OPINION: Why is Suffolk County Council failing to deliver major projects?

Ipswich Bus at Tower Ramparts

Suffolk County Council's failure to get money to improve bus services is just its latest failure in trying to land big infrastructure problems. - Credit: Archant

I doubt there are many people out there who were that surprised when Suffolk County Council failed to get government funding for its proposals under the Bus Back Better scheme.

Failure has become something of a way of life for Suffolk when it comes to bids for major infrastructure projects. Even when the council does get money from the government (like for the Upper Orwell Crossing in Ipswich) it manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Whichever way you look at it (the bid was £77m over three years or £107m over five) this latest failure was up there with the most spectacular seen in the county, and many people were not surprised.

I can't resist an "I told you so" moment - when the proposal from the county was first unveiled in October it was clearly inadequate and I said so then.

It looked like a bunch of random ideas, largely by-passing the borough-owned Ipswich Buses. It had the feel of being written on the back of a fag packet.

Cabinet member Richard Smith was keen to claim the bid was "ambitious" because of the figures involved - but frankly it was ambitious in the way that an individual can fantasise about buying a mansion in Woodbridge if they win £5m on Saturday night's Lotto.

It might have been ambitious but it was totally unrealistic in my view.

I really hope this latest failure forces Suffolk County Council's members and officers to take a long, hard look at themselves and their bids for funding.

Just a reminder this latest government rejection comes after the county under-calculated the cost of the Upper Orwell Crossings, forcing it to be abandoned after millions had been spent on preparatory work.

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The Ipswich Northern Bypass plans were progressed even though councillors and officers knew the money would not be available - and were only abandoned after a great deal of worry was concerned to residents living on its route.

The government rejected plans for a Four Villages' bypass on the A12 in east Suffolk and the county withdrew its plans for a Sudbury Western bypass because it couldn't make the sums add up.

Its one major success has been the construction of the Gull Wing bridge in Lowestoft - but even that has suffered funding issues before getting to this point.

I'm not sure whether the fundamental issues in Suffolk are councillors who really don't understand what they should be doing to try to win support from Whitehall or officials who aren't telling councillors what might be successful for fear of saying the wrong thing.

What is clear is that the political and administrative leadership of the council - by which I mean leader Matthew Hicks and Chief Executive Nicola Beach - need to sit down and have a really honest conversation about what has gone wrong.

Whether they bring any of their senior cabinet members or executives in on that is up to them - but they do have to look at those around them.

If Richard Smith thinks the latest bid was "ambitious" and could "transform bus services" then I have to strongly disagree.

The bid was a dog's breakfast, in my view. If Mr Smith cannot see that - and look back at the series of failed bids that have come out of that department and see that there is a huge problem there - then it could be argued he should consider his position.

But the most important thing is that Mr Hicks and Ms Beach take a long hard look at the teams under them and ask if they're really delivering the best for the county.

Are the politicians more interested in political squabbles than in making life better for the people they're supposed to represent?

Are the officers really challenging councillors? 

Whatever the reason there appears to be a problem at Suffolk County Council when major projects are considered.

The people of Suffolk deserve better than this.