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South Norfolk Council leader labels devolution talks 'delusional'

A council leader has labelled calls for a debate over local government reorganisation as “delusional” amid the threat of a second wave of the coronavirus.

The Government had planned to release long-awaited proposals for changes to local councils and the devolution of powers to regions later this autumn.

But the local economic recovery and devolution white paper, also expected to address the Covid-19 recovery, is now widely reported to have been delayed until 2021.

There have been long awaited proposals to re-arrange the structure of local Government
There have been long awaited proposals to re-arrange the structure of local Government

The plans would rekindle rows across Norfolk’s two-tier local authorities over the need for an elected mayor and a move to a unitary council structure.

Ministers have said unitary councils – areas run by one single authority, rather than county and district councils – are a “vital first step” for regions to negotiate mayor and devolution agreements.

At a meeting of South Norfolk Council’s cabinet on Monday, leader John Fuller urged against prioritising “organisational survival” at a time when the country is facing an approaching second wave of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Fuller (pictured) said: “There appear to be a small number of county councils who, frankly, given the circumstances we find ourselves in, are in a delusional position.

“Now is not the moment to be putting organisational survival ahead of what our businesses and residents need.”

The Conservative council leader added: “It does seem extraordinary that a small cohort of zealots just seem to be totally focused on this, whereas I would say that the district councils, with our feet on the ground, are the adults in the room on this.

“We have really focused on keeping this country going at a street level.Any talk at this stage would seem to be somewhat premature.”

Mr Fuller’s comments echoed those of Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council, who has previously said: “Would I, as leader, want to drag this council into a period of resource-hungry, navel-gazing against this sort of background? No.”

Councillors also agreed a draft response to a consultation on the Government’s planning reforms, and said its priority was “building high-quality new homes”.

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