Suffolk: New county council leader to axe New Strategic Direction

SUFFOLK: Today marks the final nail in the coffin for the council’s much-heralded New Strategic Direction (NSD).

The Evening Star can exclusively reveal that new council leader Mark Bee will announce the end of the direction at the annual council meeting today.

His announcement follows The Star’s dramatic call for NSD to be scrapped for a “New Suffolk Direction”.

He was expected to tell councillors that the NSD has not worked because the policy has not been accepted by the people of the county.

He is expected to say that some aspects of the policy have merits and will be included in new council thinking, but the overall thrust of the NSD has failed.

The Star led calls for the scrapping of the NSD at the beginning of April.

The idea of selling off – or in the NSD vocabulary “divesting” – services to other operators, whether they were voluntary groups, charities, or commercial businesses, had been greeted with hostility across the county.

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Mr Bee was always sceptical about the proposal, and having had the chance to study the council in depth in the five weeks since he was elected leader of the Conservative group, he is believed to concluded that the NSD simply cannot work in Suffolk.

A council insider told the Star that the new administration will take a much more pragmatic approach to the serious financial problems that are likely to face the authority over the next few years.

And Mr Bee is likely to describe the new policy very much in the same terms as the Star had called for.

He is sees the need to run an administration that is very much beating to the same heartbeat as the people of Suffolk – tailoring solutions to individual problems and, crucially, ensuring that the county continues to run services where it would be the most effective provider.

This principle has already been seen in the u-turn over libraries and school crossing patrols, but it is now likely to apply to other major areas of the council’s work like children’s services, adult social services, and strategic planning.

It is also likely to result in the county retaining responsibility for maintaining its own road network.

The news will come as another blow to chief executive Andrea Hill who remains on extended leave while an inquiry is carried out into “anonymous whistle-blowing allegations” about the level of support offered to staff in the legal department.

Shortly before former leader Jeremy Pembroke stood down, she sent a “message from Andrea” to staff in which she emphasised her personal commitment to the NSD.

She said: “I’m going to help us create a simpler more flexible council that really listens and works alongside communities to give them more control over council services. And I’m going to find a way to reduce the cost of our overheads for Suffolk taxpayers.

“That’s what the New Strategic Direction is all about. I believe in it and I’m going to give it my energy, intellect and hard work. That’s what I’m paid for.”

The end of the NSD is not the only change that is being announced today.

The size of the cabinet will be reduced. Colin Law, portfolio holder for skills and economic development, has stepped down from the cabinet to take over from Mr Bee as leader of Waveney council and he is not being replaced.

His role will be combined with Judy Terry’s “Greenest County” portfolio.

And the money saved will allow the council to re-instate the health scrutiny committee to keep a close eye on all health issues in the county.

The changes represent a major u-turn from a county that over the last few months has sometimes seemed keener on getting attention from ministers in Whitehall than in getting support from the people of Suffolk.

n What did you think of the New Strategic Direction? Is it right that it has been scrapped? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail