Suffolk cuts: It’s plan Bee

CAMPAIGNERS battling to safeguard Waveney's public services vowed to 'keep on fighting' this week, as new hope emerged for the district's school crossing patrols and libraries.

All of Suffolk's lollipop men and women – including 18 posts across Waveney – the libraries in Southwold, Oulton Broad, Kessingland and Bungay, and the waste sites in Beccles and Southwold, are among the services facing the axe under the county council's controversial New Strategic Direction.

But the authority is expected to adopt a new approach after Waveney District Council leader Mark Bee won the leadership of the county's ruling Conservative group on the first ballot.

Within hours of being unveiled as the leader elect of Suffolk County Council on Monday, Mr Bee, 48, pledged to save school crossing patrols and slow down the divestment of waste sites and libraries.

The exact results of the election are not published, but it is understood that Mr Bee, from Beccles, won the support of more than 30 of the 54 Conservative councillors.

Speaking this week, he said: 'In the case of school crossing patrols, I can assure residents that in the areas where the patrols are most needed, they will not now be stopped, unless or until a suitable alternative arrangement has been found.'

Asked about the wave of criticism that has greeted the county's plans to cut funding for or divest services, he also pledged to listen to the people in Suffolk before making radical changes.

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'I am clear that we must continue to seek out alternative ways of funding our services: that won't change – the financial climate demands this,' said Mr Bee.

'But in doing so, I will ensure that we take great care that those alternative ways are actually in place before we take away the funding. Across the board, with services such as libraries, household waste recycling centres, school and college transport, we need to take time to think through the consequences, consider the implications, listen to the concerns and be clear what the end result will be, before we make the final decisions.'

Mr Bee's comments were given a cautiousl welcome by those fighting to save public services in Waveney.

'I'm not getting my hopes up just yet,' said Lian Shepherd, a school crossing assistant who has fronted a fierce campaign to save the 14 lollipop patrols in Lowestoft.

Mrs Shepherd, of Carlton Colville, told The Journal: 'We feel like we're in limbo. It's a few weeks until he (Mr Bee) takes up office and until something certain comes through, nothing has really changed.

'My heart jumped when I read the headlines, but he's already said he'll only try and save the patrols they think are necessary. We've had no contact from the council whatsoever since the meeting in Ipswich on February 17 – you can imagine how frustrating that's been. I don't want to get my hopes up for no reason.

'We'll keep fighting, I can promise you that.'

Pauline Rainton, who is leading the campaign to save Oulton Broad library, questioned Mr Bee's long-term plan.

'What's the basis for this sudden change of heart,' she said. 'I'd welcome a rethink, but I hope it'll allow us to have a proper evaluation of the service and an open discussion – not an ultimatum.

'We need more than a statement of 'I'm going to change things, it's going to be different'. Part of me thinks this is just a stop gap.'

Janie Hall, a supporter of Bungay library, was also cautious. 'We'll wait and see,' she said. 'I'm jumping for joy just yet and we're not giving up the fight either.'

Corton teenager Ryan Holt, chairman of Waveney's Youth Council, said he believed Mr Bee will make a good leader and that he would be well placed to stand up for youngr people across Suffolk.

'He's aware of the issues facing young people in Waveney, such as the youth club closures and the Explorer card, and he's been keen to support young people in the past,' said Mr Holt, 17.

'But if you makes promises like this, you've got to be able to justify how it's going to be done. I think he'll do something, but I'm not sure how he'll do it and that's what it comes down to.'

Mr Bee works part-time as a Conservative Party agent in Waveney, but expects his role as county council leader to dominate most of his time over the next few years. He is standing for re-election to Waveney District Council in next month's district elections in Worlingham ward, but will step down as leader at the authority's annual meeting on May 25 – the day before he officially takes the helm at Endeavour House in Ipswich.

• The public consultation into the proposed divestment of of 29 of Suffolk's libraries comes to a close on Saturday, April 30. The Save Suffolk Libraries petition, which has attracted support from authors and actors as well as local people, will be handed over to Suffolk County Council at 11am on April 27.