At the Annual Meeting of Ipswich Borough Council last Wednesday I announced that this will be my final year as leader of the council.
I first became leader of the council in 2011 when Labour took control of the council. By the time of next year’s elections, I will have been the longest-serving leader of Ipswich Borough Council since it was created in 1974.
Following our success in this year’s elections, giving Labour a solid position on the council for several years to come, I now feel it is an appropriate time to pass the reins on to someone else.
I will continue as leader until the next Annual Meeting of the Council on May 17th 2023, when the new leader will take over. I am not intending to resign as a councillor and want to continue serving the residents of Gipping ward on the council.
It has been an immense privilege to lead Ipswich Borough Council for the last 11 years. I have had amazing support from both councillors and council staff over that time and, looking back, I am very proud of what we have achieved together.
The background of my time as leader has been one of almost continuous cuts in funding. We receive around £10m a year less in real terms from the government now than we did when we took control.
Just to keep existing services going has taken a lot of hard work. We have made the council more efficient but also looked at innovative ways to get more income, such as creating our commercial property company Ipswich Borough Assets which now brings in more than £3m a year to the council.
This has enabled us to protect and even introduce new services that only residents of Ipswich can access.
We are the only council in Suffolk to have kept brown bin collections free of charge. We are the only council to offer a comprehensive range of free sporting activities – including swimming – for children over the summer holidays. Ipswich is the only area with an out of office hours noise nuisance service to combat anti-social behaviour.
Our HEARS community alarm service has trained professional responders who can visit homes in an emergency. Ipswich Borough Council’s streetlights are left on overnight whereas Suffolk County Council’s are turned off at 11.30 pm.
We have built the first new council houses in a generation with hundreds already completed and occupied and hundreds more in the pipeline. We replaced the old homeless families unit based in a Victorian workhouse and portacabins with two modern new facilities and built move-on accommodation for people who have been sleeping rough at Armitage Place. We have brought hundreds of long-term empty homes back into use.
We have helped create hundreds of new jobs by attracting new businesses to Ipswich such as The Botanist, Deichman, LDH La Doria and Amazon or enabling development such as the new Birketts HQ, Connexions and the Maltings on Princes Street.
We have reduced the cost of town-centre car parking and our charges are still significantly lower than the ones we inherited from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats over 11 years ago.
We have protected our heritage by investing in our parks and listed buildings such as the Old Post Office and 4 College Street. Our successful lottery bid for the museum will enable the biggest renovation of its 140-year history.
We have taken big strides to make the council carbon neutral with investment in better insulation, solar panels and electric vehicles. We saved the nationally important wildlife site, Kiln Meadow, from the plans of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat administration to concrete over it.
We have done all this while improving the terms and conditions of our staff, becoming an accredited Living Wage employer, bringing cleaning staff back in house and improving the pay of apprentices.
I believe this is a record that Labour can be proud of, but part of our success over the last decade has been to never rest on our laurels.
As I outlined last week, we have a big programme of work to achieve over the coming year before I can hand over to my successor.