I was delighted that Norfolk County Council backed my call for an expanded Eco Awards programme at its meeting on Monday. I accepted an amendment to my original motion which took account of the work the Council is already doing in this area. Hopefully, though, it will lead to a burst of new, practical ideas coming forward to help protect our environment. You can listen to the debate on the Council’s YouTube channel (starting at 1 hour, 17 minutes, 45 seconds) and here is the text of my speech:
Thank you chair.
One of the first events that I attended after being elected to the County Council in 2017 was the presentation ceremony for that year’s Eco Awards. I was there to support the pupils and staff of Bacton Primary School in my division. Of course it was a fantastic event for everyone involved but it also really showed the wealth of ideas out there and a the depth of enthusiasm for taking action at a local level to protect our environment.
The first thing I wanted to do with this motion was to acknowledge the work done by schools, parish councils, church groups and individuals right across the county to make a difference in their own community. This seems particularly important when, like so much else in our politics, protection of our environment has become weaponised by extremists in a way that can only serve to divide and alienate the vast bulk of people who just really care that we preserve our natural assets for future generations.
My second aim was to highlight and welcome the opportunity these awards offer for councils to work together. Most obviously the existing collaboration between Norfolk County Council and Norwich City Council. But also to express the hope that other councils in Norfolk will come together to support an expansion of these awards for future years.
So I’m glad it is a thing we do but it struck me that with a small extra investment it could achieve so much more.
I work in the charity sector and so I am familiar with the idea that funders often back ideas for new projects with substantial funds. And in the private sector, of course, entrepreneurs invest in innovation all the time. So this is an opportunity for the Council to use public funds to back new ideas to protect our environment.
If we were to set up a fund to allow businesses, community groups, charities or individuals to build new ideas into sustainable and scalable projects they could make a difference far beyond the boundaries of their own town or village or the boundaries of our county.
Prizes to encourage and test innovation are growing in use. One piece of research I have seen suggests they have tripled in cash terms in the last decade with around a third of those being in the environmental sector.
I’m not going to suggest who should be Norfolk’s own Alan Sugar but a Dragon’s Den style competition for such projects would be an eye catching and effective way of promoting new ideas to help protect our environment.
I’m pleased to move this motion.