Sandy Martin

Labour leader responds to libraries announcement

Sandy Martin, labour leader on Suffolk County Council, was asked for his comments on the the plan for a community interest company to run the council libraries (see earlier post). This is what he said:

Suffolk County Council is responsible for Libraries. They are already owned by the people of Suffolk. We don’t know the details of the so-called Community Interest Company – and why do we need it anyway?

By all means let’s make any possible savings that won’t damage the library service, and let’s involve the local people even more than they are already. But how can we trust a word that the Conservatives are saying on divesting libraries?

Why have they released this so-called “news” just 3 days before the local elections? What has changed since this whole libraries “consultation” process first started? Cllr Terry is still talking about local communities running their local libraries, she’s still talking about making a 30% overall saving, and she’s still not categorically promising that all the libraries will remain open.

More than 19,000 petition Suffolk CC to save all libraries

Save our Libraries petitions with more than 19,000 signatures have been handed to Cllr Judy Terry, Suffolk County Council cabinet member responsible for libraries. The petitions come from 12 libraries and a couple of other sources, out of 44 libraries in the county, so it can be anticipated the total number signing Save Libraries petitions is considerably higher.

ALL Libraries
Ipswich County
Ipswich Labour
Oulton Broad

Petitions in italics previously handed in but representatives at handover. Ixworth also handed over their petition. List from James Hargrave.

Cllr Judy Terry, who is the portfolio holder for libraries, came down to the entrance of Endeavour House, after some shoting and phone calls, to recieve the petitions. She was very keen to explain that no decisions on the future of libraries had been taken as can be seen in this video.

There did appear to be a change of tone in what she said reflecting the promise of the new council leader Mark Bee that they would be more transparent and listening. However, many questions about the consultation remained unanswered.

A complete video of the comments made by Cllr Terry and her answers to questions is available here. It includes the admission of an “error” in a council response to a Freedom of Information request.

Before the presentation opposition leader Kathy Pollard (Lib Dem) and Sandy Martin, the Labout leader, were interviewed by Anglia News. The videos are my recording of the interviews.

Suffolk CC leader and two officials resign

The resignation of two senior officials of Suffolk County Council followed yesterday by Jeremy Pembroke, the Conservative leader, were linked today by Sandy Martin, the Labour leader.

He suggested, in a BBC Radio Suffolk interview, officials were making decisions that were too political (he mentioned the “chief executive” but not by her name, Andrea Hill) and that the two officials were the only two people to stand up against this.

Cllr Martin said Cllr Pembroke was a “decent chap” but “out of touch with reality” and did not have the control that was required.

The two officials are Graham Dixon who until Wednesday was director of resource management, and Eric Whitfield, the monitoring officer (EADT).

Cllr Pembroke told BBC Radio suffolk that he was “not pushed” and had made his decision at the beginning of December. He said: “I genuinely believe it [the New Strategic Direction] is the right thing to do.”

He told the East Anglian Daily Times:

I have enjoyed being Leader immensely. I believe we have made great strides in modernising the authority, making efficiencies and creating an organisation that, even in these difficult financial times, will deliver.

I feel this is the right time for me to step down to give the next Leader enough time to prepare for the elections in 2013. I know that I will be leaving the authority in good hands.

The deputy leader, Jane Storey, will take over as interim leader until an election is held later this month. The favourite, according to the EADT, is Colin Noble. He was recently described to me as the most capable and ambitious politician on the council.

Kathy Pollard, a Liberal Democrat and leader of the opposition, described the situation as “quite extraordinary”. She had been at a meeting earlier in the week at which Graham was expected, but was told, “He is not in today”.

She said it was clear that Jeremy Pembroke was under a great deal of pressure.

While all this was going the April issue of the Inside SCC internal newsletter was being finalised. Production was completed at 2.45 yesterday afternoon. In a 1,850 word message chief executive Andrea Hill writes:

Let’s be clear, Suffolk County Council is now at the leading edge of new thinking in the public sector. We have an inspiring and bold Cabinet who have placed us there. It’s not an easy or comfortable place to be because we are challenging the old ways of doing things; we are developing a new model that will unsettle the status quo and, as we all know, any change makes ordinary people uncertain. Changing the system also challenges vested interests and will therefore be attacked.

That’s partially why I’m getting so much focus and now why Jeremy Pembroke, the most honest, visionary, trustworthy politician I have ever worked with, is, in my view, being unfairly attacked by a local newspaper. But we also have advocates and supporters both in central government, and local government, who are looking to Suffolk as a future role model. You won’t see them in the media – and you might well ask why – but be sure they exist.

The full text is is at wikisuffolk.

Another blast at SCC policy but where is the rest of the opposition?

Another powerful blast from Caroline Page, the Lib Dem county councillor for Woodbridge, who is providing the most vocal opposition to the Tory county council “government”.

She writes:

However,  I would urge you not to confuse national policies with our current disgraceful  local vandalism. For a start, such confusion could – no, WILL –  let those responsible off the hook! The New Strategic Direction has been a long time in the planning. It is making cuts greater than required in services the administration doesn’t value. A cynic would suggest that it is using the national situation as a cover for doing so.

Remember, in Suffolk the Liberal Democrats are not in any kind of coalition – they are very strongly the opposition party.  And as you know, both I and my colleagues have been fighting these cuts from the day they were first heralded, back in last September. Let us be clear here – although we are in opposition,  Suffolk Lib Dems are fighting this New Strategic Direction as a matter of common sense rather than party-political politicking.  We are fighting it because the effects will hit people of all ages, and backgrounds and political hue.

Opposition on Suffolk County Council is certainly difficult with the Conservatives holding 54 seats. Liberal Democrats, the main opposition, has 11, Labour 4, the Greens 2 and UKIP 1.

But that does not excuse the lack of real opposition. A trawl of the internet produces very little evidence of great activity except by Page

Her leader Kathy Pollard’s blog is much less active. Pollard’s last post was on January 22: it, like the two previous entries, was doing little more than pointing at stories in the East Anglian Daily Times.

The Labour group does have a website, but it is not working and has not been for some time.

There is, however, this comment from the Labour leader, Sandy Martin, in a booklet put out by Local Government Leadership:

I would like to give Jeremy [Pembroke, Conservative council leader] a “pat on the back” – asking questions at Cabinet allows opposition Members to contribute to the democratic process.

An image of him tugging his forelock would come to mind, if he had enough hair. It would be funny if it did not reflect the complacent opposition to the governing majority.

PS. The first comment on Page’s post is from someone called Karen. It says: “What a clear outline of a looming social disaster. The small voice of common sense. Please appoint this woman to a position of more power. Soon -Suffolk needs more of this.”

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