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What’s been happening in Suffolk 2014-2015

My anuual report: highlighting some of the more important issues in Suffolk over the last year

SCC Leadership  At the end of 2014-5 the Conservative administration  of SCC hold the balance of power by a single vote. The current party composition is Conservative 38; Green 2; Independent 4; Labour 15; Liberal Democrat 7; UKIP 9.

At the beginning of April the leader of the Suffolk County Conservative party Mark Bee stood down and was replaced in an internal party election by Colin Noble,  who had attempted to unseat him last year. This was, of course, far from an internal party matter, as it brought wide-ranging changes to the Cabinet (including the loss of highly intelligent -and numerate- Jenny Antill; sane and knowledgeable Alan Murray, and the bike- and bus- friendly Graham Newman). Cllr Noble was elected SCC Leader at the SCC Annual  Meeting on May 21. A full slate of Tories voted for him,  a rainbow coalition of the opposition LibDem, Labour, Independent, Green and UKIP – voted against. This  meant Cllr Noble was elected in, 37:31. No abstentions.

(For those  new to Suffolk politics, Cllr Noble is former cheerleader of the ill-fated New Strategic Direction (which was going for a ‘virtual’ council with all its services divested), and the equally ill-fated Suffolk Circle.)

2015-16 budget Conservative budget proposals included savings of £38.2 m, leading to a budget requirement of £454,981,413.  Reserves were forecast as reaching £165million by the end of March. Although this was opposed by opposition parties, who recommended dipping into the reserves to fund such things as transport to statutory education for the poorest over-16s, the administration’s budget was voted in, 37-31.

Home to school transport  Central government has made changes  to the age of statutory education, making it now  compulsory to stay in education or training until one is 17 – and shortly 18. This is causing concern in Suffolk and having a particular impact on poorer students who have to travel to college, as Suffolk’s free home to school transport policy  (as indeed the  national home to school transport  policy) only covers students up to 16 years old.

Over 16s can avail themselves of a discretionary – paid – option but it costs £540 a year. The SCC Administration say that the Endeavour card (offering 1/3 off available journeys  by some operators) will cover the problem, and that there are Bursaries to help the needy.  This is not proving to be an adequate response. While the government has made it mandatory for young people to remain in education or training until 17 it is  a continuing concern that we have no funding mechanism in place to support the poorest young people of the county for this last year of what is now statutory education.

20mph and Other Speed limits The Transport  Policy Development Panel -of which I have been a founder member – has established clear guidelines for 20mph and Other Speed Limit Criteria policies  for Suffolk. Both of these were approved by Cabinet during past year.  The new policies aim to ensure that  appropriate speed  limits are applied fairly, and transparently across the county while reflecting  local concerns– and enabling local County Councillors to make representations on behalf of the communities they represent. Woodbridge is currently in the process of applying for a 20mph limit to calm local traffic.

Highways Maintenance Whilst there have been some successes –  the resurfacing of Ipswich Road, Drybridge Hill, Warwick Avenue and Haugh Lane are notable examples – the divested  highways maintenance  under KMG has remained slow and inadequate  – and -most particularly the minor works – increasingly expensive. There has been a backlog of County-Councillor-commissioned works that has only recently been tackled. This has been a universal problem and we have made strong representations.  Another mild winter means that the gritting services have yet to be tested.

Sunday Bus Services  From July last year, Woodbridge resumed a Sunday/Bank Holiday bus service, sponsored by SCC, allowing car-free travel between Woodbridge and Ipswich, including, importantly, the hospital.  This was on a use-it-or-lose-it basis – three services a day till Christmas. It has now increased to 5 services a day and the route extended to Melton.

Other Bus Improvements I have been able to arrange the  replacement of the ‘balancing poles’ at the Hamblin Road bus shelters with proper seating so that people are now able to sit and wait for their buses at long last. I have also arranged with Suffolk Onboard an the bus companies for two new bus stops on the Ipswich Road –  above the Notcutts roundabout -so that people wanting to get to Framfield surgery and Clarkson Court will find it easier to use  the bus services.

