'Everyone deserves an equal chance': New council leader lays out her goals for the district
The new leader of North Norfolk District Council is promising a "fresh start" after the chaos of the last Tory administration. Sarah Butikofer, leader of the newly Liberal Democrat-led council, took over after a vote of no confidence in John Lee and his Tory team at a full council meeting last week.
Reporter DAVID BALE talked to her about her journey to the top and her plans for the future.
The Lib Dems only have six months in charge of North Norfolk District Council before next May’s elections, and may not have time to achieve what they would like.
The first thing Mrs Butikofer, who is the only female leader of the county’s district councils, will do is to ask people what they can do to make things better in the region.
Ironically, her first taste of politics was for a Conservative party agency in Redditch, Worcestershire.
But it was while working as case worker for MP Norman Lamb that she switched sides.
She has been a district councillor for three-and-a-half years and last year also became Norfolk county councillor for Holt division.
She said: “It’s only six months until the next election, and it will very difficult to change much in that time.
“My main thing will be going out, talking to people, and finding out what they want from their local council. I will ask them, ‘What’s the one thing I can do to make things better in their community?’
“It’s not about disrupting the work that’s under way. We will bring the council back to working for local people. The Conservatives’ in-fighting meant they were not focused on the people of north Norfolk. I would like a cross-party cabinet, which I hope to announce on Monday.
“I believe in fighting for local people. I saw Norman Lamb doing a good job for local people.
“I believe everyone deserves an equal chance in life, and that’s at the heart of our manifesto.
“We are pulling together and I see this as a fresh start for north Norfolk.”
She said her only regret was the timing of her takeover, with former Conservative councillor Wyndham Northam’s funeral in Mundesley next Friday.
She is 52, has no children or pets, and was born in Northwood, Middlesex and went to school and college there.
She went to catering college to become a chef and worked in hospital catering.
She met her future husband, Pierre, on the staircase at IBM in London when she went for an interview.
She worked for IBM for many years as business operations manager and was an Arctic explorer with them, travelling to the North Pole.
But her family is originally from Narborough in west Norfolk, and when she was made redundant by IBM, they decided to move to Norfolk.
They own a home in Plumstead, near Baconsthorpe, which is let to local people, and live in Aylmerton.
In tabling the motion to unseat Mr Lee, she said it had stemmed from the decision of five Conservative cabinet members to go against full council recommendations to commission an independent review into whether the Egmere Business Park proposals were financially viable.
It came following a swathe of resignations from the Conservative party in the past 22 months and a vote of no confidence in Mr Lee and the Conservative administration.
The motion of no confidence at North Norfolk’s full council was passed with 26 votes in favour, just one more than the necessary 25 required.
She said there would now be an independent review into the Egmere plans.
She added: “I hope it has potential, but from the evidence we have seen, it doesn’t.
“I sincerely hope the review will come back positive, and if we could create jobs in north Norfolk, why wouldn’t we?”
She praised Mr Lee and also paid tribute to the tremendous work carried out by council staff.
She added: “John did his level best as leader, and I’ve got a lot of time and respect for him. But his hands were tied behind his back by other members of his group.”