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Norfolk Liberal Democrats

Policies for the 2017 Norfolk County Council elections

Guiding principles

Liberal Democrats at national and local level have demonstrated that working with other Parties in government usually leads to the best results for ordinary people. For the first three years following the 2013 electio

ns, we played a leading role in the Rainbow Alliance that ran Norfolk County Council in collaboration with three other political Parties. Between them, these parties attracted the support of more than 60% of the votes in the 2013 elections. This ensured that decisions were fully debated before being finalised, enabling sensible and sustainable policies that were not driven by the usual Party political dogmas.

Among the achievements of the Alliance of which we are especially proud are:

  • Reversing the decision to build an expensive and polluting waste incinerator and instead setting Norfolk on a course to achieve a zero landfill waste strategy;
  • Transforming failing education services that saw Norfolk children achieving the national average for GCSE results for the first time in years;
  • Faced with a budget gap of £111 million inherited from the previous Conservative administration, setting a three-year financial strategy to balance the books - even the Tories were forced to support this.

We also recognise that politicians do not have all the answers and sometimes get things wrong. So we are committed to working with organisations and communities in an open way to making sure that we properly understand the issues and learn from the ideas and knowledge of others.

We are committed to the strategic objectives for Norfolk County Council set while the Liberal Democrats were part of the administration:

Excellence in education: working for a well-educated Norfolk where people are prepared for real jobs with good wages and prospects

Supporting vulnerable people: including helping people earlier before their problems get too serious

Supporting economic growth: We all depend on a thriving economy and we are committed to playing a role in supporting infrastructure projects and working with central government and other organisations to provide the environment in which local companies can thrive and grow

Improving the quality of life: We recognise that culture, sports and the arts contribute much to the quality of life of people in Norfolk and we will support these where we can

A long-term view: Crucially, we will eschew short-term political expediency and make sure that our decisions are right for the long-term, taking account such far-reaching challenges as global warming and technological change.

The contrast in approach of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to the Council's priorities was set out starkly during the 2017 budget debate when the Conservatives halved the 2-year budget for schemes providing wardens in sheltered units, assistance with accommodation for homeless young people, vital funding for people with mental health concerns and learning difficulties and also cut funding for charities and housing providers. Liberal Democrats opposed these cuts and will always to fight to support people most in need.

Our detailed policies

Adult Social Care

We are committed to work to integrate the health and social care services in Norfolk into a single service with a combined budget. This will bring substantial benefits both in preventing people being forced to stay in hospital longer than necessary and making more hospital beds available to those who really need them.

We recognise that people with a mental illness have been getting a very poor deal from the NHS and other services, sometimes ending up with them being homeless or in trouble with the police. The dedication of our local Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb promoting better mental health services is impressive and we will make sure that the County Council plays its part in revolutionising mental health care in Norfolk.

With an ageing population, we recognise that loneliness can make the lives of some elderly people miserable. So we are committed to supporting services that help people keep in touch with their families, friends and the rest of the world.

We recognise the importance of reducing pressure on GP and acute hospital services and welcome the move towards community based care and support for patients within their own homes. We will continue campaigning against cuts to the budgets for vulnerable people to ensure that the vulnerable and elderly are cared for with dignity. We are fully committed to expanding the Reablement Service to support people following discharge from hospital to prevent future readmission.

We will work with partners to reduce the proportion of adults under 65 in residential placements by increasing the opportunities for this age group to receive care in other settings.

We will ring-fence spending the County Council makes in funding work to support those subjected to domestic abuse.

Lib Dems will deliver an extra £60m funding for social care over 4 years to make sure the vulnerable and elderly in Norfolk are cared for with dignity and decency.

We will work to simplify systems for arranging care for a relative or friend so people no longer feel they have to fight against the system.

Liberal Democrats recognise the massive contribution of care workers to the welfare of our most vulnerable residents. We will ensure care workers get paid fairly, including for travel time, and will sign Norfolk up to Unison's Ethical Care Charter for better employment standards.

We will work with housing associations and local councils to promote more good quality sheltered housing so that older or disabled people can live independently for longer with safety and dignity.

Liberal Democrats are fully committed to securing parity of esteem - valuing mental health equally with physical health.

Following the principle that 'prevention is better than cure', we are committed to promoting the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and providing whenever possible the means to maintain physical and mental wellbeing. Healthy eating and physical activity will be promoted in order to improve health and fitness and prevent obesity, as well as programmes to support quitting smoking, eliminating drug abuse and reducing excess alcohol consumption. We will work jointly with Healthwatch Norfolk, district councils, and others on these issues.