Care UK    Serious concern was raised last autumn at the way Care Uk was running  Suffolk care homes. The firm took over SCC’s 16 care homes in 2012 and is building 10 replacements. A CQC inspection found Mildenhall Lodge below standard in four of five categories while a safeguarding inspection raised concerns about another home, Asterbury Place. SCC Health Scrutiny looked at current arrangements for ensuring the quality of care in residential homes in Suffolk in October concluded that it was not fully satisfied that lessons had been learned from the findings of the recent CQC inspection of Mildenhall Lodge. Further, that the Committee was not yet satisfied that all the appropriate steps had been taken to improve the quality of care at the Suffolk homes run by Care UK. As I write new admissions to Mildenhall lodge remain suspended, nearly a year after the original concerns were raised.

Education Suffolk’s ten year slump in the education league tables seems finally to have been halted an to be turning around, but a recent Ofsted report suggests SCC has been “too slow” in reacting to areas of concern raised in last year’s hightly critical inspection – although it did say that “decisive improvements” had been made in areas of weakness identified in last year’s report.

Much of the  strategy has been implemented too recently to impact substantially on pupils’ outcomes sd yet. Pupils’ attainment in Suffolk remains below average, particularly for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children. As a result, 25,000 Suffolk children do not attend a ‘good’ primary or secondary school.

Customer Service Direct – CSD brought back in-house  On 1 June SCC moved Customer Service Direct – back in-house.  CSD,  in which BT had a majority stake alongside the county and Mid Suffolk councils, handled SCC’s  financial administration, IT, and personnel functions. The councils’ call centres  were also operated by CSD .The cost of the contract was initially £301 million, but this increased to £427 million over 10 years as more functions were added to the service.

Woodbridge Fire and Police station merger  After consultation Woodbridge police station was mergedwith the existing fire station , with the aim of allowing the services to work much more closely together and for the services  to become even more cost effective. On 19th I welcomed councillors, police and fire officers to the station for an opening by the PCC and  member for Public Protection.

County Councillor’s Surgeries  I held 11 surgeries in the past year – on the 3rd Saturday of every month except August; 10-12 at Woodbridge Library. They have been popular and well-attended.

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National Epilepsy Week – write to our MP, tell her what it’s like!

People with epilepsy  are quite as capable as anybody else!

People with epilepsy are quite as capable as anybody else!

Its National Epilepsy Week this week. There are thousands of people with epilepsy in Suffolk (I am one) and the effects of this condition are felt by a much wider circle: their relatives, carers, friends, employers. Yet our lawmakers remain uninterested.

The first ever Epilepsy debate in parliament in February which I attended  – see my disenchanted comments here – attracted 5 Tory MPs out of 302 (1 in 60); 7 Labour MPs out of 256 (1 in 36.5) and 4 LibDem MPs out of 56 (1 in 14).

Shameful.

Lets try and encourage this intake to be more interested.

Write you your MP today and tell her what it is like, and how it impacts upon your life – and the cost to you, your family and Suffolk services of not having a joined-up response. Details via Epilepsy Society page.

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New seats for Woodbridge Hamblin Road Bus Stop

Hamblin Road bus users can now wait in comfort after LibDem intervention has resulted in comfortable seating in the shelters!

Hamblin Road bus users can now wait in comfort after LibDem intervention has resulted in comfortable seating in the shelters!

What’s so strange about these four people?

They are all sitting comfortably at the Hamblin Rd bus stop –  And that’s new! Nobody has been able to sit in the shelters since the were installed some years ago because there were no seats!

Last month, having made forceful representations to Suffolk Onboard about the inappropriate ‘parrot perch’ rail that nobody could sit on, I got them to come and look at it for themselves and talk to the people trying to sit on it.It did the trick.

As you can see, on Wednesday last, they changed it to nice flat seating for us! Thank you Suffolk Onboard – we’re very pleased indeed.

