Suffolk: Referendum call on Suffolk County Council New Strategic Direction
A CAMPAIGN is to be waged to force a referendum on Suffolk County Council’s controversial plans to offload services onto other organisations.
Called the New Strategic Direction (NSD), the county council has already begun the process of trying to “divest” its services by encouraging community groups such as charities and smaller councils to take over services such as libraries and country parks.
The NSD forms part of the county council’s budget agreed last month which will save more than �40million.
However critics claim the county council’s NSD would not only herald the unravelling of services in Suffolk but might harm the local economy because of the number of people who might lose their jobs.
A motion, lodged by the Green and Independent county councillor Mark Ereira, will next week be read out at the county council urging members to back calls for a referendum.
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Mr Ereira said he expects his motion to fail because of the county council’s political make-up and instead aims to get the 27,211 signatures required in Suffolk to force a referendum on the NSD.
He said: “I don’t want this to be partisan or party political. I was willing to give the NSD a few months but I think it now needs to move onto consultation and to ask the people of Suffolk whether they want divestment.
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“We feel it has not been put to the electorate. I do accept that there’s a clear political majority at Suffolk County Council and that was reflected in the General Election last May which argued for reduced public expenditure and keeping council tax low. I don’t dispute their (the Conservative majority) democratic mandate on that and that is not the idea of a referendum.
“What I do dispute is that they are going down this particular route when other authorities in Suffolk are not.
“This smacks of the ridiculous and involves throwing all services at the communities at the same time without any time to plan and with no funding. The Government has not taken away 100% of our budget.”
Helen Muddock, Suffolk branch secretary of Unison, backed moves for a referendum.
“We feel very strongly that, having been out talking to people on the streets, people do feel they have not had a say.
“It is affecting people throughout Suffolk and the strength of feeling on this is huge.
“The NSD is not about the budget, it is about a different way of doing things. Regardless of how people voted, they did not vote for this.”
She said the county council was also Suffolk’s biggest employer and the loss of thousands of jobs would hit the economy hard.
The county council said it was unable to discuss the referendum proposal in detail because of the motion lodged with the full council.
David White, the county council’s deputy monitoring officer, said: “The county council has received a motion relating to the NSD, which will be debated at full council next week.
“Motions are part of the democratic process so it is for councillors to debate and decide on the outcome of that motion.”