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SCC Annual Executive Statement: LibDem Response

photo: Caroline PageAfter a week when momentous change has been initiated by a referendum result that many did not expect, it feels strange to reflect on the more mundane but nevertheless important issues of the last year.

Where to begin? The financial challenge and the Council Tax?  The administration promised no rises in council tax for four years, ignoring the challenging social care needs of an increasing elderly population.  They have met those needs by outsourcing and changing services in a way that makes it difficult to be sure if all those who need our help get enough of it.

This year, after government encouragement the Conservatives have now introduced a special 2% precept -not a council tax rise – to meet the steadily increasing demand for care. We welcome the move and look forward to knowing just where this is spent.

Had the administration raised the council tax by a similar amount, we all would have been challenged by the need to find an extra £26 or so per household but it would have gone some way to fill the gap left by cuts to government grants.

A feature of the year has been the continuing, cross party, councillor discontent with the outsourced Highways contract. High design costs and slow response to the need for work makes it impossible for councillors to use our individual highways budgets to meet residents’ reasonable demands.  It increases discontent and confirms the public mistrust of politicians.  Conservatives  believe in the outsourcing model, they let the contract -can we see some effective delivery please?

In the education arena we are pleased to see Suffolk – at last – moving up from so close to the bottom of the league tables. Unfortunately, poor past performance leaves our schools at risk of forced conversion to academy status.  That is a transition many do not want but our poor management performance leaves little choice.  The academy structure in our view leaves management overhead spread across a much smaller base.  Dedicated leaders may of course produce outstanding results but the record is far from perfect.

We don’t want to be entirely critical. We applaud Conservative actions to focus intensive action on troubled families and on making every intervention count.  The campaign to recruit more foster carers was first class

We thank the administration for the way they have kept us informed as the devolution proposals developed, a pleasant example of openness and honesty. It will be good if the public get the same feeling.  However,  we will no doubt discuss the public consultation which appears to be heading for the summer holiday period.

Saving money on services like Community Transport or Park and Ride is short sighted. If the administration is so intent on new models then they  need to fully finance the transition to working services.  When we say ‘working services’ we mean working for everybody –  but in Mid Suffolk, older people will no longer be able to use their bus passes.

Dave Wood is pleased DEFRA have noted the importance of our protected landscapes and have guaranteed the grant to our AONB’s with a slight rise in funding. The county has followed suit, sadly without the increase.

One can’t close without a comment on Brexit. We have a new challenge. We are appalled that our nation is not mature enough to stick with our European friends and solve their problems. We prefer to abandon them to their fate and seek a better future in the past.  We hope that the course back to 1930 nationalistic attitudes will not lead to a spread of behaviours like those in Ukraine.

One wonders how many who believe our trade will now grow unencumbered by regulation have first-hand experience of the competence and skill of our competitors in other nations and of the international regulation that exists.

We can’t sell railways and steam engines to the empire any more. We need many more companies like ARM in Cambridge if we are to succeed. It is doubtful whether we have them.

One hopes the Conservatives the vision our new future will require, that nationally, they will stop rewarding the rich and punishing the poor who have suffered disproportionately the price of austerity. We need to get them back on side.

Where our consciences allow we LibDems will support efforts to survive and prosper in the new Great Britain, although of course we would prefer to be heading in a different direction.

John Field
Deputy Leader