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Opposition parties condemn ‘heavily scripted’ county council meeting

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Norfolk County Council’s cabinet met remotely on May 11 for the first time since the UK entered lockdown around eight weeks ago.

Cabinet members outlined the impact of the pandemic on the council’s finances, the county’s economy, children’s service and adult social care, amongst others.

But councillors drew criticism from opposition parties for a lack of detailed information.

Councillor Andrew Proctor.
Councillor Andrew Proctor.

Council leader Andrew Proctor opened the meeting and said: “Locally and nationally, we seem to be over the peak, but it’s not a case of back to normal.”

He said the phases of the crisis were responding, normalisation and recovery, while Graham Plant, deputy-leader, outlined two plans for an economic bounce-back.

Mr Proctor added: “We still have major challenges ahead so there’s no way we can be complacent.”

He said the “battle continues to go on” in the county’s care homes and pledged to ensure the sector is “well-supported”.

But Labour group leader Steve Morphew said the cabinet should have offered more detail.

He said: “I was disappointed the first half hour was spent reading out what was on the agenda.

“Beyond that, there was little discussion of important issues and – while people need credit for their work – a lot of backslapping.”

Liberal Democract Dan Roper called the meeting “heavily scripted” and “a missed opportunity with little effective forward planning”.

And Liberal Democrat group leader Steffan Aquarone went one step further and called for an independent inquiry into Norfolk’s handling of the crisis.

Mr Proctor said: “I’m disappointed opposition leaders haven’t recognised what’s really important – our efforts to keep vulnerable people safe and critical services running during these unprecedented times.

“We are starting to look at the council’s response and what lessons can be learnt – including through the scrutiny committee.”

Andrew Jamieson, cabinet member for finance, outlined the impact the coronavirus outbreak was set to have on council funds.

The council has already forecasted a projected £19 million overspend for 2021-22, and Mr Jamieson warned that “without a response from the Government, the impact of coronavirus will be felt by the people of Norfolk”.

The cabinet agreed to use money from two tranches of government cash to fund added spending pressures, income reduction and lost savings. It will also review its financial planning for 2021-25 at next month’s cabinet meeting.

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