New County Council
There are now 52 Tory Councillors out of the 75 total on Suffolk. Greens increased from two to three. We three Green County Councillors have teamed up with four LibDems and five Independents to form the LD, Green and Independent Group. Here we are at Endeavour House (county hall) – minus Richard Kemp
We are the second largest group after Tories because Labour have been reduced to just 11. However, we have said we do not want the status of “official opposition” – which means our leader gets a bit less money, but we don’t have to come up with alternative budgets, etc.
Our leader for the first year is LibDem David Wood, (on the far left) and Andrew Stringer is deputy. This is likely to change in the second year. We have appointed a spokesperson for women, the LibDem councillor Caroline Page. We are the first group on the county to do so, and she has received some press coverage for highlighting an underspend on carers. We are a big enough group so that at least one of us is on every committee. Our two rules are:
1. We share all information from committees etc
2. No one tells anyone else in the group how to vote, except by persuasion.
We are the only group whose members all represent the people in the divison where they live. I have been appointed to the audit committee and the pension committee.
The pension committee is preparing to put the bulk of its £2.6bn in assets into a “pooled pot” with other local authorities across the East and South East as demanded by central Government.
This will reduce, but not remove, the ability of Suffolk County Council to invest sums in the local economy, which is something I am keen to see it do. Though it is early days I would also like to see the pension fund examine whether it is wise to remain so heavily invested in fossil fuel companies. This is because I agree with the Governor of the Bank England Mark Carney who has warned that government legislation to cut CO2 emissions could pose a substantial risk to the value of oil and gas assets. The London Borough of Waltham Forest has already agreed to do this.
£400k for care beds for the dead
I have attended my first audit committee which heard that the council has inadvertently paid £400,000 to private care homes for beds for people who have died. This seems to have been a mixture of some care homes not telling the county when their patient dies while in other cases they told the county but no one in the county told the people making the payments Fortunately this was spotted by the head of internal audit and we are told better internal reporting measures introduced. The last time they checked the overpayments had reduced to just £40k. The county has recovered all the money it is owed. The county’s own care homes were all outsourced about four years ago to Care UK. I suspect that when this contract happened, county staff were not geared up to control payments.
More say for backbenchers and opposition
Before the election, my friend and the then Green group leader Mark Ereira and the then Ukip leader proposed a motion to introduce a committee system to the council and scrap the cabinet system. This was amended to something like “explore the options in a cross party working group”. The Conservative-dominated working group has decided that they want to have cabinet committees, which is a hybrid system that allows the Conservatives to control everything, but hear opposition voices from the committees. Labour and our group have pushed them successfully to have 12 members on each of these committees which means there will be two from our group, alongside two Labour and 8 Tory councillors on each committee. They can only advise and the 100% Tory cabinet will make the decisions still, but it’s better than before.