Tories stand by their record in Suffolk

Graham Dines previews Thursday's Suffolk county council electionsLOW council tax, value for money services, and making Suffolk the greenest county in Britain - that's the proud boast of the Conservatives who are seeking another four years in charge of Suffolk county council.

Graham Dines

Graham Dines previews Thursday's Suffolk county council elections

LOW council tax, value for money services, and making Suffolk the greenest county in Britain - that's the proud boast of the Conservatives who are seeking another four years in charge of Suffolk county council.

But they find themselves having to defend controversial decisions which have given them unwanted headlines since winning back control in 2005. Among these are the planned closure of 40 middle schools, GCSE results which compare unfavourably with much of the rest of England, the appointment of a chief executive on a salary of �218,000, the introduction of charges for social care and home care services, and proposals for an incinerator to burn the county's mounting pile of industrial and household waste.

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But dominating the past four years has been the gradual breakdown in relations between the county council and Suffolk's largest district Ipswich, which launched an audacious attempt to break away from county control to become an all-purpose unitary authority.

The independent Boundary Committee, tasked by the Government to come up with plans for how Suffolk could be broken up between unitary authorities, is considering a two council solution - Ipswich-Felixstowe incorporating the Shotley peninsula, and Greater Suffolk - and the county council's counter proposal of an all-singing, all-dancing One Suffolk.

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A final recommendation goes to the Secretary of State in July, and if approved it will make June 4's election the last for the county council.

A century of Tory domination of Suffolk was broken in 1993, when a coalition of Labour and the Liberal Democrats took control for the first time in its history. The alliance continued to run Suffolk until 2005, when the two parties paid the price for double digit council tax rises, including the shattering 18.5% in 2003.

Tory leader Jeremy Pembroke defends his party's record over the past four years. “We have laid the foundations for the next 40 - preparing Suffolk for the difficult economic times that lie ahead.

“We restructured our services, restoring strong financial management to the county council, saving �60million by working more efficiently. In the process, we have turned Suffolk into the most cost-efficient county council in England, ready and equipped to deliver the services all want during the challenging times ahead.

“We will continue to seek out more effective and efficient ways of providing services. And we will continue to keep council tax down.”

Mr Pembroke said the Tories had protected the most vulnerable in society. “We have transformed the way we provide social care to vulnerable adults, a much more efficient, adaptable and responsive service geared to help older people get the care they need more quickly, tailored to their requirements.”

He promised that a Tory council would deliver plans for state-of-the-art residential homes and would introduce individual budgets for each person who required help from the council.

Labour goes into election boosted by the endorsement of Parents Against Change, the group formed to fight the proposals to abolish 40 middle schools and replace them with a county-wide system of primary and secondary education. The organisation is backing Labour candidates judged to be best placed to defeat the Tories in 35 seats.

Labour's other key election pledges are a cap on council excessive salaries, the re-introduction of a decent and fair system of home care services, putting the environment first, value for money, a fair county for everyone, a listening council, and the reinvigoration of services.

Says group leader Julian Swainson: “Everybody recognises the need to change the way we do things to reduce our demands on our environment. We will make real improvement in the way the council works, not just make bold claims and carry on as before.

“Every decision of the council will be tested for sustainability and there will be a programme of improvement with demanding targets so that electors can judge progress. We will reverse the decision to build a massive and expensive waste incinerator and step up measures that help every householder to reduce, re-use and recycle waste with friendly and local facilities.

“We will restore free home care services to those who need a bit of help to lead their lives with comfort and dignity. We will work more closely with health, housing and other service providers to ensure a comprehensive but efficient response to individual needs. We will set new higher standards for public transport and cyclists and pedestrians in Suffolk to ensure that everyone has a real choice of sustainable travel options.

The Liberal Democrat campaign concentrates on a list of "Six to Fix" - stopping the closure of middle schools, reversing the fall in Suffolk children's GCSE results, free day care for elderly, a reduction of speeding in town and villages, a freeze on all council salaries over �50,000 and run services fairly and efficiently, reduce the 20 million miles travelled by council staff every year. The party will also abandon plans for an incinerator.

Promising to encourage “Shop Local,” deputy party group leader Andrew Cann says: “At this time of economic downturn we recognise the need to support local businesses. We have lost far too many post offices and local shops in Suffolk. Once they close people lose not only a shop but also an opportunity to socialise with fellow residents.”

The Green Party, fighting plans for a waste incinerator, has high hopes of making a breakthrough in both Bury St Edmunds and the Upper Gipping division, while long serving independent councillor Richard Kemp is receiving the backing of Liberal Democrats in Long Melford.

Suffolk Together, which wants to ensure that community voices are heard when planning decisions are being made, is fielding candidates in Ipswich, Mid Suffolk and St Edmundsbury and is opposed to a waste incinerator.

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