The new leader of Norfolk County Council has said she believes the bruising local Conservatives took at the ballot box were a protest against the national government.

And Kay Mason Billig, who was elected leader of County Hall on Tuesday (May 9) after recently winning a Tory group leadership challenge, said she and colleagues will be working hard to avoid a repeat when county council elections are held in two years' time.

Conservatives lost control of councils in Broadland, West Norfolk and Great Yarmouth, plus East Suffolk, in last week's elections.

Eastern Daily Press: County Hall in NorwichCounty Hall in Norwich (Image: Mike Page)

Mrs Mason Billig, voted in as the Conservative-controlled council's new leader at a meeting of all county councillors at County Hall, said: "It's always difficult having a district election mid-term when your party is in government.

"People feel they can protest against the government by giving districts a good kicking. That's rather unfair, as most district councillors work extremely hard, but they are the ones who suffer. All we can do is do the best we can."

Mrs Mason Billig, who represents Loddon at County Hall and Loddon and Chedgrave at South Norfolk Council, won a Conservative group leadership challenge last month.

Eastern Daily Press: Andrew ProctorAndrew Proctor (Image: Norfolk County Council)

Andrew Proctor, who had been leader, took a leave of absence due to ill health and Mrs Mason Billig revealed other members of the Tory group asked her to stand against Mr Proctor's deputy Graham Plant.

She said: "I was asked if I would step forward when we became aware that Andrew was not very well. Several members of the group asked me and I said I'd do it as long as I had a strong team around me, because it is such a big job."

Mrs Mason Billig, who has stepped down from her role as deputy leader at South Norfolk Council, said: "If I can do some good and bring some prosperity and growth to the county, then that is what I am going to do."

She stressed her administration remained committed to road schemes such as the Norwich Western Link and Long Stratton bypass and said it was a case of "evolution, rather than revolution".

Eastern Daily Press: Kay Mason Billig said she is committed to the Norwich Western LinkKay Mason Billig said she is committed to the Norwich Western Link (Image: Norfolk County Council)

On the County Deal - the devolution deal from the government Mr Proctor had negotiated - she said it would ultimately be up to councillors to decide whether to accept it.

But she said meetings had already been held with government ministers - and she was keen to get an improved deal on the table for them to decide whether to accept.

She said: "We are going to write to the ministers and tell them what we want to see. We want to see things which are Norfolk-centric which we want to see them offer us."

Among the wishlist is for the deal to include elements to improve power networks in Norfolk, which she said needed to be made better to attract businesses and allow new homes to be built.

Eastern Daily Press: Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at Norfolk County CouncilSteve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at Norfolk County Council (Image: Archant)

But Steve Morphew, leader of the opposition Labour group, said: "It’s quite clear the Conservatives have no sense of direction and are now struggling even more since taking a drubbing last week."


Mrs Mason Billig revealed changes to her Conservative cabinet at County Hall.

Andrew Jamieson, who represents North Coast, will serve as deputy leader as well as continuing as cabinet member for finance.

Eastern Daily Press: Andrew JamiesonAndrew Jamieson (Image: Norfolk County Council)

Bill Borrett will be cabinet member for public health and wellbeing, Alison Thomas will be cabinet member for adult social care.

Penny Carpenter becomes cabinet member for children's services, while Margaret Dewsbury continues as cabinet member for communities and partnerships.

Eric Vardy keeps his environment and waste cabinet post, while Graham Plant continues as cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport.

Jane James takes on corporate services and innovation, while Fabian Eagle is cabinet member for economic growth.

Conservative Barry Stone was elected council chairman.


Norfolk County Council's new leader Kay Mason Billig arrives at a time when her party - the Conservatives - have just been handed a bloody nose at the ballot box.

While there were no county council elections, the Tories did not enjoy a happy time in the district, borough and city council elections.

They lost control of three Norfolk councils - Broadland, West Norfolk and Great Yarmouth and, in Waveney, they surrendered control of East Suffolk council.

Broadland District Council leader Shaun Vincent lost his seat to the Greens and, even in South Norfolk, the Conservatives lost eight seats.

Mrs Mason Billig puts it down to a protest vote against the national picture. And, given the tumultuous times over the past year, it's little wonder her party was punished at these elections.

It will be interesting to see what happens at the councils which are now in no overall control and, looking further ahead, it will be intriguing to see what will happen in County Hall elections two years from now.

In the meantime, Mrs Mason Billig has the task of steering the county council and it will be fascinating to see what sort of management style she brings.

She has stressed she is a team player and how important it was to surround herself with plenty of experience in her cabinet.

And, make no mistake, she has taken on quite a challenge.

Uncertainty surrounds whether the Norwich Western Link will get the millions of pounds of government cash the council has been banking on to turn it into a reality.

The council has had to find £60m of savings and cuts, while leaders and officers have repeatedly made clear the difficulties of funding adult social care. Mrs Mason Billig has said she will lobby for fairer funding.

And then there's the matter of the county deal. This is the government's devolution deal worth millions of pounds to the county, which former leader Andrew Proctor spent months negotiating.

Mrs Mason Billig has said she believes the deal can be improved. It will be interesting to see if the government agrees - and if her group believes it is worth backing.