New leader wants to ‘reconnect’

THE new leader of Suffolk County Council has vowed to ‘reconnect with communities’ as he attempted to draw a line under months of controversy.

Cllr Mark Bee signalled a change in tone for the authority during his acceptance speech and said the New Strategic Direction - its flagship policy of offloading services - had failed to connect with voters.

Instead, he stressed the importance of ‘listening to people’, the need for ‘openness and transparency’ and looking at ‘practical, common sense solutions to problems based on the needs of a specific area’.

Despite the shift, the council still needs to make more than £80 million in cuts in the next three years in addition to the £42 million already agreed this year.

He said: “This is about councillors, staff, other authorities, businesses, the voluntary sector and residents working together to meet the challenges we face - an agenda of shared responsibility. We all know that what is right for Bury St Edmunds may not be right for Felixstowe and what works in Ipswich may not work in Lowestoft. We must reconnect with communities across Suffolk.”

Indicating how future cuts will be made, Cllr Bee explained that he wanted to ‘build on some of the good work that has already been done’ and used country parks as an example.

He explained: “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 while maintaining those parks for use by their community. This is a practical example of the ‘Big Society’ at work and clearly illustrates the principle of shared responsibility.”

The authority will also look at bureaucracy and overheads for further savings. On plans to scrap school crossing patrols, he assured that attendants will continue to be supported while they work with communities to find alternative funding.