Thursday, 11 May 2023

Norfolk Full Council - Tuesday 9th May 2023

I was back at Norfolk County Hall again on Tuesday for a Full Council meeting where I was pleased to support a Labour motion which received cross-party support calling for more to be done to stop sewage being pumped into our seas and waterways. I'll post the newspaper write-up of the motion's success in the comments.
There was also a motion on the agenda today tabled by the Green Group (Three Cllrs out of Eighty-four Cllrs in total). This motion called for the Norwich Western Link road to be scrapped and the money ‘saved’ to be re-allocated to an alternative list of projects.
Disappointingly one of their proposals was to allocate money in support of 20 minute-neighbourhoods.
I have a longstanding objection to the Norwich Western Link road. This is well documented and the reasons for logged. But, I will not vote for or support any move towards the establishment of 20 minute neighbourhoods.
Myself and a fellow Cllr therefore tabled an amendment to the Green motion that removed the recommendation to reinvest money into 20 minute neighbourhoods. If the amendment were approved, the original motion would have simply called for the Western Link road to be scrapped. Our amendment was defeated however, but so was the whole Green motion, thankfully.
This is all a bit complicated as it involves motions and amendments and Council procedure rules but the long and short of it is attempts by the Greens to allocate money towards 20 minute neighbourhoods have been rejected.
For now the Western Link road limps on. In my view any funds "saved" from scrapping the Western Link should be used to fund our core services that are in a desperate state. We have an adult social care system in crisis, children's services lacking funding to properly support all of Norfolk's children and a public transport system that's woefully inadequate - to name just a few of our challenges. As was highlighted today, rather than building new roads the County Council should be taking better care of our existing road network!
I am pleased that the Green motion was rejected by the Council today, but maintain my view that the Western Link road is unjustifiable and unaffordable.

Wednesday, 19 April 2023

Responding to some of the usual election lies....

When you're a Councillor, and particularly at election time, you kind of get used to all manner of things being said about you.

Some of it is a sort of twisted truth, some of it is a complete lie.

I don't normally respond to such rubbish - people spreading such untruths will never change their ways, they'll never listen to the alternative narrative and certainly never admit that they are wrong. They clearly don't bother to do any research but spread hate and misinformation gleefully.

However, seeing as I have a bit of time spare this morning, I thought I would respond to a couple of the things floating around on various anonymous Facebook pages:

1. "Councillor Terry Jermy is the highest paid Councillor in Norfolk" - hilarious! All Councillor allowances are published online on the relevant Council websites. It is blatantly clear to see that I am not the highest paid Councillor on Breckland, or Norfolk. In fact, some Councillors are paid more than double what I am. 

2. "Terry Jermy overspent his budget when he was Mayor of Thetford" - I was Mayor in 2016/17, and people are still peddling this nonsense. I finished my Mayoral year with money to spare, visited several hundred events and activities during the year and raised £6,000 for local charities - a sum much greater than most Thetford Mayor's achieve. Approx halfway through my Mayoral year staff highlighted that I might run out of funds because I was so busy, and from that the rumour began - pushed by several Councillors who did nothing but try to undermine me during my year. However, most Mayor's have to use part of their 'allowance' to fund their end of term Mayoral Ball. Charity balls are very difficult to make profitable, that's why so many Mayoral Balls have been cancelled in recent years. Council funds literally need to be used to cover some of the costs and that money gets taken from the Mayoral allowance. I've always felt uncomfortable about public money being used to essentially help pay for a private knees up. £500 had been set aside to help with my event, but, I had already secured an external sponsor, a local estate agents, who donated the money to help cover the costs. Problem solved and there was now no risk of any over spending. Oh, and my Ball sold out, we literally had to squeeze in an extra table - so rather than being a drain on council funds, the event made an actual profit, hurrah for charity (which ironically is the sole purpose of the ball but rarely do Town Council balls make a profit). 

