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Why don't Tory council leaders from Suffolk stand up for themselves?

PUBLISHED: 06:00 06 September 2018

Conservative county council leader Matthew Hicks needs to stand up for Suffolk in talks with government ministers. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Conservative county council leader Matthew Hicks needs to stand up for Suffolk in talks with government ministers. Picture: GREGG BROWN

The news that Suffolk is facing an £8m hole in its finances is hardly surprising - but will certainly set the alarm bells ringing for many.

However there will be serious concerns facing accountants and councillors at Endeavour House – and the politicians are really going to have to face up to some really serious questions.

The first of these facing the ruling Conservative administration is: “Do we have the guts to stand up and call out the government for the disgraceful way it has treated local councils over the last eight years, or do we just lie down and accept another kicking?”

Because the time has come when they need to show some courage and accept that the mess local councils are in is mainly the fault of their own government.

The Tories have been in power at Endeavour House for 13 years and a Tory-led government has been in power in Westminster for eight years.

They can no longer go around like headless chickens blaming Labour for everything. We need politicians, not history teachers to take a bit of responsibility.

Having said that, Suffolk has been run in a pretty responsible way over previous years. The administration did come under flak for many years for not dipping into reserves when things were looking tight.

That now looks like a wise decision. With government funding for local councils being turned off, the fact that it still has more than £50m of uncommitted reserves looks like good news.

Services will inevitably be cut over the next few years as more financial constraints are imposed – we will see fewer rural buses, less finance provided to our libraries, and less spent on supporting voluntary organisations.

Given the continuing government funding squeeze – and with a look at the disaster that has fallen Northamptonshire and the impending disaster in Somerset, Surrey, and even possibly in Norfolk – that looks inevitable.

I really cannot see the point in blaming the Conservatives on the council for the cuts – any prudent authority would have to make cutbacks.

What you can blame the county’s Conservatives for is failing to make a fuss about the cuts – failing to call the government to account and failing to be seen to be telling ministers that you cannot continue to cut funding for councils if you expect those councils to provide support for an increasing number of older people and those with disabilities.

I keep hearing that local Conservative politicians are telling national Conservative politicians about the problems.

But they are not getting across the level of concern that is being felt out there. And local Tories seem so desperate to avoid criticising their national colleagues that they start to look complicit in the butchery of vital services.

Frankly it’s no good for the likes of Matthew Hicks, Richard Smith, and Becky Hopfensperger to just tell us how tough it is if they’re not telling Secretary of State James Brokenshire just how dire things are in the county . . . and telling their voters that they’re prepared to fight the government on this.

If they’re too scared to pick a fight with their own bosses when their own bosses are destroying the organisation they supposed to serve, then there’s no point in anything they’re doing.

They’re not representing the people of Suffolk at Endeavour House, they’re representing the Tory Party’s national hierarchy. That’s hardly democracy in action.

To be fair to the Tories, Labour councillors acted in exactly the same way when their party was in power nationally – although the situation wasn’t exactly the same because Labour did not impose the same spending constraints during a period of austerity.

What Labour councils did was to just ram up council tax bills when the government told them to – without much apparent concern for the householders who would have to pay these bills.

The Labour councillors probably could not have reversed those increases, but they could have kicked up a fuss. But they didn’t – and that gave their opponents the opportunity to give them a kicking for the next decade!

So what hope is there for local government? To be honest not a lot while Tory councillors seem so happy to allow themselves to be used as punchbags by their political masters in Whitehall. It really is time for more local government leaders to get the courage to stand up for themselves and their voters.

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