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Why can't our political leaders make the case for Suffolk in Westminster?

PUBLISHED: 05:30 11 July 2019

Ipswich failed to get anything from the government's High Street fund. Picture; PAUL GEATER

Ipswich failed to get anything from the government's High Street fund. Picture; PAUL GEATER

Archant

It was very disappointing if, in retrospect, not entirely surprising that Suffolk missed out on any of the £675m allocated by the government for high street regeneration this week.

Suffolk MPs met cabinet members from, Endeavour House last week. Picture: ARCHANTSuffolk MPs met cabinet members from, Endeavour House last week. Picture: ARCHANT

The fact is that Suffolk is not regarded as a priority area for the government - and its senior politicians don't always seem to be particularly active in fighting for the county in the corridors of power.

This is just the latest time Suffolk has been overlooked - or had its pleas for help ignored. You get the feeling that ministers and civil servants in London just look at its appeals and think "Suffolk, quite a nice place. Not particularly impoverished. Don't have to worry about them!"

So the county's police are starved of funds, applications for major projects are turned down, and major government bodies like Network Rail and Highways England seem very slow to make improvements that most people feel are vital for the good of the county and the country as a whole.

Why have we still not had a commitment to the improvements needed to the main rail line to London and the main cross-country link to the midlands and north from Network Rail.

Why has Highways England not given any response to the calls to follow up the improvements to the A14 in Cambridgeshire with (much more modest) projects backed by the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and the county's MPs?

Those of us who live and work in Suffolk know that beyond the veneer of the prosperity of Constable Country, the beauty of the Heritage coast and the wealthy veneer of Bury St Edmunds and Newmarket there are some really serious pockets of poverty, deprivation and other social problems.

But when you're sitting behind a desk in Whitehall and your only experience of the county is a weekend break in Southwold or Lavenham it is difficult to believe that Suffolk's problems are as serious as those in the north east, the midlands, or south Wales.

Unless, of course, the county's political leaders (MPs and senior councillors) make a real nuisance of themselves and put the county on the map.

And I'm not entirely sure that is happening as effectively as it could at the moment.

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I've already had my say on the situation Suffolk has been left in after the Upper Orwell Crossing fiasco and the difficulty this has caused for the county in negotiating with central government.

But how effective is the lobbying effort in the corridors of Whitehall? I'm not sure Suffolk is really making the most of what is up for grabs.

Is it too much to ask our MPs to do a bit more for the county? After all they're supposed to be Suffolk's voice in Westminster - not the government's mouthpiece in their constituencies.

I've noticed over recent months that there has been an increase in griping about some MPs from the county on social media - claims that they do not get a response beyond a computer-generated acknowledgement.

Of course some of this is bound to be politically-motivated stirring by their opponents. But I've also heard party supporters murmuring similar concerns privately.

I have to say Ipswich MP Sandy Martin is in a rather different position to the county's Tory members in this.

I was once told by one of his predecessors that there was nothing more frustrating than being an opposition MP in a marginal seat: "The government doesn't want to do anything to improve your seat because ministers know that you'll try to take the credit for it!"

But it would be good to see a bit more Suffolk action from some of our Tory MPs. Maybe they should take a leaf out of Priti Patel's book.

Her Witham seat is rather on the edge of our circulation area, but her office peppers us with press releases on an almost daily basis.

We don't use them all - but some are really useful for us and there's always a member of her staff on hand to sort out any point that we're not clear about.

What is really needed is for the MPs and the councils (and there was a meeting between Tory MPs and county leaders last week) to spend more time banging Suffolk's drum in the corridors of power at Whitehall and Westminster - they need to work much more as a team.

Who knows, next time there's a major new government funding scheme we might get a sniff of it - rather than just being treated like a gap on the map between Essex and Norfolk!

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