Norfolk County Council could soon be employing staff based in France, as part of an unusual deal which would see it manage European grants.

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In a move which supporters say would boost the county’s profile and bring European Union money into Norfolk’s economy, the council is looking to take over the running of a programme which distributes grants in England and France.

Norfolk County Council is vying with Devon County Council to become the programme manager for the France (Channel) - England Interreg Programme, which will award 175m euros of grants for projects from Norfolk to Cornwall, in the UK, and along the northern coast of France.

If the county council is picked to run the programme, it would mean the authority would need to recruit up to 30 people, some of whom would need to be bilingual.

Some of the jobs would be in Norfolk, some in other parts of the UK and some in France.

The county council’s cabinet agreed to submit a bid this week, with officers assuring councillors that there would not be a cost to the authority.

That is because the council can reclaim all employment costs, including salary, employer’s National Insurance contribution and pension contributions, along with an allowance for office costs.

Officers said being involved in such a programme would “significantly enhance the profile of Norfolk in Europe”, increase the skills of its workforce, bring in money to the county’s economy and give the council the heads-up on other funding streams.

If successful, the county council would take over from the Haute Normandie Regional Council in France and run the contract from 2014 until 2020. Officers say they would need a “blanket exemption” to current restrictions on overseas travel because of the need for weekly trips as programme managers.

Sue Whitaker, county council cabinet member for adult social services, welcomed the chance for Norfolk to get involved. She said: “It would enable us to bring in some very skilled people and we need to grasp this opportunity with both hands.”

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