Felixstowe Councillor Steve Gallant has been elected the first ever Leader of the new East Suffolk Council and has spoken of his desire to “build a future for the district that captures its limitless potential.”
Details of the actual vote on the leadership were not published, and the vote is held behind closed doors – but Conservative councillors who were at the group meeting that decided who would be leader said the result was “decisive”.
Mr Gallant’s deputy is set to be Craig Rivett, who represents Carlton Colville and who was deputy leader of Waveney District Council until the merger of the two authorities in April. Both men had teamed up to challenge outgoing leader Ray Herring, who was standing for re election and had been leader of SCDC for the past 20 years.
Before the merger of Suffolk Coastal District Council and Waveney to form the new authority , recent decisions by SCDC on the Local Plan had come in for serious public opposition and Mr Herring recently came under fire from councillors and the public after approving the use of £15,000 of council taxpayers’ money to fund a party at Snape Maltings to mark the end of SCDC and the new merger. Previous leader of Waveney, Mark Bee, lost his seat in the recent elections. .
At the same meeting the Conservatives decided to nominate Colin Hedgley, councillor for Carlford and the Fynn Valley just north of Ipswich, as the first ever Chair of the new council. So its new brooms all round.
Cllr Gallant served as a police inspector before retiring, and was the senior officer in the Felixstowe area before being first elected to the old Suffolk Coastal District Council in 2015, serving as cabinet member for community health up to the recent elections, and is a Felixstowe Town Councillor.
He said: “It is a great honour to have been elected Group leader at what is such an exciting and historic time for East Suffolk.”
Laying out his ambitions for a ’30-year’ vision, Cllr Gallant told the authority’s first ever full Council meeting that the voice of East Suffolk will be heard loud and there will be investment in communities which gives local people a stronger voice.
He spoke of the Council’s key priorities, Economic Growth, Enabling Communities and Financial Sustainability and added digital transformation to improve services and the environment as key issues which he will be asking the Council to tackle.
“Our staff have also worked hard to get us to this point; they have risen to the many challenges and embraced many changes. I know that they are as excited as we are to be part of this great new Council and keen to make it a success.
“It is a huge honour to be voted in as the first leader of East Suffolk Council – the biggest district council in the country – a mosaic of different communities, large and small, which together create a strong, powerful, single entity. Together, we can be ambitious, and ensure that the voice of East Suffolk is heard loud and clear at all levels of government.”
Cllr Gallant made it clear that creating the new Council was only the beginning and that East Suffolk is now ready for a bright and ambitious future.
He said: “Our main reason for creating this super district is to ensure that East Suffolk is in the best possible position to respond to, and take advantage of, the emerging opportunities and challenges facing local government: creating jobs, meeting the growing housing needs and supporting and enabling communities to thrive.
“We need to maintain this progression because it’s the right thing to do and we need to do this whilst ensuring we provide value for money for our council taxpayers, financial savings and future resilience in all aspects of service delivery.
“We are ambitious for homes, ambitious for jobs, ambitious for our communities and we now need to deliver on that ambition Focusing on the Council’s priorities going forward he expanded on why digital transformation and the environment are so important and how they will form a key part of a new Business Plan for East Suffolk.
He said: “To protect and grow the local economy in the future, we must do all we can to ensure local businesses can thrive in the digital age. This means ensuring businesses have access to high speed broadband; the equipment, systems and skills to make use of it; and easy, simple access to the council services they need.
“We have started along this path, but there is huge potential here to become more agile, to modernise internally, be more efficient, and support communities better. Meeting the higher expectations of residents, communities and businesses means radically rethinking how services are delivered.”
“Regarding the environment, this council needs to consider its role on environmental initiatives or else it will lose touch with the citizens of the future. Every worldwide environmental issue is also a Local environmental issue and regardless of any legal obligation have a responsibility to help the community to adapt to the effects of climate change.
“We need to understand that the potential impacts of climate change on the frequency of adverse events, water security, coastal communities and natural ecosystems are so serious that shutting our eyes to the effects would represent poor stewardship on our part.”