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Optimism and realism behind new Suffolk chief executive Nicola Beach

PUBLISHED: 17:27 12 September 2018 | UPDATED: 17:27 12 September 2018

Suffolk County Council chief executive Nicola Beach. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

Suffolk County Council chief executive Nicola Beach. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

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Suffolk’s new chief executive Nicola Beach has been at Endeavour House for nearly four months – and is getting to grips with managing the £500m-budget authority.

Suffolk County Council's Matthew Hicks, Nicola Beach and Michael Ladd with the St Edmunds Flag Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCILSuffolk County Council's Matthew Hicks, Nicola Beach and Michael Ladd with the St Edmunds Flag Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

She’s approaching the job with optimism tinged with realism – and also wants to see Ipswich thrive as major centre linked to London and Cambridge.

“I’d had dealings with the county before I came here and I knew it was a well managed authority – and I’ve remained impressed as I’ve got out to look at Suffolk through new eyes.

“I am very impressed by the ‘can-do’ attitude of the officers and the members. I think there’s a really strong ethos about doing the right thing.”

The main challenge facing her – and everyone in the council – remains finance. She said: “We are facing budget constraints. That’s not a surprise to me. It’s not unique to Suffolk – and its getting to grips with what that challenge is and how we go about it.”

The financial issues facing county councils and the increasing number of older people who may need care is a key concern – but Ms Beach is anxious that they should not become the be-all and end-all of the authority.

She said: “There is a balance to be struck. And as the senior officer here it is how we present those options to members. We’ve heard the priorities but we also have services like highways which are probably our biggest most universal service.”

It was vital that the county worked with district and borough councils, parishes, other public sector bodies like the police and NHS and the voluntary sector.

“I see us as working in an enabling role, supporting the growth agenda but at the same time we have to help and support the most vulnerable members of society.”

She said it was her role to give politicians the best possible advice.

On highways, she said the county would need to work closer with parishes to repair roads – not by getting volunteers to fill potholes, but by working with them to identify problems.

So would the squeeze on local government spending continue? “I class myself as a realist. And when you look at what is happening nationally, the country is still in debt. We have to realistic about what money will be coming to county councils.

“Demand is going up. I think we are all rather negative about the ageing population and there is a negative picture painted of older people and that is unfair.

“But the cost pressures are on children. Again we must not paint this too negatively but there children and young people with complex needs.”

She said some of the support would need to come from councils – but some would come from the community and the support they had in their own lives, from their families and friends.

“I think the danger is when people come into ‘the system’ too quickly and we almost take that independence away. But there are some that are in genuine need and we need to find a way of supporting them.”

One of the challenges facing councils was the end of government spending plans made several years in advance – from next year councils would rely on annual settlements from Whitehall.

With all the pressures on local authorities, how does Ms Beach see the future of local government: “I’m an optimist, but with a streak of realism running through. I think I have to be, otherwise I shouldn’t be in the role.

“This organisation has generated money. It’s done some really sensible things with its commercial decisions. We need to look at more of that and talk about that to members.

“We’ve made savings, and we will again. We’ll work it through because it’s our responsibility. Suffolk is a great place to live and work and grow up, and I hope its going to be a great place to grow old with good quality of life and independence.

“My job is to work collaboratively to make that happen. If I was to sit here with my head in my hands it’s time to go.”

Looking ahead, Suffolk has to be able to grow: “I know the word growth always worries some people but actually it is about how we use all the assets Suffolk has. We have the energy coast, we have BT at Adastral Park and we are really keen to see Ipswich develop.

“It should be really booming. It’s not far from London and it’s not far from Cambridge – we should be attracting talent from those centres, and we are seeing growth like the new Birketts office.”

Chief enjoys outdoor living at the end of the working day

Nicola Beach lives in a village near Framlingham and has lived in Suffolk for 20 years – before taking her current job she had senior council jobs in Norfolk and then Essex.

Her most recent previous job was as a director at Essex County Council and before that she was chief executive of Braintree District Council.

When she’s out of her office she enjoys gardening and looking after her hens.

She’s also a keen birdwatcher who loves visiting one of Suffolk’s most popular attractions: “I was at Minsmere at the weekend. I cycle and I love the country lanes. I’ve got family and friends in Suffolk and I love being outside as much as possible.”

Having worked in other nearby authorities, Ms Beach is enjoying being part of the community that is served by the authority she runs: “I love living and working in the same place.”

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