Last week we saw yet another column by Ipswich MP Tom Hunt sniping from the sidelines at Labour councillors, including me personally.
He criticised me for standing up for my residents and calling for the removal of the chicane in Maryon Road. I am not going to apologise for trying to get this change. It has been a longstanding bugbear of people living in the area as it causes unnecessary congestion. The problem has been getting the highways authority, Conservative-controlled Suffolk County Council, to do anything about it.
Mr Hunt accuses me of trying to score “political points” because the former Labour councillor for the area was not able to get this change through.
During the recent elections local Conservatives were strongly advocating the use of Suffolk County Councillors’ Highways Locality Budgets to make improvements such as the removal of the Maryon Road chicane and to fix potholes.
However, a quick look into the facts and figures reveals quite what an epic failure this Locality Budget scheme is.
Out of 75 councillors on Suffolk County Council only three had been able to spend all 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 political 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. Many people will struggle to understand how this could be the case when the number one complaint I received during the recent election campaign was about the terrible state of Suffolk’s roads.
The fact is that Suffolk’s Local Highways Budget scheme is very poorly designed, overly bureaucratic and puts numerous hurdles in the way of councillors funding projects their constituents want.
Even former Conservative cabinet members for Highways have failed to get the County Council to spend their budgets. Mary Evans and Guy McGregor were among those handing money back. Jane Storey returned £49,880.18 unspent.
Former Conservative Council leaders were not immune. Mark Bee had money left over as did Colin Noble who returned £48,460.53. The top spot however was reserved for Conservative councillor Peter Beer who returned a whopping £66,825.64 – more than any other councillor.
When even experienced, senior county councillors who belong to the governing Conservative party are unable to spend their Local Highways Budget it points to a systemic failure of governance.
Rather than cherry-picking figures and blaming individual councillors for the all too obvious shortcomings of this scheme, wouldn’t it be better for Mr Hunt to direct his ire at the correct target – the Conservative administration running Suffolk County – and to call on them to get a grip on the situation?
The fact that Suffolk’s Local Highways Budget scheme is dysfunctional shouldn’t come as a surprise. The County Council fails on highways projects big 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, the £8m wasted on the scrapped Upper Orwell Crossing or the astonishing £62m overspend on the Lowestoft third crossing, the signs of failure are everywhere.
I’ve never heard Mr Hunt utter a word of criticism about the poor performance of Conservative-run Suffolk County Council’s highways operation or the about the huge waste of money by the Conservative administration which could have paid for tens of thousands of potholes to be filled.
The Conservatives have been running Suffolk County Council since 2005. The problems with our roads are entirely down to them.
For Mr Hunt to pretend that it is somehow the fault of opposition Labour councillors just lets the real culprits off the hook and ensures that nothing will change.
Ipswich Borough Councillor