More Conservative cuts for Suffolk’s JAMs

1200 people signed Caroline Page’s Woodbridge petition against budget cuts to Suffolk Library services in 10 days!

Suffolk  County Council have just voted in a further budget of cuts  – in which various Conservative councillors (the sixth age of Man  “In fair round belly with good capon lined“) stood up and explained portentously how these cuts were due  to their prudence,  and concern for the welfare of the people of Suffolk, hem hem.

So no mention at all  that these cuts could have been mitigated if
the very same Conservative councillors hadn’t foolishly boasted that they could run  the country as efficiently as ever without raising the council tax  over the last seven years (or as Leader Colin Noble gleefully puts in his blog of 25 -03-2013 And even better news we have promised that if elected we will freeze the Council Tax for the whole of the next term. So that[‘s] 0%, 0%, 0%, 0%, 0%, 0%, 0%! ”  -a  simple explanation for the truly appalling state of Suffolk roads, social care, and community transport services etc. over the last few years!

The current situation could also have been mitigated IF the same Conservative administration had actually spent their entire committed budget every year, instead of squirrelling away an annual seemingly planned  spending shortfall of £10m, on top of their reserves. Some cuts they have made therefore – the cuts to library budget, for example – seem to be cuts that they made by choice. Because – again, I quote Colin Noble’s blog *:

I do not know what planet Councillor Noble is living on – or who the people are he thinks he represents! Clearly not library users.

Amongst the many cuts to this year’s budget,  Suffolk Conservatives proposed a further £230,000 cut to the library service budget . Concerning because since they became IPSs,  our libraries have been well used – and used  for so many purposes –  by readers, reading groups, writing groups, clubs; for old, for young, for retired, employed, unemployed and first job seekers; for AGMs, poetry readings, play performances,  and the ever-popular  reading challenge. I hold my monthly surgery  in Woodbridge Library because it is such a community hub.

As Woodbridge  county councillor I vehemently oppose these cuts to library services. My party opposes these cuts. The residents I have spoken to locally, regardless of age, background, or political affiliation, have opposed these  cuts. Investing in the immense range of things our libraries do so well and  so cheaply is building social capital that benefits Suffolk in a huge range of ways.

In my view it is simple madness to damage it or throw it away.

Yesterday the Labour party presented an amendment to the Conservatives’ budget, overturning the cuts and suggesting over £15m of expenditure from reserves to replace some of the damage Cllr Noble’s administration has done over the last years.

As the meeting , I presented a petition of 1200 local residents’ signatures gathered over the last week in  Woodbridge   and spoke as follows:

I am supporting the Labour amendment, not because I agree with all of it, but because we need to make a stand for the communities we represent against what has clearly become a culture of cuts in the name of ideology, covered thinly with the cloak of Austerity.

A few years ago the administration opposite were trumpeting the virtues of the New Strategic Direction ‘s ‘virtual council’  – now in our Chief Finance Officer’s report , “the county is committed to being a smaller and ever-more-effective Council with a much greater emphasis on commissioning and much lower levels of direct service provision. “

Because it has worked so well – in  the case of Highways Procurement, for example?

Isn’t it time to replace ideology with some practical common sense?

The oldest signatory to the Woodbridge Save Suffolk Library Services petition

I am very  concerned on behalf of the people of Suffolk that the administration wants to be “a smaller council” “with a much greater emphasis on  commissioning”  because then they need not take responsibility for being less effective.  
The proposed Library budget cuts are comparatively small. And our libraries are an irreplaceable resource: they lend books, support study, provide a knowledge base, host clubs and hobby groups and foster new writing and literature and that’s just for starters. In the last ten days  on the streets of Woodbridge,  I managed to get 1200 signatures for this petition which says “We oppose any further reductions to the funding of Suffolk’s invaluable and irreplaceable library services, and urge Suffolk County Council not to make this cut. “ The people who signed were of all ages, backgrounds  and political affiliations – the eldest was 101.  The one thing they agreed on was that these cuts were unacceptable. Comments range from asking “Are you mad?” to “A brilliant community service”,”Shame on you!”Libraries are an integral part of our future and our history – knowledge is power”. Over and over again is repeated the fact that our libraries are ‘essential’ and that users want “No more cuts!”

So why cut? If  Suffolk has underspent by millions year on year (as both LibDems and Labour disclosed) we didn’t need to cut the library budget last year on the grounds of affordability – and we certainly should not have the brass neck  to cut it by a further quarter of a million this year . Suffolk Libraries are scooping up people failed by the employment, education, social care services, all on top of their – statutory, may I remind you –  remit to lend us books. Funding is cut to the bone –and STILL Suffolk’s administration proposes cuts.   And will no doubt wash their hands of the consequences,  like jesting Pilate.

