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County Council Official Opposition – Green Party councillor sets out stall

Cllr Andrew Stringer, Leader of the Green, Liberal Democrat & Independent Group, gave the following speech today at the County Council AGM:

“How great it is to be with all of you today. I would like to start by thanking all Officers & Councillors, whether County District or Parish, for continuing to deliver local Government services including elections, through the most demanding of times.

I would also like to pay tribute to the people of Suffolk for the patience and resilience shown during the various lockdowns. But the biggest thank you must go to all our NHS staff, the Care Workers & Teachers and to all the Volunteers that have helped with prescription collection, helping at vaccination centres, getting people to medical appointments, shopping and for calling neighbours to just say hello.

As we begin to relax some of the restrictions in our way of life, we are sometimes reminded with a jolt, of how many have been lost, and those who put themselves on the frontline. For those of you that know me beyond my council work, will know I am a bit of a self-builder in my spare time. A short while ago we had a skip delivered; I normally help the driver safely back in and unload, but when the skip was lowered I stepped forward to uncouple to chains at the rear of the skip, the driver shouted for me to not touch the chains. I asked why as I had helped him with this in the past, and he explained that his company now regularly picks up skip loads of mattresses’ from residential care homes etc. For me this was a chilling reminder of how Covid 19 has affected everyone.

I would also like to put on record the thanks to all in Suffolk who 21 days ago helped treble the amount of Green Councillors in Suffolk. Trebling the amount of residents that will have the raising of their day today issues & aspirations entrusted to us, trebling the amount of people that have lent us their vote to become their Community Champions. Trebling the amount of trust placed in us to help steer the direction of Suffolk’s future, and allow even more of us to progressively work with others, to get the very best for our residents. When the administration announced the aspiration to make Suffolk the “Greenest” County, I don’t believe you were expecting this to be the outcome.

The past work that we have done with our Lib Dem and Independent colleagues has also helped achieve this really significant result, showing there is a hunger in Suffolk for political representation that falls outside of the two big parties. We in the GLI Group are fully committed to joint working without party political divisions, and we are pulling together as the largest opposition group on Suffolk County Council.

I will resist the urge to over analyse the recent election, but National media coverage of local elections normally follows a familiar Pattern. “This election will be a test of Boris Johnson, Keir Starmer” (insert your national leader of choice), the coverage of local elections then ends circa 24 hours later with a worse for wear presenter suggesting that a clear picture is hard to define because a lot of local issues have somehow got in the way of national political agendas.

And quite right too, local issues should be the predominant factor in all elections.
Local issues like “will our children get the best start in life?”
Local issues like who will get the potholes filled most efficiently?
Local issues like how will adult social care be funded?
Local issues like how we lead the way and respond our declared climate emergency?

Our group will be following on from our work in the last term where we have brought people together with differing views but basing our work on mutual respect and a taking a steer from the public who constantly ask why we cannot work together? Instead of the usual yah boo of previous terms, fellow councillors we have the choice, we owe it to those that have entrusted us with this office, to work progressively together.

Apologies if this speech being lacking my usual humour, the humour is still there, but it is tempered with the enormity of the task we now face.

We have a number of services that need desperate attention, such as how we carry out our pothole works, this subject may be old hat and boring to some, “been there done that” but that’s the problem, we are there and we haven’t done it! Our council’s current system is far too centralised and as a councillor you simply have to speak to two or three different people with at least two different reference numbers, to get a message to the local area manager, when in the inefficient former times, as a councillor, you could simply speak to them directly.

But this is a small issue in the grand scheme of things, we have to take people on a journey to reconstruct our economy in order to fundamentally reduce our impact on our shared ecology and we simply must not fail. We simply do not have the luxury of time anymore, which means the room for error in our future decisions is evaporating.

But the room for optimism is never better, our communities have shown that we can rethink our priorities in light of changing circumstances. We have revalued what is most important, health, family, local environment, changing work life balance are all reasons for optimism that we can rise to any challenge if we work together.

And we extend an offer to you the administration, please use our energy & talent to make a full contribution for the better of Suffolk. Treat us and the Suffolk people with due respect and we will work with you, and when you do the right thing, such as the better broadband rollout, bringing more SEND provision back into Suffolk, we will tell you.

But if you exclude us, or the people of Suffolk are sold short and your promises turn out to be hollow, we will tell the world.