Residents say civic leadership important for new West Suffolk Council

Civic leadership must play a vital ambassadorial role for West Suffolk Council in championing the area, organisations and businesses locally and nationally – communities have said in a new report.

The new West Suffolk Council has been created to better drive prosperity for the area, helping local communities while having a bigger voice to champion West Suffolk and attract investment.
A detailed report into civic leadership, to be discussed by the West Suffolk Shadow Authority on November 20, has been shaped by local and national research and evidence.
The report, produced for the new West Suffolk Council, shows people believe civic leadership is wider than just one person and is also about how councillors and local government should act.
A steering group consulted with businesses, partners, local councils as well as the community, including events where the Mayor or Chairman attended. There were 494 responses to the online survey, one of the largest returns of any Council survey including those which have been Countywide on issues such as Council Tax or devolution.
The report is one of the most in-depth considerations nationally of what role civic leadership should play in local government and will inform the decisions to be made by councillors.
It will be used by members of the Shadow Authority to develop the future role for the new Council.
West Suffolk will be the seventh largest council of its type in England and its creation gives an opportunity to redefine arrangements for civic leadership to support the authority’s ambitions to drive growth and prosperity in local communities.
For the first time our communities have been asked to shape what a future civic leader should be and achieve. The findings suggest there should be a new defined role, regardless of title, for civic leadership to match the aspirations of communities and businesses.
The suggested role for the civic leader for West Suffolk Council includes key areas such as being:
• Professional, progressive, accessible and well connected to the aims of the new West Suffolk Council. 
• An ambassador – championing and supporting local communities and businesses while remaining non-political.
• A major influence in promoting the image and importance of West Suffolk Council regionally and nationally as well as supporting local communities and businesses.
Councillors will also discuss recommendations made by the working group that the following responsibilities apply to the new civic leader role:
• To support economic growth and development in partnership with key stakeholders, such as the BID and Chamber of Commerce and American Airbases;
• To continue to chair council meetings;
• To continue to support key national and military events in a ceremonial role;
• To continue to host countywide events such as the Harvest Festival, Battle of Britain commemorations and so on;
• To continue to support educational events, but to ensure where these are undertaken they are linked to a broader remit rather than being, for instance, specific to one school;
• To reach out and engage with local communities and to continue to champion the contributions of local citizens, groups and businesses;
• To remove twinning responsibilities and support them through the town councils, as they are in some cases already;
• To support charities but not to be responsible for hosting or organising specific charity events to raise funds;
• To reduce the number of events attended by the civic leader, ensuring there is a more focused approach on supporting key strategic events, likely to have the biggest impact across West Suffolk communities.
The civic leader should also recognise and celebrate the contributions of citizens, including, for example, thanking people by attending events, hosting receptions for community groups and volunteers, granting Freedom awards and also by making best use of the advertising/promotion of events.
Due to the legal orders In April 2019 the status of the new council will be District with a Chairman but councillors have options to change this. At the meeting councillors as well as voting on the new civic leadership role, will also be asked to vote on whether to take the step to apply for Borough status which can allow the civic leader to be called a mayor if the council wished to do so.
Already there are various approaches to civic leadership, including mayors and chairs in the Towns and parishes across West Suffolk. The report recommends that the new Council should work more closely in the future to develop and support civic leadership at a local level. This could include the possibility of town councils such as Bury St Edmunds, and where they wish to, creating new town mayors. This will help promote local communities as well as increasing the opportunity to celebrate civic activities across such a large geographical area. 

Forest Heath District Councillor Ruth Bowman and St Edmundsbury Borough Councillor Carol Bull, Portfolio Holders for Future Governance, said: “The new council is designed to better promote our great area, attract investment and further drive prosperity for the communities we serve. While there have been many views on civic leadership it is clear that people and partners think it must play an important role in helping achieve those ambitions. Indeed there is the further opportunity to see other forms of civic leadership more locally, including the possible creation of mayors in towns, where, such as Bury St Edmunds, currently there are none. This report is one of the most detailed and in-depth of its type in the country with other authorities asking us for its findings. We would like to thank everyone who took part, your views have not only been essential in writing the report but will inform the debate councillors will have. Councillors will now debate the role and principles of the new civic leader and in turn whether to retain district status or to apply for borough status.”