Mr Chairman, congratulations on your election.
On 2 May last year, 79 thousand Suffolk residents voted Conservative, 54 thousand voted Labour, 40 thousand UKIP and 22 thousand Lib Dem. That may not look like an overwhelming endorsement for one political party, but it was enough to elect more Councillors for the Conservative Party than for all of the other parties put together.
My guess is, there is probably only one of the Conservative councillors in this room who might have been elected anyway if she had stood as an independent last May. When people voted, they voted on the policies and values of the Conservative Party. We believe that we can demonstrate those polices and values to be wrong. We believe that Labour’s policies and values are more helpful for the people of Suffolk, would enable us to deliver better services that would improve their lives, would make Suffolk a fairer, greener, healthier and ultimately a more prosperous place. It is our job to demonstrate to the people of Suffolk that the Labour Group are united behind a Labour programme that they will want to vote for.
Over the course of the past month, I have been approached by various councillors from various parties – including the Conservative Party – who have asked whether the Labour Group will join in a bid to oust the present administration. Clearly, the answer was no. We will bid to oust the present administration, in 2017 when it is the voters of Suffolk who will decide who they want to run their County. But in the meantime, as the majority party the Conservatives need to sort out their own squabbles.
Would we be willing to run the County now – yes, emphatically yes, if we were able to put together an administration of councillors who had some commonality of purpose, who were willing to work together for a shared vision of a better Suffolk. Can I imagine sharing such a vision with Cllr Mountford, or any of the UKIP councillors, or any of the disaffected Conservative councillors – no I could not.
The Labour Group has a message for the County Council and for the voters of Suffolk. We will not engage in shady back-room deals, or party-political game-playing. As I said last year – where we think the administration has got something right, we will support them. And where we think they have got it wrong, we will oppose them. That is what we have been elected to do.
The Labour Group remains deeply unhappy at the cuts being made to County Council services that people in our county are facing, and we would dearly love to see a change in direction. We are facing a very difficult time with the council needing to find over £156m worth of cuts, but if Conservative county councillors are finding that tough going they have only themselves to blame. It is their Party in government which is driving through the cuts, they voted for the punitive cuts at County level, and they voted against the Labour Group’s sensible and well thought out budget amendments that would have helped protect many vulnerable people against the cuts.
The Labour Group have been working hard to highlight where this administration is going wrong. Labour’s constructive motions to improve Suffolk’s services over the past year include calls to boost the School Improvement Service, Education Welfare Service, education for children with Autism and ADHD, end the Zero-hours regime for Care workers, and a successful motion to carry out a full feasibility study for the 3rd River Crossing in Lowestoft. I am very proud of the hard work that Labour Councillors have put in to scrutinise the County’s problems in education, health, public protection, transport and many other areas.
Over the course of the coming year, we will make it as clear as we can where we believe you need to change, and be as explicit as we can about what changes we want you to make. If councillors from other parties now share our concerns, let them vote with us the next time we put forward a constructive proposal.