Suffolk: Concerns from 33,000 people over council changes

SUFFOLK: More than 33,000 people have so far been in contact with the county about its radical makeover – but there are precious few answers about what will happen to the authority in the future.

As the agenda for next week’s council meeting was published, council leader Jeremy Pembroke could give no firm indication of what lay in store for the county’s biggest employer.

As he and chief executive Andrea Hill met The Evening Star, they said:

- There is no firm vision for the future size of the council.

- No figures for the number of job losses have been decided.

- No firm guidelines for the pay or pensions of staff who move to “divested” bodies in future have been decided.

Mr Pembroke insisted there was no grand design – no dream behind the proposals, which were aimed at ensuring Suffolk continued to provide good services for residents while budgets were cut.

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The agenda for next week’s meeting includes a 36-page report entitled “Progress in the implementation of the New Strategic Direction.”

It includes details of meetings with members of the public over the last few weeks – although opposition parties dispute whether this amounted to consultation, because they claim the council is set on going ahead with its proposals.

Mr Pembroke said many of the principles behind the New Strategic Direction (NSD) were already in place: “In adult care, about 90 per cent is provided by other bodies. It is nothing new to buy in services.”

But when it was suggested that the scale of divesting being proposed by Suffolk was greater than that anywhere else, Mr Pembroke smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

He insisted NSD was a response to the economic climate that had been coming for many years, commenting: “We knew several years ago that we were going to face severe cuts now.

“In Suffolk we are facing cuts of between �110million and �125m.

“And there are going to be cuts of about �40m next year alone which we are having to work on now. We don’t want to have to cut back services to the bare minimum.

“We want to protect services as best we can. That is why we have been drawing up this programme – to involve more communities.”

As staff worry about the future shape of the authority, Mrs Hill said: “I know there are figures being discussed and rumours going around. I know the figure of 500 to 700 people was quoted today.

“That is not accurate. There is no figure.”

When asked about whether the council had talked to staff about their pensions if they move to divested bodies, Mrs Hill said: “We will talk about that at the appropriate time.”

There are some sections in the report discussing involving local residents in running services, and linking social care and health providers to provide more rounded care.

There is precious little detail on any plans for the future, which has prompted anger from opposition councillors.

Labour leader Sandy Martin said: “The issue here is still that there is nothing concrete. It is all fairly nebulous and doesn’t really answer any questions about how services will be developed in the future. We need some firm answers.”

Liberal Democrat opposition leader Kathy Pollard was not impressed by the council paper. She said: “I have never seen so much waffle.

“The Conservatives have paid lip service to consultation. Everyone knows that they have already made up their minds and are adopting an ideological approach to the outsourcing of council services.”n Are you worried about the future shape of Suffolk County Council or are you pleased with what the authority is doing? Tell us your thoughts. Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail