Thursday, 30 June 2016
Speech at Norfolk County Council as part of the debate on 'Devolution' - 27.06.16
"At the start of this debate the Conservative Leader of our Council said that we should vote in support of these proposals so that we have "a full, comprehensive and meaningful consultation". What we have before us does not fit that criteria. What we have before us is fatally flawed and flawed for two reasons. We are proposing a consultation and leading the public - we are being asked to say we "endorse" these proposals and asking for their approval. We're leading residents down a certain path. Second, we are not even having an open question. We are told by the Government that we have got to have a Mayor and the public will not even be asked for their view of this. So we will set the terms of the consultation in a very narrow way. That's a big shame. It's a big shame because transferring power and responsibility from large and somewhat distant structures that seem un accountable is a very positive concept. Giving power back to the people if you like - we would all like that surely? That for me is devolution but I don't believe that's what we have on offer. Rather than devolving to existing structures, these proposals create a whole new tier of governance, a whole new level of bureaucracy. We seem to be getting devolution by centralisation. The key for me to these proposals was to establish whether the new structure being proposed added value to what we already have. Can more be done through this model than through existing structures? I don't think that case has been made adequately enough. The biggest hindrance to the existing levels of governance making progress and delivering improvements is money - more particularly the lack of. I find it deeply frustrating that money can be magicked up to support the latest fad idea like devolution but cannot be found to support local government. Reading the deal, I find little about how this new process would speed up decision making, reduce red tape - wheres the how? It talks a lot about here's the extra cash if you sign up to it. And whilst the figures proposed may be initially tempting, the costs of setting all this up, costs running it, the costs in officer time across all authorities, and the opportunity costs lost. through pursuing a red herring could far outweigh the benefits.
There's an implied view that local government isn't working if it cannot deliver for its residents - I do not share this view. If adopted, these plans would weaken our county and district councils and further confuse the local government structure, weakening accountability.
What's worse about this whole situation is that the government does not even trust these areas to come up with their own proposals for their own communities - opposite of the principles of devolution - you can have devolution but you must have a Mayor. I'm normally in favour of consultation and engagement - but this whole consultation is flawed as it does not include a choice over whether to have a mayor and I'll be voting against the deal. I feel let down as a member that I won't be able to make my vote knowing if public support a mayor or not.
Saturday, 11 June 2016
Mayor of Thetford; Speech to Civic Reception (10.06.16)
Ladies and Gentleman, distinguished guests, may I thank you for taking the time to join us here this evening at our Civic Reception.
I’m delighted to be able to welcome you to the Charles Burrell Centre. As some of you will know, this is where aged 11 I started High School and finished aged 18 after completing A-Levels at the Sixth Form Centre. If you had told me that that I would voluntarily choose to come back here on such a regular basis then I would not have believed you – I seem to be on permanent detention!
But it was beyond comprehension to anyone back then that Charles Burrell High School would close – there’s been a school on this site since the 1950’s but in July 2013 the students left for the last time. Everybody assumed the worst – a site left to become derelict, an eyesore for years to follow. Perhaps most grave of all, a community resource lost and an opportunity not grasped. But… in an example what for me represents the potential of what local Government and the community working together can achieve – this did not materialise. A window of opportunity led to the site being leased to Thetford Town Council for 30 years who now in turn lease the site to the independent charity that now runs what we now know as the Charles Burrell Centre – an organisation who’s board on which I am delighted to serve as Chairman.
I decided to hold my reception here in a change from the norm to highlight what Charles Burrell has become in the hope that we may learn further from its example.
And what an example. A total of 33 permanent tenants on site – ranging from national corporate organisations such as Hertz the car rental business, to West Suffolk College whom we are delighted to have in Thetford providing literally hundreds of courses. Charles Burrell Centre also hosts the local MPs constituency office and there’s a national Portuguese newspaper based here. All sharing space with groups such as Thetford Foodbank, the Toy Library and there’s even room for the local Model Railway Society. 17 of those 33 tenants are brand new organisations – allowed to flourish thanks to the Centre’s existence. In total, there’s 85,000 square feet of building on 12 acres of land.
Seeing an old science classroom with bunsen burners in situ be transformed into a warm and welcoming space for a pre-school nursery was certainly something to behold, so to was seeing Mrs Howards old maths room become a pilates studio – oh how I hated that room but nice that its still being used to make people sweat.