3. "If Cllr Jermy really has Thetford's best interests at heart then ask him how he managed to overspend his budget by £30,000 last year and why the Council Tax payers of Thetford have had to fund his incompetence by way of a 20% hike in their bill this year"

I don't have a budget as a Councillor. I am Chair of the Amenities Committee, who does have a budget. The only additional 'power' I have as Chair is that I get to use a casting vote in the event of a tied vote amongst committee members. The budget is the committee's budget and we are all equally responsible. The current finance figures are draft, but show that expenditure is significantly lower than budgeted - no overspending. But income is also down. Largely because we have not received anticipated income from the Rural Payments Agency - they pay the council for it to manage its land (common land mainly) in a way that supports conservation. We do not know at this point if that money is delayed, or will never come. Have previous committees over estimated the income? possibly. Has the council not submitted all of the claims and is due some more money? also possible. All of this was explained by the Finance Manager to the committee at the April meeting - available on Youtube if you want to watch. There was approx £8,000 of additional expenditure that wasn't anticipated. Due to an error by the committee back in 2016, and an error by officers, we've been forced to repay £8,000 to the rural payments agency for fencing around castle park. The payment should have been made by a certain date and it wasn't and a recent audit highlighted this so the current amenities committee has lost £8,000 due to an error in 2016. Who was Chairman of the committee in 2016? Brenda Canham. Is this £8,000 mistake hers alone? of course not.

4. 20% hike in Council Tax bills - I voted against the original proposal to increase Council Tax by 30%. When the voted was taken to increase it by 20% at the January meeting, I was absent, my father passed away two days before the meeting. Had I of been there, I'd have voted against. The Town Council is wasteful, we do not get value for money, they rely too easily on whacking up council tax without looking for new sources of income or reducing costs. I make these points nearly every year but of course, that doesn't stop people trying to blame me for Thetford's council tax going up, which is entirely untrue.

Thursday, 23 February 2023

Breckland Council Budget Meeting - February 2023


Chairman, we have all seen the decline of our high streets - both locally and nationally. It is important that we all recognise the value of these spaces economically, culturally, and recreationally. Breckland Council has a crucial role in supporting our town centres, a role in making them places that people want to visit and importantly, spend money.


To be places that people want to visit there must be shops worth going to. When I look at the empty shops in Thetford they are often sadly long term empty properties. Large corporations that do need seem to care that they are empty, sucking the life and vibrancy out of our communities. When myself or others enquire about rents, they’re often at levels unaffordable with terms that do not make sense. It’s tough running a small business, I know myself as a run one, I speak to dozens of small businesses every month through that role. There is talent in our district, creative thinking, entrepreneurialism, but forces too great for individuals to overcome are preventing progress. We need the councils backing.


This proposal is simple, it uses Breckland Councils soon to be more generous capital reserves to purchase shop units in the district, allowing affordable rents and terms to be set, specifically to support local entrepreneurs and small businesses. With an estimated return of around 4%, this proposal would make no difference to our revenue budget, rents matching our returns from bank interest, but it will provide new opportunities for people to trade. And this council will own the capital asset. The new support with paying the rent for 6 months for businesses moving to the town centre is to be welcomed, the new Puddin shop in Thetford is a great example, but it is short term and not sustainable, what happens when the grant runs out, what happens if the rents change. Why are we as a council prepared to pay off other landlord’s mortgages, but not look to own such assets ourselves? We need to be bold.


This amendment also looks to continue the MTI scheme, no, not with murals or clocks for Dereham, conveniently kicked into the long grass until after the May elections, but with facilities that the public quite rightly have been campaigning for and recognise as a barrier to people visiting. Amenities such as new public toilets can be supported by this fund, with the hope that Town Councils will join and match fund wherever possible.


I urge you colleagues to support this amendment.