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Woodbridge Town Council election 2015: LibDem results

Whatever the national situation, I’m pleased and proud to announce that all four of your LibDem Woodbridge Town Council candidates were elected to stand for the 2015-19 term – a 100% success rate.

Kay YULE, Riverside, Vic HARRUP, Seckford and Patrick GILLARD, Kyson were all re-elected to their wards.

Newcomer, Sheena RAWLINGS, standing for the first time and replacing longstanding LibDem Councillor Diana BALL, polled the most votes in FARLINGAYE ward to come a comfortable first. Amazing work, Sheena!

Suffolk Coastal Li Dem parliamentary candidate James Sandbach covered the entire constituency tirelessly and attended all the hustings, speaking passionately about liberal values and priorities – but unfortunately the national mood was against him. This is a loss to the constituency.

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General Election 2015 – A few facts to consider

OKAY – after all these weeks of election talk  the finish line is coming upon us. I have already blogged as to the general situation in Woodbridge.   For those interested in the larger LibDem picture, your LibDem candidates on May 7th are:LD rosette

Bury St Edmunds   David Chappell http://davidchappell.org.uk/en/

Ipswich   Chika Akinwale  http://www.libdems.org.uk/chika_akinwale

Central Suffolk& North Ipswich Jon Neal http://www.libdems.org.uk/jon-neal

South Suffolk  Grace Weaver http://www.libdems.org.uk/grace_weaver

Suffolk Coastal James Sandbach http://www.james4suffolkcoastal.com/

Waveney Stephen Gordon http://www.libdems.org.uk/stephen_gordon

West Suffolk Elfeda Tealby-Watson http://www.libdems.org.uk/elfreda_tealby_watson

A few things to remember when you cast your vote on Thursday:

In 2010 the Labour government left a mountain of debt for the nation (and a  cheeky note to the incoming Chancellor). Liberal Democrats stepped up to the plate and shouldered unpopularity to take the responsible step of forming a stable coalition government. In the last 5 years 2 million new apprenticeships and 2 million new jobs have been created and Labour’s deficit has been halved.

The following initiatives were in the LibDem 2010 Manifesto and would not have happened without us:

  1. Tax cuts: Low and middle income earners have had a tax cut of nearly £1,000 a year. Because we raised the income tax threshold – as we promised (though David Cameron said it was impossible) people who earn £10,500 a year of less pay no income tax at all. We want to raise this threshold to £12,500.
  2. Education: We have invested in education, targeting funding at the most deprived children. This has meant an extra £60m for Suffolk schools. It is making a real difference to literacy and numeracy and has provided, for example, one-to-one tuition, breakfast and after-school clubs. In addition we have given free school meals to 5-to-7 year olds.
  3. Health: We have provided additional funding for health and introduced the first ever mental health waiting time standards. We will invest an extra £8bn a year in the NHS each year by 2020. We are the only party to promise this and say how it will be funded.
  4. Renewable energy and environment: We have trebled the amount of energy generated from renewables. We will introduce 5 green laws including protection for bees and pollinators.
  5. We have cracked down on tax dodgers – getting £9bn tax back through deals with Switzerland, Liechenstein and the Channel Islands. We have also prosecuted 10 times more people for tax crimes than happened under the last government.

Some endorsements in the national press:

The Times  “Nick Clegg made a bold decision to take the Liberal Democrats into government. Power has been a justified gamble for the Liberal Democrats…Their signature policy of taking people who earn £10,000 or less out of taxation altogether has been one of their successes.” http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/leaders/article4430579.ece

Independent  “Many of the good things the Coalition has done are owed to the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg may not personally recover from the tuition fees debacle, despite being right (eventually). But history will record him as the man who turned a party of protest into one of government.  http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/editorials/in-defence-of-liberal-democracy-10224221.html

Sunday Times  “…[the Coalition] did survive and this has been a period of political stability that would have been the envy of many majority governments of the past. Mr Clegg deserves to survive and so do his closest Lib Dem colleagues in government. Tory supporters in Labour-Lib Dem marginals may wish to vote for the Lib Dem candidate… http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/comment/article1551497.ece

 

published and promoted  by Christine Mclean on behalf of the Liberal Democrats all at 38 High Street, Saxmundham, IP17 1AB

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A guide to the 3 elections in Woodbridge, May 7th

As several people have told me they were confused about the different elections in Woodbridge on Thursday, I thought I’d give you a brief (apolitical) run-through of what they are for, why you are voting and how the voting differs between elections.

