West Suffolk: Councillors unimpressed by councils’ vision for strategy and finance

Jon Vale West Suffolk reporter jon.vale@archant.co.uk
Friday, January 24, 2014
7:00 AM

Councillors have demanded an extraordinary meeting after being left underwhelmed by two crucial council policies.

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Members of St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath’s overview and scrutiny panels gave brutally frank assessments of the new West Suffolk Strategic Plan and Medium Term Financial Strategy on Tuesday, insisting they review amended versions of each before they are signed off for final approval.

The two documents will be shared by St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath as they further integrate services between now and 2016. However, a total of 10 councillors voiced varying degrees of concern about both documents during a lively 90-minute meeting at Forest Heath’s offices in Mildenhall.

Forest Heath’s Michael Jefferys said: “What are the mechanisms and instruments we’re going to use to achieve this? I haven’t got a clue. Unless we’re prepared to be a little bit more particular about what we’re going to do... I just cannot accept this report.

“It seems to be a licence to do nothing and hope for the best.”

St Edmundsbury’s Jim Thorndyke had similar criticism, saying: “We need someone in here who can actually do things, as opposed to just write reports that, to me, have absolutely no meaning whatsoever. It’s an empty document. There’s a lot of statements in here that have absolutely no meaning whatsoever, because they haven’t got any meat on them.”

Councils are required by law to have a strategic document to set key priorities. The three outlined for West Suffolk are increasing economic growth, improving resilience among families and communities, and providing better homes for everyone.

Davina Howes, head of policy, communication and customers, said: “It wasn’t intended to show absolutely every single thing that we are doing – it just tries to articulate the general direction and issues that we’re working on as councils over the next couple of years.

“The meat sits underneath it in things like Vision 2031, in our planning documents, in our housing strategy, in our families and communities strategy and the economic growth strategy. This sits above it.”

Councillors refused to give officers approval to make amendments without reviewing the changes, despite working to a short time frame.

The financial strategy needs to be approved at next month’s cabinet and full council meetings, to allow officers to begin preparing a tailored budget, so an extraordinary meeting will have to be arranged to review the amended documents before February 11.

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