As this is my first column since the local elections, it is right that I reflect on the results. The Conservative Party sits here after the most difficult set of local elections for many years. We lost many excellent hard-working councillors and candidates at district and borough level that sadly did not get elected.
There was a national political tide which we struggled to swim against. The national picture is difficult and there is no denying the polls are not where we would like them to be. However, the Prime Minister, and the party, now have some time before the General Election to show the voting public why our Conservative approach and values deliver best for Suffolk and the rest of the UK.
Regardless of the situation nationally, we need to do all we can to ensure at county council level that we are set up for success in 2025. I believe Suffolk needs a Conservative administration, but we have no ‘right to govern’. That right must be earned.
At SCC there are things we are doing well, very well in fact. Some snapshots include the success of our Cassius Digital Care work and innovation, an extra £2.5m for mental health services, 300 miles of road now designated as quiet lanes, millions of pounds being invested in new HWRCs in Ipswich and Haverhill, £13m in funding for active travel, 3,000 environmentally friendly homes being delivered on SCC land, £55m providing 1,275 new SEND places, 250,000 trees being planted, over 100 new EV charging points, and our new Highways Contract with Milestone. The list goes on and there is much more that that SCC can rightly be proud of.
But there are things we must do better and I want to focus on two areas today – Highways and SEND.
There is no denying that, after the picture nationally, the number one issue on the doorstep at these local elections was highways.
Let me be clear, the state of our roads is not good enough and, in some cases, I was stood on roads it was difficult to defend as I was out supporting councillors and candidates across the county. I don’t believe our roads are any worse than in Essex, Cambridgeshire or Norfolk – but that doesn’t matter and frankly it doesn’t mean that we do not need to improve. I hope to announce additional plans to improve this in the coming weeks.
Turning to SEND. We are seeing improvements but the pace of change is not fast enough and it is not being felt by families. This is why we brought in Anthony Douglas to redouble our efforts. Is this change as fast as I would like? No. But it is coming and with the best interests of children and their families at its core. This is a hugely emotional issue and it is deeply upsetting. Yes, it is part of a national struggle - but we cannot and must not hide behind that. Suffolk must continue to step up regardless of the situation nationally.
I lead an excellent group at Suffolk County Council. A group of councillors who bring positivity, ideas and are committed and hard working. Our successes are because of this positive attitude. I am committed to continuing with this hard work and ensuring Suffolk has a bright future ahead.
Column by Cllr Matthew Hicks, Leader of Suffolk County Council