In 1986 the BBC licence fee was 16p a day – thirty years later it’s just under 40p a day. A bargain! A newspaper costs over twice as much. Have YOU contributed to the current BBC Charter Review? Please rememmber to do so! It asks lots of desperately silly and ill constructed questions which absolutely need to be batted back to a government which does not appear to appreciate what we fund publicly in this country (education, NHS, BBC) and wants to turn it into the polished efficiency of everything we have opened to market forces – such as water companies, energy companies, railways, bus services, universities…
(And if you can’t remember why the Beeb is so good, perhaps John Cleese, 1985, can remind you)
Woodbridge has been asking for 20 mph zoning for years but it needed a change of policy from SCC – and all the work I and other policy panel members have put in over the last year to make it possible
Recent coverage in the EADT of Woodbridge Town Council’s deliberations on a 20mph zone failed completely to acknowledge the work I have been putting in, both as your councillor, and as longstanding member of the Suffolk transport policy development panel, to get the issue on the map and solve it.
I have been attempting to get speeding restrictions in Woodbridge since I became a county councillor, but had been stymied by a lack of standardisation across the county – an ad hoc muddle which came to an abrupt halt a few years back when a previous SCC Cabinet member declared he would allow no more traffic restrictions. The county had enough of them, he said! (Talk about treating the county as a personal fiefdom!)
As founder member of the Suffolk cross-party Transport and Highways policy development panel which was set up under the last SCC Leader, Mark Bee , I was one of the councillors who developed a standard framework for Suffolk to assess and agree 20mph zones. This was to replace the chaos which existed before.
As County Councillor, I also ensured that Woodbridge was then placed on the list for assessment for 20mph zoning in fulfilment of its longstanding and oft-articulated desire for this . Woodbridge has been on this list since last September. The reason it has not progressed is made clear below.
All of this was clearly summarised in my annual Report to Woodbridge Town Council of a couple of months ago, and posted on my blog, for both Woodbridge Town Council and the EADT to refer to!
This letter I wrote on the subject appeared in yesterdays EADT (22/07/2015).
Last week you reported Woodbridge Town Council’s deliberations over speeding and a local community appeal for a 20mph zone. However there was no mention in your report that Woodbridge has been on the SCC waiting-list to be assessed for 20mph status since last September!
Over the last couple of years the County Council had established a successful cross-party ‘policy development panel’(PDP) – of I was a founder member – to make sure that Suffolk’s transport and highways policy in areas such as speed limits was finally standardised to benefit the whole county equally via a joined-up approach.
Woodbridge, which has long needed a 20mph limit, was due to benefit from this refreshingly practical system.
Unfortunately since Suffolk’s mid-term change of leadership, this extremely useful and proactive panel’s scheduled regular meetings have been cancelled at a few hours’ notice. I wrote to ask the reason and for conformation as to whether this productive and hardworking PDP would continue to meet in the future. In reply we were told, “I hope to have a clear future policy on these groups before too long!”
The group was halfway through various pieces of work, continuing the clear benefits to Suffolk that the work of the PDP has shown from the start. If valuable work and joined-up policy-making are to be put to one side because of SCC’s mid-term change of leadership it is to the disbenefit of all Suffolk residents, including my constituents in Woodbridge, still waiting patiently for their long-needed lower speed limit
Let us see what now transpires!
Bus passes are hugely important for both disabled and elderly bus users
Since Suffolk County Council took over administering the Concessionary Bus pass scheme from the district councils, they have managed a significant underspend every year which they use to fund other things – not necessarily connected with public transport. This is cynical and inappropriate –and is defended by the council with the limp rationale that this money is ‘not ringfenced.’
Can I remind you of the importance of bus transport for the elderly and disabled in a large rural county like ours – and the impact on services which this cheeseparing decision has had, through the law of unintended consequences?
BUT , last week Suffolk County Council’s 2014-15 budget outturn (revealed at last week’s Cabinet) showed definitively a Passenger Transport underspend of £400,000 due mainly to half a million pounds of savings in spend on Concessionary Travel. On being questioned, the Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport has confirmed that similar savings have been made every year since the County Council took over the administration of the Concessionary Travel scheme from the district councils.
The dreadful thing about this underspend is that SCC do not allow the elderly or disabled people to use their bus passes before 9.30 in the morning, because they say it is ‘unaffordable,’ AND in July 2011 Council voted to support a motion put forward by myself -as Shadow Spokesperson for Transport – to change this! They voted that concessionary bus pass holders eligible due to age should be able to travel using their passes from 9am during the week, in addition to removing all time limitations for disabled pass holders. (Full details here)
This decision was undemocratically quashed by Cabinet on the grounds of cost (estimated at that time to be around £200,000).
In other words, four years ago the entire membership of Suffolk County Council voted for an action that would help the most vulnerable members of our county, the Cabinet undemocratically overruled the council’s decision on the grounds of cost, and now it seems as if the over-ruling was made on a spurious and mistaken basis – to put it mildly!
