Thanks to the 1104 people who voted for me in Thursday’s local elections. Unfortunately not quite enough to re-elect me. Congratulations to my friend and colleague Sue Carpendale who was re-elected with 1196 votes and good luck to the Conservative who didn’t even put out a leaflet and stood as a favour to the Conservative agent. She got 1145 votes and was elected. Democracy is a blunt instrument – especially when you have local elections on the same day as a General Election.
In my 28 years as a local councillor I hope I have made a difference. In that time I have campaigned on a huge range of issues from retaining the Bury Road Park and Ride site, to preventing the Conservative proposals to close all but 8 of Suffolk’s 43 libraries, retaining the student travel discount card and fighting against the closure of the County’s middle schools.
Road safety has always been a major concern for me and I began by campaigning with Sue Carpendale for a road underpass in Capel St. Mary more than 30 years ago. We even sent a giant Christmas card to the then Transport minister, Peter Bottomley. It had the slogan “All we want for Christmas is our underpass” with a cartoon of Father Christmas and his sleigh trying to cross the A12. Mr. Bottomley was most amused and gave the go ahead. The underpass opened in 1990.
A12 safety issues are an ongoing concern. More recently Sue Carpendale and I wrote a report on the state of the A12, including accident data and submitted it to the Department for Transport. This has resulted in the installation of permanent speed cameras on the A12 between the Essex border and East Bergholt and the closure of the right turn at Hughes Corner. We have also highlighted many times the problems with the short slip roads at Stratford St. Mary and East Bergholt, where there is a high accident record. Lately we have fielded numerous complaints about the A12 roadworks and nighttime diversions.
When I was first elected as a County Councillor in 1993 there had been a political earthquake in local government across the UK. For 12 years we ran the County Council in coalition with Labour. In that time I was County Council chairman and then for a time I was the councillor responsible for roads and transport. Amongst other issue I campaigned for a Western bypass for Sudbury. It was my former Lib Dem colleague and then Transport Chairman, Peter Monk, who had the idea of introducing 30mph limits to all our villages 20 years ago. We take them for granted now, but prior to that many villages had only the 60mph national limit. It has made our communities much safer, although speeding is still a big issue.
When the Conservatives took back control of Suffolk in 2005 we handed on a council which had been given an Excellent rating, with our schools in the top 25% in England. Social care also had the top rating. Since then the Conservatives have outsourced care homes to Care UK, privatised road maintenance and dragged Suffolk’s schools to the bottom of the English league table. Last year’s Ofsted report condemned the council for failing to support less well performing schools. The Care Quality Commission also criticised the council for failing to employ enough staff to properly manage the Care UK contract.
In these elections we have lost many hard working councillors who have been champions for their community for a very long time. I am sad that Dave Wood, Tony Roberts and Dr. Mike Bamford have lost their seats. A number of valued colleagues also stood down this time, including David Grutchfield who served Hadleigh so well for nearly 30 years. Also Nigel Bennett, Sudbury South councillor for 12 years, Trot Ward, John Deacon and Mary Munson. Congratulations to Sue Carpendale, Dave Busby and Bryn Hurren who have retained their seats and commiserations to all our great candidates who failed to get elected. In Shotley people even elected a Conservative from Colchester! What were they thinking?
My thanks also to the staff of Babergh (and Mid Suffolk) District council. It has been a tough time for them too in the last few years, with huge cuts in funding and staff losses. My best wishes to them for the future. Life will continue to be tough under an unfettered national Conservative government as we claw our way out of austerity.