Welcome to my internet diary... I'm a local Thetford Town Councillor and a Breckland Councillor - representing the Burrell Ward and I am Leader of the Labour Group on Breckland Council, I am also a Norfolk County Councillor representing the Thetford-West division. Editor of the About Thetford magazine and I am a passionate community activist and Thetford born and bred.
Thursday, 11 May 2023
Norfolk Full Council - Tuesday 9th May 2023
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.
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
Wednesday, 12 October 2022
Norfolk County Council Speech Re Austerity 11.10.22
Tuesday, 26 July 2022
Read And Feed
NCC Debate on Norwich Western Link - 19/07/22
NCC Debate - Norfolk Transport Plan - 19/07/22
Tuesday, 1 March 2022
Norfolk County Council Budget - February 2022
Friday, 17 December 2021
Tuesday, 5 October 2021
Tuesday, 7 September 2021
Breckland Wheelie Bin Woes
Monday, 7 June 2021
Friday, 28 May 2021
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.
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.