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By Paul Geater, local government correspondent
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
MARK Bee does not become county council leader for another five weeks – but already he is looking at making big changes in the way the authority operates.
MARK Bee, 46, has lived in Beccles all his life – several generations of his family have come from the town near the Suffolk/Norfolk border.
He is not married and devotes much of his life to politics.
As leader of Waveney District Council he has been applauded for turning an under-performing authority into one of the highest rated in the country since taking over in 2004.
When he is not involved with politics Mr Bee likes going on walking holidays with friends and gardening at his Beccles home.
He also likes walking his dog and is a familiar sight on the streets of his home town.
Mr Bee, right, is a keen amateur photographer – but he is clearly a very political animal who is now preparing to take over the leadership of the largest organisation in his home county.
The words “New Strategic Direction” do not feature in his vocabulary and he said he would be using the weeks before he takes up his new role to review many of the council’s most controversial policies.
He said: “My intention is to review aspects such as the school crossing patrols, libraries, care homes and household waste sites, and we have already started to do this kind of thing.
“It is about saying we will need to find ways that these services can be run outside the county’s finances but we are not just simply going to say we are going to stop doing things without a clear idea of what they will be replaced with.
“So we want to be clearer about what the next steps would be for this type of service.”
He was not able to say that the New Strategic Direction was dead because he is not yet council leader and it has not been discussed by the cabinet – but he said there would be a period of reflection over the next few weeks.
He added: “When we come back on 26 May and I am properly installed as leader there will be an opportunity to have a new way of looking at things.” Mr Bee said it was important that the future policies of the county council reflected the wishes of the people of Suffolk and were not mainly aimed at impressing ministers in Whitehall.
He said: “If we are going to properly engage with the people of Suffolk we are going to have find out what they want in such a way that there is a meaningful way that these things can be run and not just a theory and a hope that people will take them on.
“If the Big Society is about anything it is about working with communities and I want us as a council to actively do that rather than just hope and anticipate that people will take these things on.”
Across Suffolk, Mr Bee had detected an interest and willingness among people to take on services, but he felt the council had been moving too fast.
He said: “Something I have found as leader of Waveney is that we need to spend time building relationships, developing contacts with local communities rather than just throwing it over to them with the hope they will take it on.”
Mr Bee is standing for re-election to Waveney District Council in next month’s district elections, but will step down as leader of that authority at its annual meeting on May 25, conveniently the day before the county council meeting which will see him take the helm at Endeavour House.
He works part-time as a Conservative Party agent in Waveney, but expects his role as county council leader to dominate most of his time over the next few years. He said his intention was to spend much of his week in Endeavour House, but also to get out and about around the county.
He added: “I see my role not to be just based here, it’s got to be more outward-looking.”
The council has been involved in several controversies over recent weeks.
Staff were left shattered by the tragic death of interim head of legal services David White last week.
Mr Bee said: “We will be looking carefully at the many issues that have been very public over the last few weeks and clearly we have a duty of care to all staff.”