OPINION: Norfolk needs an economic recovery plan to get us back on our feet
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The coronavirus pandemic has exposed and extended the existing health, ethnicity, education and occupation inequalities that prevent everyone in Norfolk having the chance to get on in life.
Without urgent action, these gaps will widen further.
It also brought financial problems to many people who thought they were doing OK.
Add to this the fact that Norfolk’s wage levels were already well below regional and national averages, and that for the last four years, the rate for creating new jobs in Norfolk has fallen year-on-year.
Norfolk cannot afford to keep going with the same approach as before.
We need a well thought out economic recovery plan that puts us on course to perform much better post-pandemic.
This needs a vision that is fit for purpose, and built on the strengths of Norfolk’s business community, enabling them to grow, and thrive, and employ more local people.
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This recovery needs to be green, so that it can deliver a more sustainable future. But most importantly it needs greater leadership, energy, dynamism and funding from County Hall than has been seen over the last four years.
The spirit of Norfolk has been amazing during the pandemic with local voluntary groups springing up such as Cromer Cares or Mundesley Cares, people volunteering to help or people just looking out for others.
And the fantastic NHS and care staff who have brought us to a place where the end is now in sight.
Yet we have seen the heaviest cuts at County Hall falling on those people who need the help the most.
How can it be that people with disabilities have had to decide whether to heat a room or eat. This is England in 2021: it is disgraceful.
Indeed, it was a group of disabled people who had to take the County Council to court because of the way they had been treated with the High Court Judge finding the council guilty of discrimination through its cuts.
And after seeing Council Tax rising by 18% over the last four years with £180m worth of cuts since 2017/18 how much more can Norfolk cope with?
Instead of not listening to the public, or calling the views from this paper a media conspiracy, we need leadership at the County Council that is genuinely open to participation in the design of services, and draws on a range of diverse perspectives when making decisions.
For a strong Norfolk post pandemic recovery there are many other steps that are needed to be implemented - such as making more council services available locally through expanded community hubs, rather than the world revolving around County Hall.
Improving existing local transport links for both private and public transport through new transport hubs will make travel across Norfolk easier and quicker as well as giving the county an economic boost.
Climate change needs urgently restoring to the top of the agenda and the environment and climate change should be at the heart of everything that the County Council does. The recent flooding has shown us that to do anything less is at our own peril.
Without all the above, how can we expect our younger generations to want to stay in Norfolk? We need to give them the hope that Norfolk is moving forward and there is a future for them here as well as restoring some of the youth services that are so badly needed that have been systemically stripped out of the county.
Norfolk is a fantastic county that deserves better. Do we want a county that continually loses out economically, held back by a lack of vision and energy from our politicians?
Or something better – a bold future, with the drive and commitment to make it happen? It will soon be for the people of Norfolk to make this choice.
Councillor Steff Aquarone is leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at Norfolk County Council