As I draw to the end of my 20 year term of office on Suffolk County Council I thank all those who have voted for, and supported me, over that time. I have enjoyed working with my parish councils in Belstead Brook. They have been a great bunch of people. I have also enjoyed working with campaign groups, including “Bury not Blight”, who want to stop new electricity pylons, and recently “SIT”, who are campaigning against two giant 430 foot wind turbines on land between Belstead, Wherstead and Pinewood. Both groups are trying to stop further unsightly clutter in our beautiful Suffolk countryside.We have been quite clear from the start that we don’t want any more pylons or giant wind turbines. Other parties have been rather shy about making their views known – apart from the Greens, who are backing the wind turbines.
In 1993 we ended 104 years of Conservative rule in Suffolk. For 12 years we prioritised education and social care, and made our streets safer with 30mph village speed limits – the initiative of my Lib Dem colleague, Peter Monk. Education in Suffolk was widely admired. We were in the top 30 councils in England – unlike now, after eight years of Conservative rule, when we are close to the bottom of the league table.
It is with great sadness that I’ve watched the decline and closure of services under the Conservatives. Household waste sites have closed, as have youth clubs. Bus services have been cut, with no services on Sundays and Bank Holidays and very few evening services. Conservative Guy McGregor closed the Bury Road Park and Ride service two years ago and passenger numbers on the two remaining Park and Ride services have plummeted from just over one million to half that. The introduction of a charge for over 60s and disabled pass holders and the increased fares for families has clearly discouraged many people from using the service – coupled with the Countywide ban on using bus passes before 9.30am – even for hospital appointments. So much for the Greenest County!
Although we still have all our libraries, they are no longer run by the County Council. Suffolk Libraries have been outsourced and their future funding is uncertain. They’ve been told that they must raise £100,000 from local communities this year. So, whilst council tax is frozen, the public will still have to stump up if we want to retain our much cherished library service.
I attach a copy of the Conservatives’ end of term report (School Report web) which gives a much fuller picture of their record in office. I and my Lib Dem colleagues have worked extremely hard over the last eight years to hold them to account. We joined the public in the campaign to keep all our libraries open, fought against the closure of Middle Schools, household waste sites, youth clubs, the Bury Road Park and Ride service and the eXplore student discount card (which we introduced in 2005 and they axed in the middle of the 2011 academic year). They have failed to keep contract costs under control, having abolished the committee where councillors monitored such contracts.
We have exposed some of the excesses of their spending – £500,000 in one year alone on gagging orders for departing staff; £20m – a £6m overspend – on new offices at Landmark House next to the A14 in the North West of Ipswich. On the other side of the road lies the derelict Bury Road Park and Ride terminus. Ironically the spend on Landmark House would have kept that Park and Ride service running for nearly 40 years! Heaven only knows that Ipswich Town centre needs all the support it can get right now. The continuing road works are a further discouragement to shoppers.
We also exposed a rise of £10m in salaries paid to top earners at Suffolk County Council in just 5 years – including the £218,000 a year paid to the former Chief Executive, Andrea Hill. The list goes on. And whilst they have been cutting services, they have amassed reserves of £152m. Whose money is this? Shouldn’t it be spent on services?
It is easy when in power to forget that the principle role of councillors is to provide the best possible services within the resources available. There is no room for arrogance and egotism, which can easily blind those in power to the needs of the people they are there to serve. I won’t miss the Conservative front bench, who regularly treat opposition councillors – and the public – with contempt. “How do you put up with that behaviour?” people ask. Well there’s only so long that you can tolerate being treated in that way. In my case my health – and my family – have dictated that I stand down.
The public will decide tomorrow who runs Suffolk County Council for the next four years. The last eight years of Conservative rule in the County have been disastrous. Democracy is officially dead. Eight Conservative councillors make all the decisions and the backbenchers are just voting fodder.
Suffolk deserves better.
For a list of Lib Dem candidates go to our website
Published and promoted by D. Busby, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, all at 16 Two Acres, Capel St. Mary, Ipswich IP9 2XP