Tag Archives: Derrick Murphy

Labour’s Betrayal

Yesterday it was announced that Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, had caved into pressure from Norfolk County Council and the waste industry, granting £91 million of PFI credits for the construction of an incinerator near King’s Lynn. This was despite the necessity for a “broad consensus of support” to be shown before the money could be given and the opposition  of two district councils in Norfolk, 65,516 people and most relevant agencies and authorities opposing the plan.

While depressing, it looked like yet another case of a senior minister ignoring the rhetoric of localism and democracy, and bowing to the wishes of her Conservative colleagues at County Hall. Today, however, the story has taken a rather more sinister turn.

Last week there was jubilation, after the Labour leader of Norwich City Council, Brenda Arthur, wrote to Spelman to re-emphasise the council’s position that it opposed all incineration, anywhere in Norfolk. No one, it was reasoned, could claim there was a “broad consensus of support” if the two largest second tier councils in Norfolk opposed incineration generally, and the Saddlebow plan in particular. For one short week Cllr Arthur was the hero of West Norfolk.

Now though a different picture has emerged. It appears that the letter to Caroline Spelman was only written after menacing letters from the Lib Dem and Green group leaders at County Hall which indicated that if she did not take action they may withhold support from Labour’s minority administration. While this incident is enough to raise questions about Cllr Arthur’s motives, the worst was yet to come.

It is rumoured that her intervention had influenced Defra to such a degree that it was preparing to refuse the application for PFI credits. However, before the final decision was taken Spelman decided to call Arthur and check that her position still stood. Obviously, no one knows exactly what was said, but Arthur was clearly less forceful in person than she was on paper. Whatever she did say apparently gave Defra reason enough to believe that there was enough support for the credits to be granted yesterday.

To be fair, the Labour party, especially at the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk and Norfolk County Council have done a very good job of opposing the incinerator, in conjunction with Lib Dems and Greens. But to think a senior Labour councillor had such a great opportunity to end the whole saga once and for all is, to say the least, disheartening. To have done so while convincing Norfolk and the two parties she relies on for a majority that she was in fact doing the opposite is worse still. We can only hope that that one phone call doesn’t come back to haunt us.

Note: I have no hard evidence to support this post other than what I have been told by various different sources. It does, however, come from people I trust and has an undeniable ring of truth.

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Localism, hypocrisy and Norfolk County Council

Regular readers of this blog will know that Norfolk County Council has hardly achieved a good reputation for upholding the principles of localism and democracy. In March the Cabinet of the County Council decided to grant a £600 million contract for an incinerator near King’s Lynn to Cory Wheelabrator, despite a West Norfolk-wide referendum that found 93% of residents were against the plan. Even when the formal planning process  showed that 97% of responses were objections to the plan the County Council refused to reject the plan.

So, it was something of a surprise when, dredging through old NCC press releases I found this, from 23rd September;

“Councillor Tom Garrod has been appointed to the new role of Deputy Cabinet Member for the Voluntary Sector and Localism on Norfolk County Council.”

Not too controversial, you may think, but it gets worse;

“Complementing the role with the voluntary sector, the new deputy cabinet portfolio also provides a higher profile for the localism agenda. Localism is the term being used to describe a shift away from the state to communities and aims to help people become more informed and involved in decisions affecting their area and about greater transparency for how public money is used.”

There’s even a quote from Derrick Murphy, Leader of the Council and key proponent of the incinerator;

“Derrick Murphy, Leader of Norfolk County Council and Cabinet Member for Transformation, said: “Tom has boundless energy and a real desire to serve the community, listen to people’s views and respond and make improvements, and I feel very fortunate that he wants to take on these responsibilities for the good of our county. This new role will give the council an even stronger link to voluntary and community organisations, and this will be of real benefit to many people in Norfolk.

“As part of our new core role as a council, we want to enable others to build and maintain strong, sustainable and caring communities. This is not something that the council can impose on communities – it needs to happen from the bottom up, and I have no doubt that in this role Tom will be able to promote this idea and help us better understand what we can do to help bring this about.””

So, not only have Norfolk County Council blatantly ignored the wishes of 65,516 West Norfolk residents, but they’re brazen enough to state how much they support localism and getting more people “involved in decisions affecting their area”. The only question left is when will Cllr. Garrod take up the case of the incinerator and “serve the community, listen to people’s views and respond and make improvements”? Sadly it seems Norfolk County Council only wants localism when it suits them.


