Residents in Mid Suffolk might be making history on May 4th election if the Green Party succeed in winning 18 or more district council seats. Mid Suffolk District Council would then be the first district council in the UK to be under majority Green Party control.
Since 2019, when the ruling Conservative group lost its leader and its majority, Mid Suffolk District Council has been a hung council. Only with the support of an Independent councillor and the casting vote of the chair have the Tories hung on to power. However, there is a feeling amongst opposition councillors that the chair has, too often, voted along party political lines rather than on the merit of the proposal in question and whether it would benefit the local community.
Tories: ‘sound finances’
Supporters of the Tory administration believe they have done an excellent job balancing the books, freezing council tax and, through generating a year on year £2m surplus, accumulating a £22m reserve. This has been partly achieved by exploiting alternative revenue streams – namely borrowing money to invest in commercial property around the country.
“Mid Suffolk has frozen its precept for two years running and are projecting future surpluses to 26/27 without any further council tax increases.” says Cllr John Whitehead, Conservative Cabinet Member for Finance, who is standing in Claydon & Barham ward. “We are holding nearly a year’s worth of service costs in reserves as we need healthy finances to build a sustainable future.”
Campaigning Conservatives, albeit using the title “Local Conservatives”, are concerned that a council under Green Party control will “spend all the money and leave little for a rainy day”.
Greens & LibDems: ‘sound society’
In contrast the Green Party candidates are wary of the commercial property investments, believing they carry more risk than has been acknowledged, especially since interest rates have risen. Hence the Green Party would reappraise their exposure and unwind riskier investments. The Greens, and their Liberal Democrat allies, also believe that residents deserve to benefit more from the accumulated reserves.
“Mid Suffolk is sitting on £22 million of reserves and is likely to have a budget surplus of around £3m when the figures from the 2022/23 financial year are finalised,” explains Green Party Cllr Andrew Mellen, standing again for Bacton ward. “With those resources, residents have the right to expect the council’s services to be delivered to a very high standard, however at the moment they can’t even answer the phones in a reasonable time.”
Public transport improvement
One of the successes initiated by the Green / LibDem alliance, and supported by the Tories, was the creation of a £2m “cost of living” reserve to help residents deal with the crisis. In contrast the Green Party proposal to invest £800K in two electric buses was, after initial support from the Tories, shelved as the business case was deemed unviable. If the Green Party gain control of the council they (and the LibDems) would hope to re-examine the stalled project. Their belief is that the bus services in the area are poor – too many new estates are without any public transport serving them. A benefit of better connectivity between the villages and towns is an invigorated town economy. Yet quantifying social benefits in a financial business case is challenging.
Herein lies the heart of the choice for Mid Suffolk voters on May 4th – are they for sound finances or sound society?
How the residents of Mid Suffolk make their decision is best summed up by LibDem Cllr Keith Scarff, who is standing for election in Combs Ford.
“Residents don’t want political infighting. They want District Councillors to make decisions that will benefit them and their local community. My message to the electorate is, look at all the candidates and consider carefully. Put party politics aside and consider who has worked well in your community and what is the best use of public money.”
Mid Suffolk District encompasses the towns of Eye, Stowmarket and Needham Market as well as a host of civil parishes. The district is divided up into 26 wards. The Green Party are fielding 29 candidates in all but three wards – Rickinghall, Blakenham and Rattlesden. The Conservatives, under the title “Local Conservatives”, are fielding 27 candidates across all wards. The LibDems are concentrating their focus on the Needham Market area with 13 candidates. Labour are fielding eight candidates and Nigel Farage’s Reform party have two candidates campaigning in Palgrave and Combs Ford. The full list of candidates is here.