Saturday in Woolpit

2016_10_15-saturday-in-woolpitOn Saturday Suffolk Conservatives held the first of our Campaign 2017 team days where Candidates from across Suffolk came together to talk about our draft manifesto. The buzz in the air was palatable as we discussed ideas and policies for the next 4 years. There are 75 divisions to be contested in next May’s County Council elections and our team is now in place to contest all the seats.

In 2005 the first term objective for the incoming Conservatives was to sort out the major structural problems with a Council that had become used to simply demanding more and more money from residents to pay for less and less efficient services. The Liberals and Labour Councillors who ran the county, whilst well-meaning simply did not have the business skills needed to control an organisation. In two years before being booted out of office they put up the Council tax by over 30% and did nothing to control spiralling costs. Well-meaning but utterly useless.

11 years on and the council is now less than half the numbers of staff delivering more services, it has and is absorbing the governments’ need to spend less money and made the savings required yet still delivered it with 6 years of 0% base Council Tax rises. Our Budget next year will look to do the same and will be debated over the coming months ahead of the vote in February. Our services are rated as good and across the country Suffolk County Council is viewed as doing some of the most innovative things in local government, from our approach to Libraries to partnership working to our wholly owned companies and staff mutuals, we are making the saving needed and protecting front line services.

When we launch our manifesto Suffolk resident’s will see the vision we have for Suffolk County Council services and the ambition we have for our communities. It won’t be an exercise in simply spending all the reserves and then either going cap-in-hand to government to bail us out when the cash runs out, or worse demand vast sums of money from Suffolk residents to bail them out.  It will be a set of proposals that will deliver better services for residents and on a sustainable footing for the next 4-year term.

This coming Saturday I shall be in Felixstowe for the latest in our #WeAreListening events that we have run since I became the Leader and from then onwards  I will spend each weekend in my own Division and across Suffolk supporting our great team of Candidates as we explain to residents on the door step, what we are about and why they should vote Conservative in May 2017.

Postcard from Birmingham

The end of September is Party Conference time and so last Sunday week I packed my bags and headed off to Birmingham for the Conservative Party Conference. I recall my very first conference in Blackpool many many years ago and over the years how my conference has changed.  Then, it was all about the main plenary sessions and trying to get a sense of this thing called the Conservative Party.  I was a fresh faced, well not that fresh faced but new Association Deputy Chairman political and I knew our MP Richard Spring and well that’s was about it. Today as I travelled up to Birmingham with a  mate I reviewed the speaking engagements I had been given by the LGA and the speaking engagements I had been ask to speak at by others such the LGiU and for each I had a bundle of briefing notes on how we put across the Local Government point of view.

Sunday morning I just managed to arrive in time for the start of the National Convention meeting at 10:30am in my role as Deputy Chairman Political of the Eastern Region where we were to vote on aspects of the changes proposed by the Party Board to the way Associations are run.

During the meeting Teresa May popped in for a chat and took questions, one of them was a direct one from John Peach, who is the former Leader of Peterborough City Council and currently Chairman of their Association.  ‘Did she like the idea of Directly Elected Mayors for non Metropolitan areas?’, she gave a direct answer, yes she did, she likes the accountability.  You may agree or disagree with her on that but the reply was very clear.  As were other comment made during the course of the four days. Then it was off to speak at a LGiU Fringe meeting about Devolution and Brexit and the role of Local Government over the coming years, joining me on the platform was Sean Anstee, Leader of Trafford and Baroness Scott the Leader of Wiltshire, a unitary County.  After than it was the usual round of fringes and plenary sessions before I had a relatively early night because the following morning I had a fringe I was speaking at 8am.

Monday morning I headed off to my fringe to speak about local skills and back to work programmes v DWP!  I then joined other County Leaders at a Westminster Council hosted lunch to talk about the positioning of the new SoS and how we might influence his agenda.  That evening it was the now traditional Euro MEPs dinner for the Eastern Region where a number of us discussed our part of the world and pondered that next years’ dinner will probably be the last of such events.  Not an major point in the scheme of things but I for one will miss working with our hard working Conservative Eastern Region MEPs As others wondered back to the conference Hotel bar, I again headed off to my hotel to prepare for another early start on the Tuesday morning where I was speaking about how we can deflect admissions from Acute Hospitals to more local community based services. Heading home and not to the bar was something I never did in those early Conferences!

Tuesday evening I went to an interesting dinner with Localis, the only centre right Local Government think tank in the space and chatted to other Leaders and Lord Porter the chairman of the LGA about our impressions of the conference.

Wednesday was spent in those last chats with other local Councillors and a couple of MPs, you have at the very end of a conference before heading home.

The mood when you consider what the party has been through these past few months was remarkable.  A genuine belief that Teresa May can do a good job of both Brexit and leading the country and that we have the right policies and determination to make things happen for the good of the country.

As we drove home I pondered over the coming months that as a Group we are going to set our election ‘stall’ out for May 2017, and how we get our message across that we must not allow the sort of fiscal madness and left wing policies we see from Labour return nor give then chance to undo 12 years of sound running of the Council where we have delivered on 7 years of 0% based Council Tax rises set against a Labour/Liberal coalition that managed to put up the Council Tax by 11.9 and then 18.5% in just two years.  Council Tax ia paid for from residents hard earned money and they must not be treated as a cash cow to be demanded of to simply bail out Labour and Liberals Councillors, we must not allow this sort of fiscal madness to creep back into power. Time to get out there and explain to the people of Suffolk what we are about, running a council that costs you less but protects front line service by making the tough choices that have to be made in a time of less Government money to delivery services.  Roll on May 2017.

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