Local Politics – you could not make it up

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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.

 

 

 

 

Locality Budgets

Each year I have the great pleasure to be able to help support various projects and community groups across Row Heath with my Suffolk County Council Locality Budget and in Lakenheath village with my Forest Heath District Council budget.

With both I try to work with community groups to build the capacity of our communities to get things done for themselves and support the network of groups who great volunteers’ commitment significant time to make them a success.

Wherever I go and whenever I speak about Local Government I speak of the great community sprint that existing in my Division and my home village, and how this impacts the lives of residents as much formal services provided by Councils.

For me this is more than just words, as I have in the past sat on the Think Local Act Personal National Board and represented Local Government on its Building Community Capacity Subgroup, which worked to share what community capacity is all about and how to enhance it.  I instigated the Suffolk County Council programme called Supporting Lives and Connecting Communities which at its heart is about understanding how communities are able to do things for themselves and how SCC can support them better. Councillor locality budgets should be a integral part of that stratergy and I work for mine to be.

Here is a list of those groups I have supported in the past year.  In the majority of cases my locality funding has been matched funding with the groups own fund raising efforts.

Current commitments:

  • Lakenheath Parish Council – matched funding for Speed Indicator device – £1,890.00
  • Cavenham Parish Committee – Post for play equipment – £320.00

In the past year I have been able to provide funding to the following groups:

  • Friends of Lakenheath Library – Let’s Read Campaign – purchase of IT equipment – £247.50
  • Lakenheath Community Speedwatch – Purchase of speedwatch equipment – £400.00
  • Lakenheath Silver Band – Community Event – £350.00
  • Brendan Fulham Centre – Assistance with disabled adaptations – £1,300.00
  • Lakenheath Sunshine Corner – Toy Bank – £300.00
  • West Row School PFA – Folding tables, cool boxes, etc for garden party event -£250.00
  • Bury St. Edmunds Scout District – Scoutfest 2016 – £2,000.00
  • West Row Primary School PFA – Static bus to be used as a library and learning resource by the school and community (Committed 2015-2016) – £5,000.00
  • West Row The Shed Wellbeing project – £350.00.00
  • Cancer Campaign in Suffolk – Sun Awareness Programme for Schools – £1,280.00
  • West Row Village Hall & Playing Fields Association – Renovation of the Tennis courts – £3,000.00
  • Lakenheath Angling Club – Otter-proof fencing around club waters – £1,000.00
  • Lakenheath Cricket Club – Contribution to new Roller – £1,500.00
  • Rural Coffee Caravan – Contribution to new Vehicle – £1,000.00
  • Beck Row Methodist Church contribution towards heating in the Church Hall – £500.00
  • West Row Village Hall and Playing Field Association a contribution towards the new kitchen equipment – £2,000.00
  • Beck Row Parish Council with a contribution towards outdoor exercise equipment – £2,000.00
  • Friends of Beck Row Primary School with a contribution towards outdoor playground equipment – £4,500.00
  • Newmarket Town Band contribution towards charity concert – £200.00

Fiveways Bypass?

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On Friday, the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling MP visited Suffolk where I met with him to talk primarily as Leader of the County Council and as Holder of the Economic Development brief, about the rail upgrades needed for the Port of Felixstowe to move more freight off the A14 and onto Rail and what increased traffic on the rail line they would mean for communities up and down the line.  More freight on the railways and we can open up the A14 route for economic growth and higher value jobs – all part of the Economic Growth Strategy for Suffolk.

I also took the opportunity to introduce my fellow Candidate Louis Busuttil for Mildenhall in 4th May elections, together we thanked him for the £400,000 to install Traffic Lights at Fiveways but stressed that this must be a stop gap to a new bypass to keep the traffic moving at this, the busiest spot in West Suffolk.  He entirely took on board what we were saying and said he has discussed this with Matt Hancock MP and was aware that Suffolk County Council, FHDC, the New Anglia LEP and our local communities have and will present a strong case to Government for the investment we need for the works.