Saturday, 31 December 2022

Suffolk County Council Quarry Proposal for Barnham

Later today, the Suffolk County Council planning committee will be reviewing an application to create a new quarry and access route at Barnham. This application was tabled pre-covid but has been stuck in the planning system, largely due to an object from Natural England. They've now removed their objection, due to being content with 'mitigation' provided and the application will be determined today. Why is this important? given the weight restriction on the Elveden Road, the lorries will be sent in and our through Thetford (and some out towards Bury St Edmunds). The estimate is an additional 4 HGVs per hour for the next 5 years travelling along the Bury Road and Brandon Road in Thetford. Totally unacceptable. We have enough issues with traffic and HGVs along these roads and I know that many residents in these areas wrote and objected to the application when it was first tabled.
Below is my written objection to the application which has been made available to the committee. Suffolk County Councillor Joanna Spicer, representative for Barnham will be speaking against the application today in person.
Dear Joanna,
I am writing to restate my strong opposition to the two Barnham quarry related planning applications due to be discussed by the SCC Development & Regulation Committee on Monday 31st October 2022.
This application will have a significant detrimental effect on the quality of life for the residents that I represent on Thetford Town Council, Breckland Council and Norfolk County Council as a Town, District and County Councillor.
Residents of Bury Road and Brandon Road will be particularly impacted and many wrote to object to the planning application some time ago and I am sure that their objections still stand, as do my own.
These roads already have significant issues with HGVs plus a significant amount of other traffic. This causes severe noise disturbance, all hours of the day and various issues with vibrations. Cars are routinely damaged along Bury Road too. We see drain covers damaged on a regular basis plus damaged kerb stones from HGVs mounting the pavements as two HGVs (and often some HGVs and cars) are unable to pass safely. This area is not safe for pedestrians and cyclists and I routinely receive complaints about this. There are numerous recorded collisions along the A134 in Thetford already.
The report before the committee notes an additional 4 vehicle movements per hour but fails to recognise that this is on top of the significant levels of traffic that exist already. All of these new vehicle movements will be from very large vehicles, often full of very heavy material. The resulting noise and air pollution is not acceptable.
The 2019 Thetford Network Improvement Strategy commissioned by Norfolk County Council concluded that:
The AM and PM peak traffic speed maps show key areas of congestion in the morning along a large section of the London Road and at the London Road / A134 traffic lights.
In the PM peak congestion worsens along the London Road / A134 traffic lights.
One of the proposed actions from this was to commission a Network Pinch Point and Key Junctions Assessment including Nuns Bridges Road – I do not believe this has happened
The report notes that the A134 Brandon Road / London Road / A134 Bury Road junction: “The signalised junction is operating at capacity in the 2018 observed scenario and over-capacity in the 2036 future scenario with the Thetford sustainable urban extension” – Thetford has already seen significant growth since the data was collected in 2017/18 and the junction here may already be over capacity.
Regarding data collected – “ANPR and ATC data analysis showed that between 4,000 and 6,000 daily trips route between the south and east of Thetford (both directions), many of which route via Nuns Bridges, also via Norwich Road and the A134”. The report notes “that some 200 HGVs per day routed southbound on the A134 Bury Road”.
In the conclusion of the report it states: “There are issues on the A134 to the South of the town, traffic volumes on Nuns Bridges Road and junction within the town”.
If this planning application is to prooced, Suffolk County Council should be insisting on a route that does not cause such significant additional detrimental issues for the residents of the A134 Thetford Road at Barnham, and the approx. 200 homes that line the route of the Bury Road and Brandon Road in Thetford.
I would ask that the committee consider the implications of this application on these residents and whether enough has been done to review the impact on them and whether any amendments could be made to the proposal to improve this. Without thoroughly exploring these options the committee will not be giving due regard to the dozens of residents that wrote to object to these proposals.
I am happy for you to share my email with the officers and / or committee members as you see necessary.
Best wishes,
Councillor Terry Jermy
Norfolk County Councillor – Thetford West Division
Breckland Councillor and Thetford Town Councillor – Thetford Burrell Ward

