County council election battle begins

THIS year's battle for control of Suffolk County Council will not be the formality the Conservatives expect because they will be defending controversial policies on middle schools, waste incineration, and social care charges.

Graham Dines

THIS year's battle for control of Suffolk County Council will not be the formality the Conservatives expect because they will be defending controversial policies on middle schools, waste incineration, and social care charges.

The Tories took back control of Suffolk in 2005 from the joint administration of Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who had held power for 12 years.

Under the leadership of Jeremy Pembroke, the Conservatives have kept their manifesto promises of low council tax rises combined with cutting waste and keeping a tight rein on spending.

However, in the past two years the county council has found itself at the centre of a number of controversial issues, including the decision to appoint Andrea Hill as chief executive on a salary of �218,000 which is �60,000 more than her predecessor.

The appointment brought widespread opposition, not against Mrs Hill but the salary which she was given. The decision was defended by Mr Pembroke - “if we want the best, we have to pay accordingly.”

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The reorganisation of secondary education in Suffolk will see the closure of 40 middle schools in the north and west of the county while the introduction of charges for social care has been fiercely opposed by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The Tories have voted also to build an incinerator to dispose of household and industrial waste, which has brought widespread criticism from environmentalists.

There are 75 county councillors in Suffolk, divided between the seven districts. These could be the last elections to take place because the Government is expected to give the go-ahead later this year for the creation of up to two unitary councils to replace the county and district authorities.

In Ipswich, more than a dozen borough councillors are seeking a double mandate as they battle to get a seat on the county council.

The intervention of the BNP and Greens in the Bridge division Ipswich gives Labour's Bryony Rudkin a tough battle. Mrs Rudkin, a former leader of the county council, is contesting her third different ward in three successive elections - in 2005, she was deselected by party activists in priory Heath and switched to Chantry ward, which she has represented for the past four years.

Now she's trying her luck in Bridge, where long serving Labour county councillor and former authority chairman Harold Mangar is stepping down.

In Rushmere ward, Labour's Sue Thomas is seeking re-election, opposed by leading Ipswich councillor Judy Terry for the Tories.

Another long-serving Labour county councillor is stepping down. David Lockwood, who is one of the leading figures in Bury St Edmunds politics, has decided not to seek re-election.

The problem Labour has had in finding candidates is seen outside Ipswich, where a number of borough politicians and party officials are fighting seats they have no chance of winning.

These include Roger Fern in Belstead Brook, Kimberley Cook in Melford, Keith Rawlings in Peninsula, David Jermy in Thedwastre South, John Cook in Upper Gipping.

Polling day is June 4.