Suffolk leaders call for Boris Johnson to invest in county
A plea has been made to the new prime minister for better investment in Suffolk, as industry chiefs come together to outline the county’s priorities.
Leaders in education, health, business and policing are among those to have shared their case for fairer funding in the county, following the confirmation that Boris Johnson is the new PM and Conservative party leader.
The county has been snubbed for central government funding in key problem areas in recent months – including high street regeneration, knife crime and vital highways investment.
Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore has not been afraid to voice his frustrations at central government’s approach to funding police in Suffolk.
Data from September last year published by the National Audit Office suggested real terms cash from central government had fallen by 29%, prompting Mr Passmore to brand it a “lousy deal”.
It has forced the PCC to hike precepts up by 12.5% last year, cut back on the number of PCSOs, and, following the news that Suffolk would not be getting a single penny of a £100million pot for tackling youth violence, he said: “The funding has gone once again to urban areas and I am pretty sick and tired of this.”
Other issues have included delays in transferring civil parking enforcement powers from police to local councils because there was no room in the parliamentary timetable to debate it, and concerns over sentencing for sexual offences.
He said: “My request to the new PM will be the same as my request to the previous PM/Home Secretary and that is Suffolk Constabulary should get a more equitable financial settlement, which reflects the challenges our county faces. At the very least I would expect us to be funded on the same per capita basis as neighbouring Norfolk, in which case our grant would be £3.5million higher, which would be a significant increase to the current total budget. I would also like to make the point that when additional funding is allocated for serious knife and drug crime for example, Suffolk misses out. I would ask that the challenges Suffolk faces with regard to county lines is taken more seriously by Government. Somehow we have to make sure the new PM understands that if they only put the money into urban areas, there will be displacement into rural areas like Suffolk.”
Frontline primary healthcare services such as GPs are having to withstand much of the demand pressure amid strangled budgets.
Dr Ed Garratt, executive lead for the Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care System, said: “The new Prime Minister will be well aware of the financial pressures on the NHS, particularly on primary care services.
“Despite being short of our share of the national funding allocation, we are still delivering great outcomes, as evidenced by the ‘outstanding’ ratings recently given to all three of our clinical commissioning groups.”
The British Medical Association has been lobbying for better funding, and said: “The NHS is facing unprecedented demand across almost all services and as a result of this doctors are being asked to work in an overstretched, under-resourced health service.
“We emphasise that this is unprecedented and that demand must be matched with increasing investment, based on a realistic assessment of what is needed to meet the health needs of current and future generations.”
Soaring demand for special educational needs provision, home to school transport and core funding for schools has been a persistent problem nationwide.
Suffolk is part of the F40 group of the lowest 42 funded authorities for education, lobbying government for a fairer settlement.
Education cabinet member at Suffolk County Council, Gordon Jones, said: “I would urge our new Prime Minister to consider fairer funding for more rural counties, so in Suffolk we can support and protect all of the county’s children and young people fairly, including those who are most vulnerable.
“Suffolk is a low funded authority which is why we are active members of the F40 group where we tirelessly campaign with ministers and MPs on a national and local level for fairer funding. The current National Funding Formula does not reflect the needs in Suffolk and like the F40 group we believe there should be some fundamental changes to the formula to make it fairer.
“Our high needs block funding for children with special educational needs and disability is particularly challenging with demand increasing and funding remaining at historical levels. The cost of home to school transport is also a significant cost pressure to our base budget, currently costing us as much as our front line social workers, which is not sustainable.”
The Government recently announced the 50 winners of Future High Street Fund cash – a pot designed to regenerate high streets across the country.
But despite every authority in Suffolk putting in bids for its towns, not a single penny was awarded for Suffolk, prompting fresh questions over support for the county.
Mark Cordell, chief executive of Our Bury St Edmunds BID company, feared the region would not get special treatment from the government, whoever was in Number 10.
He said: “I don’t think the government sees the economy and town centres in East Anglia as being a particular priority. It seems to think this region isn’t doing that badly.
“But what I would like to see is something being done about business rates across the country. The way they are structured gives support for very small businesses – but not for larger companies. That makes it very difficult to attract businesses into the larger shop units that become vacant in the town centre.
“We need to see the new government doing something to make it more attractive for businesses to take over these larger units that are seen as so important on our high streets.”
Investment in key infrastructure such as the A14 and faster broadband are among the key concerns for businesses.
Suffolk Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Dugmore said: “We welcome Boris Johnson as the new Conservative leader and PM.
“As we have reiterated to past administrations, we need a Government that is pro-business: one that sets free the skills and talents of all entrepreneurs and creates the right conditions for sustainable economic growth.
“At a national level, this means avoiding a Brexit that is chaotic and disorderly.
“At a county level, this means investing in the road, rail and telecoms infrastructure in Suffolk which has an absolutely vital role to play in delivering a bright free trade future for the UK.”
At a recent visit to the county, Mr Johnson had pledged his support for A14 improvements, with firms that rely on the key business corridor no doubt hoping that pledge is fulfilled.