Wednesday, 12 October 2022

Autumn Leafletting


Recent Press Clippings


Norfolk County Council Speech Re Austerity 11.10.22

NCC MOTION ON SUPPORTING PEOPLE - My speech to Norfolk County Council 11.10.22:
Chairman, if anyone genuinely believes that Norfolk residents are struggling today, solely because of Covid and Vladimir Putin than they are either deluded, or not paying attention.
Residents in my division have been struggling for the past decade as the austerity measures from the Conservative Government have removed support and safety nets and made people’s lives more difficult. Cuts to services from this Conservative Council, as it has sought to balance its books in the face of cuts and rising cost pressures, have added to the misery.
In Thetford our youth service was closed, along with the Youth Centre, so too Connexions, our Adult education Centre on Tanner Street shut and Priorsmead care home gone. In Thetford schools, children wait for their educational health care plans and schools are unable to meet children’s additional needs. Preventative services like drug and alcohol support have been reduced, and do not get me started on mental health support.
So many preventative support services have been removed or reduced, it is little wonder that pressures have increased at the other end with the police stretched, hospitals full and ambulance wait times increased.
As one local aid charity said to me recently, those that have been struggling for some time are coping with these latest challenges relatively well, they’re very resilient, frankly they are used to going without. But, these latest pressures are forcing a whole new load of people into making tough decisions, a whole new cohort worrying about how to survive.
The Wednesday sessions at Thetford Foodbank are normally the quieter day – seeing just 6-10 clients per session on average. Two weeks ago there were 19 through the door and last week it was 22. At a time when their donations have dried up and their own costs are increasing. Charities that so often meet some of the hidden demand are themselves struggling.
I’ve seen more people cry in the corridors of the community centre where I work in the past 6 months than in the past 6 years.
Some years ago, six local authorities in Norfolk ranked in the bottom 65 nationally for poor levels of social mobility. My own district of Breckland ranked worst, at 300 out of the 324 authorities in England. The life chances of Norfolk’s residents hindered by geography and political choices.
Inequality is growing. Demand is growing. More people are suffering, are worried.
And what is our new Prime Minister’s response to this? To lift the cap on bankers bonuses, to propose to remove the 45p tax rate and ponder not increasing benefits in line with inflation. Heaping yet more misery on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. When our residents our looking to our leaders at a time of crisis for support and reassurance, they’re being met with indifference or ideologically driven reticence.
It is right that we thank and acknowledge the dedication of our own staff and wider Norfolk residents for providing help to our most vulnerable and disadvantaged. I have no problem recognising that support is being given, but in doing so, you absolutely need to recognise that it is a travesty that such support is needed. That we are having to consider warm banks, on top of food banks, is a badge of regret, not a badge of honour. We must work to drive down inequality, focus on prevention rather than cure and address the root causes of the challenges that we face.
Motions that are more about a slap on the back help nobody.
I move the amendment.

Tuesday, 26 July 2022

Read And Feed


NCC Debate on Norwich Western Link - 19/07/22

My speech to Norfolk County Council today on the Norwich Western Link:
I objected to the Norwich Western Link on the basis that it is unaffordable and unjustifiable – unaffordable in financial terms and unjustifiable because of its significant environmental impact.
At the time of our June 2021 Special Full Council meeting, we were debating the first of the big increases – with the bill rising then to £198m – and here we are for the second such big increase – we’re up to £251million. And if that’s not bad enough, my question to the Cabinet Member for Finance at the recent Cabinet meeting confirmed that we’re looking at a further £35million in interest payments for borrowing Norfolk County Council’s share of the bill – that’s nearly £900k a year in interest payments alone, or £900k a year in revenue not available for services (the minimum revenue provision over the next 40 years will be over £1.5m extra a year!). All of this of course is assuming that the Government agree to their share and remember, once the Government share is confirmed, it is capped – so any increase in costs past this point will fall 100% to this Council and that’s when we really will see the Norfolk County Council costs shoot up.
We’re over £70million now, and rising, and that’s just Norfolk County Council’s share.
Our services are being cut and Norfolk’s residents are suffering as this administration’s obsession and blinkered vision continues. Every single one of the cuts to services considered at the recent Cabinet meeting could be entirely avoided if it were not for the funds being consumed by this road:
• Saving £200k a year from closing HWRCs on Wednesdays and £70k a year from reducing Summer opening hours
• Saving £200k a year from reducing mobile library service
• Reduced funding for Waste Reduction initiatives and cuts to Norfolk Windmills Trust
• A single treatment for weeds on our highways network
As well as destroying the environment, destroying habitats and protected species, this road will destroy Norfolk County Council’s services and its financial credibility. It’s time to pull the plug.

