Former council leader shares concerns over ‘very undesirable situation’ after cabinet member quits

The former leader of West Norfolk Council has slammed the current administration after a member of the new cabinet resigned, saying “values of common human decency” had been trampled.

Conservative Stuart Dark says confusion and conflicting stances within the Independent/Green/Lib Dem coalition led to Alex Kemp quitting the cabinet on Thursday.

Cllr Kemp, who was only appointed the borough council’s cabinet member for people and communities in May, announced her decision following several weeks of clear unrest.

Cllr Alex Kemp. Picture: West Norfolk Council
Cllr Alex Kemp. Picture: West Norfolk Council

She said she became a councillor “to put people first”, but now is worried that the borough council could be prepared to “risk” building thousands of new homes in West Winch even if the Government fails to provide funding for a bypass.

Cllr Dark, leader of the West Norfolk Conservative group, said the cabinet now faced an “undesirable situation” where another councillor to take up the role “in haste”.

But Cllr Terry Parish, leader of the council, said he refuted Cllr Dark’s comment and that Cllr Kemp had resigned “honourably” due to a “conflict of interests”.

“We are concerned that Cllr Kemp has seemingly been forced into a position where she has felt she has had no alternative but to step away from one of the busiest, largest and most important portfolios in our council, that with responsibility for West Norfolk’s people and communities, just a few short weeks into the new minority administration,” Cllr Dark said.

West Norfolk councillor Stuart Dark. Picture: West Norfolk Council
West Norfolk councillor Stuart Dark. Picture: West Norfolk Council

“This was a post that she’d been proud to take up and was keen to deliver upon.

“We now have the very undesirable situation, where a new post holder will have to be selected into this challenging, complex role by the new leader in haste so shortly after his first-pick selection went so wrong with the associated lag in effective leadership, delivery and support as they too, strive to get up to speed and meet officers and partners.

“We understand that there was a major falling out in cabinet prompting this and that this had been brewing for a while.

Terry Parish is leader of West Norfolk Council. Picture: West Norfolk Council
Terry Parish is leader of West Norfolk Council. Picture: West Norfolk Council

“Cllr Kemp’s reported comments re her seeing in the new cabinet ‘values of common human decency being trampled’ and ‘I have found that putting views forward has been met with downright hostility at times – as if you shouldn’t have an opinion’ are somewhat damning, particularly as these are very different to the tone of the new leader’s short statement on her departure and because he had previously announced in this very paper that free independent thought, respect for fellow councillors and openness were some of his key drivers.

“We genuinely hope that the confusion, conflicting stances on key issues and lack of direction that have clearly beset this leader and the new minority cabinet throughout its very short tenure stop soon for all our sakes as we all know there are some really big challenges and projects at hand and significant partnerships and funding at risk.”

However, Cllr Parish said: “I refute Cllr Dark’s comment on this matter. Cllr Kemp resigned honourably from her cabinet position due to a conflict of interests. There is no confusion.

“It is only just 24 hours since the resignation and I gave Cllr Kemp that time to decide if she wants to change her mind.

“It is clear that she doesn’t want to and so I will now address the matter of a replacement.

“Cllr Kemp has not left the Independent Partnership and I was glad I was able to nominate her, today, to the Homeless and Housing Delivery Task Group where she will be able to continue to contribute her excellent knowledge on the subject.

“I consider Cllr Dark’s opinion ill-advised and would remind him that I, as opposition leader, made no public comment when he removed a cabinet member due to an attempted coup.

“My necessary change in cabinet is due to passionate stances on subjects that cross portfolios, not a desire to replace me.”

Cllr Parish said the new authority was “cleaning up projects” which were “beyond significant change to make them more tenable”.

“In addition, he mentions ‘projects at risk’. At risk of what I would like to know?” he said.

“There were assurances at council, by me, that Towns Fund projects would continue – they can hardly do anything else at this stage – but that it is my administration’s intention to remove the £3million council taxpayers’ burden his administration placed on the Guildhall project. This was made clear to the Towns Board chair weeks ago and he accepted it with good grace.

“Florence Fields at Parkway has been signed off with an internal caveat that the tenure mix will change and the houses prioritised for local people. West Winch is coming forward and I have started the process of seeking amendments to proposals.

“This administration is cleaning up projects which are beyond significant change to make them more tenable and is creating a new corporate plan which will set goals, useful ones, to benefit people and communities, over the next four years.”