In my role as Local Councillor and more recently as Leader of Suffolk County Council I have sat in many, many, meetings with Highways England about the dualling and the roundabout.  And have lobbied successive Transport Ministers about the importance of the investment in Fiveways and the need for that to continue. Thinking back, I have, in one form or another, been involved in the lobbying for the A11 dualling since 2005, firstly alongside the then MP Richard Spring, now Lord Risby, in that time we have seen it pushed back in favour of the Cambridge guided bus system winning £100M investment pot from the old East of England Regional Assembly.  Then we saw it scaled back from a grade separation junction, that’s a fly over to you and me, to what was eventually built and I have in that time argued and lost to see far more spending on it than was eventually achieved.  I use the roundabout just about twice a day almost every day of my life and always argued that if we could not have the grade separation then Traffic Lights would very quickly be needed.  Highways England disagreed but by working with the SCC Cabinet member for Highways and our Highways team at the County Council alongside James Waters the Leader of FHDC and Matt Hancock our MP we put pressure on Highways England to install the piping for Traffic Lights with SCC data that showed the lights would be needed far sooner than HE was predicting, glad we did as the installation will be a lot quicker and easier than if they had to dig up the roads.  The £400,000 for the next phase being Traffic lights, is a step in the right direction. But as I said to Chris Grayling it’s a ‘stop-gap’ not the long or medium term solution.

I also lobbied hard for the eventual changes in the Tuddenham cross over which again, I, like many others use almost daily.  I even arranged for the County Council to agree to pay for a speed camera to keep the speed of traffic going past the petrol station at 50 mph to give us all a safer crossing but Highways England have thus far refused.  Before, during and since the dualling of the last section to Thetford I lobbied for a grade separation at Fiveways and promised that once it was built I would lobby firstly for traffic lights which contrary to some people’s opinion are how you make sure that traffic is regulated onto a busy junction. And now lobby for the by-passing, this will take time, but with the County Council, FHDC, our MP and local community groups all pulling in the same direction we create a strong unified position to put to Ministers. And I did just that Friday, saying thank you to Chris Grayling for getting the traffic lights into the latest round of upgrades but stressing how important it was to now get a by-pass.

How important are these upgrades to Fiveways? – please take my survey.

http://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/RowHeath

“Homes have to be built for people”

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I have lived in the village of Lakenheath for most of my life and as I am now 52, no that can’t be right 2017 minus 1965 is…oh I am.  I have seen many of the fields I played in as a child built on, some by my family. I recall complaining bitterly when the company my father worked for brought a field where me and my friends used to play in and on the roof of the two barns on it. He said “homes have to be built for people”, if only we accepted this theory of life today, and “I told you to stop running along the roof of the barn one of you will get killed” so he brought the field and pulled down the barns – we did not speak for days!  Thinking about it, it was extremely dangerous as they were quite high.

Lots of new homes are proposed for our village over the next 10-year period and 250 to 300 of those will be given to Affordable Housing Providers who will rent them not sell them at below market rents to our young people and families not able to afford the rocketing cost of homes.  I have watched our village grow over 50 years but have despaired that in the past 18 years there has not be one major new estate built since an estate called Biscoe Way and hardly any socially rented homes built.  And in my time as a Councillor countless young people have complained to me they can’t afford to rent a home here and have moved away against their wishes or been forced to live at home with their parents for years after they want to leave home.  Shockingly the average age of the first-time buyer in this country and in my lifetime, has risen from 21 to 37.

Last week I had the chance to look at the Housing White Paper with the Prime Minster Theresa May and whilst a quick chat as she is an extremely busy person I thanked her for what she is doing and how her government is setting about tackling some of the biggest problems our country faces and one of those is housing.

There are those that simply don’t want new housing near them, they cite traffic congestion, they talk about the difficulty of getting a Doctor’s appointment and that housing changes a place.  All of these are important and we must work hard to address the infrastructure needs of our communities.  In my home village, I have secured the funding to build a much need second Primary school some £6M but we await the outcome of planning decisions to decide where it will be built.  We work hard to ensure development brings road improvement and engage with the NHS to improve primary care provision, that’s more Doctors to you and me.

