Monday, April 18, 2011

An open letter to Suffolk's new leader

I see that we have white smoke from Endeavour House, indicating that the Conservative Group on Suffolk County Council have elected a new leader, Mark Bee, the county councillor for Beccles and leader of Waveney Council. And so, in a spirit of welcome...

Dear Mark,

Firstly, congratulations on winning the contest to become the new Leader of Suffolk County Council! It would be too cheap a shot to note that your colleagues used AV to choose you, but it does give you greater credibility (in my eyes at least).

I understand that your election presages a rethink of the 'New Strategic Direction', and that you will be reviewing a number of your Group's more 'controversial' decisions (I'm guessing that this is shorthand for 'unpopular'). This can only be a good thing, as there are plenty of Suffolk residents out there who are less than wildly impressed with how things have been decided so far.

If I might be so bold as to offer some advice, however, perhaps I ought to suggest that you encourage your Group to be a bit more involved. Given that they, including you presumably, voted through the 'New Strategic Direction' and the budget that followed, responding to public disquiet indicates that they didn't really think through the implications beforehand. Include as many of your Group in your thinking as possible, rather than using them as voting fodder, as appears to have been the case under your predecessor.

Ironically, many Suffolk voters understand that cuts are necessary, if regrettable. However, being told what the cuts are going to be, and then effectively telling the rest of us to simply deal with it tends to wind people up. That level of confrontation is unnecessary if, like I do, you believe that the entire political community across the county has the best interests of Suffolk and its people at heart. Yes, we won't all agree on the method, or the extent, but most of us are pragmatic enough to work together, given an opportunity.

I won't suggest that you axe some of your Cabinet colleagues. Whilst I do think that some of them have been less than entirely successful, building a team is about compromise and personal relationships. You will want a Cabinet that responds to your leadership, and as I don't know that much about the personalities involved, I'll leave that for you to decide.

Whatever you do decide though, I do urge you to consult more, before cuts are announced, rather than afterwards. The district councils, the parishes and local community groups are willing and able to play their part in the management of local services, as long as they are given the time and space to make new arrangements, or to secure new funding sources as necessary.

Finally, please don't disguise transfers of spending between levels of government as spending cuts. The idea of spending cuts is to reduce public spending, not simply to pass the buck onto a lower tier of government and claim the credit for making savings.

Anyway, congratulations once again,and good luck in your new role,

Yours sincerely,

Mark Valladares

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