Posted by on 15 March 2023 | Comments
Councillor Steve Gallant delivered his final speech as leader of East Suffolk Council to the last meeting of the Full Council before the local elections take place in May.
The full text from Cllr Gallant's departing speech on Wednesday 15 March, 2023:
Colleagues, as we prepare for the local elections in May, and the new administration that will follow, it’s only right that we should reflect on what East Suffolk Council and this Conservative administration has achieved.
It’s been an eventful four years with much of our work set against the backdrop of external challenges - the pandemic, cost of living crisis, and Russia's brutal war of aggression against Ukraine.
A little under four years ago, I stood here proudly, and spoke of the many ambitions for this administration. I’m delighted to say, despite the many challenges, that we have not only met our ambitions, but surpassed them, and it is our plan to build on these successes following May’s elections.
What we said and what we’ve done:
In my first speech to this Council, I explained the reasons for creating this super district; to ensure that East Suffolk is in the best possible position to capitalise on the emerging opportunities and challenges facing local government.
We fought the 2019 elections on an ambitious manifesto: “Towards a Thriving East Suffolk” – which was ambitious for homes, ambitious for jobs and ambitious for our communities.
Now, I’m pleased to tell you how well we have delivered against these promises.
We promised to meet the growing housing needs within East Suffolk and in doing so…
- We have built 113 affordable homes since 2019, with more to come including our own development at Deben Fields in Felixstowe. This will provide a further 41 Council Houses and utilise green ‘PassivHaus’ technologies.
- In total, a further 125 homes are in the development pipeline, with 29 due to be completed in this financial year.
- We have spent 2.3million pounds on retrofitting energy efficiency measures for low-income households.
- We have also secured 4.9 million pounds’ worth of funding via bids for Housing Needs spend since 2019.
- And we have prevented and relieved no fewer than 2148 cases of homelessness.
Jobs and Economic development
We promised to make East Suffolk the best place in the region for business, job creation and developing skills, and so far, we have secured over 34 million pounds’ worth of external funding for a variety of local projects including:
- 24.9 million pounds via the Town’s Fund to deliver 5 transformative regeneration projects in Lowestoft.
- Over 700,000 pounds for the High Street Heritage Action Zone in Lowestoft.
- 8.3 million pounds seed funding for Freeport East
- 150,000 pounds secured for @Inc Coworking Space Felixstowe
- and 995,000 pounds to deliver the award-winning Felixstowe Seafront Café.
Enabling communities to thrive
We said we would enable communities to thrive, and our Community Partnership initiative has successfully delivered real outcomes on a variety of fronts:
- We invested heavily in the initiative, with a total delivery budget of 1.73 million pounds across all eight partnerships and the Community Partnership Board. This funding has been used to tackle priority issues that have been identified as important to people and places in East Suffolk.
- To date, the Board has allocated over 916,000 pounds to fund 19 initiatives, and the eight partnerships, combined, have funded 196 projects including those funded through small grants totalling over half a million pounds.
- Despite the obvious challenges presented initially by COVID, and now by the cost-of-living crisis, our Community Partnerships have placed themselves at the heart of the action and delivered tangible benefits for their communities.
Four years ago, we committed to digital transformation and our journey has been hugely impressive.
We have successfully delivered free Wi-Fi to 12 market towns across East Suffolk.
- And we have established ‘Digital Champions’ across libraries in the district, to help get people online and access our services.
- But we still have more to do, and plan to provide full fibre in community spaces and village halls across the district.
Leisure and culture
In 2019 we promised to increase and improve the provision of easily accessible leisure and culture across East Suffolk.
- Since then, we have invested 4 million pounds into Waveney Valley Leisure Centre as part of our leisure redevelopment programme. It is now a state of art facility for the community.
- We have also refurbished Waterlane Leisure Centre, which was completed in 2021. And we now have two leisure operators - Everyone Active in the North and Places Leisure in the South who are providing a superb offering across the district.
- Master Planning for the North Felixstowe Garden Neighbourhood development is underway, which will include the new Felixstowe Leisure Centre. In the meantime, improvements to the customer experience at the seafront facility are planned for this year.
- I can’t mention leisure and culture without reminding you of our successes with the Women’s Tour 2021 and “Felix Fest.” Felixstowe hosted the last stage finish of the 2021 Women’s Tour cycle race. Attached to this was a three-day “Felix Fest” which included open cinema and the town’s first triathlon. These events were a phenomenal success for local businesses and our district.
- And in Lowestoft, the First Light Festival, with funding from East Suffolk Council, has been a huge success attracting thousands of people to East Suffolk – many for the first time – to enjoy a huge cultural celebration on the east coast.
In my first speech to you as the new leader, I spoke of this administration’s ambitious environmental agenda and the need for this Council to consider its role in East Suffolk’s collective aim for carbon neutrality by 2030. This Conservative administration has been committed to this work in principle and in practice.
