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The Leader's first speech

The full text from Cllr Steve Gallant's maiden speech as Leader of East Suffolk Council, given on Wednesday 22 May:

"Before I set out my plan for the road ahead, I just want to pause and pay tribute to the leaders of our parent authorities. This Council has been over a decade in the making. It required vision, commitment and tenacity to get us to this point. Ray Herring, Mark Bee and of course the late Colin Law worked tirelessly to make sure that we have in place all we need to succeed. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

"I also want to recognise the work and commitment of the officers. Without doubt one of our strongest assets is our workforce. Every one of them from the Chief Executive down has worked hard to get us to this point. They have risen to the many challenges and embraced many changes.

"I know that they are as excited as we are to be part of this great new Council and keen to make it a success – I thank them all for their ongoing support.

"It is a huge honour to be voted in as the first leader of East Suffolk Council – the biggest district council in the country – a council that stretches from Lowestoft in the north to Felixstowe in the south, from Framlingham in the west to Aldeburgh in the east. A mosaic of different communities, large and small, which together create a strong, powerful, single entity. Together, we can be ambitious, and ensure that the voice of East Suffolk is heard loud and clear at all levels of government.

"Our main reason for creating this super district is to ensure that East Suffolk is in the best possible position to respond to, and take advantage of, the emerging opportunities and challenges facing local government.

  • Creating jobs
  • Meeting the growing housing needs
  • Supporting and enabling communities to thrive

"East Suffolk is already leading in many areas; we have created and sold the PHILIS system, we established the highly successful Universal Credit Partnership, we have developed highly innovative work with Zurich on Coastal Management, we are the only district to share a senior officer post with the Clinical Commissioning Groups. 

"We need to maintain this progression, not because we want to be first, that’s not the point, but because it’s the right thing to do, and it makes us better. We need to do this whilst ensuring we provide value for money for our council taxpayers, financial savings and future resilience in all aspects of service delivery is critical.

"We fought the elections on an ambitious manifesto - Towards a Thriving East Suffolk –  ambitious for homes, ambitious for jobs, ambitious for our communities. We now need to deliver on that ambition. Therefore, we will be drawing up a 30-year vision for East Suffolk – mapping out what East Suffolk could look like in 2050,  setting clear aspirations for what we must achieve in order to get there. 

"We are in a unique position – the start of a new era. The possibilities for East Suffolk are without limit, and I want to help build a future for East Suffolk that captures that limitless potential.  I will talk more about this long term vision in the coming months. Within that vision, the council’s Business Plan will be the document that will set out in detail what we will be doing in the next four years – setting out a pathway that leads to success. Success for our Council, Success for our Communities and Success for our Economy. The current business plan covers three main themes; Economic Growth, Enabling Communities, Financial Sustainability.

"Economic Growth: The importance of East Suffolk to the county and regional economy cannot be overstated, it remains a key area of focus for us; from Enterprise Zones to Screen Suffolk, from the Local Enterprise Partnership to Business improvement Districts, from apprenticeships to Higher Education places, from supporting the continued growth of our established employers to offering practical incentives for new start-ups. We have a major part to play in the continuing growth of our economy.

"Enabling Communities: We have seen the benefits that can be reaped by supporting and encouraging local communities to identify issues and develop solutions – by empowering our residents to problem solve they become more resilient and able to make a real difference for themselves, their neighbours and their environment. With the allocation to all ward members of a substantial Enabling Community Budget and the formation of Community Partnerships this will continue. Ward members are key players in this process as duly elected Community leaders.

"We want all our residents to be able to fulfil their potential, We want our towns and communities to remain safe, We want our elderly and young to be protected and supported, we want to reach out and provide for the most vulnerable in our communities. We want our residents to be healthy and able to enjoy our coast and countryside; our history, our art and culture – we need to provide resources and support for them to allow them to introduce local initiatives that are both appropriate and sustainable.

"The housing market at a national level has undergone a significant shift over the last decade, the same is true both regionally and locally. There has been an increasing shortage of housing across all tenures with housing provision rising on the political agenda and becoming a priority for the current Government.

"In addition to continuing to invest in our existing homes this council has ambitious plans for the redevelopment of properties and the provision of new housing right across the new District area, this investment will deliver a range of lasting benefits for the residents of East Suffolk. Significant planned investment will support this council in achieving these ambitions, we will continue with the regeneration of Lowestoft and continue to deliver new homes to meet the rising housing needs.  The current 30-year Housing Plan projections demonstrate that these investment proposals are achievable, and that the Housing Revenue Account remains a sustainable and viable entity over the thirty-year period.

"Total planned capital investment in the Housing Revenue Account totals £368m over 30 years. This includes major works on the existing housing stock, redevelopment of properties, and brand-new developments. The new homes programme will deliver 257 new affordable homes by 2022/23 and an estimated additional 1500 homes by 2047/48.

"Financial Sustainability: East Suffolk has a highly successful track record of achieving year on year savings through improved efficiency in the delivery of its services. Simply continuing to improve efficiency and reducing costs will not be enough to enable our Council to deliver all that we want for East Suffolk. We will embrace new ways to become even more business-like in our approach.

"Our Medium-Term Financial Strategy sets out our financial priorities for ensuring that our aims and aspirations are translated into our future achievements: We will ensure that the Council sets a balanced, sustainable budget year by year, ensuring that our spending does not exceed the resources available to us; We will plan for a level of Council Tax that the Council, its residents and the Government see as appropriate, acceptable and affordable this will ensure that we have the financial capacity to deliver the Council’s policies and objectives; We will redirect expenditure over time to adequately support and resource the priorities of both the Council and the wider community; And we will maintain sufficient reserves and balances to ensure that the Council’s long-term financial health remains sound.

