Norfolk Council in uproar as Labour's plans change

The so-called rainbow alliance that's running Norfolk County Council appears to be losing its sheen.

The promise to move to a committee system was the foundation on which the alliance between Labour, UKIP, the Liberal Democrats and Greens was built.

But when it came to a vote on the proposals at the full council meeting, there was uproar.

Labour leader George Nobbs said the proposals still needed work on them and he proposed setting up another working party to work out the details.

He said: "I'm still committed to the system, my heart's in the right place but we need to get this right."

There have been rumours that Councillor Nobbs and Labour may be going cold on the idea of committees and this confirmed the fears of many members of the alliance.

Councillor Richard Bearman, leader of the Greens, said: "We've been waiting six months for something to happen, we're very frustrated at the slowness of progress."

"The whole 'raison d'etre' of the coalition was to change the system," said Liberal Democrat Councillor Brian Watkins. "People don't want to see the council in a state of paralysis."

Councillor Matthew Smith of UKIP accused Mr Nobbs of hoodwinking the alliance and "dancing round the issue like Fred Astaire".

"This raises questions about Mr Nobbs' sincerity and calls into question his leadership," he said.

Leadership challenge

When the Greens put down a motion calling for the committee plans to go ahead as proposed, they were supported by the Lib Dems and most of UKIP, while Labour and Councillor Nobbs voted against.

It was all getting quite ugly. One councillor muttered about a leadership challenge to Councillor Nobbs, another predicted that it wouldn't be long before UKIP broke away and joined forces with the Conservatives.

Eventually Mr Nobbs was able to assure his alliance partners that even with a new working party, it would still be possible to introduce committees by the agreed timescale of May 2014.

"There are a lot of conspiracy theories around and a lot of people who are inexperienced are misinterpreting things we've said. We're just trying to get this right," said Councillor Steve Morphew, cabinet member for economic development.

"When we signed up to the agreement which put us in power, it was absolutely clear that we wanted to implement a committee system by next spring and as far as I'm concerned we're bound by that agreement," he said.

So the authority eventually voted to proceed with plans to move from a cabinet to a committee system of government after a very heated debate.

'Too contentious'

The other party leaders left the meeting saying they were satisfied with Labour's guarantees.

"George has confirmed that it's definitely going to happen in May and I believe him," said Liberal Democrat group leader Councillor Dr Marie Strong.

Councillor Bearman said the Green Party was going to do its best to hold Labour to the agreed timetable.

But privately a lot of non-Labour members of the rainbow alliance are wary and will watch what happens next very closely. Some are even wondering if Norfolk will ever move to a committee system

"I am sceptical that it'll be in place by May next year," Councillor Matthew Smith of UKIP said. " I think George Nobbs knows that the way he wants it done is too contentious for the other groups and we'll all fall out over it and he'll be able to say 'Well I kept my promise - it's all your fault'."