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Suffolk: New county council leader Mark Bee signals change in direction

PUBLISHED: 16:48 26 May 2011 | UPDATED: 17:48 26 May 2011

Mark Bee

Mark Bee

Archant

MARK Bee, the new leader of Suffolk County Council, today said the authority will move away from the controversial ‘New Strategic Direction’ and listen to the people.

In his acceptance speech, which can be found below, Mr Bee signalled a clear change in direction for the County Council.

Speaking about the New Strategic Direction (NSD) he said: “I do not believe the NSD as a concept has connected with the people of Suffolk, some politicians, partner organisations or indeed many of our staff.

“The people of Suffolk expect to be listened to and cared about.”

Mr Bee continued: “I am clear that my leadership will not be about a philosophy, it will be about – listening to the people of Suffolk, openness and transparency and practical solutions appropriate to the needs of a community.”

Mr Bee outlined clear examples of this change including school crossing patrols, libraries, household waste recycling sites and country parks.

Within the speech Mr Bee talked of the challenges facing the Council, including savings of £125m over four years, environmental issues, an ageing population and the need to improve broadband access for the people of Suffolk.

He said this had to be done with the “minimum impact possible on front line service.”

Speaking about his cabinet, he said: “We currently have an excellent cabinet with a wealth of experience and a record of achievement. It is therefore my intention to retain the current cabinet members in their existing roles.”

There will however be one enforced change – Colin Law has been elected Leader of Waveney District Council and has therefore stepped down from the cabinet.

Mr Law’s Portfolio (Skills and Economic Development) will be merged with the Greenest County Portfolio – County Councillor Judy Terry will be the Portfolio Holder.

Mr Bee closed his speech by talking about real Conservative values, the importance of listening and the need to keep Suffolk special for generations to come.

County Councillor Mark Bee’s speech:

“Madam Chairman, colleagues, It is a huge honour to be elected Leader of Suffolk County Council.

“It is, I believe, the biggest job in Suffolk and I would like to thank the Council for the confidence they have shown in me today.

“I must also thank Joanna and Jane for their kind words. I can’t quite accept the comparison with Hercules – something which I think fits more closely with the task faced by David Cameron at national level.

“I would, at this stage, like to thank the Conservative group for electing me as their leader six weeks ago.

“I was up against two exceptional candidates in Colin Noble and Guy McGregor. I look forward to working closely with Colin and Guy in the coming months and years.

“I would like to say a special thank you to Jane Storey who has been Acting Leader of the Council since Jeremy stepped down in April.

“Jane has done an excellent job and has been a great support to me. Thank you Jane.

“In becoming leader of the council, I am stepping into shoes recently vacated by Jeremy Pembroke.

“Jeremy was an outstanding leader of both Suffolk County Council and the Conservative group. Jeremy was the driving force behind the Conservative victory in 2005 and has made a huge contribution to this Council and for the people of Suffolk.

“Not least in using his considerable business experience to save £80m and make this council one of most efficient in the country – Jeremy always carried out his role with a great deal of honesty and integrity.

“Jeremy is passionate about Suffolk and its people and it is fitting that he has been elected as Vice Chairman today, with the possibility of then becoming Chairman of this Council in 2012 – Olympic year. Jeremy, thank you for your leadership, passion and hard work.

“Like Jeremy I am passionate about Suffolk and the people who live and work in this county.

“I am born and bred in Suffolk, my family is from Suffolk – in fact my family history can be traced back in Suffolk to 1584.

“I believe I understand Suffolk and the people who live here. Suffolk is a unique and special place. As are the people who live here.

“It’s no accident that people choose to live and work here, and those that do, usually stay.

“You here the phrase the Suffolk way – and I believe that is true. The people of Suffolk have a way of approaching life. The people of Suffolk believe in community, family, history and tradition.

“I believe we have to work with those beliefs and not against them. If we do that people will understand the difficult decisions we have to make.

“I have been involved in politics for the last 20 years. As Leader of Waveney District Council I have overseen its transformation from a failing organisation to a highly successful council that is really able to deliver for the people it serves.

“The key thing I have learnt in that role is that you can achieve far more by working with people – not only residents but partners and I hope to bring that learning with me, as leader of Suffolk County Council.”

“Today I will set out my approach to the leadership of this council: the challenges we face and the solutions which I believe are available to us.

“Let me start by addressing directly the issue of the New Strategic Direction.

“Much good work has been done as part of the NSD and I will talk about some of that work today.

“However I do not believe that the NSD as a concept has connected with the people of Suffolk, some politicians, partner organisations or, indeed, many of our staff.

“The people of Suffolk expect to be listened to and cared about. I don’t believe the vast majority of people believe we have been doing that.

“I want to make it clear that this is, in so many ways, an excellent authority with outstanding staff who work hard every day to make a difference.

“We must recognise that, whilst, at the same time, acknowledging that the environment in which we operate will change.

“The NSD has come to be seen as a one size fits all philosophy that must be applied across Suffolk, regardless of the views of local communities.

“This has resulted in much of the good work being ignored. With the debate focused around the concept and three or four highly contentious issues.

“I believe that has been to the detriment of Suffolk County Council.

“I am clear that my Leadership will not be about a ‘philosophy’. It will be about 3 core principles: Listening to the people of Suffolk, openness and transparency, and above all: Practical, common sense solutions to problems based on the needs of a specific area developed with communities and partners.

“I believe that keeping these principles in mind will be essential, if we are, collectively, going to keep our county special, by addressing the challenges we face.

“This is about Councillors, staff, other authorities, business, the voluntary sector and residents working together to meet the challenges we face – an agenda of shared responsibility.

“We all know that what is right for Bury St Edmunds may not be right for Felixstowe and what works in Ipswich may not work in Lowestoft. And what works in urban areas may not meet the needs of Suffolk people living in our rural communities.