In full council last week I reminded the current Cabinet Member for Transport of the decision to overrule Councils vote and I asked: “As arguments of cost are groundless from the evidence of these outturn figures, will the Cabinet member now engage to revisit and reinstate that decision, so that the concessionary pass holders of Suffolk can once again enjoy the same benefits they had before the County Council took over administration of the scheme – and which, in some cases (the blind, for example) they had enjoyed since the Second World War!”
Caroline Page, County Councillor, Woodbridge
At SCC’s full council last Thursday, I asked a very pertinent question about SCC’s poor funding of Concessionary Fares which you can read if you follow this link. More, I hope will follow!
I also commented forcibly on Suffolk’s current Equalities and Inclusion policy ( accessed here – Agenda Item 7 ) – which has surrounded itself with a sufficiently large number of walls to allow it to congratulate itself for being responsible for doing not very much – not half enough, in my opinion. In particular it completely excludes having to contemplate the situation of all the disabled people in Suffolk and their inability to find work because they have not received adequate or even appropriate training or education – an extraordinary omission for such a policy, one would think (and also one I have drawn attention to before now!)
“Whilst I notice and applaud what I have read, I want to draw your attention to a noticeable gap in our current priorities for Equalities and Inclusion, which I have already raised at Cabinet.
I am therefore saying the following on behalf of the many people with disabilities who have been failed and continue to be failed by our education and training.
In Cabinet last Tuesday, SCC’s Adult Learning Strategy highlighted Suffolk’s woeful performance in educating young people with disabilities for employment. We heard that ‘people with disabilities in Suffolk are not gaining the skills to access meaningful employment.”
Low academic achievement among Suffolk students with learning disabilities is too often put down to the failure of that student, rather than the failure of the Suffolk school system to educate. And very convenient it is for the Suffolk educational system to think so!
It is is not enough to call students with such disabilities ‘special,’ and pat them on the head, and give them gold stars, and tell them they have completed ‘challenges’ which did not challenge them – if it fails to prepare them adequately for a world of work. It is certainly not enough for educators to wave such young people out of the educational door at the other end of a life of gold stars and unchallenging challenges without taking any care or responsibility for what they have been offered and whether it was fit for purpose! We must challenge this!
And we need to ask employers to help us: neither we or they have qualms in telling schools where they have failed in educating other school-leavers. Can’t we all do the same for those with disabilities?
And we and our schools should be pointing out to employers that if school leavers with disabilities can overcome such hurdles it doesn’t make them ‘as good’ as non-disabled employees Dealing daily with an unsympathetic able-bodied world gives such people the potential to be not only more determined and more competent, but more resourceful, more resilient, more capable of dealing with failure and finding other ways round a problem. Better, in other words.
So, a plea for next year. I want Suffolk’s equalities and inclusion policy to actively recognise and support Suffolk’s disabled residents (of all ages) to achieve what they are capable of rather than to patronise this potential out of them!”
TIm Farron’s call to the people of Britain – “You are liberal? Join us!)
“We are not the party of vested interests. We are a party that sees the best in people, not the worst; we’re the party that believes the role of government is to help us be the best we can be – no matter who we are or what is our background. That is it. That. Is. It!”
After a cleanly-fought battle between two excellent candidates and 27 hustings across the country, the Liberal Democrats have an inspirational new leader in Tim Farron, who declares himself “fed up of self-satisfied politicians, ambitious for themselves and unambitious for their country.”
Tim has had a working life outside politics AND is the first major party leader in 18 years to have been a councillor before becoming an MP (he’s represented constituents as Borough, District and County Councillor over 15 years), and sees Westminster as “only one brick in the governance of this country”. No Westminster bubble for him!
Tim concedes ‘we have no automatic right to bounce back’ but pledges a fightback that will start immediately – “ward by ward, seat by seat, council by council”, valuing fully the grassroots, and the local membership. Already, the Lib Dems have increased our membership by a third since May. Tim expects it to reach 100,000.
Significantly, on the same day Tim was elected, the LibDems celebrated THREE by-election wins, gaining over 50% of the vote in each case – retainingKingston Upon Thames, while winning Llay (Wrexam) from Labour, and Battle Town (Rother) from the Conservatives.
And considering the threat to the Human Rights Act, to social housing, to grants for poor students etc etc etc – all the issues that have popped out of the woodwork in the two months since the Conservatives were elected -Tim is the ideal person to focus the liberal beliefs that so many people in this country hold!
I was on BBC Radio Suffolk on the morning of the 17th to express what I felt about Tim’s election. They quoted me : I am so, so proud he is leading us!
Hot topics this month are: post-16 transport, a subscription scheme to replace free garden waste disposal, further cuts to the Fire service budget, the new SCC Leader’s ‘Listening Days’ – and the fact that we underspend on our concessionary fares budget and have done so year after year , indeed apparently ever since we took over administration of the scheme from the district councils – despite the fact that successive SCC Cabinet members have told us that disabled people can’t possibly take the bus earlier ‘because it’s too expensive.’
