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Friday Politics: West Norfolk Council’s Labour leader Francis Bone reflects on a year of change

It’s the turn of the Labour leader on West Norfolk Council, Francis Bone, to write our weekly Friday Politics column…

With annual council almost upon us, it is a good time to reflect on the past year and look forward with optimism to a general election and a Labour government.

Last year at the council elections, we saw that locally even the Conservatives distanced themselves from the disastrous record of the unstable national Government by rebranding themselves as local Conservatives.

Cllr Francis Bone. the Labour leader on West Norfolk Council
Cllr Francis Bone. the Labour leader on West Norfolk Council

With so many changes at Number 10 and Whitehall, with unelected leaders and constant cabinet reshuffles, it is time for a general election so the people can decide.

The people of West Norfolk took their chance to decide locally almost this time last year, when our council elections brought a change in administration for the first time in more than 21 years.

May 2023 saw a new rainbow alliance made up of the Independent group, Labour, Greens and Lib Dems.

This new administration has pushed forward and worked hard to bring change, tasking council officers with reviewing their departments and looking to be more effective and efficient in providing much-needed services for the borough.

Also, and not before time, the longest serving West Norfolk councillor, Margaret Wilkinson – an elected representative for 40 years – was acknowledged and made this year’s mayor.

This honour should have been given long ago for Margaret’s years of dedicated service to the borough and to the Fairstead community.

The new administration voted for 100% council tax support for those most in need, after the proposal being put forward annually by Labour – and regularly rejected – for longer than I have been a councillor.

Also enacted was a pay award that makes our council officers feel valued and helps to recruit much-needed talented people to our borough, and helps to retain them.

We have seen an increase in council tax charged on empty properties and second homes that will mean more of our existing properties are made available for local residents and encourage people to move to our beautiful borough.

It will also help the council coffers, raising much-needed funds for the council to fulfill the aims of the new corporate strategy.

Additional new high-quality homes are being created by the council’s two housing companies. One provides affordable housing and the other provides private rented sector housing (on three-year tenancies to provide security for tenants).

The Government is now shamefully reneging on its promised removal of Section 21 Notice evictions from its Renters Reform Bill.

So much has been done already to improve the opportunities for members of all the communities that make up the borough.

A safe and considered budget was put forward, which proved that this administration would not be frivolous with taxpayers’ money but, with an expected increase in revenues, can envisage a new batch of promising proposals in the next year.

Last year, the people of West Norfolk decided that they no longer had faith in a Conservative administration and wanted a change to something better. There is a real thirst for change nationally too, and that is shown in the number of by-election contests won by Labour throughout the country.

Labour has, in Tim Leaver, a fantastic parliamentary candidate in place for when a general election is called - and I can only hope that we can make a gain here too, retaking a seat that the party last won in 1997.

Too many years in control leads to complacency, as has been seen locally and nationally. But Labour, if given the chance to lead, will not take the voters for granted.

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