I agree with many things in the Labour amendment – in an absolute requirement  for Suffolk to support public transport and education transport and to support those of all ages in  need of  help and care,  but if it were only to ensure that our wonderful libraries remain the admiration of the rest of the country – which they currently areI can have no option but to support this amendment!

Such eloquence, eh?  But still the prevailing Conservative vote was against common sense and common interest. I’m sorry, folks. We tried.

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*I have provided a screengrab for Cllr Noble’s blog because astonishingly enough one is unable to access it via a County Council computer. Should you try, you get the message

“Oops, it looks like this site isn’t categorised!
Uncategorised websites aren’t available as they may be unsafe.”

Strange but true !

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Save Our Suffolk Library Services

Jan 2017: Woodbridge residents cluster to sign petition against further Library cuts

Today I stood  with like-minded people outside Woodbridge Library with a Petition  opposing yet more cuts to the Suffolk libraries budget. Freezing cold and blowy, and we had 200 signatures in two hours. A fantastic start!

Suffolk County Council is proposing to slash a further £230,000 off the already pared-to-the-bone budget for Library services, despite the £150million reserves this Conservative-run administration have built up  and hold “against a rainy day”.  (In other words, for a time just like this.)

Our wonderful libraries have made amazing efforts to maintain services in the face of massive reductions to library funding ( there’s been a  30% reduction since 2011). The budget has already been cut to the bone. This further proposed  cut is a cut too far.

As your county councillor I vehemently oppose these cuts to library services. My party opposes these cuts. Everybody I have spoken to in Woodbridge, regardless of age, background, or political affiliation has opposed these  cuts. Investing in the immense range of things our libraries do so well and  so cheaply is building social capital that benefits Suffolk in a huge range of ways. It is simple madness to  damage it or throw it away.

THE BUDGET WILL BE DEBATED AND VOTED ON ON FEBRUARY 9th 2017. THE CURRENT ADMINISTRATION HAVE A WAFER-THIN MAJORITY. IT MAY BE POSSIBLE  TO CHANGE THEIR MINDS    Please sign and circulate the petition  (you can download it here: Library Petition 2017) and return to me by 8 February.

And if you want a reminder, here are some  Reasons to FIGHT for SUFFOLK LIBRARIES

Suffolk Libraries are essential because they:

  • provide friendly, welcoming, and helpful facilities for recreation and study that reflect the changing needs of local people
  • support study for students of all ages – and especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • provide materials for many people’s leisure-learning and hobbies, enhancing and maintaining their growth ad mental health
  • provide a centre for social activities and interaction of many types enhancing community cohesion
  • introduce our children to the lifetime pleasures of reading
  • provide a place for quiet study, and particularly for those who don’t enjoy such facilities at home
  • provide a source of reference material in both physical and on-line formats
  • are a key resource for the unemployed to help support them back into employment
  • provide internet access for people who can’t afford such equipment, don’t have the space to accommodate it, have occasional need or just need help with the processes
  • provide mobile libraries to ensure a service can be maintained in low-population-density rural areas

 

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Bus Timetables or special allowances for Councillors? No contest

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

Last year Suffolk’s Tory administration made extra  payments (Special Responsibility Allowances  or SRAs) to  48 out of  75 Suffolk county councillors. So, not very special then.

And with 82% (32 of 39) Tory county  councillors getting a SRA,  it seems a (Conservative) councillor  had to be rather special NOT to get one.

In December’s full council meeting, I tabled a question asking the Leader of Suffolk County Council how he could  justify this sharp rise in allowance payments to members of his group at a time of continuing belt-tightening?  I didn’t get a very  clear answer except that the councillors in question ‘worked very hard’.  No doubt. As do many other colleagues, without extra reward.

Coincidentally, in April, Suffolk County Council stopped  printing individual bus timetables  to save money.

Or as Cllr Finch, Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport  put it  succinctly:

"we have been actively promoting digital methods of accessing bus times using on-line journey planning, mobile apps and Real Time Passenger Information. We have now reached the point where we will no longer be printing the twenty different timetables to give to customers. The final print run will be in April.  After this time we will be signposting customers to www.suffolkonboard.com where they will be able to download or print their own timetables and use the comprehensive journey planner"

Cllr Finch and his advisers seem to  live in a world where everybody has easy access to libraries , computers, smartphones, printers,  apps.  Sadly not all bus users live in this world.

Unsurprisingly, his decision has had a bad effect  on a lot of people, but particularly on the elderly, including many Woodbridge residents. I have been passing on their comments – often in video form – to Cllr Finch ever since.

