County hall falls to Tories in Suffolk
THE Conservatives stormed to power in Suffolk as they took control of the county council after 12 years in the wilderness with a crushing majority.The Tories have 45 councillors on the new authority while Labour has 22, the Liberal Democrats 7 and there is one Independent.
THE Conservatives stormed to power in Suffolk as they took control of the county council after 12 years in the wilderness with a crushing majority.
The Tories have 45 councillors on the new authority while Labour has 22, the Liberal Democrats 7 and there is one Independent.
Since 1993, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have been in joint administration, but the Boundary Commission's decision to reduce the number of councillors from 80 to 75, combined with a complete collapse in support for the Liberal Democrats, propelled the Tories to victory.
The big worry for the Tories will be their poor performance in the two major urban centres in the county, Ipswich and Lowestoft. They have just one county councillor out of 13 in Ipswich – most of their members come from the rural areas, and Jeremy Pembroke, the Leader-designate of the authority, will have a difficult balancing act to make as he assembles his portfolio holders to run the Executive Committee.
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High profile Labour and Liberal Democrats fell like nine pins at the Tory advance. Labour had already deselected Terry Green, who was in charge of social care, but David Rowe – portfolio holder for finance – lost in Felixstowe North & Trimley and Ray Novak, defeated in St Edmundsbury Tower division, had been in charge of resources.
Liberal Democrats lost Peter Monk, portfolio holder for public protection, by 24 votes in Suffolk Coastal's Wilford division and former Council chairman Helen Whitworth in Mid Suffolk's Thredling seat.
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On the back of Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer's re-election with a doubled majority, all nine county council divisions in the district were won by the Conservatives.
An early indication of the Tory landslide came in Babergh district's Great Cornard seat where Wil Gibson was ousted by 202 votes.
Tory leader Jeremy Pembroke – safely re-elected in Babergh's Cosford division – said he was "absolutely delighted" at his party's triumph.
"I am very aware that we have not taken seats in Ipswich and Lowestoft but I make the pledge that we will serve the interests of all of Suffolk's citizens, whether they live in urban or rural areas."
Mr Pembroke said he would issue instructions on Monday to the council's Chief Executive Mike More to freeze recruitment of non-frontline staff until it could be proved that the posts were really necessary.
"Two thirds of this council's costs goes on salaries. We have to cut Suffolk's overheads, and keep central administration costs under control, but I want to assure staff that we are not about to purge jobs."
Mr Pembroke said the new council would work in partnership with Suffolk's district authorities to reduce duplication of services.
Labour group leader Bryony Rudkin – who headed the joint Labour-Liberal Democrat administration – promised her party would offer "effective and constructive" opposition.
"Of course I am disappointed we have lost, but the Lib Dem vote collapsed throughout Suffolk and that's the reasons the Tories are back in power."
She denied that massive council tax rises of recent years had been a big issue with voters. "Those increases would have gone up even if the Tories had been in power and voters know that.
"Ipswich and Lowestoft have remained loyal to Labour and we will be fighting their corner. But Labour never forgot there are areas of real rural depravation in Suffolk and we will continue to work on their behalf."
Ousted councillor Peter Monk said he was proud of what he had achieved during his 12 years with the authority, including introducing 30mph speed limits, reducing domestic violence and huge improvements in trading standards.
He said he was looking forward to a well-earned retirement from local politics as he celebrates his 60th birthday this weekend.
The date for formally electing the leader of Suffolk County Council is May 26 when the council holds its annual general meeting. The Chair is also elected on that day. The elected leader then has until June 10 to appoint portfolio holders.
n The Conservatives kept control of Norfolk County Council. The Tories secured 46 seats – a majority of nine, one less than last time. Labour were four down overall at 22. The Lib Dems were up four to 14.