One of the Conservatives' main policy commitments was to run South Norfolk Council through a more business-like structure and Mr Herbert is tasked with making sure its three leisure centres are profitable and recycling becomes easier and cheaper to do.

Part of that will be by forming links with other district councils to drive up economies of scale, with Mr Fuller keen to exploit the sea of blue that now runs from Lynn to Lowestoft with Labour-run Norwich left isolated in the middle.

New deputy leader Martin Wilby will take responsibility for the Tories' other big change, devolution to five neighbourhood panels, which will replace the Liberal Democrats' three area committees.

Each of the panels - Waveney Valley, Wymondham and West, Norwich Fringe, Eastern River Valleys and Central South Norfolk - will feature six local councillors and five independent figures from the neighbourhood.

The £200,000 second home tax money South Norfolk Council controls will be divided between them, with Wymondham and Waveney Valley also keeping their car park charges, and each will then have free reign to spend their slice on their own community projects.

Last night John Fuller said that he would even be moving the leader's office from the top to the ground floor to be among the council officers. “We're rolling our sleeves up and getting on with the job,” he said. “We want to hit the ground running with a fresh start and with a new business-led approach.

“People in our cabinet come from a wide range of industries and have a high level of experience. We want to use that to guide our staff into making south Norfolk the best place to live in the county.”

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