Norfolk County Council snubs Chloe Smith over WWI centenary

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith (Con)
Image caption Chloe Smith wrote to Norfolk County Council offering to discuss its plans to commemorate next year's centenary of the outbreak of World War I

A council has snubbed an MP's offer to help commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, saying it was too busy coping with government cuts.

Chloe Smith, Conservative MP for Norwich North, wrote to Norfolk County Council offering to discuss its plans.

But in a reply, seen by the BBC, Labour cabinet member Margaret Wilkinson rejected the offer, saying Ms Smith had "kicked the council in the teeth".

Miss Smith said Mrs Wilkinson's response was "really very sad".

In her letter Ms Smith wrote: "As you know, 2014 will mark a momentous milestone in British history: 100 years since the outbreak of World War I.

"I would very much like to work with you to mark the centenary locally.

"The Prime Minister announced that support will be available to projects and initiatives large and small, in local communities across the UK in the form of Heritage Lottery Grants.

"I would be delighted to meet to discuss your plans further."

Image caption Margaret Wilkinson said Miss Smith had "kicked the council in the teeth"

'Rather full diary'

Mrs Wilkinson, Labour cabinet member for communities, flatly rejected the offer.

Her reply referred to two recent problems affecting the council: last week's government withdrawal of a £169m grant towards its proposed waste incinerator, and a warning that the government could intervene if its children's services did not improve after a series of critical Ofsted reports.

"World War I is indeed an important anniversary which we will mark," wrote Mrs Wilkinson.

"However, as you should appreciate, more than most, the problem that I and my cabinet colleagues have inherited in the field of children's services, together with the massive cut in government grant and the kick in the teeth which the council has just received from its MPs in the form of the withdrawal of PFI (private finance initiative) credits mean that we have a rather full diary at the moment"

"However, if you have any concrete proposals that can repair the damage that has been done to our finances I would be pleased to hear them."

Ms Smith said: "The response from this Labour politician is really very sad.

'Pathetic party politics'

"It's downright discourteous to veterans and serving members of the armed forces if the Labour administration at County Hall doesn't have the time or the gumption to commemorate World War I.

"My letter laid out the funds that the government is making available and was polite and constructive as to how we might work together to do this in Norwich.

"What seems to have come back is pathetic party politics which shows utter disrespect for my constituents who do want to mark the centenary.

"Is this what Labour really thinks of those who have sacrificed so much for their country?"

Broadland District Council, by contrast, had shown "sensible interest". she said.

Mrs Wilkinson could not be reached for comment.

George Nobbs, Labour leader of Norfolk County Council, said the authority would be marking the centenary, and that he had been discussing plans with Keith Simpson, Conservative MP for Broadland and military historian.

"I look forward to working with Keith, who has some interesting ideas about how to mark this important occasion," he said.

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