Some forty members launched the Society's Winter Lecture programme on 9 October at our new venue In the recently refurbished Museum Street Methodist Church Hall, which was promptly acclaimed as being comfortable and convenient. Our lecturer was to have been Suffolk County Council's Chief Executive, Lin Homer. Mrs Homer was about to leave her post to become Chief Executive of England's largest local authority, Birmingham City Council. She had nevertheless still intended to come but a late demand on her time called her away and she had therefore asked her sucessor, Mike More, currently Director of Resources, to take her place.
Mr More has been with the County Council for some three years, having had a varied background in local government, and he gave us a wide-ranging survey of this subject. The County Council is a huge enterprise, employing some 27,000 persons and spending £600 million annually. Mr More covered the changes which have been implemented over the past year or so, whereby the council committee structure has been abandoned in favour of an Executive Committee of portfolio holders with substantial powers subject to criticism by a Scrutiny Committee. It is still early days to assess the success of this new system.
Much of the effort of local government is to do with involving the community. Our speaker had obviously done his homework, for he was able to quote Tom Plunkett from our Millennium Symposium book highlighting the Victorians' interest in community empowerment. Local government is now very much prescribed by central government and great emphasis is laid upon the need to meet centrally set targets. The big issues faced by the County Council were summarised under the following headings:
- Facilities for the young
- Our ageing popuation - the over 75s will increase by 10% by 2010
- Employment and economic regeneration - particularly in parts of Ipswich and Lowestoft and some of the villages
- Educational attainment - not good enough
- Crime and safety - perception led to fear sometimes unjustified by reality.
As far as Ipswich itself was concerned, Mike More felt that our major issues could be listed thus:
- Provision of decent housing
- Emphasis on the town as a centre for culture and learning
- Good public transport
- The feel -safe factor
- Economic growth
- Reduction of health inequalities
The meeting finished with a lively discussion and members were left with an impression of someone coming to his new job with an open mind, accessible and interested in working closely with the Borough.