First of all, for first-time voters: there are four polling booths in Woodbridge.

  • If you are registered to vote at RIVERSIDE ward (your card will tell you so) you go to the Community Hall (Deben Annexe), Station Road.
  • If SECKFORD, it is at St Johns Church Hall, St Johns Street.
  • If FARLINGAYE, vote at the Avenue Evangelical Church Hall, 42 Warwick Avenue.
  • And if  KYSON, you vote at the Fred Reynolds Centre, Churchill Close (off Peterhouse Crescent, and then Queens Avenue) .

When you arrive at the polling booth you will get three separate voting papers

The FIRST paper is for the GENERAL ELECTION. This is to vote for a member of parliament (MP)  for Suffolk Coastal Parliamentaty constituency- a huge long rural constituency that stretches from Felixstowe to Southwold. You are voting on national issues –  policy on education, health and defence, membership of Europe.  I don’t suppose I need to say there has  been 5 years of Conservative/LibDem Coalition following 13 years of Labour government leading up to this election!

You  can vote for ONE  candidate from the list below. The candidate with the most votes will win.

  • Therese Anne Coffey (Conservative – the current MP)
  • Daryll Pitcher (UKIP)
  • James Peter Charles Sandbach (Lib Dems)
  • Rachel Ann Smith-Lyte (Green)
  • Russell Whiting (Labour)

The SECOND paper is for the DISTRICT COUNCIL ELECTION. The Suffolk Coastal District Council is a tier of local government between Suffolk County Council and Woodbridge Town Council. It is responsible for services like rubbish collection , council tax, leisure services and planning.  A recent boundary change  reduced the prospective number of Suffolk Coastal councillors to 42  from 55 in different boundaries:  25 sitting councillors have stood down at this election. This means there will be quite a shake up. The previous administration had been a strong Conservative majority.

You can vote for UP TO THREE candidates from the list below. The three candidates with the most votes will win.

Distric councillors

The third paper is for the WOODBRIDGE TOWN COUNCIL election. Woodbridge Town Council owns and maintains various public spaces and the 16 elected councillors sit on various committees. They also the first port of call when Woodbridge residents have problems. There are 4 councillors for each of Woodbridge’s 4 wards.
In this election there are five or six candidates for each ward election -Farlingaye, Seckford, Kyson or Riverside and you only vote for the candidates in the ward you live in. You can vote for UP TO FOUR candidates. The four candidates in each ward with the most votes will win and represent the ward.

Vote!So go on, get out there, and – whoever you vote for – make your votes count!

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May 7 elections: Woodbridge local Lib Dem candidates

Two weeks to May 7th when Woodbridge is facing elections at District and Town levels as well as the General Election. Find out about your candidates here: Kay Yule, Patrick Gillard, Vic Harrup, Sheena Rawlings – the Lib Dem candidates for the Woodbridge District and Town elections 2015 are all notable for the amount of  work they do for local projects and people!

 

Your Woodbridge Election Candidates

Your Woodbridge Election Candidates

BlogWoodbridgeElectionflcus2

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What’s been happening in Suffolk – April 15

Apart  from a general hotting up of  General Electioneering, all sorts of things have been happening in Suffolk. My report this month could be briefly summarised as:  rail, bus, new leader, new languages & 月亮代表我的心 (the moon reflects my heart)…:

All change at the Top   The head of the Suffolk Conservative party Mark Bee has stood down and was replaced in an internal party election by former Suffolk New Strategic Direction cheerleader Cllr Colin Noble. This is, of course, far from an internal party matter, as it means that Cllr Noble will almost certainly be elected SCC Leader in May.

