All is not well in the kingdom of Norfolk

December 09, 2010 10:59 AM




TPA supporter John Martin explains why there is much discontent within the ruling Conservative group at County Hall.

One of the principal concerns of the TPA is that public money should not be squandered, or spent in an improper or ill-advised manner. But it is also anxious to see that standards of good governance are maintained within local authorities.

This cannot be the case where the political group in power is engaged in internecine warfare. The minds of our elected representatives should not be distracted when crucial decisions affecting us all need to be made.

Sadly, there have been more than few distractions inside Norfolk County Council (“NCC”) of late. Everything should be sweetness and light within the ruling Conservative group, if only because it has a huge overall majority of thirty-six seats that renders meaningful scrutiny, or opposition, impossible. But this is not so.

The problems began on 1st October with the shock news that Cllr Daniel Cox was resigning, both as leader and as a member of NCC, to take up a post with VSO in India. Most thought that this was a laudable next step, but that did not prevent rumours abounding that this fairly moderate Conservative had experienced enough.

Less laudable was the Cabinet’s decision to throw a leaving reception for him at the public expense, causing Cllr George Nobbs, the inspirational but sensitive leader of the Labour group (of three) at NCC, to point out the very obvious and to threaten to boycott the event. This, and the possibility of a UNISON demonstration outside County Hall, resulted in private funds quickly being found. Cllr Cox was the sixth of the ten original members of the Cabinet to go in a period of sixteen months.

The Conservative group quickly held a contest behind closed doors to elect a new leader. The candidates were Cllr Derrick Murphy (the deputy leader), Cllr John Dobson and Cllr William Nunn. After the grey and white smoke had gone up, Cllr Murphy emerged the winner. However, almost immediately the local press reported that another Conservative member had lodged a formal conduct complaint against him, believed to centre upon allegations of verbal bullying and intimidation during the contest. County Hall has totally clammed up on this, but the word on the street is that the complaint is very much alive.

Soon it became payback time. Cllr Dobson – who had been largely responsible for a heavyweight exercise to update and revise NCC’s constitution – was sacked from his role as Conservative spokesman on the Cabinet Scrutiny Committee. To compound his offence of standing against Cllr Murphy in the contest to find a new leader, he had also apparently been critical of the Conservative group’s failure to make all necessary efficiency savings before putting severe cuts to services in place. Cllr Mark Kiddle-Morris lost his seat on the same body. He had been Cllr Nunn’s campaign boss.

But more was still to happen. Conservative Central Office then put Norwich North Constituency Association (“NNCA”) on special measures, removing five members of its executive - including the chairman - and imposing a new chairman from outside Norfolk. It was also reported that the former chairman had previously been suspended for four months following an unfounded allegation of assault made against her.

What does all of this have to do with NCC? I will explain.The former chairman of NNCA is Cllr Shelagh Gurney of NCC. Not only had Cllr Gurney been a past chairman of NCC but (as part of his reshuffle) Cllr Murphy had also just appointed her a deputy Cabinet member. Another of the NNCA’s executive to be removed was Cllr Iain Mackie of NCC. Cllr Murphy had appointed him deputy leader. A third was Cllr Tony Adams. Cllr Murphy had appointed him as Conservative spokesman on the Cabinet Scrutiny Committee.

So there you have it. Three local politicians who were deemed not to be up to scratch by Conservative Central Office now occupy important roles in County Hall. No wonder that, with all of these comings and goings, there is extreme discontent.

Some of this would be mildly amusing, but for the fact that NCC is now in the middle of a public consultation on making cuts to fill a black hole worth £155m over the next three years, and on the verge of signing a contract for a £600m waste incinerator that very few people seem to want. Hanging around in the background is a controversial scheme to continue with plans for an expensive Northern Distributor Road that no longer appears to serve its original purpose, and the potential ultimate loss of £30m in the Icelandic banks’ saga. This is the time when the last thing on which the ruling group should be focusing is how best to tear itself apart.





