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Suffolk: New leader launches county council in a new direction

PUBLISHED: 09:07 27 May 2011 | UPDATED: 09:21 27 May 2011

Mark Bee

Mark Bee

Archant

SUFFOLK County Council's flagship policy - the New Strategic Direction - has been abandoned by new leader Mark Bee.

In his acceptance speech after being elected new leader of the authority, Mr Bee told councillors that the NSD had failed to connect with the people of the county.

He said: “The NSD has come to be seen as a one size fits all philosophy that must be applied across Suffolk, regardless of the views of local communities.

“This has resulted in much of the good work being ignored, with the debate focused around the concept and three or four highly contentious issues.

“I believe that has been to the detriment of Suffolk County Council. I am clear that my leadership will not be about a ‘philosophy’.”

Mr Bee said he accepted there was a need to cut expenditure – but he was determined to protect frontline jobs as much as possible.

He said: “I want to build on some of the good work that has already been done. For example, the work that has been done on country parks.

“We have had 14 expressions of interest from a range of organisations who want to run our country parks.

“This will save council tax payers at least £400,000 a year whilst maintaining those parks for use by their community.”

He felt there was scope for cuts in some areas: “We will be looking very hard at our levels of bureaucracy and overheads. I believe there are opportunities for further savings in those areas.” He said the county had entirely underestimated the importance of school crossing patrols to the people of Suffolk.

And it had listened to protesters concerned about the threat to libraries – and was now determined to work with communities to keep these open.

The abandonment of the NSD will lead to challenges for the county.

It has already had to find more than £42million of cuts this year, with some valued services like the eXplore Card being axed.

And it needs to find £50m in savings next year and another £30m the following year.

Supporters of the NSD had said their solution was an alternative to “salami-slicing” services – and Mr Bee acknowledged that his new direction would not mean the end of difficult cuts. However many people had questioned whether divesting services would actually save any money. And had the NSD remained in place there would have been some controversial divestments in the years ahead – there have already been arguments about libraries and school crossing patrols.

But had the council tried to “divest” social work, education support, and other major services then there could have been an angry response.

And there would inevitably have been serious questions about the council’s responsibilities if any of those who ran these divested services failed.

Mr Bee has retained the previous cabinet with only one change. Economic development spokesman Colin Law has stepped down from the front bench because he has taken over as leader of Waveney District Council.

He has not been replaced on the cabinet – his role has been merged with that of “Greenest County” portfolio-holder Judy Terry.

The money saved has enabled Mr Bee to reinstate the health scrutiny committee to monitor the county’s health needs.

-For an interview with Mr Bee, see tomorrow’s paper.

-For the full text of his speech to councillors follow the link at the top right of this story.

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