Education

Although our schools improved dramatically during the three years of the Rainbow Alliance, there is still room for improvement. One of the challenges is recruiting good teachers and we will investigate how affordable accommodation could be earmarked for teachers, possibly even building homes specifically for teachers.

We have to reluctantly accept that, under the current government, academies will replace almost all of the schools that are now the responsibility of the Council. However, we are aware that not all of the new academies are performing well and we believe that there is scope for the County Council to work co-operatively with local businesses to develop its own model of academy schools to set a standard for others.

Liberal Democrats will ensure that Norfolk County Council continues to provide support services for schools that have become academies.

Liberal Democrats have long been committed to the principles of comprehensive education and we will therefore oppose any attempt by the Conservative Government to expand selection at 11 and create new grammar schools in Norfolk.

Children's Services

Proper support for children with mental health problems is unavailable for many who need it. As with adult social care, we will seek to integrate the County Council's services with the NHS to ensure full provision in the future.

Liberal Democrats believe that prevention and early intervention and help must be the cornerstone of protecting children in Norfolk. We will maintain and develop early help for children and families that not only improves the quality of life for the children involved but also makes sound economic sense.

We will work to continue to support and develop our county's Childrens Centres and will fight to maintain ring-fenced funding for what remains of Youth Services.

We will continue to support restorative approaches to justice within children's services that reduce offending and repair damage caused to victims, as well as maintaining and repairing relationships with families and communities.

We are committed to protecting budgets for all school and post 16 education transport. We will ensure that young people get the assistance they need to continue their education.

Environment, Transport & Development

One of the major challenges facing Norfolk is that of how to accommodate growth while maintaining our county as one of the most pleasant and attractive places to live in the UK. We are concerned that the existing policies of accommodating growth by the virtual piecemeal expansion of existing towns and villages is leading to low quality development that overloads such local services as surgeries and schools. We believe that the alternative of accommodating development in one or two major new settlements could bring substantial advantages, not least by releasing resources to ensure that these new, green, towns built with all the necessary infrastructure. We will seek to initiate a full study of the potential for this approach with the planning authorities in the County.

The County Council is fully involved in the Norwich sub regional planning processes. We will play a full part in the forthcoming review by the Greater Norwich Development Partnership of the Joint Core Strategy and, alongside this, of the Norwich Area Transport Strategy. These offer huge opportunities to change the approach to the development of the Norwich sub region in a way that is more sustainable and better protects existing residents. In particular, we will oppose speculative developments that do not provide adequate infrastructure and that ignore the special character of our towns and villages.

Key to our approach to all development issues will be to ensure that they do everything possible to minimise global warming emissions and mitigate the consequences that we know will result from already-committed climate change, not least in terms of flood risk.

In this context we will promote the development of community solar farms and identify further opportunities for the County Council itself to develop solar farms on the lines of the Scottow Business Park, recognising that this has brought environmental gains and an income for the Council.

We will ensure that, where the County Council can play a role in environmental protection, it takes full advantage of its powers. For example, when the next franchise for the Norwich park-and-ride system is negotiated we will insist on a switch to electric buses - the benefits have already been demonstrated in places such as York. We will also seek to restrict and eventually ban diesel buses from urban centres.

Liberal Democrats are committed to improving bus services throughout the County and will therefore seek to take advantage of the new powers that will enable services to be franchised so that they meet the real needs of passengers rather than the current profit-based decisions by individual bus companies. We will act to ensure that a common smart ticketing system is adopted by all bus operators in the County. In particular, we will maintain the Coast Hopper bus service and work with the bus companies to extend its route. We will encourage and support Community Transport across the County.

To achieve sensible transport requires cooperation across geographic areas that do not respect local authority boundaries and we will therefore seek to set up one or more Local Transport Authorities covering some parts of Norfolk and some parts of adjacent areas.

We will examine whether the County Council should give priority to seeking the electrification of the Norwich to Ely railway line, believing that this could bring substantial and rapid benefits for the economy and the environment. Electrification of this line would greatly improve links between the economies of Norwich and Cambridge, a particular benefit of the rapidly growing science and research base in Norwich. It could also provide a near-90 minute Norwich to King's Cross through service as an alternative to the problem-ridden Liverpool Street line. As well as benefiting Norwich, this would greatly help places such as Wymondham and Thetford.

We believe that there are relatively simple and cheap ways in which we can promote biodiversity and wildlife. We will implement a programme to maximise the benefits for wildlife on the council's own landholdings and work to ensure that the opportunities for wildlife offered by roadside verges are exploited. For example, we know that, elsewhere, substantial gains have been made by varying the times of cutting verges from year to year without affecting safety or amenity.