TPA supporter John Martin explains why there is much discontent within the ruling Conservative group at County Hall.

One of the principal concerns of the TPA is that public money should not be squandered, or spent in an improper or ill-advised manner. But it is also anxious to see that standards of good governance are maintained within local authorities.

This cannot be the case where the political group in power is engaged in internecine warfare. The minds of our elected representatives should not be distracted when crucial decisions affecting us all need to be made.

Sadly, there have been more than few distractions inside Norfolk County Council (“NCC”) of late. Everything should be sweetness and light within the ruling Conservative group, if only because it has a huge overall majority of thirty-six seats that renders meaningful scrutiny, or opposition, impossible. But this is not so.

The problems began on 1st October with the shock news that Cllr Daniel Cox was resigning, both as leader and as a member of NCC, to take up a post with VSO in India. Most thought that this was a laudable next step, but that did not prevent rumours abounding that this fairly moderate Conservative had experienced enough.

Less laudable was the Cabinet’s decision to throw a leaving reception for him at the public expense, causing Cllr George Nobbs, the inspirational but sensitive leader of the Labour group (of three) at NCC, to point out the very obvious and to threaten to boycott the event. This, and the possibility of a UNISON demonstration outside County Hall, resulted in private funds quickly being found. Cllr Cox was the sixth of the ten original members of the Cabinet to go in a period of sixteen months.

The Conservative group quickly held a contest behind closed doors to elect a new leader. The candidates were Cllr Derrick Murphy (the deputy leader), Cllr John Dobson and Cllr William Nunn. After the grey and white smoke had gone up, Cllr Murphy emerged the winner. However, almost immediately the local press reported that another Conservative member had lodged a formal conduct complaint against him, believed to centre upon allegations of verbal bullying and intimidation during the contest. County Hall has totally clammed up on this, but the word on the street is that the complaint is very much alive.

Soon it became payback time. Cllr Dobson – who had been largely responsible for a heavyweight exercise to update and revise NCC’s constitution – was sacked from his role as Conservative spokesman on the Cabinet Scrutiny Committee. To compound his offence of standing against Cllr Murphy in the contest to find a new leader, he had also apparently been critical of the Conservative group’s failure to make all necessary efficiency savings before putting severe cuts to services in place. Cllr Mark Kiddle-Morris lost his seat on the same body. He had been Cllr Nunn’s campaign boss.

But more was still to happen. Conservative Central Office then put Norwich North Constituency Association (“NNCA”) on special measures, removing five members of its executive - including the chairman - and imposing a new chairman from outside Norfolk. It was also reported that the former chairman had previously been suspended for four months following an unfounded allegation of assault made against her.

What does all of this have to do with NCC? I will explain.The former chairman of NNCA is Cllr Shelagh Gurney of NCC. Not only had Cllr Gurney been a past chairman of NCC but (as part of his reshuffle) Cllr Murphy had also just appointed her a deputy Cabinet member. Another of the NNCA’s executive to be removed was Cllr Iain Mackie of NCC. Cllr Murphy had appointed him deputy leader. A third was Cllr Tony Adams. Cllr Murphy had appointed him as Conservative spokesman on the Cabinet Scrutiny Committee.

So there you have it. Three local politicians who were deemed not to be up to scratch by Conservative Central Office now occupy important roles in County Hall. No wonder that, with all of these comings and goings, there is extreme discontent.

Some of this would be mildly amusing, but for the fact that NCC is now in the middle of a public consultation on making cuts to fill a black hole worth £155m over the next three years, and on the verge of signing a contract for a £600m waste incinerator that very few people seem to want. Hanging around in the background is a controversial scheme to continue with plans for an expensive Northern Distributor Road that no longer appears to serve its original purpose, and the potential ultimate loss of £30m in the Icelandic banks’ saga. This is the time when the last thing on which the ruling group should be focusing is how best to tear itself apart.


Latest Blogs: