How to build better Public Services across Suffolk

Here is my column that appeared in last Tuesday’s edition of the EADT and Ipswich Star newspapers:

Suffolk is a place where people work together. We do it to make people’s lives better, to make the county more prosperous and to be creative. It’s part of what makes Suffolk so special.

I’m very proud to say that this is the case in Suffolk politics too. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of tough debates and disagreements, both between and within political parties. But that’s just healthy democracy. I know that making Suffolk a stronger place binds us all together and very often, we can find common ground.

One such place that common sense prevails in this way is the Suffolk Public Sector Leaders (SPSL) group, of which I am a member. People often assume that I run or chair the group because of my leadership of the county council. In fact, I don’t. I am an equal member along with the leaders and chief executives of all seven district and borough councils, Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner and chief constable and representatives from the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).

SPSL has been running for about six or seven years now and is a clear demonstration of the cross-party, cross-organisation public sector cooperation for which Suffolk is recognised nationally. I can assure you that there is less of this happening in other parts of the country. In some places, it doesn’t happen at all!

When it originally began, we used to discuss the big issues facing Suffolk and try to find ways that we could commit our own organisations to doing something about them. That was really helpful and still happens. But then in 2012, members of the group took a bold step and each partner publicly agreed to combine a share of the money we collect from local businesses and invest that in projects that benefit the county. It’s known at the ‘pooled business rate’ and is quite forward-thinking in the public sector world. We all agreed for SPSL to oversee this work.

There are some hugely important projects that have benefited for pooled business rate funding. Building the business case for Ipswich’s much-needed northern bypass, work to promote Suffolk as a place for tech companies to set up business and recruiting more town planners across the county so that the impact of housing growth can be better managed.

I’m sure many readers know that the Government has chosen Suffolk as one of 10 areas to trial next year a new way of funding local areas (the 100% business rate retention pilots). We were chosen because of our national reputation for working together and our bid was built in that basis. Again, Suffolk leading the way.

Recently, SPSL has been described as some kind of ‘secretive club’ that people only know about when it’s publicised. Well, I can think of better ways of keeping secrets than publicising things! It’s not a club though, far from it. It’s a serious space where people responsible for major public bodies in Suffolk come together to find solutions to the issues facing Suffolk.

Last month, the SPSL group met Eleanor Kelly, the chief executive of Southwark Council who stepped in to help residents in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster. Eleanor told us that Suffolk was one of the first places, as a whole, to seek to learn the direct lessons from Grenfell so that we can protect our residents. I’m not sure this would have happened if Suffolk’s public sector organisations didn’t work in this way.

At that same meeting, we agreed to review the way we work to ensure we keep having a positive impact on Suffolk. We’re reviewing everything, including having representatives from other sectors involved and looking at how we share more about the things we’re working on. That was absolutely the right decision to make, not least because the business rate retention pilot kicks off in April and collective decision making will be even more important. I look forward to updating people when that work is complete.



Sadly Council Tax has to rise

Here is my column that appeared in last Tuesday’s edition of the EADT and then in the Ipswich Star.

Last week, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet voted to increase council tax in Suffolk for the first time since 2010.

A 2.99% increase was approved, along with a 2% adult social care precept, meaning taxpayers will be paying little under 5% for council services than last year.

A council tax rise was not surprising – we had mentioned it last year, with a 1.99% increase put forward, with the adult social care precept at 3%.

Despite the changes in the way the tax is being divided, the increase remains the same.

It’s been said that we are taking away the 1% from the precept to spend elsewhere. This is simply untrue. The 1% we’ve added on top of the 1.99% first mentioned in October will go towards providing adult care. There is nothing more important to us than delivering the best possible frontline services to those who need them most.

We spend half a billion pounds providing services every year. Like the majority of councils in England, we accepted a four-year financial package from the Government, covering the period from 2016/17 to 2019/20. It also, helpfully, provides some certainty about our funding.

However, we can’t rely on this alone. We were successful in our bid to be one of 10 areas where we can retain 100% of business rates generated here in Suffolk, which will help. But there still remains a budget gap.

In 2018/19, the gap is £26.8million. That is the difference between the amount of money it will cost to provide essential council services in Suffolk and the amount of money we actually have to spend.

We are required by law to have a balanced budget so we have therefore had to find ways of closing that budget gap. We have proposed a range of savings totalling to £23.9m, leaving us with a gap of £2.9m remaining – which will come from our reserves.

We have been careful to limit the use of our reserves as once that money has been spent it’s gone forever and won’t be available to close any future budget gaps.

This isn’t a new way of working for Suffolk County Council. We’ve successfully managed the financial challenges laid down in the Government’s austerity programme and have made savings of £236 million between 2011 and 2018. The response to these challenges has been measured, pragmatic and innovative, and designed to protect front line services as much as possible.

