Council criticised for lack of consultation
COUNTY council bosses came under fire last night for failing to consult with Suffolk’s town and parish councils over controversial plans which will see more responsibility shouldered by local communities.
In a survey of more than 20 town and parish councils and voluntary groups carried out by the EADT, the overwhelming majority said they did not feel they had been consulted properly on the Suffolk County Council proposals.
County councillors last month voted 52-11 to approve moves towards introducing a new strategic direction which could see county council services being provided by other organisations.
One of the visions of the new direction is for communities to do things for themselves and for volunteers to take on more responsibilities, like running vital services.
However, the EADT has discovered that many town and parish councils – who will be given more responsibilities under the plans – have been left angry because they feel they had not been consulted before county councillors agreed on the new strategic direction last month.
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But, despite this, the survey also found that the majority of town and parish councils said they would welcome greater responsibilities.
Alan Shaw, chairman of Haughley Parish Council, near Stowmarket, said: “We haven’t been involved in any consultation at all. We have just heard from the county council that this is what they are going to do yet they haven’t even talked to us.
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“However that doesn’t mean we are adverse to the idea, in principal I think there are some services where it would make sense. Providing the funding comes with it.”
Ken Watkins, chairman of Alpheton Parish Council, near Sudbury, also said the council had no communication from Suffolk County Council about the shake-up.
“They seem to have taken a decision without consulting with us at all,” he said.
Tony Cooper, chairman of Leiston-cum-Sizewell Town Council, said: “It would have been nice if we had been consulted beforehand. However we have no qualms about taking on more responsibility, so long as the finance is there to do so.
“Our community is already paying enough – if they want us to take on libraries etc then they will have to provide the finances and resources to do so.”
David Nunn, chairman of Mendlesham Parish Council, near Stowmarket, also said: “We have to be realistic – we are going to see some cuts and if we want to keep the standards of service in our community we might have to pay for them.
“However to me it seems to have been a little bit rushed through.”
Under the proposals, more responsibilities will also be taken on by volunteers. But this also caused concern among some parish councils.
Nic Perks, chairman of Stowupland Parish Council, near Stowmarket, said while the council would be willing to take on some responsibilities there was a fear it could create a two-tier society.
“In more affluent areas where people could be more likely to get involved in community life they will motor ahead,” he said. “In the poorer areas where people might be less inclined to get involved they could fall backwards. We are very concerned about that.”
The extent of the council’s budget cuts will not become clear until the Government publishes its comprehensive spending review later this month.
The authority is expected to face cuts of 25%– and in its non-schools budget that could amount to more than 30%.
Jeremy Pembroke, leader of the county council, has previously staunchly defended the shake-up, saying it will improve outcomes for the people of Suffolk while ensuring they cope with a cut in revenue grant from the Government.
Editorial comment – Page 18
What do you think of the county council proposals? E-mail the EADT at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to EADT Letters, Press House, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN