Mr Chairman, as is traditional, I start by congratulating you on your elevation to your new role. I am sure you will uphold the standards of this Chamber and give due opportunity for the proper involvement of all Councillors in debating the work of this Council, from whichever party.
Most of us here today – most but not all – have spent the last few months speaking to the people of Suffolk who have elected us. And in the places where I have spoken to the voters – in Ipswich and Lowestoft and Bury and Stowmarket and Felixstowe and Sudbury and Beccles and Haverhill – the overwhelming message I and my colleagues have heard is the fear of unemployment – fear that they themselves will lose their jobs, and even greater fear that their children and grandchildren will never get real meaningful stable work that calls on their full potential and rewards them properly for their effort.
And so we welcome the emphasis on improving education, on apprenticeships, on the Growth Strategy. But Mr Chairman, words are not enough. We need to see actions. The Conservative administration of this council has said a lot of the right things over the past 4 years but their actions – or lack of actions – and the actions of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government – have belied those words.
In education, the vital role of external improvement and advice services for schools has been undermined. The Building Schools for the Future programme has been scrapped. And the emphasis on Free Schools has diverted resources away from the areas where they are most sorely needed and introduced a divisive element into our education.
The Greenest County rhetoric has gone hand in hand with the building of an incinerator which has diverted resources and impetus from reducing waste and maximising recycling, and the scrapping of Bury Rd Park & Ride and numerous bus services across the County.
And the proposed Troubled Families initiative – which we support in principle – must be seen against the backdrop of the Bedroom Tax, slashing Working Families Tax Credit, and increases in social care fees.
Above all, this Council continues to maintain unnecessarily high financial reserves, continues to add to those reserves year on year, and even diverts revenue to capital, at a time when even the IMF is saying that prudential borrowing in order to finance wealth-creating investment is the way to revive our economy.
Labour councillors have urged, and will continue to urge, this council to invest in the future of our residents – that is the way to bring jobs to our county – that is the way to show our voters that we are doing what it takes to ensure they all have the opportunity to make a positive contribution to our County.
I do not believe we have been altogether successful in ensuring that all our residents have heard this message. I believe that is why so many of them have been scared into finding scapegoats rather than supporting the policies which will bring jobs and houses and growth to our county and to our nation. In a county in which just 9% of the population is from an immigrant background, where the majority of those people are working and supporting the economy, and where we share in the estimated £22 BILLION per annum value – for this Region alone – of our membership of the EU, that mismatch between perception and reality is particularly sad.
Mr Chairman, I am proud to be the citizen of a country which is renowned for its tolerance and fairness to all. And it is an integral part of that tolerance and fairness which leads us to provide sanctuary to those who are forced to flee from their own countries because of unjustifiable persecution, whether they are Christians from Iran or Trade Unionists from Colombia.
But let those who come to this country be in no doubt – we value tolerance and the rule of law, and we will use all means to protect that tolerance and that rule of law – those who are motivated primarily by hatred are not welcome here!
I am honoured to be the leader of this Labour Group of Councillors, to be the Leader of the Opposition, and I hereby put you on notice that we will use our position to expose every waste, every cut, every doctrinaire privatisation, every action or inaction where we believe you are failing the people of Suffolk.
Sandy Martin 23-05-13