Suffolk County Council Leader Vows To “build back better, stronger and greener” After COVID.

Protecting and supporting vulnerable residents, strengthening Suffolk’s economy, a strong focus on the environment and delivering value for money for the taxpayer is at the heart of priorities outlined by Suffolk County Council’s leader today. 

Councillor Matthew Hicks said that in the next 4 years, Suffolk County Council will:

  • Drive up educational standards through a project led by the National Literacy Trust.
  • Maintain the Outstanding rating for Children’s Services from OFSTED
  • Launch a £20m programme to spend £10m tackling highways flooding and a further £10m improving and upgrading 500 miles of pavements and footpaths.
  • £14.5m in upgrading or building new waste recycling centres.
  • Continue investing £45m building over 800 new school places for children with Special Educational Needs
Matthew Hicks

On education and children’s services he said:

“We are already investing £45m building over 800 new school places for children with Special Educational Needs. Working with our partners, we will drive up educational standards through a project led by the National Literacy Trust and we will create a network of Family Hubs.”

On adult social care and supporting vulnerable people he said:

“The reality is by 2031, a fifth of Suffolk’s residents will be aged over 70, and we must be prepared for that.  We will harness new technology, like we did when we supported the Digital Care Phone project last year.  We will also continue our unwavering support for our fantastic care workers, who do so much to make sure people get the care and support they need.  

“Since 2017 we have spent over £1bn on caring for vulnerable residents.  This huge level of support will continue.”  

On the post pandemic economic landscape in Suffolk, He outlined his vision for an economic recovery looking to build an economy fit for the next 30 years, describing an economy that “embraces new greener technology, that invites investment in the right training and skills and benefits everyone equally.”

On the environment, Cllr. Hicks stressed that the people of Suffolk had made it clear during the election that environmental issues matter to them, along with other concerns around housing, infrastructure and their quality of life.  He stressed that the environment would continue to be at the forefront of his administration’s agenda.  He said:

“In 2019 this council declared a climate emergency – and since then we have been working hard to meet our responsibilities to become a carbon neutral authority by 2030.  

“£3m to improve heating systems in council offices, fire stations and schools. And we are investing £14.5m in upgraded or new waste recycling centres and we are promoting greater biodiversity.”

He also celebrated the increase diversity of the county council, noting that 39% of councillors were now women and the election of one of the youngest county councillors in the country. 

He confirmed his new cabinet and noted significant changes to some portfolios. These were:

  • Combining Finance and Environment into a single portfolio
  • The creation of a new Cabinet member for Education, SEND and Skills
  • Splitting Operational Highways from Transport Strategy
  • Merging Public Health, Public Protection and Communities into a single portfolio. 

In explaining these changes, Cllr. Hicks said that placing Finance and Environment together reflects the fact the council now publishes a carbon budget alongside the financial budget.  He also hoped that by splitting Operational Highways from Transport Strategy, more focus could be given to addressing issues with highways maintenance.  Finally, by merging Public Health, Public Protection and Communities into a single portfolio, this would enable these areas to continue working closely together, as they have since the pandemic began. 

In a speech dominated by COVID, Cllr. Hicks said:

“We have seen COVID 19 disrupt every part of our lives.”  

He paid tribute to the those who have died of COVID in Suffolk, noting that county council’s plans for healing woods, approved in July 2020, were now under development. He said:

“I promise that their memories will not be forgotten. Our plans for healing woods will, I hope, help the healing process for all those that suffer the pain of grief.”

He went on to thank all those organisations and individuals involved in delivering the vaccination rollout across the county, noting that “the vaccine continues to represent hope for us all.”

Closing his speech, Cllr. Hicks looked ahead to the proposed ending of COVID restrictions next month, noting that the new post pandemic world will come with its own challenges and opportunities, he said. 

“we will not stumble back and carry on as if nothing happened – we will learn from some of the new ways of working that have emerged.  With this strengthened Conservative administration – we can build back better, we must build back greener, we will build back stronger.”

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