Colin Noble takes over county council leadership – with warning of tough spending decisions to come
Suffolk County Council has a new leader after the ruling Conservative group at Endeavour House voted unanimously to elect Colin Noble to head the authority.
Despite some remaining bitterness over the way that the Mark Bee leadership of the authority had ended, every Conservative member except Mr Bee himself was at the annual meeting that elected Mr Noble to the top job.
Mr Bee was at a training day at Waveney District Council, of which he is also a member.
All 37 Conservatives at the meeting voted for Mr Noble while the 31 opposition councillors present voted against his appointment.
There had been suggestions that some disgruntled Tories might stay away – but there was no boycott and all voted on party lines.
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After his election, Mr Noble said the county continued to face tough times with the Chancellor of the Exchequer planning another budget in July that was likely to see further cuts to spending for local authorities.
However it was clear that in the recent elections the British voters – and especially those in Suffolk itself – had backed the party that was offering reduced government expenditure.
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It was important to him to get the views of people across the county and he planned to visit towns in all parts of Suffolk to find out what people wanted from their council.
He said: “When I grew up the key things around the table at home was talk about the community and business – and that is what has driven me in politics.
“When things were going well for the business, there was more money to spend and more people were able to share in the prosperity. When things were in recession it was tougher, and difficult decisions had to be made.”
Speaking after the meeting he said it was important take the views of the public into account: “Genuinely we have got a lot of big decisions to make and I think we want to hear from people and have a two-way conversation with people about what they think and what they value because it should reflect on where you prioritise your spending and how you do things.”
He said that while there may be reductions in government spending, the county would focus on the “devolution agenda” and would be aiming to work with other authorities to reduce the costs of bureaucracy across the county.
Providing social care is a major issue for county councils – and Mr Noble is a former cabinet member for adult and community services at the county.
He said there was a delicate balancing act to handled – but as keepers of the public purse the council had to keep an eye on costs.
Education has been a major issue in Suffolk over the last few years – and Lisa Chambers retains responsibility for education in Mr Noble’s first cabinet.
The increasing number of academies and free schools has meant that the direct county council influence has diminished, but Mr Noble felt the authority’s role should not be overlooked.
He said: “The role of the county council remains in terms of the people’s expectation and representation because if you have a problem you go to your county councillor that goes to the county council and I think that is right and proper.
“And while you have less direct influence you still have a lot of influence. So if our school improvement service is outstanding schools will buy into that service rather than go to another provider.”
Mr Noble was confident that the bitterness that was felt by some Conservative councillors following the departure of Mr Bee could now be overcome.
He said: “There is a feeling now that we have to move on. We think we have got a sound set of policies with which to run Suffolk County Council.
“There is a bigger agenda to run this council well and protect the services to the most vulnerable in Suffolk.”