Very coincidentally,  Suffolk’s Conservative administration expected to save  £50,000 this year by  not printing  bus timetables for people who really needed them – the same amount of money that they spent on additional special responsibility allowances for Conservative councillors.

Don’t you think its time the Tories on Suffolk County Council reviewed their priorities?

 

                                                          

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Traffic in the Thoroughfare

thoroughfare-smaller
Thoroughfare residents join, Caroline Page and Woodbridge Town Councillors Gillard and O’Nolan to hand out information about the Thoroughfare TRO

Traffic in the Thoroughfare is governed by a TRO (traffic regulation order) made in 1995. This means that the current regulations have been in place for 21 years. They are  now very out of date.

Additionally, many people have either genuinely forgotten the terms of the TRO, are newcomers to the area and do not know the terms, or are now electing not to abide by them.

(The situation has been made worse in the last decade by the Traffic Management Act 2004 which abolished Traffic Wardens and gave their powers to the police. The police have always had a lot on their plate an have not adequately replaced the dedicated Traffic Wardens we had before. A future change may allow Suffolk’s District Councils  finally  to take  over these powers  but this will take a couple of years ).

There is little point complaining about the terms of the current TRO- it is the status quo agreed by long retired councillors and officers and we have inherited it. A TRO is Highways law.

The – admittedly confusing – signage which is up at the start of the Thoroughfare is the only one permitted by the Highways Act to cover the current terms of the TRO. It has  been up for a long time, is accurate although wordy, and does not explain by itself why more and more people are electing to ignore it.

Changes  to what happens in the Thoroughfare cannot be made without changing the TRO. Clearly this needs to happen.

However making a TRO is basically making a small law, and this cannot be done without a public consultation, and a significant expenditure by SCC. In order to use public money to best advantage then,  it is sensible to look at how the current TRO is working so we can see what bits need replacing. And everybody’s interests have to be considered:  the needs of residents, traders, disabled persons, pedestrians as well as motorists,  all need to be considered – as do the laws of unintended consequences.

Eg The Thoroughfare is not pedestrianised 24/7 so a fixed barrier not appropriate, – and anyway what about emergency vehicles?  Rising bollards for pedestrian hours would produce difficulty for the delivery patterns of some traders, and who would operate them when they came up and down. Would we have to employ someone?  How about disabled access? The current disabled access was designed in the days when Woodbridge had a half-day closing on Wednesdays – who here remembers this? What is the situation of the Thoroughfare’s residents, and their needs – not just access, but removals, deliveries,  ambulances etc. On top of this, drivers seem genuinely to have a greater sense of entitlement than in the past, and a lack of will to walk any distance from their car.  I have been calling for solutions, but solutions are genuinely not as simple as people might think.

(The only people who do not need consideration are those who are simply asserting a right to drive down  the Thoroughfare between 10-4, without belonging to one of the TRO-exempted categories. During this time it is – according to the 21 year old TRO – a Pedestrianised area…)

I have set up a Woodbridge Thoroughfare Working Group to look at usage,with a short-term and a longer term aim. Short-term is to raise awareness of the current law. (As I said, this isn’t a matter of opinion or choice – we are lumped with it).  The police have committed to enforce this more fully.

Longer term, when we have worked out what kind of changes to the TRO would most benefit all users, we will be able to put some  proposals to public consultation.

The Thoroughfare Working Group group, incidentally, is apolitical (but cross-party for elected members: I represent the County Council,  Conservative Geoff Holdcroft  represents the District Council, and Green Eamonn O’Nolan represents Woodbridge Town council). The other members are: local police, local Highway Officers, Thoroughfare residents and Thoroughfare traders.

If you have personal concerns – come and talk them over face to face at my monthly surgery in Woodbridge Library.  My December surgery is on 17th December. 9-11am as ever

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What’s happening in Woodbridge (& Suffolk) – November 2016

Woodbridge has wanted 20 mph zoning for years but my work over the last year has been required to make it possible
Woodbridge has  been asking for  20 mph zoning for years .

Speed calming and the Thoroughfare have been top issues for Woodbridge  over the last weeks as I’ve been working with like-minded people  from a number of fields to try and produce a global scheme to calm and improve traffic conditions across the town.  Other issues of importance include Suffolk Norfold Devolution, now about to got to a final yea or nay vote,  and the throrny question of the new telecoms boxes at the Sandy Lane junction,

Proposed 20mph zone & Thoroughfare calming in Woodbridge   I have recently been working on initial – ambitious – proposals for speed calming in Woodbridge. These include :

  1. a) the outline of the whole-town speed calming and 20mph zoning which Woodbridge Town Council will be discussing later this evening and which will hopefully be the foundation of a document that can finally be put before Suffolk County Council’s Speed Limits Panel and
  2. b) the reforming of the Thoroughfare Working Party to try and tackle the continuing issue of the Thoroughfare, in relation to the roads around it.

