Suffolk: Conservatives back in power but with a tiny majority

Labour candidate Mandy Gaylard celebrates winning St Helens in the Suffolk County Council elections

Labour candidate Mandy Gaylard celebrates winning St Helens in the Suffolk County Council elections results with party agent John Cook. - Credit: Archant

CONSERVATIVES remain in power at Suffolk County Council – but their majority has been slashed from 35 seats to just three.

The UK Independence Party saw its number of councillors rise from one to nine – becoming the third largest group at Endeavour House – while Labour nearly quadrupled its councillors from four to 15, although they were all concentrated in the county’s largest two towns.

The Liberal Democrats lost more than a third of their seats but the two Green councillors remained – and a third independent was elected to the council.

Council leader Mark Bee comfortably retained his seat in Beccles and is spending the weekend planning out the shape of his new administration.

He was disappointed to have lost councillors but confident he would be able to form a workable administration for the next four years.

Mr Bee said: “I shall be considering who to bring in to the cabinet and what changes there should be to the decision-making structures.

“The majority is much smaller and it will require a degree of discipline from councillors – but there is much work to be done and I am confident we will be able to push through the programme.”

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He had been surprised by the strength of UKIP in some parts of the county but felt the party had caused as much damage to Labour as it had to the Conservatives.

Mr Bee said: “In Lowestoft UKIP took a seat that I would have said was a rock-solid Labour gain. The party has had a major impact even where it has not won a seat.”

He said it was vital to understand what had happened in the election and over the next few weeks he would be talking to representatives of all the parties about how the county would be run in the future.

Sandy Martin is leader of the Labour group on the county council which is now the second largest group with 15 members.

Speaking from the Ipswich count – where his party won 10 of the 13 seats up for election – he reflected on an election where the UKIP surge proved to be the major talking point.

He felt that voters had backed UKIP as a protest vote with no real knowledge of what policies they had for Suffolk County Council.

He said: “I do not believe that people knew what they were voting for. UKIP really doesn’t have any answers for the pressures facing the people of Suffolk.”

Mr Martin was pleased Labour had consolidated its position in Ipswich and Lowestoft in the heart of the two parliamentary seats it would hope to win at the next general election.

But he accepted that the attraction of UKIP had prevented his party from making gains in other parts of the county.

Lib Dem group leader David Wood was left feeling deflated after seeing the number of his councillors fall from 11 to seven.

He said: “I feel sad because the protest vote has meant that some people who would have done a very good job as a councillor have not been elected.

“Communities have missed out on the chance of some very good representation – it is significant that our sitting councillors have all been re-elected because people know they do a good job and represent their areas very well.”

In the last council, Lowestoft South councillor Bill Mountford was the only UKIP representative. He held his seat and will be joined by eight colleagues.

He said: “People are disillusioned with the existing parties and doubt their trust worthiness. The other parties don’t always follow up what they say at elections.

“We are now a viable and credible political party.”

The two Green Party candidates from last time, Mark Ereira-Guyer and Andrew Stringer, held their seats _ but group leader Mr Ereira was not celebrating because of the rise of UKIP.

He said: “I heard what people were saying on the doorstep about why they were voting for UKIP – and some of that was very ugly. It is not going to be a nice four years at Suffolk County Council.”