Tag Archives: Norfolk County Council

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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What Cory Wheelabrator did next

It’s not really surprising that Cory Wheelabrator  are a little bit desperate. 93% said no to the King’s Lynn incinerator in a West Norfolk referendum. 97% said no in the Norfolk-wide planning consultation, including the majority of parish councils that responded. 22 local doctors, the Environment Agency,  Natural England,the Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Agency, the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and the Wash Estuary Strategy Group have all raised serous concerns or objected to the plan. However, their latest ploy really is something.

Yesterday, there were a few reports that a survey team was going door-to-door asking questions about the incinerator. One person they asked was allowed to see, and write down, what was on the survey paper, which has since been forwarded to me. Here it is;

1) The Willows Energy-from-Waste plant is a proposed development on the Saddlebow Industrial Estate, to the South of King’s Lynn , that will deal the bulk of non-recycled household waste in Norfolk . Have you heard of the Willows?
(Yes, No, Don’t Know)

2) If Yes, …. how did you hear about it?
3) In general terms, do you think it is right for waste left after reuse and recycling in Norfolk to be safely burnt, to produce energy, rather than being landfilled?
( Yes, No, Don’t Know)

4) Do you have any particular areas of concern about the Willows proposals, or any topics on which you would like more information?

5) Which of the following statements best describes your opinion about the Willows proposals?
(I support; I support this proposal but have some reservations; I have some concerns about the proposal; I oppose the proposal; I have no strong feelings about this proposal).

6) Do you have further questions or comments to add?

7) If supportive in answer to Question 5 – Would you be interested in submitting your views to the Council or in receiving more information updates from us? (If YES, collect contact details including email and telephone number).

There are couple of points to be made here. Firstly, nowhere does it mention the word “incinerator”, which is what this proposal is known as by most people. I wonder how many won’t have a clue what the survey means because of this choice of words, and therefore not answer as they would want to? In addition, the questions are clearly enticing people to say they support incineration, particularly Question 3 which gives only the option of landfill or incineration, and makes it sound as if waste is already recycled as much as possible.

Most importantly, though, is Question 7, which asks only people who support the incinerator whether they might be interested in writing to Norfolk County Council or getting updates from Cory Wheelabrator. In other words, they are trying to get as many people as they can to tell NCC that they support the incinerator. Not only is this obviously an act of desperation because practically nobody supports the plan, but personally I also think it’s disgusting that part-way through the planning process the applicant is essentially paying for people to go out and find who supports the idea, so they can get them to write in. We can only hope that people see this for what it is; a clever ploy by Cory Wheelabrator.

UPDATE: The survey is being carried out by a company calledhttps://jonaholiver.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=90&action=edit Bellenden, which specialises in political, planning and corporate communications, who have been hired by Cory Wheelabrator. Perhaps surprisingly, as far as I can see (and I have not yet verified this), Bellenden is not a member of the British Polling Council. Of even greater interest, however, is that Norfolk County Council has hired Bellenden as a consultant on campaigns previously, most notably regarding the dualling of the A11. In fact, Daniel Cox, the ex-leader of NCC gave a glowing appraisal of the company saying

“By working together, we have achieved a stunning victory to bring forward completion of the dualling of the A11 by 18 months. Bellenden’s advice and engagement with decision makers in Westminster has been an important part in our success.”

However, they don’t seem to have been involved in this latest act.


Did Norfolk County Council break its constitution?

If you’re wondering what I’m referring to, you can read the full story of what happened yesterday on my last blog. Basically, the Lib Dems walked out of full council at County Hall because of the disgraceful conduct of the meeting, and the way they were not allowed to reply to a closure motion on their own motion or ask points of order. However, Norfolk County Council appears to believe that this was all constitutional and that nothing was wrong with the meeting. Having looked through the constitution I have to disagree. As far as I can see yesterday’s meeting was a serious breach of the constitution. I lay out why below.

  • In yesterday’s meeting the Chair refused to take points of order from Labour, Lib Dem and Green councillors. However, Appendix 9 12.12 of the NCC constitution states;

“A member may raise a point of order at any time. The chairman will hear them immediately.”

  • Paul Morse, the Lib Dem group leader and proposer of the original motion was only allowed to get a few sentences into his introduction before he was interrupted by the closure motion, but Appendix 9 12.4 is clear that;

“Speeches must be directed to the question under discussion or to a personal explanation or point of order. No speech may exceed 5 minutes without the consent of the chairman”

  • Furthermore, the closure motion was introduced before Cllr. Morse had finished his speech, despite the fact that Appendix 9 12.11 a) says that;

“A member may move, without comment, the following motions at the end of a speech of another member”

  • Once the closure motion was put Cllr. Morse was not even allowed a right of reply, even though Appendix 9 12.11 b) states that;

“If a motion to proceed to next business is seconded and the chairman thinks the item has been sufficiently discussed, he or she will give the mover of the original motion a right of reply and then put the procedural motion to the vote.”