We will continue to prioritise the four road infrastructure projects that are key to improving the environment for many residents and for supporting economic development. These are:

  • Completing the NDR link to the A47;
  • Building the Long Stratton bypass, preferably as a dual carriageway;
  • Building the third river crossing in Great Yarmouth;
  • Dualling the Acle straight.

Liberal Democrats are concerned about continued cuts to highways budgets and capitalisation that usually means small projects are sacrificed. We will protect funding for highways repairs.

We will continue to support the successful parish partnership scheme for minor highways projects.

We will protect funding for the Bittern Line between Norwich & North Walsham and seek to secure funding to increase this service.

Liberal Democrats remain committed to opposing the incineration of household waste in Norfolk. We are proud that we set Norfolk on a course to achieve zero landfill and will work to ensure that this is fulfilled. We will champion a joined up approach to waste management across Norfolk and exploit the best technologies to recover materials and clean energy; waste should be seen as a resource rather than a problem.

We will protect local recycling centres to make it easier for residents to dispose of their household waste.

We will continue to work with government and seize every opportunity to ensure communities are better protected from future coastal flooding. We will support development of capacity within the Norfolk Fire & Rescue Service to deal with flooding.

Economic Development

We will work with the Local Enterprise Partnerships to play our part in providing the infrastructure for a successful economy in the County. We recognise that improving the educational attainment of young people is crucial to employers and we also recognise that maintaining a high quality of life is essential to attracting the entrepreneurs and specialist and high level staff that are essential to enable businesses to flourish. We recognise that, in an age when staff and many businesses are able to choose their base that Norfolk is in a competitive environment not just with the rest of the UK but, often, with Europe and even the United States.

Two ways in which the Council can help directly are in its work to ensure an efficient and effective transport system to provide access for people and markets and in the provision of business parks such as that at Scottow.

We will to work with government partners to complete the Norwich Northern Distributor Road with a link to the A47.

We will work to ensure that the County Council recovers the costs of repairing damage caused by large vehicles. We recognise that speeding is both dangerous and damages the local environment in built-up areas and will use all available measures to control this, including reviewing speed limits where current controls do not properly reflect local circumstances.

We recognise that the lives of many people living in small communities are blighted by heavy goods vehicles using roads designed for much lighter traffic and we will therefore seek to ban HGVs from these routes where a suitable alternative is available.

Culture & Community Services

The County Council directly influences the quality of life for many people living here. For example, the quality of the 'public realm' in which people move around public spaces is important: people want clean, green, well-maintained and well designed spaces that they can enjoy. The challenge for the Council is to achieve this in a time of austerity and we will hold an open discussion with everyone interested to see how this can best be done, including, where appropriate, devolving responsibilities to voluntary organisations. One area that needs attention is the simplification of signage for drivers and others which tends to multiply without thought, often leading to unnecessary maintenance costs.

The Council is also responsible for libraries and museums and we recognise that these cultural assets are also important to many people's quality of life. We will continue to support the development of libraries as community hubs, offering a wide variety of services ranging from computer training to dementia awareness. We will continue to support mobile libraries.

We recognise that cuts in emergency services - police, fire and ambulances - are of considerable concern to the public, especially in rural areas, and will oppose any cuts that reduce response times or the quality of service.

Finance

We are committed to financial prudence, sound administration and to ensuring that essential services continue. We will investigate the potential for new projects that will make a financial return to help the Council meet future demands. One example is the switching of all the streetlights controlled by the County Council to LEDs, which will save money as well as reducing global warming emissions.

It is recognised that the funding formula for local government now assumes annual Council tax increases in line with CPI with the addition of 2% for adult care. Liberal Democrats view increased taxation as a last resort after all possible efficiencies have been achieved. Nonetheless we are prepared to raise Council tax within the referendum limit in order to safeguard essential services.

Liberal Democrats will resist any moves for the County Council to retain second homes discount funds. We will ensure that this important funding continues to be returned to the Districts most affected by second home ownership.

Governance

We will oppose any return to the Cabinet system of governance, believing that decision-making through all-Party committees ensures proper open debate and accountability and avoids the vagaries of a system that can be subject to the whims of individual Cabinet members.

While we remain committed to devolution for England with appropriate regional authorities under a reformed structure of local government, we oppose any piece-meal and half-hearted approach to devolution and continue to reject any proposals for a new 'Combined Authority' for Norfolk and Suffolk under a directly elected Mayor. We will work towards devolution proposals that are properly accountable to local people in areas with a recognisable common interest. In this context, we continue to support the replacement of the existing structure of local government with three unitary authorities for Norfolk, believing that this will enable the more efficient delivery of local services within the areas to which people can relate and hold their authority properly accountable.