Labour challenges Tories to public debate on district council merger proposal

Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich
Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich

South Suffolk Labour has challenged Babergh’s Conservative leadership to explain the case for its proposed merger with Mid Suffolk, arguing the public should have their questions answered on such a contentious matter.

A public meeting has been organised for next month by Sudbury town and district councillor Luke Cresswell, who will be setting out why the Labour Party opposes the proposal, and has invited those who support it to attend, so both sides of the argument can be heard.

However, Babergh District Council leader John Ward says arranging such an event at this stage would be premature, as a formal business case on the proposal is still being developed.

Cllr Ward has confirmed the business case on the plan, which suggests dissolving Babergh and Mid Suffolk and reforming them as a single authority, will be outlined in a period of public consultation upon completion, before a public referendum on the issue is held this summer.

But the proposed merger has been controversial, due to a similar proposal being rejected by a public vote back in 2011.

Cllr Cresswell said: “A council merger is not in the interests of the people of Babergh and residents have a right to hear both sides of the argument, to ask questions and have their voice heard.

“I challenge the Conservative leader to attend and set out why his party supports a merger. If he is unwilling to attend or lacking the courage, he can send a Conservative substitute.

“This is one of the biggest local decisions that can be made and it needs to be thoroughly debated.

“The Tories cannot ignore local democracy when it is inconvenient to them. They may not like public debates, but they are essential in a healthy democracy.”

The public meeting, which will take place in All Saints’ Church Hall on April 25, at 7pm, will be open to all Babergh residents.

It will allow time for people on each side of the debate to make their case, then open it up to attendees for questions and comments.

Cllr Cresswell added that if no Conservative representative turned up to the meeting, it will still go ahead.

But Cllr Ward said: “In principle, this is a very good idea and I am fully committed to public events, in Sudbury and elsewhere, in the run-up to the referendum – they will be an essential part of the engagement process.

“However, setting a date now for a meeting such as this is premature.

“We haven’t completed the business case yet and debated it at scrutiny, cabinet and full council – all of which will be necessary before we have all the information to present to the public.

“When this is ready, I would like to have all relevant ward members involved in the arrangement of events.”