NCC Debate - Norfolk Transport Plan - 19/07/22


My speech to Norfolk County Council 19/07/22
Picture is of Stuart Terry and Terry Land at one of the bus stops on Woodlands Drive which gets to see not a single bus!
"There’s an area in Thetford known locally as Woodlands Estate – along its main roads, there’s a whole number of bus stop signs. But like many areas of Norfolk, there’s now not a single bus service for Woodlands. Residents have been telling me recently how people moving into the estate often stand at the bus stops waiting for the services that don’t exist. As I’ve been reading this transport plan, I can’t help but think how these experiences beautifully demonstrate the plight of so many Norfolk residents – forever waiting in vain for the transport services that never come.
And Woodlands Estate in Thetford is not alone –I’m sure many of us have similar examples in our own communities across Norfolk. Residents tell me that with the increasing cost of taxis, they would love to be able to use public transport and they can just about manage the walk to the bus stop, but there is not anywhere for people to sit down and to rest as they wait for the bus – something so simple, but a major barrier to many from accessing public transport.
For all the talk of progress and achievements in this document, for many, services have deteriorated and options have reduced. Cars and roads continue to be prioritised to the cost of all else. As data recently revealed, my own District of Breckland is now regarded as the most isolated in Norfolk. Saham Toney is ranked 43rd in England for the long length of time it takes to reach services by public transport, followed by other Norfolk wards.
For many, driving a car in Norfolk is sadly still a necessity, not a choice. But plenty do not have that choice with 20% of Norfolk residents not owning a car and a greater number still being forced to limit their car usage for financial reasons. I fail to see how this plan will do anything to address the needs of those residents, and what a tragedy as we face not just the cost-of-living crisis but an environmental emergency. How poetic that this chamber will no doubt vote through a ‘car is king’ transport plan in our air-conditioned room as we hit record-breaking temperatures just outside these doors. It’s fortunate that so many like to bury their heads in the sand, we’re creating more of it in our county!
But it’s not just non-car users in Norfolk that are getting a poor deal. Even if you have a car and can afford to use it, we’re seeing deteriorating standards. As the papers for the Infrastructure & Development Committee confirmed, the backlog of repairs to our highways network is now £57million, an increase of £10m on the year before. With inflation levels rising, this backlog will inevitably increase as what funds we have will not go as far as they once did. The funding for the next two years will be at the same levels, with no increases for inflation. In real terms, this could represent a 20-25% reduction in funding for repairs and maintenance. Recently, this Council has spent nearly a quarter of a million pounds on highways related compensation payments, mainly linked to pot hole issues.
This Transport Plan fails to deliver for car and non-car users alike, it fails to recognise sufficiently and respond to the cost-of-living crisis that we’re in. This transport plan does not sufficiently acknowledge and respond to the climate emergency, and it will accelerate carbon emissions not reduce them. It will continue to leave Norfolk residents forever waiting in vain for the transport services that never come. I will be voting against."

Tuesday, 1 March 2022

Press Coverage of Feb 2022 Breckland Budget Meeting


Norfolk County Council Budget - February 2022

NORFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL BUDGET SPEECH 2022 (my first time seconding a county council budget amendment)
Norfolk is a beautiful place to grow up and grow old in, but so much of what we value and need is not equally available to all. Covid showed us the importance of community, local services, decent living standards and open spaces. As we emerge from covid, we have an opportunity to take stock, to reprioritise and revalue those things that make Norfolk the place we love, to safeguard them for future generations and to ensure that all of Norfolk’s residents have equal opportunity to experience that quality of life.
Over the past nine months I’ve had to deal with some of the most difficult and distressing casework from my time as a Councillor. Supporting the mother of someone who’s mental health quickly deteriorated after a routine hospital appointment, at 75, and on her own, she became exhausted and distraught once her son finally left hospital, only for him to be placed in a home on the other side of the County with no public transport available for her to visit. With no alternatives available, I found myself driving her to the home and providing moral support along the way. Or, the family of someone in need of palliative care, but no carers available, the family desperate to make the final days of their loved one as comfortable and stress-free as possible. Or, the family of someone that has significant learning disabilities, who was stuck in hospital for months and months, as there was nowhere suitable for her to go to. Traumatic enough for anyone, but unimaginable anguish for someone that finds change and noise and a lack of a routine so unsettling.
What these and other cases represent and confirm for me is that the status quo is not acceptable. It cannot be business as usual as we move on post covid. Our residents in Norfolk are being badly let down and with the Care Quality Commission rating Norfolk as the worst in the country when it comes to care standards, further proof if it were needed that something’s got to change.
The administrations answer to these challenges? Newton Europe.
During the various pieces of casework over the last 9 months, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with health & social care staff; they’re not short of ideas and suggestions for how we can make our services better. They don’t feel listened to. I’ve spoken with service users; they’re not resigned to the standards that they’ve been receiving but are actively wanting to contribute and help and advise. But they don’t feel engaged.
It took the mother of a child with down’s syndrome to successfully challenge this council in court on the minimum income guarantee for there to be a change in direction.
We need fewer consultants, and more compassion.
We need to be more focussed on listening, then we are on litigating.
The Labour Group amendment today is about investing in our own workforce, empowering and supporting the individuals that know Norfolk and know our residents.
When covid struck, public sector workers up and down the country including here in Norfolk got the job done. They went above and beyond. Local Government worked at its best. But yet, by engaging another private company, arms-length consultants, we’re outsourcing the difficult decisions. What message are we sending to a workforce that already feels undervalued, unsupported, with morale a real challenge.
Where is the leadership and direction from the Cabinet? When it’s a bad news story, the much revered albeit mythical ‘NCC Spokesperson’ is wheeled out, they’re called upon so often of late that I fear they will soon need their own special responsibility allowance.
And it’s not just in adult social care – Norfolk’s children, our collective future, are being badly let down. Many, many children still waiting for educational health and care plans. At the school in Thetford where I am a Governor, this is incredibly frustrating for the staff who work tirelessly to support these children with limited resources. They don’t feel listened to either and it’s no wonder that one of the major challenges for our schools is recruitment.
Shockingly, the council has just had to revoke an unlawful policy that cut access to speech and language therapy, after legal action was brought by parents. This council will spend over half a million pounds this year on legal costs fighting families despite losing 90% of these decisions. What a waste of public money and what message does it send out to children with SEND and their families?
Becoming one of the governments new educational investment areas is not a badge of honour. It shows many years of this county consistently failing to help young people get the best from their education and the best life chances.
Norfolk’s children and young people deserve so much better.
I urge you to support this amendment.