That’s four points where I believe that the Norfolk County Council constitution was breached. How can the decisions the council took be legitimate when they were so profoundly against the constitution? They can’t and that’s why I hope as many people as possible will make formal objections to NCC, asking for the decision to be struck down and the motion heard again.  This is no way to run a county, and the people of Norfolk must hold their representatives to account.


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.


The Incinerator Paradox

The King’s Lynn incinerator is a sufficiently controversial subject that I would imagine that most people in West Norfolk have formed some opinion about whether it should be built or not. 65,516 have made their views very clear indeed. Don’t worry if you haven’t though because, whether you realise it or not, you’ve already taken sides. Both of them in fact.

Confused? Let me explain. One of the ways that the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk has come up with to fight the plan is the allocation of around £150,000 for legal fees. It is expected that this would be used at some point in the future for a judicial review against the way Norfolk County Council has dealt with the whole saga. So far so simple. However, any legal action would be taken against the county council, who would have to set aside money for their own legal costs. NCC is already fighting a separate application for a judicial review from the campaigner Michael de Whalley. The costs of the two will probably spiral into the hundreds of thousands, and may even reach into the millions. And of course, both of these will be funded by the taxpayers of Norfolk.

So every West Norfolk taxpayer is paying for, and therefore supporting, both sides. You see what I mean about a paradox. But there is a serious point here. What could be more absurd than our taxes  being squandered in contrary legal challenges that no one really wants, and shouldn’t even be needed, just because Norfolk County Council refuses to listen to the democratically expressed views of West Norfolk? Particularly at a time of deep cuts to vital services, it has to be asked why the county council won’t just do the decent thing and scrap the whole sorry idea.


Norfolk County Council admits it doesn’t have enough expertise for incinerator planning application

Recently there have been a number of calls for the King’s Lynn incinerator planning application to be called in. The arguments for this are quite simple; how can Norfolk County Council impartially judge whether the incinerator should go ahead, when senior officers and cabinet members have been promoting its virtues for over a year? Naturally, the county council has been desperate to prevent this happening, saying that as Waste Planning Authority they are the most appropriate body to take the decision.

So imagine my surprise when I found this quote in a planning submission from Norfolk County Council’s own employee, Ed Stocker;

“I also question whether we can base the Appropriate Assessment on the applicant’s conclusions of their own data. NCC does not employ anyone who is qualified to interpret the air quality data and predicted levels of impact on marine life, (primarily shellfish).

We would need to employ an expert to advise on that part of the Appropriate Assessment”

In other words Norfolk County Council lacks the expertise to determine whether the plan would have a significantly detrimental effect on ecology, and would have to employ external consultants. Inevitably that will cost even more (adding to the £5.2 million already spent by NCC on this project ), at a time when services for young people and vulnerable OAPs are being cut. Surely it would make more sense for the county council to support the call-in so that an entirely impartial inspector, with all the expertise needed available, could make the decision, eradicating all concerns about cost and objectivity. The question is, why won’t they?


How much?

In yesterday’s Norfolk County Council Cabinet meeting, the framework was laid for a 1% pay increase for staff next year. It still has a lot of hurdles to go through, but it seems likely that it will be approved in next year’s budget. Normally, I would support such a move, especially when the costs of living are soaring, but no one quite seems to realise just how much this will cost.

In 2009 (the last year for which I can find figures) Norfolk County Council directly employed 20,211 people. There is not an easily accessible figure for the average salary of NCC workers, but the overall average UK salary is £22,800. County council employees would probably be higher than that because of the nature of their jobs, but we’ll use this figure as it’s the most accurate available. So a 1% increase on £22,800 would be £23,028, or an increase of £228. It still doesn’t look that big, but what if we multiply that by the number of employees (20,211)? Then we can see that the total cost of the increase would be over £4.6 million.

In normal circumstances I could support such an increase, but not when we are in such a time of fiscal austerity. Over the next few years Norfolk County Council will be cutting around £150 million from its budget, and is in the process of getting rid of a 1000 employes. Surely, it would be better to retain these staff on a pay freeze, so that more services could be maintained? Or to take that £4.6 million and use it to pay for adult social services or saving bus routes? It looks all the more sickening when you remember that the Chief Executive, who earns more than the Prime Minister, refused to take a pay cut. It certainly feels to me, and no doubt to everyone else in Norfolk, that the county council are giving a big wedge of money to their employees, at the expense of their electorate, and those who rely on their services.