Things "looking up" for Suffolk County Council?

Suffolk County Council Cabinet members look up

Mark Bee was elected Leader of Suffolk County Council yesterday at the annual meeting of the Council. In his acceptance speech he said that the New Strategic Direction had "failed to connect with the people of Suffolk" He then went on to say:

"I am clear that my leadership will not be about a philosophy, it will be about –listening to the people of Suffolk, openness and transparency and practical solutions appropriate to the needs of a community.”

All this sounds great but dig a bit under the surface and it becomes clear that there is not quite so much change as this might lead you to believe. The cabinet remains unchanged (with the exception of the departure of Colin Law who is the new Leader of Waveney) and whilst the phrase "new strategic direction" has been dropped large parts of the idea - in particular the "My Place" concept remain intact.

It was also apparent from the meeting that many Suffolk Tories seem either not to have noticed the problems the County Council faces or be in denial. Mark Bee knows these problems more then most but even he is on the radio this morning claiming there is "no crisis" at Endeavour House.

The outgoing Chairman, colourful Eddy Alcock summed up the previous year without even mentioning the serious issues that had occurred preferring to entertain the chamber with amusing anecdotes from his time as Chairman. It sounded at times like one of those embarrassing wedding speeches and certainly played better in the chamber than the public gallery.

Another decision that I think will play better in the chamber than outside was the election of Jeremy Pembroke as Vice-Chairman of the Council which almost certainly means he will be Chairman next year. Now the Chairman is just a ceremonial office but it still looks a reward for failure.

Incoming Chairman Patricia O'Brien seemed to have more of a grip of reality when she acknowledged the difficult times the Council and country faced.

So do things "look up" for Suffolk County Council? It's too early to tell yet. The My Place agenda might be a genuine attempt to take local issues into account but it also runs the risk of turning County Councillors into "Lords of their Manor" and producing fragmented services. Some people will be lucky to get great services due to local interest and maybe having a proactive County Councillor. Others poor services due to lack of local capacity and maybe less useful councillors.

In any case in order to fix problems it is first necessary to acknowledge and accept them and I am far from convinced that the current leadership realise quite how dysfunctional the County Council has become.

I heard fine words from Mark Bee but also witnessed a number of young people and people who work with them patronised and ignored over their attempts to get the Council to look again at the eXplore card withdrawal despite presenting a strong case that this decision has actually undermined the education of young people. Graham Newman, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People didn't even see fit to speak leaving Guy McGregor to answer on the grounds this is a "transport" issue

Suffolk County Council Cabinet

Flickr Photoset Suffolk County Council Cabinet
Suffolk County Council Press Release
Full text of Mark Bee's Speech
My Live Tweets on Wikisuffolk
Wordblog Article "Suffolk's New Pragmatic Direction"
Guardian Society Daily Article quoting this blogpost
Suffolk Politics 4502061227128924287

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