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Liberal Democrats distance themselves from Conservative/UKIP Norfolk County Council deal

PUBLISHED: 12:09 22 May 2014 | UPDATED: 12:09 22 May 2014

Norfolk County Council's County Hall in Martineau Lane, Norwich.

Norfolk County Council's County Hall in Martineau Lane, Norwich.

Archant

The Liberal Democrats have distanced themselves from the discussion between the Conservatives and the UK Independence Party over a deal which would put the Tories back into control of Norfolk County Council.

UKIP approached the Conservative group last Friday over a “common understanding” which would enable the Tories to take control of County Hall at next week’s annual general meeting.

UKIP currently support the Labour/Liberal Democrat administration, but an email sent by Conservative deputy leader Ian Mackie reveals they could be prepared to switch sides.

In the email, Mr Mackie wrote: “Given where we have been, and where we could end up from now until 2017, this is a considerable turn-around, it will give us 60pc control with 45pc of the council,

“It will also ensure that we would have 63 votes in full council and represent 75pc of the votes cast in Norfolk.

“This once only offer is from May 2014 until 2017.”

The email outlined who would occupy a number of posts if a deal was agreed.

The leader of the council would be a Conservative, while the Tories would also have chairman positions on policy and resources, communities, adult services and the economic development committee. They would hold vice-chairman posts in children’s services and adult services.

The email said UKIP leader Toby Coke would become chairman of the environment, development and transport committee, with Liberal Democrat James Joyce as chairman of children’s services.

Mr Mackie wrote in the email: “This would be a common understanding, not a formal Con/UKIP/Lib coalition.”

However, Liberal Democrat leader Marie Strong today issued a statement distancing her party from the contents of that email.

She said: “The Liberal Democrat group is resolved to continue working with all of the groups described as the rainbow alliance.

“By working together we have achieved many positive outcomes for Norfolk over the last twelve months and we believe the county needed and still needs its councillors to work together and set political differences aside for the good of its residents.

“We will, of course, talk with all members of the council in promoting best practice and many will share our distaste for the sentiments expressed in Mr Mackie’s email.”
And Tom FitzPatrick, leader of the Conservative group, also suggested a deal between the Tories and UKIP was unlikely, after his group met behind closed doors on Tuesday.

He had said: “We will listen to UKIP or anyone else who approaches us with ideas.”

But he added: “Over the past year they have voted with Labour most of the time against us so it’s difficult to see how a deal could be done, but we will listen them for the good of Norfolk.”

Jonathan Dunning, Norfolk branch secretary for Unison, said the current rainbow coalition had brought a “sense of stability” to County Hall and expressed his concern that this “mature approach” to local politics could be put at risk by party pursuit of power.

He also criticised remarks made in Mr Mackie’s email about how much Conservative members stood to receive in special responsibility allowances based on the new set-up.

The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and UKIP all have further group meetings pencilled in for tomorrow, with the annual meeting taking place next Tuesday.

The Conservatives lost control of Norfolk County Council in elections a year ago. The current political make-up of the authority is 40 Conservative members, 14 Labour, 13 UKIP, 10 Liberal Democrats, 4 Greens 2 Independent and 1 Non-Aligned.

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