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West Norfolk councillors defend new corporate strategy after Stuart Dark calls it ‘a few short pages of upbeat sound bites’

Councillors leapt to the defence of their new corporate strategy after West Norfolk’s Tory leader accused it of being nothing more than “a few short pages of upbeat sound bites”.

Cllr Stuart Dark told the full West Norfolk Council meeting on Thursday that he cannot support the administration’s official plans because of concerns regarding its “context, detail and deliverability”.

The borough council’s new draft corporate strategy was first set out in September, and was reviewed by its corporate performance panel and cabinet in October.

Cllr Stuart Dark said he could not support the Independent-led administration’s corporate strategy
Cllr Stuart Dark said he could not support the Independent-led administration’s corporate strategy

It set out the key priorities for the Independent-led administration which took control of the council earlier this year. These included protecting the environment, promoting economic growth and encouraging housing developments.

When the proposals went before full council on Thursday evening, Cllr Dark said he considers the current strategy to be “a few short pages of upbeat sound bites” – and voiced frustrations at what he feels was a lack of consultation when the document was put together.

He said: “We are concerned that this is nothing but a tick-box exercise. It has been done, but not in the right way.”

However, plenty of councillors were quick to point out that they had been consulted in the process of putting the strategy together.

Cllr Francis Bone said: “Labour have had involvement in the process of the forming of this.

“We have had plenty of consultation, and some of Labour’s ideas which were put forward were included in that.”

Cabinet member Cllr Jo Rust, meanwhile, said Cllr Dark’s comments were “a bit presumptuous” – and told the meeting that while the Conservative group was running the council, she was never asked to contribute to any of its plans.

“Perhaps it is just sour grapes because he wasn’t consulted,” she said.

Cllr Josie Ratcliffe also backed the corporate plan and said she welcomes an increased focus on the southern parts of West Norfolk, while cabinet member Cllr Alistair Beales argued it was “rather mischievous” for Cllr Dark to refer to “a couple of sheets of A4”.

“It is well considered, it is pragmatic and it refers to all areas of policy,” he said.

“It is fair to say that there has been a chance for everybody to look at this and have their say.”

However, some councillors did join Cllr Dark in voting against passing the strategy.

Cllr Samantha Sandell voiced frustrations that it contains no details on car parking, which the borough council is responsible for in many areas, while Cllr Richard Blunt – deputy leader of the Conservative group – said it was “disappointing” to hear Cllr Rust’s comments about Tories not being consulted.

However, come the vote, the corporate strategy was passed by the council.

Cllr Simon Ring, also a cabinet member, suggested Cllr Dark was “playing politics” by refusing to support it.

Fellow cabinet member Cllr Sandra Squire added: “I actually fear that you would be opposing to this whatever was in it because you are the opposition. That is not how the council should work.

“Where are the suggestions of things you wanted to change? There weren’t any – there is a lesson there, too.”

She was echoed by Cllr Pallavi Devulapalli, who said: “I would be embarrassed to oppose it.”

Cllr Charles Joyce, the Labour group’s leader, supported the strategy, although admitted it does require more detail to be added.

He said: “All in all, we have a nice big fluffy bun. So we have started to make the burger, and we just need the rest to be done.

“It is a start, and if you don’t make a start you will never finish.”

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