Cllr Bee brought a measure of unity to SCC after a troubled period and he will be sorely missed. For example, he has encouraged a measure of cross-party consensus through policy development panels.  In transport terms this has led to such measures  as agreeing a cross-county  format for new 20mph areas ( all of which had been abandoned under the previous administration because ‘we had enough already.’). Woodbridge is currently in the process of applying for one to calm local traffic.

I do not know what the future for such measures may be under the new leadership.

Passenger Rail Franchise I responded on behalf of Woodbridge, and as Lib Dem spokesman on Transport to the recent governmental East Anglia Rail Passenger Franchise Consultation. Full details can be found here: http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2015/03/17/my-response-to-east-anglia-rail-passenger-franchise-consultation/

Sustainable transport and Sizewell: at the last full council I argued that any development of Sizewell C must needs involve significant compensation for the whole Suffolk Coastal region in terms of sustainable transport – better train services and scheduled bus services – as well as road development. Details can be found here:  http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2015/03/21/sizewell-c-a-route-to-sustainable-transport-in-east-suffolk/

Foreign language teaching: Over the last weeks I have been on local radio and in the EADT, pressing for our Suffolk young people to be taught more languages for longer to a higher standard – so that we’re competing on a level playing field with the rest of the world. This followed on from my – and Woodbridge Town Councillor Patrick Gillard’s  – runaway success as ‘opener’ for the Ipswich Chinese New Year Celebrations  singing the famous Chinese love song 月亮代表我的心 ‘Yueliang Daibiao Wode Xin’ (the moon reflects my heart) http://www.eadt.co.uk/news/fears_over_lack_of_uptake_for_language_study_1_4003643 . Woodbridge’s own proximity to Huawei at Martlesham, and the Chinese-owned port at Felixstowe  underlines the need for Mandarin teaching, for example, if we want to make sure local youngsters get the best jobs – and not just hand them over to linguistically better qualified people. We owe them more than that!

In Woodbridge, Warwick Avenue and Haugh Lane roads have been resurfaced, as has Drybridge Hill. All at long last!

Local Bus News: When the 65b turned up at Hamblin Road last Friday we were looking at the first  Woodbridge Good Friday Service in FOUR years – and a lot of people wanting to use it too!  A Sunday and Bank Holiday Bus Service is an invaluable thing.  It took a lot of lobbying but it’s going strong. I would hope that we can continue to think that if we use it we won’t lose it, despite the change at the top of SCC. We will wait and see.

Two other pieces of good news for Woodbridge bus users:  I’ve talked to Suffolk Onboard and they have now agreed to replace those  balancing poles at the Hamblin Road bus shelters with proper seating so that people will be able to sit and wait for their buses at long last.

And (after I took them to look at the site),  SuffolkOnboard have also approved two new bus stops on the Ipswich Road –  above the Notcutts roundabout -so that people wanting to get to Framfield surgery and Clarkson Court can find it easier to use the bus. First bus and Ipswich buses have also agreed them, so they will go ahead.

My next surgery is on Saturday 18th April, 10 – 12 as ever.

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Woodbridge Bus news – and it’s all good news!

The 65b Woodridge service  seemed to be  getting prenty of custom on Good Friday

The 65b Woodbridge service seemed to be getting plenty of custom on Good Friday

“So why are you taking a photo of a bus” asked the women at Hamblin Road.

BECAUSE IT’S A BANK HOLIDAY AND LOOK, THERE’S A BUS RUNNING!’ I screamed excitedly. Yes – we were looking at the first Good Friday Service in FOUR years – and a lot of people wanting to use it too!

A Sunday and Bank Holiday Bus Service is an invaluable thing! It took a lot of lobbying folks – but it’s going strong. Remember, use it, and you’ll not lose it!