The planning process is complex and the local Councils are blamed for its complexity yet it is laid down by government statue and it would be sheer folly for any Council not to follow it to the letter of the law, as they would lose Appeal after Appeal in the courts. It’s a long running process where numbers and allocation of numbers of homes is one part of the process that rarely, despite efforts by councils, engages many residents, but once the sites are proposed and applications start coming in people react.  The challenge for councils and Councillors is to listen to everyone from the vocal and angry about new homes being built in ‘their’ community to those residents struggling to afford a private rent or get on the property ladder or worse still have been made homeless for various reasons and are trying to get their lives back together in a bed sit accommodation. Across this country, here in Suffolk and in the communities I represent, far too many people are struggling to get a decent home and we have to address this.

This country has to build more homes, this county has to build more homes, this District has to build more homes, my Division has to built more homes and so does my home village of Lakenheath, it simply is not a solution to these serious problems to then say ‘ah yes but obviously not here’.  Do new homes bring challenges, of course they do, but what my dear old father said to me 45 years ago still rings true “homes have to be built for people.”

Please take my survey www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/RowHeath

 

As the dust settles

conservativesThursday was a 27 hour day for many Conservatives, in Suffolk it started before dawn with many of us arriving in Ipswich for Ben Gummer’s ‘dawn raid’, much, much later with the final ‘knock up’ to see if people had voted in my patch completed, it was into the cars and over the Parliamentary count at Newmarket Leisure Centre and to watch the national events unfold on TV. The exit poll was a real shock and I don’t think anyone of us, let alone Paddy Ashdown believed it. As the night turned into dawn, Matthew Hancock’s majority increased and it became clear that the opinion polls had got it spectacularly wrong and across the country people made a clear choice.

I suppose I did have an inkling of it in that as I campaigned this year across East Anglia and in my own village the mood seems very different to the opinion polls, something I struggled to reconcile in my own mind, almost everywhere I have been knocking on doors people have said I’m voting conservative because… and there have been many reasons but underpinning them all was…as one famous America Presidential candidate once said ‘it’s the economy stupid’. Clearly whether you like this or that policy, what matters most is a strong economy from which all other things we like, things we would want to see happen for us, our families and our communities stems from the strength of our economy.

Locally both Louise, my running mate and I were elected to serve of Forest Heath District Council the results were:

Pam Brown (Labour)221
Cowboy Gathercole (UKIP) 634
Michael Hutchings (Labour) 219
Louise Marston (Conservative) 979
Myself (Conservative) 839
Tracy Whitehand (UKIP) 495

The number of Ballot papers issued was 1993, which generated 3986 votes but surprisingly 567 people did not use their second vote. The block vote is usually how people vote and you would occasionally get people voting for one person or different people from different parties but usually in local elections that would be relatively few. A number of people told me that the advice was not clear that you had two votes and they thought it was like the other ballot paper where you had one vote for MP. I am going to raise this point of clearer information with the returning officer.

Firstly my thanks to those who voted for me. I consider it an honour and privilege to serve my community where I am born and bred, once, twice and always a Lakenheath Boy.

As I campaigned in the village with Louise Marston we picked up lots of issues residents had not brought forward before, as well as some things still not sorted out; alongside their aspirations for our community going forward. Louise and I will be working on a list of action points to get stuck into.

Whether you voted for us or not we are here to represent and help you and please do not hesitate to contact either Louise or myself.

Looking wider we Conservatives retained Forest Heath with a slightly lower majority of 21 out of 27 whereas we were 23. We lost some great Councillors, and as your own vote is being countered you think about not getting elected and not being a Councillor and I know how that feels, not nice. So my heart goes out to them including the two opposition Councillors who were voted out. Sad to see them all go but great to welcome some really great hard working Conservative Candidates as Councillors next week.

Nationally there is lots to do and indeed equally the same locally in the next 4 year term and that starts Monday evening when the Leader James Waters has called a new group meeting to get moving.

A nation decides and so does Lakenheath

2015_05_03 Campaign 2015 Team LakenheathThis week the country has a big decision to make, a Conservative Government or a Labour one, held to ransom by the SNP.

It is ironic that if people vote UKIP, they will get Ed Miliband in No.10 propped up by the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon who over the last few weeks have made it perfectly clear she will use the power to advance Scottish interests and by that I think we all know that means, demand that money be diverted from spending in England to spending in Scotland. Equally ironic is that Ed Miliband is on record he would have no referendum so the very thing UKIP want, would be denied them, yet if UKIP minded people vote Conservative, David Cameron will hold that referendum in 2017 having renegotiated the terms of our membership. Seems to me whether you’re in favour of being in Europe or out of it, this country need to make its mind up one way or the other.