Drama at Norfolk County Council

As many of you will already have heard today was Norfolk County Council’s full council meeting, which every member can attend. Up for debate was a motion tabled by Paul Morse, the leader of the Lib Dem group at County Hall, which called for an independent investigation into the process that led to the procurement of the King’s Lynn incinerator. The text of the motion is here;

“This Council is concerned that the behaviour of the
Council Leader and Cabinet Members within the decision
making process for the award of the contract to build an
incinerator at Saddlebow is bringing Norfolk County Council
into disrepute, and has not met the standards of open &
transparent decision making expected by the people of
Norfolk. In particular, though not exclusively, this Council is
concerned about proceedings at the March 7th Cabinet, the
impact of any decisions made at the Conservative Group
Meeting three days earlier and any pressure exerted
upon members of Cabinet Scrutiny Committee.

This Council therefore instructs the Chief Executive to initiate a
full, public and independent investigation by an appropriately
qualified independent body into the behaviour of the Council
Leader and the Cabinet in this entire process. Should this
investigation establish that at any point the Council Leader or
any Cabinet Member misled the public or Councillors or that
they did not act in accord with the Constitution, they
should relinquish their position with immediate effect.”

There was some debate about the wording, but all the opposition groups and most anti-incinerator campaigners agreed with the intent. However, no one really expected it to be passed because of the huge Conservative majority (38 seats).

What actually happened, though, was quite a shock. The debate on the motion started with the whole cabinet and Janet Murphy, the leader’s wife, declaring a prejudicial interest as they were implicated in the motion, or related to someone who was. David White, the chief executive (not strangely Victoria MacNeill, the head of law) then gave his legal opinion that the debate should not go ahead because it would damage NCC’s defence against the ongoing judicial review. As we will see below that claim is largely nonsense.

However, what came next was a real surprise. Roger Smith, a loyal Tory backbencher put forward a closure motion, which would mean that the Lib Dems’ motion would be ignored, and the council would move on to the next item on the agenda, even though the motion hadn’t been introduced by Paul Morse! This was immediately pointed out by George Nobbs, the Labour group leader, forcing the Chair, Shelagh Hutson, to reluctantly allow Morse to talk, but only if he introduced the motion and didn’t speak in support of it, a rather impossible task.

He had only just started speaking, explaining how Norfolk County Council’s defence in the judicial review couldn’t possibly be compromised by the debate or an independent investigation, as long as the people concerned had told the truth and continued to do so, when the chief executive advised the Chair that the closure motion meant that Paul Morse wasn’t even allowed to speak for the five minutes the constitution allowed.

About this time councillors from Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens started trying to put points of order to the Chair, but after the first few these were declined. Everyone I’ve spoken to, including current councillors,  said it was almost unprecedented in local government for a Chair not to take a point of order. John Dobson, one of the few Conservatives to openly oppose the incinerator pointed out that Paul Morse had the right to reply to the closure motion according to the constitution, but the chief executive said this was not the case and that it was at the Chair’s discretion whether there should be a debate on the closure motion, or not. At this point it is probably worth mentioning that it was Dobson who is often credited with writing the current Norfolk County Council constitution. Cllr. Hutson decided that a democratic debate was not needed and moved to a vote.

All the Lib Dems in the chamber then walked out in protest at the conduct of the whole meeting, joined by Andrew Boswell, the Green Party Environment and Waste Spokesmen. The public started slow handclapping. By this point the meeting was in chaos; the opposition kept calling for points of order, the Tories were heckling back and the debate was being controlled by whoever had the loudest voice, not the Chair. The vote still went ahead, and without the Lib Dems, the Conservatives won an easy victory. The public proceeded to walk out. Many Labour and Green councillors only stayed because they had to debate the next items.

In short, it was a disgraceful meeting. Members weren’t even allowed to debate a motion on whether they should debate another motion on whether to hold an inquiry! It would certainly appear that the provisions of the constitution were breached several times, and the general behaviour of Conservative councillors was despicable. Yet again we see Norfolk County Council refusing to engage in democratic debate simply because it may be embarrassing for his party. We can only hope that somebody takes notice of the flagrant abuses of power and authority we are now seeing, and holds them to account for their actions.