“We must reconnect with communities across Suffolk and I am focused on doing that. This is about shared responsibility and partnership working.

“And that is why ‘our place’ will be central to our work as we move forward.

“This is where I believe councillors are so important whatever their political persuasion. Working not only as elected representatives here in Endeavour House but also in and with their communities to deliver change locally. Members know their localities best and we must use that knowledge, and properly support councillors in achieving success for the communities they serve. It is my intention to work with all members.”

“We still face many challenges as a Council.

“Not least of which will be the need to make savings in excess of £80m over the next 3 years. This is on top of the £42million we’ve had to make this year.

“I am determined that we will do that with minimum impact on front line services. And that is why I want to build on some of the good work that has already been done.

“For example the work that has been done on Country Parks.

“We have had 14 expressions of interest from a range of organisations who want to run our Country Parks.

“This will save council tax payers at least £400,000 a year whilst maintaining those parks for use by their community.

“This is a practical example of the ‘Big Society’ at work – and clearly illustrates the principle of shared responsibility in action. An example that we can build on.

“In addition we will be looking very hard at our levels of bureaucracy and overheads. I believe there are opportunities for further savings in those areas.

“As we all know, there have been other issues where the council has not been so successful. School Crossing Patrols – the council entirely underestimated the importance of school crossing patrols to the people of Suffolk.

“The feedback from the public has been overwhelming and I am delighted to say that we can now give people the assurance that existing patrols will continue to be supported, while we work with communities to find alternative sources of funding – an approach based on shared responsibility

“Another key issue has been Household Waste Recycling Centres. We are revisiting that issue. And our approach has changed.

“We are no longer focused on closure – it is now about how we can work with communities to keep open as many centres as possible.

“We will be exploring every opportunity possible to achieve that objective – again, through shared responsibility. Probably the single most controversial issue has been libraries.

“Again we are listening to what people are telling us.

“And we are hearing that libraries are vital to communities across Suffolk.

“Not just as places that lend books but as social meeting points. A place where people of all ages are able to interact. Again our thinking has evolved.

“So, it will not be about closing libraries – but about exploring every available opportunity to keep them open.

“That is why we are considering the setting up of a community interest company that could work in partnership with communities to ensure that as many libraries as possible remain open and are able to flourish.

“The recent consultation has resulted in many ideas and expressions of interest and I am encouraged by that. Where we can build on the principle of shared responsibility, I am confident that we will achieve success.

“As we move forward we will face much longer term and more fundamental challenges. In many ways our leadership challenge is about putting in place the foundations now, that will make future generations resilient to these challenges, so that they, too, are able to enjoy living in this great county.

“What are these challenges and how are we addressing them?

“Much has already been said about our ageing population.

“We must find new ways of delivering the excellent support we already offer to older people across Suffolk. Work has already begun on this and will continue.

“I also strongly believe that environmental issues are of vital importance: not just for us but for generations to come.

“It is surely right that we develop better, more sustainable ways of living and working, ways that allow us to make best use of our limited resources. As the County Council we must and will set an example.

“That is why the fantastic work already done on the Greenest County must continue and expand.

“Doing this is not only good in itself, but also because being able to capitalise on the growth in the green economy will have great knock-on benefits for the wider Suffolk economy.

“Because, Madam Chairman, economic development and prosperity in Suffolk is another crucial issue for us.

“We have committed to delivering faster broadband access for Suffolk.

“This will open up opportunities not only for business, but also for students and people who want to access information and electronic services from their homes.

“These opportunities will bring benefits for generations to come.”

“As Leader I know that I cannot achieve anything without the help and support of a great many people.

“We must work hand in hand with district, borough and parish councils.

“And with the voluntary sector – who have such am important role to play, in building on their excellent track record in Suffolk.

“This is not about SCC having all the answers. Many times because of our size and influence it will be appropriate for us to take the lead – but it will be leading with others, not imposing solutions on them.

“On many other occasions we will support and enable. At all times we must listen.

“As I have said I invite all members from whatever political party to work with me to achieve results for the people of Suffolk.

“We will work closely with our MPs, listening to their views, and using their influence to maximise central government support for Suffolk.

“In all of this I know that I will have the support of my group and cabinet.

“Madam Chairman, I believe that what we need in the ranks of political leadership at this time is stability. We currently have an excellent cabinet with a wealth of experience and a record of achievement. It is therefore my intention to retain the current cabinet members in their existing roles.

“The one enforced change to this will be the departure of Colin Law, who has stepped down from the cabinet because of his election as Leader of Waveney District Council. I’d like to thank Colin for all of his hard work and wish him well in what I know to be a challenging, but highly rewarding new role.

“And because I recognise that we should seize on every opportunity to save money, and also because, as I mentioned earlier, there is a clear connection between the work on economic development work and greenest county project, I have decided to merge these two portfolios, with Judy Terry taking on the expanded role.

“This is a team that will provide just the stability and strength of purpose that I believe we need at this challenging time.

“And finally the staff of Suffolk County Council. I would like to thank them for all their hard work.

“We will need their continued support, ideas and energy to meet the challenges we face and as always I am sure that we can rely on them.

“Madam Chairman, I don’t bring any Herculean powers to this job.

“What I do bring are solid Conservative values, a desire to serve the people of Suffolk, and deliver value for money; to meet the challenges we face, now and in the future, with pragmatism, resolve and common sense, and to work closely with the people and their communities across Suffolk to deliver the future we, and they, want.

“Suffolk is a very special place and the people that live here are equally so.

“We have a responsibility to keep Suffolk special by meeting the challenges facing us. We are entrusted with protecting and improving this great county for generations to come.

“Today is the day I start doing exactly that.

“Thank you.”

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