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'Reckless dereliction' leads to council's £2 million black hole

PUBLISHED: 11:40 25 July 2019 | UPDATED: 11:40 25 July 2019

Sarah Butikofer, leader of North Norfolk District Council, welcomed the removal of the gate. Picture: Archant

Sarah Butikofer, leader of North Norfolk District Council, welcomed the removal of the gate. Picture: Archant

Paul Heinrich

A Norfolk council is facing a £2 million black hole in its finances, it has been revealed.

Former Conservative North Norfolk District Council leader Tom FitzPatrick. Picture: Archant LibraryFormer Conservative North Norfolk District Council leader Tom FitzPatrick. Picture: Archant Library

Sarah Butikofer, leader of North Norfolk District Council, put the blame for the shortfall squarely on the shoulders of her Conservative predecessors, who only raised their council tax precept once in seven years.

Speaking at a full council meeting on Wednesday, Liberal Democrat Mrs Butikofer said: "Because the previous administration refused to make incremental increases to the council tax we face the prosect of a £2 million deficit in a year-and-a-half's time.

"If we don't do things to address this now, then the consequences would, I am sure, be unacceptable to most.

"The failure to plan for the future was a reckless dereliction of responsibility by our predecessors."

Tom FitzPatrick, Conservative member for Walsingham ward and a former council leader, said central government's decision to slash council budgets was more to blame for the budget shortfall.

Mr FitzPatrick said: "We did freeze the council tax for a number of years along with just about every other district council in the country because the government encouraged councils to do that.

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"The deficit has come about because of the reduction of the block grant from central government. There are reserves in north Norfolk that we built up and there was lobbying against the reduction of the block grant."

The Local Government Association has said councils in England will have been through a 77pc cut in their core funding between 2015 and 2020.

In February the council's cabinet voted to raise its council tax share for 2019/20 by £4.95 for a Band D property, from £143.82 to £148.77.

Mrs Butikofer became NNDC leader in November after a string of defections from the Tories to the council's independents group.

The Lib Dems consolidated their grip on power at the local government elections in May this year, winning 30 of the district's 40 seats.

Mrs Butikofer said having completed a "capability review" she had concluded the council's leadership needed to be strengthened.

She said: "We need to develop new project skills and a new project framework as a priority.

"The staff members of our team have been woefully under-invested in, and proper regard for professional expertise and judgement has been shamefully neglected by the previous administration."

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