I am grateful for the assistance and expertise of Nigel Barratt in examining the roads usage round the town in order to work on these issues.

I am hoping that the ‘Walkers are Welcome Woodbridge’ initiative will be supported by these proposals, and that they might link in with issues as diverse as the air quality work at Melton Hill, the passage of school children to school,  and the rat-running from Wilford Bridge along the Ipswich Road – producing really joined up planning for traffic and tourism.

Conservatives lose their majority on Suffolk County Council  With a LibDem win at the Hadleigh byelection last month, the Conservatives finally lost their precarious hold on Suffolk County council and are now a minority administration. The balance of power is now:

Conservative 37 – Labour 15;  LibDem 8; UKIP 10; Green 2; Independent  3

Suffolk County Council’s vote on devolution deal – 23 November  Suffolk County Council – together with all district councils – will be voting on the Suffolk Norfolk devolution deal at the end of the month.  For the county council, this is:

  • The extraordinary County Council on 2pm 23rd November
  • The extraordinary Cabinet on 5.30pm 23rd November (or following the extraordinary Council meeting if later)

with the orders currently scheduled to be laid before Parliament on 24th of November.

The deal requires the 2017 election of a Norfolk & Suffolk Mayor, and the formation of a “super-authority” in which all councils from both counties  would be represented equally.

This authority would have a budget of £100m to spend on an inflated governmental requirement for  240,000 new homes ( far more than required locally so presumably aimed at London overspill)  for the next five years and would have new powers (but little new funds) to fund the required  infrastructure programmes needed to support the development the deal requires.

Although Suffolk’s County Council and all its district & borough councils backed the principle of this devolution deal in the summer, in  Norfolk the reaction was much less positive – four of the county’s seven districts (including Norwich City Council) voted to reject the deal .

New Telecoms boxes update   After I raised the issue of the 5 telecoms boxes in Sandy Lane on both social media and BBC Suffolk, EE finally got in contact with the Suffolk Highways Officers. We are now in hope that the issue can be rectified  without legal proceedings becoming necessary.

Parents urged to Have Their Say on New School Admissions Policy Suffolk County Council is seeking views from parents and carers on the proposed school admissions policy for the 2018/2019 academic year. There are proposals to make minor changes to the admission arrangements for schools in Suffolk and the policy aims to ensure school places are offered to children in a fair way.  The consultation will run until Tuesday 13 December 2016.

Dutch Kitchenware Cold Callers   Suffolk Trading Standards warn that they have had reports about (specifically Dutch) salesmen cold-calling door-to-door in Suffolk. They say these appear to be people who have targeted other areas in Britain.

The caller is typically a man selling knives, saucepans and cutlery sets that he claims that he has had left over from a trade fair. His story is that he needs to get rid of the products quickly because he is returning to Holland later in the day and cannot take them back through customs.

Although the products are described as being reasonable quality, trading standards are concerned that consumers may be paying over the odds and there are no customer rights. As ever they are concerned that undue pressure is put on elderly and vulnerable people.

Suffolk Trading standards ask that if anyone becomes aware of these (or other) salesmen operating in their area,  to please contact  via 03454 040506. They also remind Suffolk residents of the door stickers they supply to discourage cold callers.

Firebreak training in Hollesley Bay    In late October I spent an afternoon at a ‘Firebreak’ passing-out parade at Hollesley Bay prison. This is a practical but inspirational programme taught by the fire brigade (Essex, not Suffolk, on this occasion) – and the first time ever this programme has been delivered in a prison!!

Outcomes were outstanding: 12 hard-to-reach prisoners of very different ages and backgrounds had worked together to become a team, learned the cooperative and practical skills needed in firefighting, got a serious qualification, and all reported they have gained a lot from the course.

This was resoundingly echoed by guards and instructors. I very much enjoyed watching the presentation drill, and talking to the participants and instructors afterwards.

Most interesting of all, the training started to introduce the subject of ‘restorative justice’ and met with such success that the team was returning to the prison to run some sessions specifically on this, with the same prisoners.

Huge plaudits all round: to the Shaw Trust for funding it, Essex Fire Brigade for delivering it, and of course, Hollesley Bay for having confidence to go ahead with this pioneering training in the first place

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Caroline Page, County Councillor for Woodbridge