Mark Bee’s vision for the county

As Suffolk enters a new era today, The Evening Star gives the county council’s leader-in-waiting MARK BEE the chance to explain his vision for the future.

I came into politics because I wanted to make a difference.

Not just for the sake of it, but to leave things in better shape than when I started.

As the new leader of the Conservative group on Suffolk County Council, I am likely to be appointed as leader of the county council at May’s formal council meeting.

My mission, on taking on that role, will be, in a nutshell, to do just that: to make a difference to people’s lives, and leave things in better shape than when I started.

In doing so, I bring 20 years’ experience in serving the people of Suffolk, whether as a town, district or county councillor, including a year as mayor of Beccles, my home town.

The last seven years have been spent as leader of Waveney District Council, and I believe that my experience there, steering the authority through some very difficult times, will stand me in good stead for the challenges to come.

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Crucially, as a Suffolk man, born and bred, I have a great empathy with the people of this wonderful county, their culture, their way of life.

I understand them, because I am one of them. Their values are my values, their aspirations, my aspirations.

It would be wrong to go any further without paying tribute to my predecessor, Jeremy Pembroke.

He has led this county council for six years with great courage, determination and integrity. No-one could have worked harder, or devoted more energy to the cause of this county and its people.

The improvements that he oversaw mean that, as we face up to the unprecedented financial challenges that lie ahead, we are in an incomparably stronger position than would otherwise have been the case.

However, whichever way you look at it, there is no way of avoiding the difficult truth that we are receiving less money to fund services than we were in the past. Next year and beyond will be even tougher.

If you also consider the ever-increasing demand for our services, it means we are facing a gap in our budget of �125million by 2015.

That is why the county council made the difficult budget decisions it made this year, and why it is looking to find new ways of providing services wherever possible in the future.

Part of this will be looking to local communities and voluntary organisations to help provide alternative solutions.

I strongly believe that there is a Big Society out there, with people able and willing to play their part in their local community.

However, if we are to expect others to help, we have a duty to listen to them in return, to hear their concerns, and to build solutions together, at a speed that we can all follow.

That is why I’d like the time between now and the council meeting on May 26, to be a time for reflection and review.

I believe that the direction in which we are heading is the right one, but that we need to be very clear about our aims, about what we are going to be putting in the place of the things we are stopping, before we actually stop them.

This is, in some cases, already happening. The council created a transition fund precisely so that communities could have some extra time to develop alternative means of meeting a particular need.

We heard just last week that the Household Waste Recycling Centres would be staying open for an extra three months to enable alternative solutions to be explored.

With school crossing patrols in mind, in the areas where the patrols are most needed, we will look to continue to fund these, unless or until a suitable alternative arrangement has been found.

Across the spectrum of the council’s work, such as with libraries, post-16 school transport, or any of the other issues of concern to people in Suffolk, I want to use this time to reflect, to think carefully about the pace with which we are moving, and be clear about how existing services will be replaced.

Suffolk is blessed with wonderful towns and beautiful countryside. This is just one of the reasons why I also believe that we must continue to strive to become the greenest county, and protect the environment for future generations.

We can build a better future for Suffolk, working in partnership with other local authorities, public bodies and our members of parliament.

But we can only succeed if the county council moves at the same pace, and with the same heartbeat, as the people it serves.

And in the months to come, in order to live up to my ambition to make things better, that is what I shall be working to achieve.