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New county leader promises to listen and review

Mark Bee who has been chosen by Suffolk Conservative County Councillors to be the new leader of the council, has started off well, saying the things that people hoped to hear.

His first announcement was a reprieve for the lollipop patrols and the slowing down of divestment proposals for other services.

In retrospect, the reprieve to allow further discussions on the closure of waste recycling centres was a straw in the wind. Going back further the revolt by seven Conservative backbenchers who voted for a Labour amendment to save the school crossing patrols was another sign that attitudes were changing.

Craig Dearden-Phillips, a Lib Dem county councillor, has an interesting analysis of what brought about the change. He writes in his blog:

So how has this come about? What has turned Suffolk from daring outsourcer to protector of crossing-patrols in 24 hours? Very simply, the power of the Backwoodsmen – shire-Tory Councillors who, for the last six months, have been getting in the neck at Parish Council meetings. This breed are often not deeply political. Many are One Nation types who don’t like anything fancy, and prefer to see the Council out of the news. Others are big community players who like to be seen on the side of the people. For the Backwoodsmen, the New Strategic Direction has always been a challenge.

Bee is certainly going to have challenges ahead. But at least he has some time to think before he takes up his new job at the end of next month. He told Paul Geater for the East Anglian Daily Times:

My intention is to review aspects such as the school crossing patrols, libraries, care homes and household waste sites, and we have already started to do this kind of thing.

It is about saying we will need to find ways that these services can be run outside the county’s finances but we are not just simply going to say we are going to stop doing things without a clear idea of what they will be replaced with.

So we want to be clearer about what the next steps would be for this type of service.

The words “New Strategic Direction” may be consigned to the Endeavour House dustbin, but it is clear that the policy of divestment will continue albeit in a more humane form.

The facts are that very painful cuts still have to be made and it is difficult to turn around a policy after the start of the financial year. But the signs that the council we be more open and give people more time to have their say are hopeful.

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