Election 2021: All you need to know for Suffolk County Council polls
- Credit: Gregg Brown
Voters across Suffolk will take to the polls on May 6 to vote for their Suffolk County Council representatives for the next four years, in a highly-unique Covid-influenced election.
With the pandemic having been at the forefront of people's lives for more than a year, the election is set to provide a fascinating snapshot of how people feel their elected representatives have handled the crisis.
It may also be a reflection of how people feel those parties' senior members in Westminster have fared too.
The county council - with its responsibilities for public health, education and adult social care, among other others - has been a key player in the Covid response locally.
Those measures have included procuring much-needed PPE at the start of the pandemic, supporting home schooling efforts, forming the Home But Not Alone helpline and ensuring vulnerable people were still receiving their vital day-to-day care.
And going forward, the coronavirus recovery will be the number one priority for the authority.
Will polling stations be different?
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Many voters have registered for postal votes this year, but those voting in person have been advised they will be required to wear a face mask and may have to queue in a socially distanced manner.
Voters are advised to bring their own pencil this time around and should check the polling station on their polling card, as some may have changed as a result of the pandemic.
What am I voting on?
Alongside the Covid-19 response, the day-to-day activities of the council remain. Outlined below are some of its main responsibilities:
- Adult social care
- Highways maintenance
- Waste disposal and recycling centres (waste collection is the responsibility of district and borough councils)
- Public health
- Trading Standards
- Fire services
How many councillors are being elected?
The whole of the council is being elected for a four-year term, meaning 75 councillors in total. Most divisions have one councillor representing them, although some have two.
What is the political balance?
Of the 75 seats, the Conservatives currently hold 49, while Labour holds 11.
The Liberal Democrats are defending five seats, the Greens three, while the remainder comprises five Independents and one West Suffolk Independent.
One vacant seat as a result of a councillor vacancy last year had previously been held by the Conservatives.
What to look out for
While Conservative leader Matthew Hicks has been an experienced frontbencher for some time, the 2021 election is his first as leader of the authority after usurping Colin Noble in 2018.
Eyes will therefore be on the election result to see if he can increase the Conservatives' majority secured by Mr Noble in 2017 or whether it is reduced.
In addition, with two cabinet members not seeking re-election - education portfolio holder and deputy leader Mary Evans, and finance cabinet member Gordon Jones.
If the Conservatives win an overall majority again, there will be at least two changes to the frontbench cabinet positions.
For the opposition parties, this year will be about making gains in key seats and attempting to prevent an overall blue majority.
Labour's former group leader and ex-MP for Ipswich, Sandy Martin, is making a return to politics in this campaign.
Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens have all had frontbenchers step down for this year, so will face fights to hold those seats.
What have been the main issues over the last four years?
The last local elections in 2019 for districts and boroughs were elections effectively dominated by Brexit.
This year, the Covid pandemic is likely to be that overarching theme, but there have been some controversial topics and talking points in the last four years which may also be considerations:
- Road infrastructure projects - the Lowestoft Gull Wing is going ahead but the Ipswich Upper Orwell Crossings and Sudbury bypass schemes had to be canned amid rising costs. The Four Villages Bypass didn't secure government backing. The Ipswich Northern Route was also put to bed once again, at least for now.
- Education - changes to children's centres and school transport attracted much ire from parent campaigners, while the huge demand on special educational needs places resulted in a £45million scheme to create more than 800 new places being formed. Home schooling numbers, off-rolling and oversubscribed schools all continue to be major concerns.
- Roads - a blitz of pothole repairs had to be carried out following the Beast for the East a few years ago as the problem had escalated so much, while street lighting and increasing road flooding have also emerged as prominent issues.
- Adult social care - Suffolk's aging population has resulted in increasing demand for adult social care services, all amid a shortage of care workers.
- Climate emergency - the authority has declared a climate emergency and pledged to become carbon neutral by 2030, but the next four-year term will be the litmus test instigating the necessary groundwork to ensure that happens.
- Council tax - historic underfunding and the continued wait for a fair funding review for local authorities from the government has meant Suffolk's taxpayers have had to foot the bill of increasing costs with council tax increases.
The polls are open from 7am to 10pm on Thursday, May 6. To see the full list of candidates, see our webpage here.