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Goodbye Boaty McBoatface! Sept 2021


Picnic Table Improvements Sept 2021


Breckland Wheelie Bin Woes

Social media can be very depressing at times, it gives you an insight in to people's thoughts and frankly it can be an ugly image sometimes.
Take yesterday's online story on the EDP website for example about Breckland's wheelie bin collection staff who have a rather difficult job collecting the bins in all weathers, have seen staffing numbers cut massively over the years, and their pay cut over lately. They're fighting to get a better deal from their employer, and frankly, I think most people would be doing the same if in their shoes.
Whilst there is obvious support for them, a lot of the comments on the online thread were very negative and very selfish. "Im not getting a pay rise, why should they" type attitude. Well maybe they deserve a pay rise, and so do you? That's part of the problem these days, people attack those around them rather than looking at the bigger picture. They think if I can't have something better, no one else can and you have a negative spiral.
Similar scenario with the Afghan refugees - "we should help our own before we help others" - maybe we should be helping both? And don't tell me we can't afford it - if we can afford to bomb these countries then we can afford to look after the refugees we help create. The housing crisis in this country is the result of decades long cuts to social and affordable housing, the continuation of right to buy and non-ringfenced reinvestment into the housing stock and greedy landlords profiteering by charging rents disproportionate to pay.
People were querying how a pay rise for bin staff could be afforded? "Council Tax increases!" oh no. Not a single comment highlighted that last year Serco made a profit of more than £125million, the top two bosses at Serco got £7.4million EACH in pay & bonuses last year and the company has been give the £37billion for the test and trace scheme.
Rather than attacking the people on the front line, asking for a fair wage for a hard days work, I know where I think the focus should be.
Now I've got that off my chest I'll get on with my days work. #FridayThought

Friday, 14 May 2021

Casework Success / Walkabout Photos 14.05.2021

Whilst out leafletting on 20th April I spotted this damage to a pathway on St John's Way which I reported to Breckland Council - very pleased to see today the repaired path when completing a monthly walkabout. Before & after picture attached.

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

The Challenge For The Labour Party And Future Direction....

I first stood for Norfolk County Council in 2009. It was the year of the expenses scandal nationwide and Labour performed terribly. In Norfolk, Labour lost 19 seats and was reduced to a group of just three Councillors - two from Norwich and one from Great Yarmouth. In that context, I was pleased with the 706 votes that I received, albeit I ended in third place (of three candidates), with the Tories second and the Lib Dems coming first and winning the seat. The Lib Dems have never been particularly active locally but their candidate was the former Headmaster of a local High School and went from nowhere to gain the seat with 934 votes. 

