Norfolk County Council’s Budget Meeting

by Steff on 20 February, 2024

I gave the following speech at Norfolk County Council’s budget meeting today:

This feels like a strange situation to be in –

That, possibly the solvency of this council, and certainly the wiggle room in its budget, should turn on the final settlement from government I think goes to show how dire the funding situation is for local government of all stripes.

The leader spoke admirably about their successes investing against the ambition of their manifesto.  But let’s face it: it’s been tough.  And so much that matters has gone undone and unfunded. 

Since I was first elected in 2017, I have seen the government grant reduce to zero.  That’s an impact of £100m per year. 

Cllr Jamieson talks about transformation and organisation design.  But any ambition in this direction has been stymied by successive budgets that have been forced to focus on the financial year in question.  Even on their own terms, these have failed – that £30-40m overspend keeps coming back to bit.  And all this has prevented this council from being able  fully to redesign the organisation around a future state that is socially just and financially robust.

This is not his fault: it’s the fault of government that simply does not believe in local government.  I know most of us here today believe this.  Some of you have even been candid enough to say words to that effect, in this chamber.

It’s meant we’ve accepted a devolution deal that is neither devolution nor a deal – that’s how desperate we are for any crumbs from the table.

“We find ourselves facing difficult choices” said the leader.  I couldn’t agree more.

This budget has been “one of the toughest to determine” she said.  I’m not surprised.

“Extremely welcome increase” in local government funding, she said.  I’m in complete agreement.

So what are we going to do with this extra £9m?

It might seem sage of the administration to kick what it’s going to do with this additional settlement into the medium length grass… or is it? 

We cannot see this additional settlement fall down the back of the sofa.

Now that the money is here – specifically the extra £8.7m in adult care grant – we should use this meeting as an opportunity to provide certainly and reassurance to some of our most vulnerable residents.

This is what our opposition amendment does.  It’s not trying to score points, field hobby horses, or contradict any of the salient points made by the leader or finance portfolio holder about the state of local government funding. 

At its heart is the fact we’ve had a bit more money put in the pot –

So, what should this council do with it?

Opposing the reduction in MIG

I thank Cllr Jones for her comments in support of this proposal to reverse the reduction of the Minimum Income Guarantee, which has naturally caused grave concern for many of Norfolk’s citizens.  

People who receive care and support in their own home, are entitled to a Minimum Income Guarantee to ensure that they keep a level of income which covers your living costs.

The decision to reduce this minimum income level will disproportionately target some of the most vulnerable members of our community, whose circumstances Cllr Blundell brought to life so vividly.  Not to mention the fact that reducing the MIG will only serve to put greater numbers of people into financial instability, and end up having a greater reliance on the Council regardless.

We want to use just £1.2m of the additional settlement to remove the saving proposal to reduce the Minimum Income Guarantee.  Let’s cut short the expensive, long process of consultation that Cllr Penfold cited.  Let’s give people the reassurance now, that this administration will not use the deranged, anti-rural priorities of its party in Westminster to punish some of the poorest in our society.

Supporting Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Services

As Cllr Watkins our leader said, we are also hoping to use some of the funds to tackle the backlog of EHCP assessments.

Educational Health and Care Plans are like a prescription for educational support in Special Educational needs and disability services.  This is, I should say, in line with central government’s funding suggestion, with the aim of achieving the government’s 20 week EHCP turnaround suggestion.  

So I was pleased to hear that Cllr Carpenter said she recognised the need for more staffing in tackling the backlog of EHCPs.


We’ve heard already about the leader’s latest negotiations in Westminster. And Cllr Colwell, known locally as “The Water Man” in his division for his relentless campaigning work on flood prevention, showed how the liberal democrats are awake to the need for proper action on flood prevention.

Cllr Watkins has spoken about how our budget amendment includes hiring an additional Flood Risk Officer.

Flooding issues are endemic in Norfolk with much of our population living in rural communities, however it is quite clear due to the increasing frequency of flooding that it is worsening as time goes on due to climate change. 

I hope that this amendment will lead to increased work in flood prevention, but also in dealing quickly and efficiently with the impacts of flooding to highways and to people’s homes. 

“Cost of Giving” Fund

This fund, which my colleague Cllr Crofts introduced with his personal testimony, would be introduced to ensure unpaid carers are not penalised for giving up their time, after loss of funding from Norfolk County Council. The aim of this fund is to enable unpaid carers to apply for funds to help with their needs, with £200,000 being put into the initial fund.


And finally, on transport: here is surely an opportunity truly to invest in the sort of infrastructure that the leadership promotes.  The future of sustainable transport lies in public transport.

And we are proposing to pilot a new style of transport network, by placing park and ride-style car parks in out of town locations across the county, allowing people to drive a few miles to their nearest hub, and from there access towns across the county.   I actually agree with most of Cllr Plant’s comments on the rural public transport network. 

This plan was part of OUR 2021 manifesto, it is well thought out, well researched.  and well established in other parts of the country. 

It sets out a brief but reasonable set of considerations that this pilot could take to bring it to life.  My separate question to him is: if I bring this to a motion later this year, which answers his questions, will he back it?

For his reassurance, this is in capital budget as set out in the table.

In a county where there is still no direct rail connection from one of its to largest towns to the city, there is must to be done to improve public transport connectivity.  Train travel was raised by technology leaders at a conference panel to which Cllrs James, Morphew, and I contributed just last week.

In the mean time, this modest pilot will help to make the case that better public transport is good for good for local environmental problems caused by congestion, good for economic growth, and good for social justice.

It offers a dynamic, exciting opportunity to put Norfolk on the map for the right reasons, not for being left being.

Indeed, I echo the sentiments of Cllr Sayer.  Thinking back over the budget meetings I’ve taken part in, I think together these measures are the best amendment I’ve seen us put forward as a group.

In Conclusion, I return to the words of the cabinet member for finance:  

The need for a multi year local government settlement

Longer term certainly being key to making robust decision making. 

Financial settlements remaining wedded to providing for one year only.

The reliance on council tax leaving many councils with little discretion.

The need for business tax reform, a relative needs formula, and to address rural disparity…

If I am elected as an MP I will gladly work with him to take this case to Westminster.

In the meantime we must seize the opportunity to show we can balance innovation and compassion wherever we have additional capacity to do so.

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