- Caring for the environment is one of the key priorities of our Strategic Plan and it has been woven into everything that we have done as a Council – from our new-build housing stock to our vehicle fleets.
- In 2021, Cabinet unanimously agreed to stop using diesel and switch the fuel used in our 246 East Suffolk Norse vehicles to HVO. Once the entire fleet is migrated to HVO, our carbon emissions will be reduced by over 90%.
- And we continue to make progress! We are taking a considered approach to the building of new housing stock by ensuring that they achieve ‘passvihaus’ certification where possible.
Managing our coastline
In our2019 manifesto, we recognised Suffolk’s beautiful and sometimes vulnerable coastline, the need to protect it, and to protect the people who live, work, and visit the coast.
- We were awarded 43 million pounds from the Green Recovery Fund towards our Lowestoft Flood Risk Management Scheme to protect Lowestoft from flooding. And we have nearly completed the tidal flood walls, with work on the design of the tidal barrier continuing.
Meanwhile, the award of 8.4 million pounds, from the Flood and Coast Innovation Programme will help in developing a resilient coast all the way from North of Lowestoft down to Felixstowe.
- Southwold Harbour is a Local Authority Port and with the help of the Town Council, we have established a Harbour Management Committee and a Stakeholder Advisory Group for the harbour. We’ve worked hard so that we are now able to make serious improvements to both the campsite and the harbour itself - whilst retaining the unique qualities that make Southwold special – and the reason why the harbour is so loved by the town and by all its visitors.
Finance and value for money
In our 2019 pledge, we recognised our fundamental duty to use council tax-payers’ hard-earned money as carefully as possible; to give - in return - the best-value services we can.
- Once again, we are delivering a balanced budget for this year and next, and we will always place the Council Taxpayer at the heart of our financial decisions.
- Since inception, East Suffolk Council has strived to keep its Council Tax increases to an absolute minimum, either freezing it or increasing it by less than 3%.
- Additionally, over 288 million pounds has been raised from external grants and contributions towards the cost of our project programme.
- I’ve spoken previously of this administration’s aim to continue improving efficiency and reducing costs. I also highlighted the importance of embracing new ways to become even more business-like in our approach.
- This has led to the creation of ‘East Suffolk Services’ a trading company that will deliver operational services with a commitment to provide the best possible value for money for residents and businesses.
From July, East Suffolk Services Ltd will manage waste collection and other operations currently undertaken by Norse -and it will significantly benefit the Council and residents.
- In the 5 years up to and including 2026/27, we will spend £410m on major projects and an additional £83m on housing schemes.
- It is also likely that in 2024/25 the district will see valuable increases in Council Tax income from the introduction of a 100% Council Tax premium for second homes and a shorter time for which homes can be left empty without paying a 100% premium.
- We are making the best possible use of our assets - investing to develop schemes at Moor Business Park, The business hubs in Lowestoft and Leiston and investment in beach hut projects in Felixstowe and Lowestoft. These completed projects are contributing to the income of the Council.
I could spend the rest of this meeting talking about the successes of this Conservative administration – we have a lot of good news stories and achievements to share. You need only to look through the latest East Suffolk Magazine to see tangible examples of this Council’s achievements for the people of East Suffolk.
With that said, this Conservative administration still has much it wants to do, we still have an ambitious agenda and a robust Strategic Plan to navigate the way:
Freeport East, Sizewell C, East Suffolk Services, Lowestoft Flood Risk Management Scheme, and our goals for carbon neutrality by 2030 are just a handful of the plans on our agenda.
And now, as I stand here for the last time, I would like to recognise and thank a range of people who have played such an important role in the first four years of East Suffolk Council.
I am sure all members will want to join me in thanking Jenny and Chris for the way in which they have carried out their respective roles as Chair and Vice Chair of this Council. Our meetings have been well managed and have allowed the business of this council to be undertaken in both a professional and timely manner.
I also want to recognise the work and commitment of the officers of the Council, CMT and SMT. Our Officers are, without doubt, our strongest asset. Every one of them has worked hard to ensure the success of this Council’s first cycle as the biggest district council in the country. They have embraced changes and risen to the many challenges as part of the success of this organisation.
My thanks also go to the opposition Group Members and Leaders. I appreciate and recognise the importance of strong opposition. Peter – thank you for your scrutiny, valuable contributions, and attendance to our Cabinet meetings, The number of questions and comments you have delivered have certainly helped to focus our minds.
My heartfelt thanks go to my fellow Conservative Colleagues and Cabinet Members. I thank you for your support, hard work and diligence.
And finally, I would also like to pay special tribute my colleagues who after having served in our parent authorities, will be retiring as Councillors this year. Thank you for your commitment and your tireless work towards the success of East Suffolk Council.
It has been a huge honour and privilege to be the first Leader of East Suffolk, and I will depart, knowing that we have set this Council on the right course to deliver success and prosperity for our communities. These are difficult times, no doubt – but without our achievements of the past four years, the picture would be far more worrying.
Thank you all.