In 2013 I stood again, having been elected to both Thetford Town Council and Breckland Council two years earlier at the 2011 local elections. 2013 can best be described as the UKIP surge year as they gained seats up and down the Country. In Norfolk they went from a single seat to 15, and became the largest opposition group on Norfolk County Council. In my own seat of Thetford West, I increased my vote to 813, just one single vote short of the 814 for the victorious UKIP candidate who was somewhat shocked at his election and eager to accept the result when one of the four recounts had me up over his tally. Some six weeks after his election he promptly resigned from the Council and a by-election took place. The Norfolk Labour family rallied round and thanks to a significant amount of support I was pleased to be successfully elected and at the third time of trying, polling 1071 votes. UKIP still managed to get 900 votes in the by-election despite costing the tax-payer and estimated £10,000 in costs to hold the by-election.

Fast forward to 2017, my fourth time on the ballot across Thetford West. There had since been a further Breckland election which coincided with the 2015 General Election. I became the only Labour candidate elected to the Breckland District from Thetford's 8 wards, and the only Labour candidate to top the poll in the district. The second and only other Labour candidate in Breckland to prevail came second, in a two-member ward in Dereham and thus we had a Labour Group at least with the two of us. For the County election of 2017, I was taking nothing for granted and put a lot of work into canvassing residents and highlighting my work as a local Councillor. We have very few Labour members locally and even fewer activists - much of the election campaign was supported by family and friends. I was somewhat stunned to get 1,323 votes and 53% of all votes cast. One of the best results for a Labour candidate in Norfolk, and one of only five Labour candidates elected outside of Norwich. My time spent serving as the Mayor of Thetford from 2016/17 I think helped to raise my profile locally and put me in touch with a lot of people who I otherwise wouldn't have usually met. UKIP still collected 392 votes but it was the Tories who had established themselves firmly in second place with 853 votes.

The 2021 election result was hard to predict. Labour was not doing terribly well in the opinion polls, the Country was feeling relieved to be emerging from the covid pandemic and whatever concerns there may have been with the Government's early performance on this issue, there was widespread praise for the vaccine rollout, with the Government, rather than the NHS, picking up much of the praise for its success. Significant numbers of the population had been supported with furlough, or self-employment grants or other business grants. In many ways, given the levels of Government support, how on earth could the Government not be rewarded? The sole focus on Covid for the preceding 12 months meant there was little focus on much else political and Councillors and activists for much of the year had been restricted to no campaigning, certainly no canvassing, no resident association meetings, no community events or fundraisers - life had been turned upside down and Councillors had a harder job engaging with their electorate. The election came down to a test of the political 'brand' to a far greater extent. Kier Starmer who took over in the April of 2020 never got an opportunity to establish himself or his priorities and was left with the impossible task of holding the Government to account for its covid response, in a rapidly changing environment and walked a tightrope between criticising or supporting in the sake of unity.

Despite all of this, in Thetford West I was delighted to get more than 1,000 votes again - ending up with 1204 votes. Remarkably, my majority increased as the Tories dropped back to 720 votes and my share of the vote went from 52% to 57% - the highest share of the vote for a Labour candidate in Norfolk. In a market town, in rural Norfolk. Despite the absence of a UKIP candidate at all, rather than gain votes, the Tories lost them on their 2017 result. The Lib Dem candidate polled 101 votes, having not stood in 2017 and there was an Independent candidate who described himself as a true socialist and anti-austerity campaigner but polled just 91 votes. Disappointing turnout was down, at just 22% for my division, the lowest of any division in Breckland. Neighbouring Thetford East was the second lowest turnout in Breckland.

So, what lessons have I learnt from all of this about the focus and policies that Labour needs to win local elections and from there, a General Election? What lessons might there be to help Labour activists and candidates in future elections?

Well, there's two different challenges for the Labour Party. The first is very clearly apathy and general disengagement with politics. I would put money on it that a majority of those not voting would likely be inclined to vote Labour. Our voters tend to be the ones with so much else going on in their lives that voting is not seen as a priority. It is not seen as a solution to the problems that they face. It can be particularly hard in areas like Norfolk where the Conservatives are seen as such a dominant force, why even bother to vote? 

