In the County Council elections of May 2021, the Conservative Party had our best result since the 1970s. The County Council’s administration, which I lead, was given a firm mandate to pursue the four main priorities in our manifesto; looking after the health and wellbeing of our residents, protecting and enhancing the environment, strengthening the local economy, and providing value for money.
This has been a difficult time for us all. At the time of the County election, we were still in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and, just as we began to emerge, Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine sent further shockwaves across the globe. These twin shocks have made it doubly important that we support the most vulnerable people in our communities. Since 2021, we have distributed over £15.3 million of funding to residents in hardship through our Household Support Fund. To date, over 160,000 people have been supported. In the last year, we have helped more than 1,200 Ukrainian refugees via Homes for Ukraine sponsorships. We’ve also increased our funding to Suffolk’s Citizen’s Advice service to recognise all they’re having to do during this challenging period.
75p in every £1 we spend goes on people’s services, looking after those most in need. A major part of this has been our determination to see children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) have access to suitable school places here in Suffolk and to see them and their families receive the service they deserve. On too many occasions that service has not been good enough and I offer my heartfelt apologies to those who have been let down. We’re working hard turning things around; £55 million pounds is being spent delivering over 1,200 new specialist places here and over the last two budgets we have invested nearly an additional £2 million into the service to try to keep pace with the increase in need. We’re not yet where we want to be but the investment is there and with the appointment of Anthony Douglas, as our Special Advisor on SEND, our focus will be on seeing improvement in the lived experience of families here in the county. This year alone we have increased the total budget for Children’s Services in Suffolk by £13.5 million.
It's not just Suffolk’s young people that need our support. This year the Conservative administration provided Adult Social Care services with an additional £36 million in funding. Beyond that, we are a leading authority in using the power of digital care. Through our Cassius digital care programme, we are using new technology to help people maintain their independence and stay safe and healthy in their own homes for as long as possible.
Turning to the environment, we continue to ensure that our aspiration to be the Greenest County does not falter. On Sunday, we opened the 100th Plug in Suffolk EV charging location in Risby near Bury St Edmunds. This scheme is attracting national recognition and recently won an additional £1.4 million of funding from the Government. Since November 2020, we have planted over 225,000 new trees, while our project with the aim of replacing all 43,400 streetlights across Suffolk with sustainable, longer-lasting, and cost-saving LED bulbs is nearing completion and has saved the Council nearly £2.5 million already. Under Conservative leadership, Suffolk is at the forefront of environmental innovation.
In other services, Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service have just been inspected again and rated “Good” for its effectiveness and how well it manages staff. We’ve also just approved £5.3 million to be spent on new Fire Service vehicles, including the replacement of 20 fire engines with state-of-the-art alternatives. Turning to Highways, we have just been awarded an additional £4.8 million from government to tackle road maintenance and potholes and in October of this year our new £1 billion 20-year contract with Milestone will commence and begin to bring further innovation to Suffolk.
We are rightly proud of this track record of success and have ambitious capital projects underway like the Gull Wing Bridge in Lowestoft, new and refurbished household waste sites in Ipswich, Stowmarket and Haverhill and the recently announced £10.8m for Ipswich to name but a few.
For Conservatives, providing our residents with value for money is of the utmost importance and all of this has been possible without increasing Council Tax by the maximum open to us.
This is just a snapshot of what we have achieved over the last couple of years and there is much more we plan to do. I’m grateful to the people of Suffolk for the faith they have put in us and to my Conservative colleagues for helping drive forward this success. Our ambition for Suffolk will not relent.
Authored by the Leader of Suffolk County Council, Matthew Hicks for East Anglian Times.