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Suffolk: County council leader Mark Bee faces cabinet challenge

09:17 25 March 2014

Mark Bee, leader of Suffolk County Council.

Mark Bee, leader of Suffolk County Council.

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Suffolk County Council leader Mark Bee is facing a leadership challenge from finance spokesman Colin Noble.

There will be a leadership election at the annual general meeting of the county council’s Conservative group on April 10.

If Mr Noble is successful, he would take over as leader of the Conservative group – which has a slim majority on the county council – but Mr Bee would remain council leader until at least the annual meeting of the authority.

There was widespread surprise at the news of the challenge – Mr Bee is generally seen as having steadied the authority after the hiatus of the Jeremy Pembroke/Andrea Hill era.

Mr Noble told councillors about the challenge in an e-mail. It said: “Over the past few months, I have been contacted by many colleagues concerned at the way in which the group is being led and the council is being run.

“I have, following a great number of discussions, decided to put my name forward for the position of group leader and thus leader of the council. This is because I believe I have the drive, commitment and determination to lead us to victory on 4 May 2017.

“Leadership of our group cannot be phoned-in, nor can it be exercised by chairing meetings. It involves a commitment of time, energy and focus based at Endeavour House and not fitted in around other responsibilities.”

Mr Noble said he did not see the key issue as being the direction the council was heading in, but rather a question of emphasis in the way the council was being run.

Mr Bee easily beat Mr Noble in the race to run the council three years ago, and felt that this election was an unnecessary distraction.

He said: “I recognise that Colin Noble has a lot of talent and I have tried to encourage that over the last three years when I have been leader of this authority.

“Unfortunately I believe he has put his personal ambition ahead of the interests of the county council, the Conservative group and the Conservative Party.”

Senior backbencher Joanna Spicer is a key supporter of Mr Bee. She said: “Many of us are rather surprised this challenge has come at this point because the general feeling is that Mark Bee and his team are doing a good job in very challenging circumstances.

“We have a smaller majority than we had before last May, but it is a clear majority and we are able to carry out our manifesto commitments – you don’t have to look too far to see what can happen if there is not clear leadership at the head of a county council.”

Mrs Spicer said the election would be a distraction at a time when the authority had much to do.

“Mark Bee has done a very good job over the last three years after a very difficult time for the county – during which time Colin Noble was in the cabinet.

“There are still challenges and we are trying to get to grips with improving education in Suffolk. But you have to remember that work only really started after Mark became leader.

“There were problems building up with leadership at schools and in the schools reorganisation review before Mark took over in 2011, but it was only at that point that the administration accepted something had to be done – leading to the launch of the Raising the Bar initiative in 2012.”

Most of Suffolk’s Conservative MPs are expected to remind their county councillors of the work done by Mr Bee and his team over the last three years – but there is expected to be some frantic campaigning over the next two weeks.

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