Voting for the council elections starts at 7am tomorrow and ends at 10pm, writes Ipswich Borough Council Leader, David Ellesmere.
I would urge everyone to go out and vote.
Local elections are about choosing how our councils are run. Sometimes that choice isn’t clear because the differences between the main parties isn’t obvious.
However, here in Ipswich the choice is clear because we can see side-by-side how Labour-run Ipswich Borough Council operates compared to Conservative-run Suffolk County Council.
Take one of the most basic things for residents: the level of council tax. In Ipswich your council tax bill is made up of charges from three authorities. Many people will have seen a big increase in their bills this year.
For an average Band B council tax payer, the increase from Ipswich Borough Council is just 16p a week. But the increase from the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner is 36p a week and from the County Council, a whopping 74p a week.
Larger bills from the Police and County Council aren’t translating into better services though.
We still have hundreds fewer police officers and PCSOs in Suffolk compared to 2010. It’s no surprise that crime is going up.
The picture for Suffolk County Council is even worse.
As the highways authority they are in charge of maintaining the roads. I probably don’t need to say any more. Everyone knows the state of our roads is shocking.
The cuts from the County Council keep coming. They want to completely cut funding for Suffolk’s Citizens Advice Bureaux. In the last few weeks they have started turning street lights off half an hour earlier, making our streets even less safe at night. They have started consulting on plans to close Speech and Language hubs and plans have leaked out to close around half Suffolk’s Children’s Centres.
Conservative county councillors will no doubt blame this on cuts in government funding. There is some truth in this but their poor financial management hasn’t helped.
They wasted £8m on survey work for Ben Gummer’s vanity bridge, a project which they then cancelled. That’s £8m flushed down the drain with literally nothing to show for it.
Even worse, while they were messing around with Ben’s Bridge, they weren’t working on trying to deliver a Northern Bypass for Ipswich. We’re at least four years behind where we could have been as a result of this. Four years of Ipswich grinding to a halt and businesses losing £1m a day every time the Orwell Bridge shuts.
Labour councillors in Ipswich have taken a different path. We too have had cuts – big cuts – in funding from the Government. But we have made careful efficiency savings and worked on alternative funding sources, not least from our commercial property investments. As a result we have been able protect services from cuts and, in some cases, even improve them.
We are keeping brown bin collections free of charge. Every other Conservative-run district in Suffolk charges up to £55 for brown bins. Because there is no charge in Ipswich, more residents use their bin and we recycle more garden waste.
We have supported the town centre by building a new Crown multi-storey car park and lowering charges to £1 an hour there. This has forced NCP to reduce their extortionate charges at the car park behind M&S. We will be improving Arras Square over the coming year.
We are building more council houses for Ipswich families. Seventeen new homes are nearing completion on Cauldwell Hall Road and work has started on 60 new homes on the former Tooks bakery site.
We have purchased an empty sheltered housing scheme and are turning this into decent temporary accommodation for families and individuals who have been made homeless so they do not have to go into a Bed and Breakfast or, worse, end up on the streets. Disgracefully, local Conservative councillors have opposed this project.
We have made council sports centres and swimming pools free of charge for Ipswich school children over the long summer holidays, helping to keep them fit, out of trouble and saving their parents money.
Unlike Suffolk County Council we have maintained our funding to community, charity and voluntary groups like Ipswich Citizens Advice Bureau, handing them a vital lifeline.
There is nothing inevitable about the cuts from Conservative-run Suffolk County Council. Nor the improvements by Labour-run Ipswich Borough Council.
If Labour was running Suffolk or the Conservatives running Ipswich, different decisions would have been made.
When you vote tomorrow you are making a choice about which one of these ways you want our Ipswich Borough Council to be run.