A sense of unity pervades Ipswich
THIS will be one of the strangest elections ever contested in Ipswich. While there are policy differences between the Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration and Labour, all three parties are united on one theme: Ipswich must be allowed to run its own affairs, independent of the county council.
By Graham Dines
UNANIMITY is rare in local politics. While there are policy differences between the Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration and Labour in Ipswich, all three parties share one aim: Ipswich must be allowed to run its own affairs, independent of the county council.
The parties buried their disagreements to jointly approve Ipswich council's bid to become a unitary authority, running all main services such as education, social care, libraries, and consumer protection which are currently administered by Suffolk.
If unitary status is granted, there will have to be all out elections in Ipswich next year, with councillors elected for four year terms. In the meantime, May 3 sees one third of seats for the district council - run by the Tories and Liberal Democrats in coalition since 2004 - being contested.
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It is all but impossible for Labour to wrest control from the other parties this year, but group leader David Ellesmere remains upbeat and says Ipswich can no longer trust the Tories and Lib Dems. “Their instincts are to cut and to privatise. They waste money on schemes that no one wants while cutting services that we once took for granted.
“They are targeting their cuts at the most vulnerable members of society and in particular at pensioners. The Tories and Liberals in Ipswich have closed the Age Concern tea rooms - we would reopen them.
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“They have made finding decent, affordable housing in Ipswich worse by giving priority to the wrong kind of housing. More luxury apartments are being built instead of family homes, and some `shared ownership' housing provided by the council has been empty for two years.
“The Labour Government has given councils new powers to crack down on anti-social behaviour but the Tories and Liberals are not using them. All too often victims of anti-social behaviour have to wait months or even years for their suffering to end.”
Mr Ellesmere is convinced that the future of Ipswich Buses will be a vote winner. The council is demanding that the bus company pays a dividend to the council taxpayers, who are the shareholders. Paying back some of the profits is, argues the council, only equitable after all the support the borough has given Ipswich Buses over the years. However, there have been mutterings that if the cash is repaid, bus routes may have to be cut.
Liz Harsant, the Conservative leader the authority, is proud of her administration's record. “We were shocked at the backlog on building maintenance, estimated at £25m at the time, but probably nearer double that figure, and we quickly instituted an asset review to identify those buildings at risk. This resulted in a planned building maintenance strategy, which will be worked through over the next few years in accordance with good asset management practices.
“The New Wolsey Theatre, Town Hall and now thriving Regent Theatre are some of the beneficiaries of this policy, as well as Alexandra Park Wall which will be rebuilt in the summer. Broomhill Pool, closed since 2002, could be reopened by 2010; following publication of the Council-funded feasibility study, and its commitment to contribute £1m, the Trust is now seeking further investment to bring the lido back into use.
“From the outset of the new Conservative-led administration, we made a commitment to keeping council tax increases at or below the rate of inflation, instead of the annual 9% increases suffered in previous years. Given the huge financial challenges we faced, and continue to face, we have kept this promise and will continue to do so, whilst investing in the town, to the benefit of local people.
“One of our biggest investments has been an additional £900,000 in an enhanced free bus travel scheme for the over 60's, allowing them to travel in Ipswich and across Suffolk, at all times. The minimum government requirement is for off-peak travel within the town only.”
Lib Dem group leader Richard Atkins adds: “We have had a positive effect since taking over with the Tories. We now expect to build on this platform to make Ipswich an even better place
“Having won the `cleanest town in Britain' award, we will strive to make Ipswich cleaner still. Having more than doubled recycling in Ipswich, we will continue to push recycling figures upwards, and will work towards reduction of refuse.
“Having achieved 'respect' status, we will continue to make Ipswich an even safer place to be. We are commencing consultation on adoption of a street drinking ban and will increase CCTV provision, and work to remove on-street prostitution.”
Referring to the buses controversy, Mr Atkins says: “Having seen Ipswich Buses services expand and passenger numbers soar, we are supporting buses with 10% (£250,000) more funding in the coming year.”
He pledged that having kept council tax increases to inflation or below for three years, the council will continue to provide sound economic management and value for money for the taxpayer.
Standing again as an independent in Castle Hill ward with a manifesto commitment of reopening Broomhill Lido is the indefatigable Sally Wainman. She is furious that the council is “prepared to countenance” the expenditure of £24 million on a new indoor pool without making a proper commitment to the future of the open air lido.