Why Lib Dems are pushing for a better Norfolk in 2019
PUBLISHED: 05:05 16 January 2019
Copyright: Archant 2017
Norfolk County Council's Conservative leadership has a New Year's Resolution to give themselves more power - but Liberal Democrat councillors Dan Roper and Steff Aquarone argue that you should be worried
We councillors received a message from the leader and deputy leader just before Christmas – notably, it was sent in an email as an image so that no-one with accessibility requirements would have been able to read it. It talked cheerily of “organisational changes” and a new “corporate board”, but don’t let these words deceive you: these changes are actually quite disturbing because they involve putting politicians in charge of the council’s operations as well as its policy-making.
Power has been grabbed by a select few who will now be allowed to make all the important decisions. Yet, that small group of Conservatives is furthest removed from the daily lives of many people in Norfolk – for example they had not visited a children’s centre before deciding to close them.
Does this sound like something you would approve of?
It might not be so bad if the Conservatives really listened and acted on the public’s wishes. Yet their record on this is already alarmingly poor.
Whilst increasing their own pay packets, their administration has continued to cut services to the most vulnerable even when more money has been made available by central government.
They have refused to get independent help to improve Norfolk’s economic performance; voted against further support for rural bus services; voted against making the huge burden of elderly care easier on those who are least able to afford it (49pc of the council’s cuts over the rest of this county council will come from adult social care) and refused to improve how the council consults with the public.
Last year saw the Tories ignoring public concerns over increasing DIY household waste charges and running a misleading consultation on children’s centres closures. This year under Tory rule in Norfolk will be a continuation of the same story – but with the new twist of less scrutiny by opposition members, and fewer opportunities for journalists and the public to hold power to account. Compare this to the way the new Lib Dem leader of North Norfolk District Council, Sarah Bütikofer, has set up a cross-party cabinet, and you’ll see that the Tories care more about having power than serving the people of Norfolk.
The last time the Conservatives huddled together in a cabal to make private decisions at the county council it resulted in the disastrous waste incinerator scheme, which saw the council having to pay financial penalties of £30m as a result of that poor decision. £30million is six times the amount by which they are cutting the children centres’ budget.
We are deeply worried about them turning this way of working into business as usual. But it doesn’t have to be this way. This coming May you have the opportunity to send a message to the Conservatives across Norfolk by voting against them in local elections. Turnout is usually low – people seem to have all but given up on politics. But all is not lost.
As Liberal Democrats we believe in giving people genuine opportunities to have a say in the decisions that affect their lives. Working together with its communities our councils could really transform the future of Norfolk. It is possible, and we have seen it work elsewhere in the country where local authorities have gained substantial investment and growth and significantly raised the profile of their area.
A blinkered inward-looking leadership that prefers the status quo and puts the needs of the Conservative Party before the needs of the people of Norfolk will not achieve this.
We will demand better for Norfolk in 2019 because Norfolk deserves better. Join us and help elect alternatives wherever you are in Norfolk.
Dan Roper is leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Norfolk County Council. Councillor Steff Aquarone is deputy leader.