There’s a further 11 regular organisations using the site on a weekly basis – so if you over indulge on the food and drink this evening and want to, you could attend Keep Fit on a Tuesday, Kettlebells on a Wednesday or Slimming World on a Thursday – they have it all. There’s been 5 full-time jobs created for by CBC Ltd alone – all people from Thetford and approx. 100 jobs created or safeguarded across the whole Centre, 20 regular volunteers recruited for CBC directly and many, many more across all organisations based here. Training courses completed, qualifications gained, disadvantaged people supported – a community much more enriched by its existence.
If Charles Burrell Centre were a school assignment I think an A* would be in order.
There’s a number of CBC staff and volunteers here this evening so feel free to talk to them about the Centre and I am sure if you ask they’ll show you round if you have time at all.
But there’s another reason why I wanted to hold my reception here;
What better place than an old school to launch my theme for the year; Inspiring young people.
As many of you will know, I’m believed to be the youngest Mayor of Thetford in its more than 800 years of a Mayoralty. Something I’m incredibly proud of and grateful for the support of colleagues for putting me here.
I intend to use my year as an opportunity to inspire young people locally. Barriers still exist to young people realising their potential – many of them are physical barriers but there are psychological ones as well. Young people locally often do not have confidence in their own abilities. I remember being told as a teenager myself that young people from Thetford don’t excel in life and we’re not meant to do well. I remember as a youth worker seeking to encourage young people to grasp opportunities before them but they were paralysed by fear of failure. Life tends to highlight when things go wrong, when what we need to be doing, particularly for younger people who can be so impressionable, is recognise when things go right and provide those flashes of inspiration when possible.
So, with this in mind, I’m delighted that some people here this evening have agreed to work alongside me in the year ahead, we will be visiting local schools and youth groups, explaining what it was like for them to grow up in Thetford and what they do now in their careers and life generally. There’s some impressive stories to tell.
Now, I’ve asked each of them to provide me with a few words about themselves, what they don’t know however is that as I call their names, I’d like them to join me on stage:
1. Ricky Bowers; Ricky moved to Thetford aged 12 in 1999 and went to Charles Burrell High School. At 16 he joined the Royal Air Force – during his career he has cooked and served dinner to both Gordon Brown and President Bush. He’s cooked lunch for the Queen and he clearly didn’t do a bad job as we’re celebrating her 90th birthday here in Thetford tomorrow. He’s travelled across the world including Norway, Germany and Kenya and was deployed for 5 months in Afghanistan. He has helped raise money for local charities and the Make a Wish Foundation
2. Kimberley Fox; Kimberley was born in Thetford and recently graduated with a Masters in Law following the completion of her undergraduate law degree at the University of Leicester. She’s recently secured an exciting legal role at a top national law firm in Cambridge. She attended Charles Burrell High School and has worked and volunteered at numerous places in Thetford.
3. Kate Greenaway: Kate attended also went to Charles Burrell High School and later furthered her studies in Bury St Edmunds. Following this, Kate entered the graphic design industry working for a local marketing and design agency called Toolbox Group. Later, Kate started her own design company ‘Frontroom Creative’ and I’m told that ‘frontroom creative is a creative hub to bring your marketing ideas to life.
4. Andrew Fitchett; Andrew Fitchett is editor of the Thetford and Brandon Times and he’s a senior reporter for the Eastern Daily Press in the Thetford area. Andrew was raised in Thetford, attending Rosemary Musker High School. He went on to study at Anglia Ruskin University, before training as a journalist in London. He has been a journalist since 2010, first covering the Thetford area for the Bury Free Press, before joining the EDP in 2013.
5. Lindsay Dixon: Lindsey has lived in Thetford her whole life and left school aged 16 in 2001 to have her daughter Abby, now aged 14. She married her husband Jamie in 2008 and they also have a son Michael, now 8. She’s been a mother and a housewife for the last 15 years and she tells me that she has loved it. She’s studying English and Maths courses at the Charles Burrell Centre and will be starting a Diploma in Art and Design come September. After this she hopes to get a degree in Interior Design.
When I first asked Lindsay to become an ‘Ambassador’ she said that I had the wrong person as she had “not achieved anything”. I’m really pleased that Lindsay has agreed to become an ambassador as raising a family is an achievement in itself.
6. Kate Snowdon: Kate works as a sub editor for Discovery Education; part of the Discovery Communications brand, which also houses the Discovery Channel. She works on news bulletins, video broadcasts, mini documentaries and teacher resources for use in the classroom. Outside of work Kate runs a blog about conservation, which was Highly Commended in the UK Blog Awards 2016.