Locally people have a choice too. Continue with Conservatives in charge of Forest Heath District Council where we are delivered quality services, have reorganised its back office and halved its staff numbers and thus been able to deliver 5 years of 0% Council Tax rises. Our carefully worked out plan is proposing a 4 year freeze for the next term. Alongside investment in our area such as a new public services hub in Mildenhall to include new state of the art sports facilities. Or elect a strange mix of independent candidates and/or UKIP both it seems from their election leaflets or lack of, don’t seem to have an actual plan.

This Conservative 9 year freezing of council tax is born of a simple premise, its your hard earned money and you are best place to spend it wisely for yourself and your family.

Even more locally in my village you can see the attitude of our opponents who over the past two years, with their controlling group has blocked every attempt to get the parish council to lower its costs and find new ways of working, and has increased the Parish Precept by over a third, making Lakenheath the most expensive place in Forest Heath to actually live and pay your per band council tax in – absolutely ridiculous!

I’m running with Louise Marston who owns a number of great local businesses, and has been a Parish Councillor and has increasingly frustratingly, tried with her minority group, to seek change on the Parish Council. She is a School Governor at the village primary school. Together we would play an active part in the District Council, continue to play an active part in our community, we would turn up and are determined to be a strong positive voice for our village, Lakenheath.

So nationally we have a clear choice, locally we have a clear choice and on both ballot papers please Vote Conservative.

A busy time

Launching our Lakenheath Ward Campaign 2015 the Zero balloon stands for 0% Council Tax rises!

Louise Marston and me launching our Lakenheath Ward Campaign 2015 – the balloon represents 0% Council Tax rises!

Well last week was a busy one to say the least. A week ago today I was delighted to be elected the Conservative Group Leader on Suffolk County Council, and thus Leader of the Council elect,  ahead of it’s AGM on the 21st May. In my brief thank you to the Conservative group after my election, I thanked Mark Bee for his work over the past 4 years as Leader and whilst clearly we did not see eye to eye on some issues, he worked hard on a number of key policies not least the Broadband roll-out and he can look back at his time leading the way and driving this 4th utility forward with great pride.

I ended by saying we now need to get back to the issue at hand, campaigning in our District and Borough elections and supporting our MPs in their campaigns for re-election. On Wednesday night we had the final Candidates team meeting for Forest Heath District Council and ran through the next few weeks on the door steps discussing our outstanding track record of shared services, staff reduction, quality services delivery and yet 5 years of no District Council Tax rises, helping Forest Heath’s resident in the best way possible, by protecting their hard earned money.

So my time for the next few weeks, will be split between working in my business, canvassing and delivering in the General and Local Elections and taking a little time to sit down individually with my fellow Conservative Councillors on Suffolk County Council to discuss in more depth, the themes that emerged during the short leadership contest and how we as a group move forward. Group internal relations is hardly the stuff that has residents ‘on the edge of their seats’, as rightly its policies and what we are going to do that matters, but they are important. Last Tuesday I said we were each elected in our Division to come together in a Conservative group and run the County Council, and as a group we are at our strongest together. Alongside talking and listening to the people of Suffolk, it is as a group we’ll create Conservative policies that protect services here in Suffolk that people value.  I am Suffolk born and breed and there is a certain way we do things here in Suffolk and it’s important that as a Council we are in step with that. We’ll make the savings we are required to make by central government, as we have done to date. We’ll plan carefully and discuss openly, we’ll value what we do well, but not be afraid to do things differently with our partners and communities to protect services, residents need to support their lives.

The next few weeks are going to be really interesting for all of us, locally for me as I campaign to win my District ward and help others win theirs, alongside those discussions within the Conservative group on Suffolk County Council, ahead of the council’s AGM. But more importantly the country decides in the General Election, yesterday Labour launched their manifesto and you could see the danger signs of another Labour Government, this time propped up by the SNP. Today the Conservatives launch our manifesto and the difference will be stark, a real plan to continue to get us out of the mess the last Labour Government that Ed Miliband and the Ed Balls were a key part of, left this country in, or a return to the chaotic and damaging thinking of Labour.

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