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Suffolk: Former interim leader backs leadership challenge

PUBLISHED: 11:13 01 April 2014 | UPDATED: 11:15 01 April 2014

Jane Storey.

Jane Storey.

A leading west Suffolk councillor has thrown her weight behind a shock bid to replace Suffolk County Council leader Mark Bee.

Jane Storey, who represents Woolpit, has given her backing to Row Heath councillor Colin Noble, who is challenging Conservative colleague Mr Bee for leadership of the authority.

Mrs Storey led the council from the resignation of Jeremy Pembroke at the end of March 2011 until Mr Bee was confirmed as leader at the authority’s annual meeting at the end of May that year.

She was deputy leader until stepping down from the cabinet after last May’s elections – and said that cabinet member for finance Mr Noble would offer the council a new direction.

She said: “I have nothing against Mark. He was the right person when Jeremy stood down and we needed to bring stability to the authority.”

However, she said things had changed in the last three years and that she felt Mr Noble now offered a better option for the council going into the future.

Mrs Storey felt it seemed that council policy was being written by officers and that councillors were increasingly feeling cut out of the decision-making process.

Mr Noble was seen as a keen supporter of the New Strategic Direction which was promoted by Mr Pembroke and former chief executive Andrea Hill.

Mrs Storey said: “She (Mrs Hill) had some good ideas and some of these have matured into good policies. But she didn’t get them across to the community and the media.”

However she said that time had passed and Mr Noble offered councillors the chance to take part in real policy debates.

She also felt that he would be better placed to tackle some of the difficult issues that were facing the authority.

“We have made some changes, but there are many more tough choices ahead of us that will have to be faced – and I think Colin would be a better leader going in to face these choices.”

Current deputy leader Lisa Chambers, a keen supporter of Mr Bee, dismissed Mrs Storey’s concerns.

She said: “I don’t share Jane’s view on officers formulating policy. There are far more opportunities for backbench councillors to take part in formulating policy than there were in the past.

“After last year’s election Mark set up new locality policy meetings that give councillors from all parties to the opportunity to feed in policy suggestions.

“And there are regular meetings of Conservative backbenchers where they can come up with proposals which are discussed and can be brought forward.”

Mrs Chambers said that Mr Bee’s years as a backbench councillor before he became leader in 2011 gave him a clear insight into how important it was to involve all members in the decision-making process.

She said: “I think Mark Bee has really worked hard to involve backbench councillors and bring them into the decision-making process. I really don’t see Colin Noble as someone who could do any more to involve backbenchers.”

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