Demand for services has increased since the last council tax increase and it continues to. We also have an investment programme totalling nearly £100m this coming financial year, which includes building new schools, extending and improving existing schools, investing in Suffolk’s road network, continuing to provide better broadband coverage across the county and delivering two major river crossing projects – the Lake Lothing Third Crossing in Lowestoft and the Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich.

Being clear about your goals, listening to people and being accountable for your actions are fundamental principles in public services. When the people of Suffolk voted in the Conservative councillors I lead, it was on the basis of a clear manifesto.

We are introducing business plans, which set out how we will deliver services and how we will measure performance. These are based on three core priorities – inclusive growth, healthcare and wellbeing, and efficient and effective public services.

These are deliverable because of the hard work and commitment of our councillors and staff – working with our partners, businesses and residents to make Suffolk a healthier and more prosperous place to live and work.

Yes, the latest Autumn Budget confirms that the pressure on public spending is likely to continue. But this is not news to us and we have a positive response.

We don’t hang about in Suffolk, we get on and do everything we can to get the best possible outcomes for the people we serve. We do this by listening to what people say and giving them an opportunity to influence the difficult decisions we have to make.

This council tax increase wasn’t taken lightly and every penny will be put to the best possible use. Our staff, our councillors, and I, will make sure of that.


Suffolk yet again a test bed for new thinking


Suffolk has been chosen to trial Government Flagship Business Rate Retention Pilot

The amount of money allocated to each Local Authority in England for the next financial year was announced just before Christmas by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government now Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid MP.

As part of the announcement, Suffolk County Council has been named as one of the pilot areas for a new Government scheme to retain 75% of business rates from Council Tax in 2018/19.

In future, Business Rates will be an even greater income stream for all local authorities and this is an opportunity for Suffolk to influence how it will operate in a two-tier system.

Until more information is released from the Department for Communities and Local Government it is not possible to say exactly how much additional income this could generate into the Suffolk system.

I issued a press state that said: “Suffolk welcomes the Secretary of State’s announcement that it has been accepted as a 100% Business Rates pilot area in 2018-19. This is a positive step towards greater local autonomy which will encourage economic growth in the county and help to secure the best outcomes for people in Suffolk. We are now studying the details of the scheme and will be working with colleagues in the Borough and District Council’s to identify what this means for the whole Suffolk system.”

Primary School application deadline approaches


Dealine Clock

January is an important time if you have children who will be going to school for the first time in September 2018 as Parents and carers have until Monday 15th January to make their application to secure their child’s place at a Suffolk Primary, Infant, Junior or Middle school for September.

Any child born between 1st September 2013 and 31st August 2014 is due to start primary school from September 2018. An application for a full-time school place must be made, even if a child is already attending a nursery class in an infant or primary school, a pre-school or a children’s centre next to a school site.

It is recommended that parents and carers apply online as they will receive confirmation of their application. Alternatively, parents and carers can apply on a paper CAF1 application form. Both applications can be accessed at We are unable to acknowledge receipt of paper applications and therefore suggest that proof of posting is obtained.

A completed application must be submitted or posted for every child wanting a primary, infant, junior or middle school place from September 2018. If families are planning to move house or think their circumstances may change before September, it is still important to make an application on time. Advice and guidance about this process is available at

For guidance about the application process, parents and carers can watch the council’s ‘Applying for a Primary School place’ video here:

Families who apply online will be able to log on to the Online Service on the National Offer Day, 16th April 2018 to see their school place offer, and will also receive an email to confirm this offer on the same day. Offer letters will also be sent by second class post to all applicants.

Information to help parents and carers make their application is available at

Please do tell your family and friends so no one misses the deadline.

We are Listening

Here’s my first column of the year for the EADT and Ipswich Star last week:

Happy New Year.

In the ‘lull’ between Christmas and New Year I like to reflect on what has taken place in the year behind us, as well as looking forward to the future.

One thing I’ll be hoping for in 2018 is greater participation from you, the public. Since the elections in May, I, along with my colleagues and our officers, have been working hard to give those we serve more chances to have their say and more opportunities to have their voices heard.

These are unprecedented times for local government. Savings have to be made and the way we provide our services will be changing. And we want you to be involved more than before.

Though this isn’t breaking news, our council meetings are open to the public. Members of the media regularly attend and report on them. Recently we’ve had more members of the public come to our meetings, and I’d like to see more people come along to further their understanding of how we make decisions and witness the debate between members first hand.

