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Councillors at Norfolk back move to committee system of governance

Norfolk County Council is to move to a committee system of governance at the end of next month, after members voted to ditch the Cabinet model.

The vote – by 41 to 34 with one abstention – at a special meeting this week will see the establishment of five committees covering:

  • Adult social care;
  • Children’s services;
  • Environment, development and transport;
  • Communities (incorporating services such as public health, libraries, museums, Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, adult education and community safety);
  • Policy and resources. Chaired by the Leader, this committee will have a co-ordination role around the budget development process and the council’s business plan. It will also monitor the overall council budget and overall council performance, and have executive responsibility for corporate services such as ICT, finance, HR and procurement.

There will be one sub-committee relating to economic development. Committees will meet seven times a year, after an amendment put forward by the Conservative group was accepted.

The Leader and Deputy Leader – and chairs and vice-chairs of the five committees – will be chosen at the authority’s annual general meeting on 27 May.

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Norfolk said membership of the committees would be constituted on politically proportionate lines. A review of how the new arrangements are working will take place in November this year.

The changes will also mean that decisions committing Norfolk to spending more than £100m will be taken by a full meeting of council. “Similarly, if the relevant committee or the Leader of the council and the Managing Director feel the matter is of great significance, the issue will also be brought before a meeting of all councillors,” the authority said.

Cllr Paul Smyth, chair of the committee governance steering group, said: “I strongly believe the proposals agreed will offer better governance for Norfolk. It will bring greater democracy, transparency and accountability to the council by giving councillors from all parties a much larger role in decision making.

“The proposals we have developed over time will provide us with a strong council, well defined delegations of authority and clear divisions of responsibility that should promote good governance in Norfolk. Each committee will contain a politically balanced mix of councillors, giving them a much stronger voice in future decision making, which can only be good for democracy. All parties will have a part to play in the decision-making cauldron.”

Cllr Smyth said the November review would act as a “safety net” in terms of how the new system was working. “If needs be, we can amend how things are working then, but I believe this new system will give the 84 elected councillors a bigger voice on issues which were previously only the preserve of the nine or ten members of Cabinet.”

Norfolk’s Leader George Nobbs said: “I would like to pay tribute to the ordinary members of the council who have worked tirelessly to come up with a new system of working for the council. I can’t praise the huge amount of work they have put in highly enough and I wish it well."

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