West Suffolk: Suffolk County Council has “ingrained bias” towards east of county, claims Bury St Edmunds councillor
06:57 14 April 2014
Calls have been made for west Suffolk to shape its own political destiny amid claims it gets a raw deal from Suffolk County Council.
Independents accused the county council of bias towards Ipswich and east Suffolk, with many backing proposals from the Green Party for west Suffolk to have its own unitary authority.
Lakenheath councillor Colin Noble, who challenged Mark Bee for the council’s leadership last week, and other Conservatives have dismissed concerns, saying the west of the county was well represented at Endeavour House. But David Nettleton, an independent county and borough councillor for Bury St Edmunds, said Suffolk County Council had an “ingrained bias towards the east” that stretched back to when it was formed 40 years ago.
“On the county I feel my role is to campaign for Bury, because I feel as though perhaps it’s been missed out in terms of thinking about it,” he said.
“There’s an impression that Bury’s a sleepy hollow and there’s no issues, when there are issues – there’s issues everywhere.”
Mr Nettleton went on to renew his calls for a unitary authority for west Suffolk - plans he first backed five years ago. The Green Party has re-ignited calls for Suffolk to be divided into four unitary authorities – Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury, Mid Suffolk and Babergh, Waveney and Suffolk Coastal, and Ipswich.
There are currently 55 unitary authorities across the country where one council performs all public sector services, rather than sharing them between counties and districts.
Bury’s other independent representative on the county council, Trevor Beckwith, said: “I agree entirely that west Suffolk doesn’t get a good deal from the county council, or it doesn’t appear to anyway.
“The east Suffolk gang seems to think the county stops at Stowmarket – that’s the impression I get. It’s difficult to get anything done on this side.
“Suffolk’s a big county geographically, and I’m not too sure that people can cope with things happening 30, 40 or 50 miles away.”
Mr Beckwith did not support a unitary authority for west Suffolk, though, adding: “Often the things the county councils deal with, there’s economy of scale – education, social care. If you come down to a west Suffolk unitary, the scale drops.
“I’m totally opposed to a to a countywide unitary, though. We’d have the same situation we’ve got now, only worse. That, to me, would be a giant step backwards.”
While Waveney, Suffolk Coastal and Ipswich have three 13 councillors apiece on the county council, St Edmundsbury has 11, Babergh has 10 and Forest Heath has five.
Council leader Mark Bee represents Beccles, but half of the council’s eight-strong cabinet comes from the west, including finance chief Mr Noble.
He said: “I think we make a real effort to represent our area, so there’s a really strong voice on the county.
“There are great strengths on the districts and boroughs, and there are great strengths on the county council. It’s really about how the districts and boroughs can work better together, and with the county.”
Mr Noble also said his leadership challenge was nothing to do with a lack of west Suffolk representation, adding it was about “the voice in every single town and village”.
Bury’s Tory county and borough councillor Sarah Stamp echoed Mr Noble, saying the west Suffolk voice was “improving” at county level.
She added: “One of the reasons I stood is so we had a loud voice, because we have been ignored in the past – I think that’s fair comment.
“I like to think things are getting better, and we’ve got very strong representation in the town. It is an issue I’m aware of and we need to make sure Bury’s voice is heard.”
But Julia Wakelam, a Green Party borough councillor for St Edmundsbury, pointed to the school organisation review and waste transfer station as issues where Bury had been shortchanged, while UKIP’s Tony Brown – a borough and county councillor for Haverhill – joined the Greens in calling for west Suffolk to have greater powers.
“I think west Suffolk does get overlooked, and Haverhill in particular,” he said.
“We’re the furthest extremis from Ipswich. I just think Haverhill is getting a totally raw deal, and west Suffolk as well. I go to county meetings, and it seems to be 75% of what gets talked about is Ipswich and east Suffolk.
“Suffolk County Council have done nothing to improve our infrastructure links to the outside world. I’d like it if we had a council that actually looked at our needs more locally, that had more power and more of a budget.”