At our council meetings as well, the public are invited to get involved, in the form of asking a question or making a comment. In order to do this, all you need to do is send a request to

However, if you can’t make our meetings, why not watch them online? All of our full council meetings are streamed online and we’ve recently upgraded the cameras in the council chamber to present a high definition quality stream to those either watching live or at a later date. You can find out more about watching our meetings online by visiting

We also want you to give us feedback on our services and how we provide them. We value the thoughts of those we serve, as they can help us shape what we provide and how. If you think something needs to be improved, let us know. If you feel you’re not getting the support you should be getting, we want to know. If you believe someone deserves recognition for their work, we’d like to hear about it.

You can do so by visiting but by also speaking to us using social media – we regularly respond to queries on our Facebook page, which can be found by searching for @SuffolkCountyCouncil as well as on Twitter @SuffolkCC – if you don’t already ‘like’ follow us I would suggest doing so as there is an array of useful information posted regularly.

If it’s something in your town or village that you have comments on, it may also be worth speaking to the councillor in your division, who may be able to assist. As councillors we are here to serve our residents and we are regularly working hard on local issues. If you don’t know who your councillor is, you can find them on our website here –

We also consult residents and service users when changes are being made. In the past year we have consulted on a number of things, such as the Lake Lothing Third Crossing in Lowestoft, roadworks in Bury St Edmunds and roadworks in Ipswich. We currently have two consultations live at the moment – high needs funding and school and post-16 travel. We want your views – the better the response, the better informed we are moving forward on any potential decisions.

Last year I was joined by councillors and officers at five ‘we are listening’ events across the county – in Bury St Edmunds, Felixstowe, Haverhill, Ipswich and Lowestoft. These events are something I enjoy doing as it gives me, and others at the council, the chance to speak to the electorate about issues affecting them. It also gives a personal touch and the fact we are actively seeking views may make it easier for people to share their views.

At those events we received a number of comments which have since been acted on with the help of officers, giving positive outcomes for many.

These events are something I’m wanting to continue this year, and I hope to see as many of you as possible as and when they are held, across the county.

So why not make a new year’s resolution to get involved where you can at Suffolk County Council?

A very Merry Christmas

It’s that wonderful time of year were we all pause, relax and spend times with our loved one and family to celebrate Christmas and then the year just past and look forward to the year ahead.  However, for some it’s also a time of reflection of loved ones gone and sadly missed.  So, as you rush about maybe drop a card off to an elderly neighbour or pop round for a cup of tea and a chat about their Christmas, no one should be alone at Christmas.  It does not have to take much time but can make all the world of difference to them at this time of year.

My I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, and successful New Year.

Local Politics – you could not make it up


Last week we had a FHDC by-election in Newmarket or to be precisely St. Mary’s ward following the sad death of long standing Councillor Bill Sadler.  And I am pictured here with our candidate Robert Nobbs and my fellow County Councillor Rachel Hood as we finished off the campaign in the evening on on Poll day.

After all the ups and downs of the past few months in politics, it was good to be out on the door steps in what was a very local election.  As we always do, we found a great candidate Robert Nobbs who is the manager of the Heath Court Hotel in Newmarket and who has worked his way up from porter to General manager over the years and is what Conservatives are all about hard work, determination and with skills, business skills, that we try to bring to the Council decision making processes.  With our literature he talked about the changes he want to make and how he go about our business.

On the opposition side of things, we had Labour with the Candidate who has manged to lose 4 general elections as the West Suffolk Constituency Labour candidate and been on and booted off the District Council at the next election, twice to my knowledge.  And what a contrast from our literature which was local, upbeat and full of what we want to do.  Whereas Labours was national, socialist and on two specific aspects quite a surprise!   Firstly, he commented on the Local Secondary school where, as its deputy Head teacher, it was one of the worse performing schools in Suffolk.  Since he left, the school has joined a star Academy group which started here in Suffolk at the Samuel Ward Secondary school in Haverhill and its results are improving with a new drive and determination to deliver the best possible education for its students.  So that was a surprise!

He also put in his literature he said if elected to FHDC he would spend more on the Memorial gardens in Newmarket that Conservative FHDC ever did.  Only two issues here, firstly it’s not the responsibility of FHDC and secondly, and he must know this because, as a Town Councillor he was Chairman of the very committee at the Town Council that has not spent the money on those very same gardens, he says he will if elected to FHDC.  You could not make this stuff up folks!

So to the results:

Conservative 338

Labour 276

Greens 60

Total 680. T/O 16.86%

Accordingly, Robert was duly elected with a 62 majority

Politics s is a funny old game but thankfully even with a traditionally very low by-election turnout our Candidate won the day and on FHDC we have a bright, younger energetic Councillor with great business skills representing the good people of St. Mary’s who has already hit the ground running sorting out issues he picked up during his campaign.





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