Elections 2021: What is in the Liberal Democrats' manifesto?
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
As we continue exploring the manifestos for each of the main political parties contesting the Suffolk County Council elections in May, today we turn our attention to the Liberal Democrats.
The Liberal Democrats' mantra for the 2021 local elections is "getting Suffolk back on its feet - reconnecting, reviving and regenerating communities".
Measures to aid recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic will be a key feature of the campaigning for all parties contesting Suffolk County Council seats on May 6.
The Liberal Democrats currently hold five of the county council's 75 seats.
However, in council chamber, they have formed a group with Green and Independent councillors to effectively form a second opposition to the Conservative majority, as well as an alternative to the Labour cohort.
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The party's manifesto accused the government of mishandling the pandemic response, and said that "business as usual will not do".
Suffolk Liberal Democrats chairman, Jon James, said: "Since 2005, the Conservatives have run the county council and in those 16 years there has been a lack of investment in critical public services and innovation and now the pandemic has added further damage to our local economy.
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"We need to urgently repair and redress the imbalance in the support available to families who have disproportionately suffered economically, physically and mentally.
"Our care system is in crisis through a lack of funding and a joined-up approach between health and social care.
"The pandemic has shown up the paucity of the mental health provision and our children’s education and young people’s training has been disrupted.
"There are poor levels of connectivity and transport especially in rural areas and an ageing infrastructure needs rebuilding."
Key pledges in the manifesto include:
- Establishing a Covid-19 grant scheme for Suffolk's charities and arts and cultural venues
- Introduce a countywide electric vehicle charging scheme by 2023
- Form a council-owned bus company to facilitate rural routes
- Introduce more 20mph zones
- Investigate alternatives to a northern bypass for Ipswich, such as better Park and Ride and a second Orwell crossing
- Create a flood protection strategy
- Plant 120,000 new trees and mandate planting of two trees for every one lost
- Introduce countywide catch-up education programmes
- Introduce an education attainment action plan to replace Raising the Bar
- Extend free school meals through the holidays
Joining the party's online manifesto launch, held digitally because of Covid-19 restrictions, St Albans MP and deputy party leader in Westminster, Daisy Cooper, said: "People across the East of England have suffered as a result of the Conservatives' disastrous handling of the pandemic."
She added: "Throughout the pandemic Liberal Democrat councils and councillors have supported and listened to their communities, making sure businesses got relief grants paid out on time, volunteered in vaccine centres, and helped get laptops to children for home-schooling where the government once again dragged its heels."
For the party, key issues include the economy, climate change, health and social care, and in particular a need to support carers.
That all comes amid the continuing Covid-19 recovery, and other responsibilities at Suffolk County Council such as fire service provision and education.
Who isn’t standing?
This year’s polls have seen some significant names opting not to stand for re-election across each of the political groups.
For the Liberal Democrats, two stalwarts of the county chamber are standing down.
Peninsula councillor David Wood has served 21 years for his division, including a year as the Liberal Democrat Green and Independent group leader in 2017, but is not seeking re-election as pledged to his late wife.
Gipping Valley councillor John Field meanwhile, who has 20 years under his belt, has also opted not to stand again, although he will continue in his role with the party at Mid Suffolk District Council.
Both have been vocal campaigners on important issues, including the environmental impacts of Sizewell C, protection of the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Citizens Advice funding and broadband connectivity.
At each full council meeting, each of the three political groupings get the opportunity to put forward a motion.
At the last full council meeting, Lib Dem councillor for Woodbridge Caroline Page secured unanimous backing for a motion to form a bolstered database for both paid and unpaid carers with Suffolk Family Carers.
That will enable more advice to be directed to carers, including key support for carer respite, financial help and back-up measures for caring for their loved one if they contract Covid-19 and are required to isolate.
Many people across the county care for loved ones in an unpaid capacity, even prior to the pandemic, but the coronavirus crisis has exposed just how fragile those support networks can be - and just how crucial they are.
The motion will no doubt be a key part of the ongoing Covid-19 recovery for Suffolk.