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Decision to give council officers £20m spending power called in for scrutiny

PUBLISHED: 07:18 26 December 2018

Ben Price, Green Party councillor for Thorpe Hamlet. Picture: Norwich Green Group

Ben Price, Green Party councillor for Thorpe Hamlet. Picture: Norwich Green Group

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A decision to allow city council officers to splash out £20m on property without going through committee has been called-in for further scrutiny.

James Wright, Liberal Democrat group leader in Norwich. Pic: Stuart McPherson.James Wright, Liberal Democrat group leader in Norwich. Pic: Stuart McPherson.

Earlier this month, members of Norwich City Council’s cabinet voted in favour of doubling the spending power of its officers, allowing it to make commercial purchases of up to £20m. Previously, this figure was capped at £10m, meaning officers were unable to spend more than this figure without consulting elected members.

However, the decision now hangs in the balance, after it was called-in for scrutiny by Ben Price, Green party councillor and chairman of the council’s audit committee and Liberal Democrat group leader James Wright.

The decision will now be debated by the city council’s scrutiny committee, which could result in it either returning to cabinet or even being brought before full council if members see fit. The committee also has the option to allow the cabinet’s decision to stand.

Mr Price, Green councillor for Thorpe Hamlet, said: “My underlying concern is that with the uncertainty around Brexit, is this the right time to be looking at making greater investments?

“I was concerned the original cabinet report did not take enough of an account of risk management, particularly when so little is known about the impact of Brexit.”

Mr Wright, added: “The key thing for me is the increase in spending and whether there has been enough discussion around the rationale for that.

“I am keen to support Ben Price’s call-in for this reason - as it means we can make sure this discussion has happened.

“From my perspective, I think the limit could remain at £10m and still allow officers to have flexibility, as nothing is so urgent that the council can not be convened at short notice to decide on something.”

At the cabinet meeting, Karen Watling, the council’s chief finance officer, told councillors the £20m spending limit was in line with other similar local authorities.

Laura McGillivray, chief executive of the council, said the main criteria for determining whether to invest in a property would be “that the asset produced a decent return on the council’s investment”.

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