Two other pieces of good news for Woodbridge bus users:

I’ve talked to Suffolk Onboard and they have now agreed to replace those  balancing poles at the Hamblin Road bus shelters with proper seating so that people will be able to sit and wait for their buses at long last.

And after I took them to look at the site, they have also approved two new bus stops on the Ipswich Road –  above the Notcutts roundabout -so that people wanting to get to Framfield surgery and Clarkson Court can find it easier to use  the bus services. The bus companies have also agreed them, so they will go ahead.

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Democracy in Suffolk: SCC Conservatives – what’s going on?

A game of Tug of War with Suffolk in the middle? While other elections go on, Suffolk’s county Conservatives quietly continue to tear themselves asunder…

A couple of weeks ago came the news that  Conservative councillor for Hadleigh, Brian Riley, planned to continue holding his seat as county  councillor (and drawing his councillor’s allowance)  from North Carolina. This was particularly galling to the Lib Dems  as the Hadleigh seat had been occupied – and occupied  well- for over twenty years  by indefatigable LibDem councillor David Grutchfield, who only stood down at the last election  due to ill health.

(It also  suggests the pointlessness of a protest vote.  People in Hadleigh who changed voting allegiance to show  Nick Clegg a thing or  two have rather cut off their own noses to spite their faces, haven’t they?  Showed Nick Clegg a whole lot, haven’t you, folks? – and really really helped make sure you get your buses back and your old folk looked after and your schools and social care problems adequately looked at!

Well, its worth pointing out…)

NOW we have the news that Suffolk County Council Leader Mark Bee is standing down, after what has seemed from the outside rather like a year of overt and covert party infighting following the failed putsch of former New Strategic Direction cheerleaders Guy MacGregor and Colin Noble last April.

Was he pushed or has he left of his own free will?

Regardless of one’s political beliefs, Bee came in and steadied a very rocky boat in the wake of the Andrea Hill fiasco.  And we may well wonder, in failing to support this decent and honourable man  whether the Suffolk Conservative party are – yet again – prioritising party factions and personal ambitions over the needs of the county they are elected to represent!

The Conservatives are playing their cards close to their chest – but it looks like the battle will be between Colin Noble, hoping to be third time lucky, and Bee’s nomination,  Jenny Antill.

Mrs Antill has degrees in Law and Russian Studies from London University and was an investment analyst in the City of London until she retired in 1999. She worked for a number of institutions, including James Capel, Merrill Lynch and Putnam Investments.

Colin NobleSuffolk Circle

March 2012: SCC’s first year funding for Suffolk Circle was £350,000: at the year end it had only recruited 362 members (who, despite paying a minimum subscription £30 each, had also cost SCC £1000 a head!) And Cllr Noble STILL has the temerity to talk about wasting public money!

In public debates Colin Noble is fond of making reference to an 18.5% council tax rise raised by the Labour & Liberal Democrat administration in 2003. He never mentions whether it provided value for money. Maybe for him, that isn’t an issue.  He is, however strangely silent on the subject of Suffolk Circle  a “Pay-annual-subscription-to-get-a-good-neighbour-scheme”  that Cllr Noble and his then Conservative Cabinet colleagues unilaterally decided to give just under £700,000 to, sight unseen, in camera, as a three year start-up – for reasons it is hard to understand, very much more recently.  Based on the premise that every person over 50 in Suffolk was ‘old’ and neglecting to recognise the many many groups that provide similar services for free,  even a person who did sums on eight fingers and two thumbs could see that Suffolk Circle, as a scheme, was doomed to financial failure.  And indeed this baby was a baby which circled the plughole and sank without remark a year ago the moment that SCC’s seed funding ran out (and with ab-so-lute-ly total silence from Cllr Noble) -having cost every man woman and child in Suffolk – council tax payer or no –  a little over a pound a head. 

Next week’s winner? We wait and see.  We, the people of Suffolk, will need persuading that we are not losers whichever way things pan out.

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