Voter apathy is very hard to overcome but it can be tackled - particularly through campaigning. I make a point of being out and about in my community, in non-covid years we have resident associations that meet in a different part of my division each Monday evening which I attend. Often I get there early and speak to people on a one-to-one basis in an unofficial surgery type environment. Chatting over a cup of tea and a biscuit! Some stay for the wider meeting to discuss local issues collectively but others drift off if they've had chance to raise their specific issue with me. 

We produce regular newsletters in Thetford - we aim for a seasonal newsletter but this is not always possible - there's 10,000 houses in Thetford so delivering to that many can be costly and takes a lot of time with limited volunteers. We're certainly the ONLY political party that puts out regular material, with others simply putting out a leaflet a few weeks before an election. This helps to get our message out there and highlights what we're doing locally. No doubt a significant majority of leaflets go in the bin but if I am to represent an area, I will tell them what I am doing as their representative - it's entirely up to them if they want to engage with that. As I regularly say to people democracy is a two-way process - I need to try to engage with you, but in order for that to happen, you need to engage as well. We maintain a presence on social media all year round, I post the text of my speeches from Council meetings onto Facebook and often onto this blog and when the technological skills allow I post video or audio clips. People have a right to hear what I am saying and know how I am voting. That way they can better judge me on my record come election time.

By far one of the most important things that we have been doing locally is our monthly Ward Walkabouts. This is where we choose a particular part of the division each month and walk about to spot particular issues such as fly-tipping, broken signage, pot-holes etc. When I say we, it is often myself as the County Councillor and whoever may be the Town or District Councillor for the area that we're visiting. Sometimes we arrange to meet specific residents to walk around where they live and they join us, sometimes we invite reps from the local Council or Housing Association to tour a certain area. People want to tell us in their own words what the issues are - where they think a new bin is needed or where there is a need for a dropped kerb. Having now done these for quite a while, we regularly get people come up to us to talk about a particular issue or ask a query. We don't always know them but they know we're "from the Council". We photograph grot-spots and issues, upload them to Facebook or Twitter and then once something has been actioned, we often share a before and after picture highlighting the difference that has been made.

I think it's important that we give people a reason to vote - particularly in local elections - they want to see a difference being made and we cannot take their votes for granted. Sadly so many votes are still cast in local elections based on national issues but if you want to buck the trend, and want to prevail, you've got to be active all year round, and you've got to tell people about it!!!

Secondly, and this is squarely something that the national Labour Party needs to take on board: We need to determine who it is that we want to vote Labour and what our offer is to them. 

I spent a fair amount of time canvassing Thetford East in this election campaign. The demographic is somewhat different to Thetford West. A greater number of owner-occupiers, family homes of 3 or 4 bedrooms, where normally there's a husband/wife/children combination. More often than not both parents are working. There are clusters of properties with a much older demographic, often groups of bungalows. In many ways this area is so very much like classic Tory/Labour marginals around the country. I've canvassed in Peterborough and Norwich North for parliamentary elections and Thetford East reminds me a lot of those places. Plenty of people that I spoke to this time were very happy to say that they were voting for the Conservatives. Not so much voting against Labour, but FOR the Tories. A lot of that will be covid bounce related but this is a longer term observation. The Labour Party has got to think about what it is offering working age people, particularly those with a family - I think this is a demographic it has lost significantly. In the 90's of course it was "education, education, education" and "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" - both of these resonated significantly with this demographic. What's Labour's offer now with education? with terms and conditions of employment for working families? how are we going to improve the quality of life for these people? Our offer cannot be that we're simply not the Tories.

As I was walking around parts of Thetford East delivering leaflets, I thought to myself that we must be attracting the support of the people that are happy to donate to the local Foodbank, as well as those that rely on using it. Those people that are socially conscious, who have a bit of money albeit but not a lot, but give what they can to good causes, partly no doubt as they may have benefitted from them themselves or hope that support may be there if they did need those services.

I say that as someone who was born on a Council Estate and knows what it is like to frankly have no money, to receive red-letter bills and limited opportunities. The Labour Party as I was growing up offered opportunities and a chance for people to improve their lives, as well as providing support for the more vulnerable and less fortunate. If we can tackle these two issues of campaigning against voter apathy and offer opportunities than future elections may be more positive than the last.