Feuding local leaders meet - but both leave unsatisfied

Left, North Norfolk District Council leader Tim Adams, and right North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker.

Left, North Norfolk District Council leader Tim Adams, and right North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker. - Credit: Supplied / Archant

North Norfolk's Conservative MP has hit back at claims from the leader of a district council that he will not commit to tackling abuse and threats in local politics. 

Duncan Baker said it is in fact the Liberal Democratic leader of North Norfolk District Council, Tim Adams, who has questions to answer over the authority's use of public funds.

Mr Baker was responding to a statement released to the press by Mr Adams, following a 30-minute meeting they had in Cromer on June 24.

In it, Mr Adams claimed Mr Baker had met with him to discuss "threats, abuse and bullying within local politics" but had "stopped short of agreeing to work with Mr Adams to tackle abuse".

It comes after friction in the pair's working relationship, following Mr Adams's refusal to speak to Mr Baker for several weeks earlier in the year. Mr Adams claims the MP had failed to address allegedly abusive social media posts by a former North Norfolk Conservative member.

In turn, Mr Baker has recently raised questions over the council's handling of a controversial £30,000 contract to hire a management consultant in 2019.

The consultant, Peter Thomas, was a friend of then serving councillor, Karen Ward, who stood against Mr Baker for the Liberal Democrats in the 2019 general election.

Duncan Baker, North Norfolk MP.

Duncan Baker, North Norfolk MP. - Credit: Archant

Mr Baker described their latest encounter as "a very pleasant conversation with my office manager present".

He said: "I reminded him that I have always agreed to meet with him – it was Mr Adams who severed contact when he faced difficult questions relating to the misuse of public funds by the Liberal Democrat administration at NNDC.

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"I recognise very little of this blatant politicising of our private meeting, nor did he inform me he wanted to turn our conversation into a press release.

"I explained during the meeting that any membership or councillor issues are dealt with by the local association.

"As anyone who knows me is aware, I believe in the highest standards of integrity and professionalism especially from those in public office.

"In view of such transparency from myself, it is a shame the leader continues to not answer a single question about the inappropriate use of public funds at NNDC or hold his appalling administration to any account over it."

But Mr Adams had said the focus of the meeting had been on threats and abuse within the local Conservative party - and he was left disappointed by Mr Baker's response. 

Tim Adams, North Norfolk District Council leader. 

Tim Adams, North Norfolk District Council leader. - Credit: Paul Heinrich

He said: "I was delighted that Mr Baker agreed to sit down with me, and was particularly grateful for his acknowledgement that some members of his local party had behaved unacceptably in the recent past. 

"For too long now, an environment of threats, abuse and bullying within local politics has been allowed to manifest across North Norfolk, with numerous instances of Conservative associates showcasing appalling judgement and behaviour, aiming both verbal and physical threats at my hard-working colleagues.

"While Friday’s meeting was a positive step forward I was, however, disappointed and saddened that Mr Baker refused to go any further to committing to clean up local politics to ensure this behaviour doesn’t happen ever again.”

Mr Adams said he wanted to introduce a 'clean up politics' pledge ahead of local government elections next year, which candidates of different parties would sign up to, promising not to make personal attacks or threats - online and off - against others.

He said: "I will continue to push for a 2023 pledge to ensure threats, intimidation and bullying play no part in the 2023 election cycle, which would offer would-be candidates reassurances that they won’t be subjected to appalling treatment simply for putting themselves forward to serve their community.

"I hope, in time, Mr Baker sees that this is a sensible next step to help eradicate the type of behaviour we’ve seen from his colleagues in recent times; behaviour that has no role in politics here in north Norfolk."