7. Ryan Windsor: Ryan is an Entrepreneur and founder of Windsor Properties specialising in property and financial investments. He Lecturers in Business and Enterprise Management, writes for Archant and About Thetford magazine and is a Non-Executive Director and Trustee at Keystone Development Trust, Charles Burrell Centre and Mentor at both Thetford Academy and The Entrepreneurship Centre at Cambridge University.
Three people who have agreed to be ambassadors but sadly cannot be here this evening. Firstly, Franko Fraize – he’s an independent rapper and recently signed a major label deal with Polydor records. He’s performed at the Radio 1 big weekend, Hyde Park and Wembley Stadium. Secondly, Ian Henderson – he’s a professional footballer playing for Rochdale. He has captained for his club on numerous occasions and started his career with Norwich City. Ian is also somewhat of an entrepreneur and has used his passion for health and fitness to progress rapidly through the ranks with the franchise Herbalife. Lastly, Tony Cornwall – owener of the Hideout – a music studio in Thetford which supports a host of musicians.
Over the year ahead, these ambassadors will be working with me to visit local schools and youth groups. Letting young people in Thetford know what it was like for them growing up in Thetford – experiences which I am sure won’t be too dissimilar to what young people experience now. But I want also for them to explain the careers that they have achieved and the lives that they lead so that all young people in Thetford can appreciate what is possible and what opportunities could lay before them.
Ambassadors invited to leave stage.
Lastly, some thank-you’s from me:
I want to thank those ex pupils that are here tonight enabling this event to happen; You have James Butler, CBHS pupil 1997 – 2001 - he’s providing the bar this evening – James now runs the Old White Bell pub in Southery. Sarah Swift (CBHS (2000 – 2004) – Sarah now runs her own photography business and took the photos for us here this evening. We also have Mark Snowdon (CBHS 1999 – 2003), the Centre Manager here at Charles Burrell who has worked very hard over the past few weeks along with his team to get the Centre ready and we have Roger Stebbings – the Mayors Officer and Sword Bearer (Staniforth Secondary Modern – dates confidential).
Also thanks to my Consort for the year – Corinne Fulford. As somebody said to me recently – if you want a job done, ask Corinne!
Thanks to the volunteers from all three locals museums for being here this evening; the Dads Army Museum, the Charles Burrell Museum and Ancient House Museum of Thetford Life including young people from the Teenage History Club. Thanks to the Thetford Police Cadets for assisting with car parking duties and my own Mayors Cadets for their duties.
And in keeping with the theme, you will have noticed and perhaps wondered where the flowers are tonight and why we have trees. Well, flowers have a short lifespan and as the outgoing Chairman of the Town Council’s Finance Committee I wanted to get the most for our money – so whilst these trees are here to decorate the hall this evening, next week these trees will be planted up in local schools and at youth venues across Thetford as a gift from the Mayor – and forgive the cliché but I hope over the years to come we can watch these trees grow and flourish in the same way that we hope our young people do as well.
Thursday, 9 June 2016
SCRUTINY CHANGES FURTHER WEAKEN ACCOUNTABILITY AT DISTRICT
Changes to procedures at Breckland Councils Overview and Scrutiny Commission will result in the further weakening of democracy and accountability of the authority according to the District's Labour Councillors.
The new Chairman of the Council's Scrutiny Committee, Councillor Elizabeth Gould, whom until recently was a Cabinet member at the authority, has decided to break with tradition and will now not allow an agenda item at each meeting to receive a report back from members of the Cabinet. For many years previously a different member of the Cabinet has been requested to attend the Commission's meeting on an alternating basis to report to members.
Leader of the Breckland Labour Group and former Vice Chairman of the Scrutiny Commission Councillor Terry Jermy objected at today's (Thursday 9th June 2016) meeting and said afterwards: "Cabinet governance rests a lot of power amongst a very select group of Councillors. It is crucial to have checks and balances in place and the role of the scrutiny commission is very important. Members previously heard about the work of each cabinet member and could question them on progress on key matters - this opportunity has now been removed in a further undermining of democracy and accountability in the district".
Last year Breckland's Conservative Councillors appointed both a Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Committee from the Conservative Group breaking the tradition of having the Leader of the Opposition as either the Chairman or Vice Chairman.
Fellow Labour Councillor Harry Clark said: "Cabinet members in Breckland are paid considerable sums of money to undertake the role, twice the amount of many other similar sized Districts. At the very least I am sure that they can spare the time to present themselves to the committee every so often to explain what work they have been undertaking as part of their portfolio and take questions. This is an important opportunity for opposition party members but also back-bench members of the ruling Conservative group to question and scrutinise - this has now been removed without even the views of commission members sought".