"These three themes, Economic Growth, Enabling Communities and Financial Sustainability must and will continue to be at the heart of all that we do. But there are two further areas that need greater emphasis and should be headlined in our new Business plan, these are: Digital Transformation and The Environment.

"Digital transformation: we have started along this path, but there is huge potential here to become more agile, to modernise internally, be more efficient, and support communities better. Meeting the higher expectations of residents, communities and businesses means radically rethinking how services are delivered. This requires new approaches to change that meet the specific requirements of each service user. In order to deliver the change that is needed, our people need to have the best tools possible made available to them, whether hardware or software. This means looking at the whole suite of technology, from productivity tools to online business applications together with the devices they run on.  People need to feel confident in using them, we need to adopt a customer-focused, commercial, flexible culture.

"It’s vital that the services that many people rely on remain easily accessible to them. For some, using the internet will never meet their needs and so other forms of access will be required. For others, there is much that we can do to help them get the most from online services. Our Council should have the best understanding of the people, communities and businesses in their area.

"Often, however, this understanding is limited by the inability to make the best use of the data held in siloed systems that do not share information easily or in usable formats. This needs to change but we must be mindful of keeping up with obligations around data protection and information security. To protect and grow the local economy in the future, we must do all we can to ensure local businesses can thrive in the digital age. Doing so will also attract new enterprises to base themselves locally.

"This means ensuring businesses have access to high speed broadband; the equipment, systems and skills to make use of it; and easy, simple access to the council services they need. True digital transformation in local public services involves not just putting existing services online, but radically rewiring the local system to take advantage of shared, common digital components. The Council should take a lead in stewarding this work, collaborating with all organisations that meet local people’s needs, whether central government, the health sector or community and voluntary groups on a digital platform which genuinely delivers joined up services.

"The Environment: David Attenborough in his recent television documentary said, “While Earth has survived radical climactic changes and regenerated following mass extinctions, it's not the destruction of Earth that we are facing, it's the destruction of our familiar, natural world and our uniquely rich human culture.” This council needs to consider its role on environmental initiatives, else it will be left behind, and will lose touch with the citizens of the future. The seven main threats we face going forward can be headlined as:

  • Climate Change
  • Species Extinction and Biodiversity Loss
  • Air and Water Pollution
  • Water Crisis
  • The Natural Resources Drain
  • De-forestation
  • Soil Degradation

"The Government paper - A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment– sets out the National strategy but it must be appreciated that every worldwide environmental issue is also a Local environmental issue. Local authorities Regardless of any legal obligation have a responsibility to help the community to adapt to the effects of climate change.

"We need to understand that the potential impacts of climate change on the frequency of adverse events, water security, coastal communities and natural ecosystems are so serious that shutting our eyes to the effects would represent poor stewardship on our part. We recognise the role that our natural environment plays in our prosperity now and in the future. We recognise that the development of sustainable local economies is essential, which is why we strive to achieve a workable balance between peoples’ needs and wants and the natural environment that underpins our society.

"We must also be resource efficient; this requires us to be responsible with our use of natural resources; concerning anything from fuel consumption during service delivery to improving the energy efficiency ratings of buildings owned by the council. It is essential that we work with communities to future proof assets and work towards sustainability to reduce future calls on our services. The area’s wealth of plant and animal life provides our district with some of its greatest financial and health advantages it is therefore vital that we work with others to secure the future of East Suffolk’s biodiversity.

"If there is indeed a ‘climate change emergency’ then we must acknowledge that, and be part of the response, and part of the solution, not bury our collective heads in the sand. I would welcome an opportunity to discuss this with all councillors to develop a way forward and develop a new policy on this for East Suffolk Council.

"So, a 30-year vision, underpinned by a clear business plan focusing on our five priorities.  To achieve this will not be easy.  Over the last week, I have put together a team of fellow councillors that I believe can help deliver on these priorities – my cabinet."

"Now, the observant among you will have spotted that I have chosen not to allocate the Finance Portfolio. We are fortunate that, in setting up a new council, we find ourselves with as robust a set of finances as we could hope for, given the challenging financial climate we face.  The over-riding focus now, is to ensure there is a clear strategy in place for how the council oversees and manages tax-payers’ money.  Given how fundamental this financial strategy is, and how tightly it runs alongside the council’s overall strategy, I have decided to include finance within my own role as leader. I don’t see this as being a permanent move, but for the next few months, I will work closely with the chief executive and head of finance to ensure that we are set on the most secure and sustainable course, and will then review the situation.

"You have now met my cabinet.  I am confident that this team has the mix of knowledge, skills and experience, together with the determination to work hard on behalf of our residents, and to deliver on the ambitious agenda I have set out this evening.

"So, East Suffolk now has a council, a leader and a cabinet.  I’m very aware it also has an opposition – something I welcome as an important part of the democratic process. I look forward to working with all of you in this chamber and that very much includes those opposite. We may have our political differences, But I recognise that we are all here to look after the interests of East Suffolk and when there is an opportunity for us to work together to achieve something, I will not be afraid to grasp it.

"Mr Chairman, the road ahead is challenging yet exciting. We at East Suffolk District Council are well placed to deliver ambitious yet achievable growth and while we do so we will continue to deliver value for money in front line services;

  • We will continue to invest in our communities
  • maintain financial stability,
  • Generate greater capacity,
  • improve resilience
  • and give local communities a stronger voice.

"In short, we will work towards a thriving East Suffolk, and I encourage and urge all of you here today to join me in making that a reality."