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Pickles to talk to “gung-ho” Suffolk County Council?

Local government secretary Eric Pickles has agreed to have one-to-one conversations with “gung-ho” councils about the cuts, according to the Guardian today. It would be very surprising if the “gung-ho” definition did not include Suffolk County Council.

The paper says Pickles blocked  proposals from Downing Street to protect the “big society” project from the harshest of the council spending cuts but agreed to speak to “gung-ho” councils. The story says:

The Guardian has established that ministers and No 10 formulated plans to reward councils for their contribution to the big society or force them to show they were cutting their own costs as much as their contracts with charities. But Pickles rejected the proposals.

Media stories about the crisis in the big society idea are coming from all shades of opinion (you can do a Google News search for “big society”). The Daily Mail is on the defensive today with, “Ministers hit back over claims Big Society is at risk because of spending cuts”.

A more thoughtful consideration from the Conservative-supporting press comes from Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph in an article headed Big Society RIP. He concludes:

The stakes could not be higher. If the Big Society collapses, Cameron does too.

Suffolk’s New Strategic Direction
If the  Big Society collapses so does Suffolk’s New Strategic Direction, which is really a doctrinaire version of the Big Society.

We are coming up to local government elections (district councils but not counties) and the Conservatives are preparing for big losses.

The influential Conservativehome local government blog accepts a prediction that the Conservatives will lose 1,000 or the 5,000 seats they will be defending in May. And continues:

What is harder to predict is what will happen in the large number of councils where there are no Labour councillors at all, or only a handful. Will the Conservatives make gains from the Lib Dems…. But I suspect that Conservatives losses to Labour could be partially offset by gains from the Lib Dems.

In this context, it is not surprising that Lib Dem councillors are trying to put clear water between themselves and their parliamentary colleagues in the coalition government.

The Guardian story (quoted above) refers to a private email sent to Liberal Democrat councillors in the Local Government Association which says:

Concerns about the weakness of the secretary of state have been raised within all three of the main political groups here at the LGA and the message has been heard loud and clear by leading figures in the government. The situation has been likened to having a republican in charge of the monarchy….

A key difference between Lib Dem and Conservative views on localism is that Lib Dems believe in representative democracy – Conservatives are happy to bypass elected local government and give power direct to local residents.

Here is Suffolk we may well see district councillors facing election trying to put clear water between themselves and their ruling group of county councillors.

It is being to look as if theelections here on May 5 are going to be more interesting and with a higher turnout that we have seen for many years.

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