Councillor Martin Cook Gainsborough ward, Ipswich Borough Council
Ipswich Tories have been strongly advocating the use of Suffolk County Councillors Highways Locality Budget (LHB) to get much needed improvements made to our roads and pavements. However, a quick look into some of the facts and figures soon reveals quite what an epic failure it’s been.
Out of 75 councillors on Suffolk County Council only three had been able to spend all of their Local Highways Budget by 31 March 2021! A fourth hurriedly put together a list of late commitments to spend what they had left in the 2021-2022 financial year. That left 71 out of 75 councillors, from all parties, handing money back.
In total £2.1m was unspent across Suffolk on 31 March 2021 and even after forward commitments into 2021-2022 were considered there was £1.3m left in the kitty. People will struggle to understand how this could be the case when there is clearly so much work to be done.
The fact that Suffolk’s Local Highways Budget scheme is dysfunctional shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Tory-run Suffolk County Council fails us on highways projects large and small. From potholes that take six months to repair even after the work has been ordered to large projects like the Ipswich Northern Bypass, abandoned with £1m spent or the scrapped Upper Orwell Crossing (£8m wasted) the signs of failure are everywhere.
Former Tory cabinet members for Highways Mary Evans and Guy McGregor were among those handing money back. They were in good company with former Tory cabinet member for Highways and Thedwastre North councillor, Jane Storey who returned £49,880.18 unspent.
Even former Tory Council leaders were not immune, Mark Bee had money left over as did Colin Noble who offered £48,460.53 cashback. The top spot however was reserved for Conservative Councillor Peter Beer (Great Cornard) who returned a whopping £66,825.64, more than any other Councillor.
When even experienced, senior county councillors are unable to spend their Local Highways Budget it points to a systemic failure of governance.
Rather than blaming individual councillors for the obvious shortcomings of their highway operation perhaps the all-Tory cabinet who run Suffolk County Council should be getting a grip on the situation themselves.