Matthew Hicks promises collaboration as he takes helm at county council
Suffolk County Council’s new leader has promised a new era of co-operation as he took over the helm at Endeavour House at the authority’s annual general meeting.
Matthew Hicks was confirmed as leader of the authority by an overwhelming majority after winning the election to lead the Conservative group earlier this month.
And he also announced his first cabinet – which retains many members appointed by his predecessor Colin Noble.
Mr Hicks said: “There is one common theme I wish to adopt across all aspects of our work and that is my pledge to adopt a new style of working – whether it be in this Chamber, in this building or throughout our county.
“My administration is committed to working collaboratively across Suffolk, with the district and borough councils, with the leaders of the health sector, and with business.”
That was seen as a key change from his predecessor who had irritated district and borough council leaders in Suffolk last month with his attempt to launch a consultation on creating a unitary Suffolk council.
But he added: “When I say I am going to work in new ways, let everyone understand I am a Conservative. All of us on these benches are Conservatives. We believe in Conservative values and principles.
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“While we will work collaboratively with the opposition, we will not compromise on our beliefs.”
Mr Hicks said he looked forward to playing an active part in the Suffolk Public Sector Leaders Group – no organisation could afford to be aloof.
But there were tough challenges ahead: “We face continued budgetary pressures, and at the same time we see continued demands for our services, especially in those high spending areas of children’s services and adult social care.”
Mr Hicks’ election as leader of the council was backed overwhelmingly – the Conservative group holds 52 of the 75 seats on the council.
Labour group leader Sarah Adams welcomed his pledge to work with opposition parties: “We welcome this first statement from the new leader. We all want the best for the people of Suffolk, even if we disagree on how to achieve that.
“But the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. We will co-operate – but we will also challenge and question the administration’s policies.”
The leader of the LibDem, Green, and Independent group Andrew Stringer also welcomed the new era – and presented Mr Hicks with a new broom from the opposition parties to mark the change in emphasis.
New Suffolk cabinet unveiled
There are four departures from the cabinet and three new faces.
New deputy leader Mary Evans takes over responsibility for roads, transport and rural affairs from outgoing deputy Jane Storey who leaves the cabinet.
Richard Rout is the new cabinet member for the environment and public protection – including the fire service. These were previously the responsibility of Mr Hicks.
James Reeder is the new cabinet member for public health. Gordon Jones, Richard Smith, and Beccy Hopfensperger retain their existing portfolios in the cabinet.
Cabinet member for Ipswich Paul West has his role expanded to include responsibilities for communities and waste disposal.
Mr Hicks will retain responsibility for broadband and economic development.
Robin Millar and Tony Goldson join Mr Noble and Mrs Storey in returning to the backbenches.
New Chief Executive takes the reins at Suffolk County Council
The annual meeting of Suffolk County Council heralded a new era in another way – as well as Matthew Hicks taking over as leader, Nicola Beach was at her first meeting as the new chief executive.
Ms Beach was appointed to the top job in March after a long search for a permanent replacement for Deborah Cadman. Sue Cook has been interim chief executive since September.
The new chief started at Endeavour House this week and was formally introduced to councillors by Mr Hicks.
He said: “Welcome Nicola and we are very pleased to have you on board at Suffolk County Council and I look forward to building a strong working relationship with you as we continue to focus on delivering services to residents in new ways.”
Ms Beach was previously a director of Essex County Council – but lives in Ipswich and knows Suffolk well. She has been meeting staff at the authority this week.