Seems to me that that ‘too expensive’ is the kneejerk mantra of our administration – without any investigation of whether this is the case or not (except when it comes to certain things like Suffolk Circle..) What’s that quote about knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing? This lot don’t even know the price!
Post-16 Education transport Farlingaye High School has contacted me with concerns raised by individual parents concerning SCC’s new post-16 transport policy. Although the statutory school leaving age is 16, Raising the Participation age (RPA) has created a de facto statutory school leaving age of 18.This sits uneasily with SCC’s new post-16 transport policy, which, far from taking this into account offers less provision for post-16s than previously.
The county council has received no additional funding to support RPA. However, RPA is causing real issues for some families, particularly those on low income in rural communities and where there are no public services available that are timed to work with the school day.
I have asked SCC :Whether any scheduled public services that have been cut are being reinstated? Has SCC lobbied central government about the disparity of transport funding between for example, London (whose Oyster card provides free travel for all young people funded from a disparate governmental grant allocation that provides much more per capita for Londoners) and rural counties, and what was the outcome? Has representation been made by SCC to seek additional funding to support Raising the Participation Age? The EADT published my letter on this issue last Friday.
More cuts to Suffolk Fire Service? SCC are starting a public pre-consultation for changes to Suffolk Fire http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/consultations-petitions-and-elections/consultations/fire-service-redesign/ The ultimate intention is to cut another £1m of the already slimmed-down service.
Already Felixstowe Fire Station has ceased to have whole time Firefighters, and there has been a cut in the number of wholetime Firefighters across the county. As an example, on June 24th at 11:30 there were 10 Fire Stations off the run, including such stations as Hadleigh, Debenham, Framlingham and Aldeburgh. A further station was short-crewed meaning it could not attend property fires and a further 2 had appliances off the run.
I contacted CFO Hardingham to assess our local situation: as of the beginning of the month, there were13 firefighters at Woodbridge Fire Station, but they are in the process of interviewing for one more . The full complement is 14.
Proposals to end free garden waste collections in Suffolk Coastal (and other districts) Acting on advice from the Suffolk Waste Partnership, SCC is proposing to cut costs by moving the rest of the county to the Babergh/MidSuffolk system for collecting and treating organic (eg garden and some food ) waste. This would mean that the council reduces its subsidy to the minimum for ‘free’ collections in other districts (such as Suffolk Coastal) and supports a move to a subscription service – sharing the savings 50/50 with the relevant district councils. This would rely on an increase in individuals home composting.
This will depend on decisions of individual councils, but I gather that the subsidy will be reduced to statutory minimum whatever the outcome.
SCC underspent last financial year The financial outturn of SCC 2014-15 revealed that the revenue budget was underspent by £2.3 million (0.4% of the net budget) and at the year end, £107.1m had been spent against the capital programme of £171.4m. This leaves reserves of £202.9 m.
Worrying areas of underspend included Early Years, Passenger Transport and Highways. Passenger Transport has underspent by half a million – due to savings in the cost of concessionary travel. The Chief Accountant confirmed to me on 13th July that here has been a similar underspend in the cost of concessionary travel every year since SCC has taken it over from the district council. Yet SCC has consistently refused to provide an earlier start-time for travel for Suffolk’s 7,000 disabled bus-pass holders on the grounds of ‘cost’.
Health Scrutiny –mental health services At the beginning of July, SCC health scrutiny looked at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust’s Service Strategy 2012-16 for mental health and what had been done to address the CQC’s findings of February 2015, when the Trust was rated as “Inadequate. The Committee was particularly concerned about the 24 hour CAMHS crisis care service, which was high priority and rated red, and asked for a progress report on this issue.
Leader’s Listening Days Between now and October, SCC’s new leader Colin Noble is scheduling ‘We are Listening’ events in Lowestoft, Haverhill, Felixstowe, Stowmarket, Ipswich, Sudbury, Beccles, and Newmarket. During these visits, he “wants to hear first-hand the issues and topics of interest for local council tax payers”
Although I have been unofficially told that he plans to be in Woodbridge on 19 September, (the date of my September surgery), I have not had this confirmed. See more at http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/wearelistening
County Councillor’s Surgery Increasingly my surgery is bringing in constituents from outside my division, who want to speak to a County Councillor face-to-face. Two people in two months have come from other parts of the country and have been incandescent about the lack of useful Tourist Information that is provided inside the Library on a Saturday despite the enormous SCDC notice outside, stating otherwise!
Surgery dates for the next few months are: Saturday 20 June, and Saturday 18 July. I will take my customary August break, before starting again on 19th September. Surgeries continue at Woodbridge Library 10-12 as ever.
Decisions about funding post-16 transport made by SCC’s Cabinet in 2014 are now hitting the street. These resulted in a significant tightening of SCC’s ‘discretionary’ transport offer, due to a double whammy created by conflicting governmental expectations: On the one hand young people are now expected to remain in education, training and employment until 18 – thus creating a de facto if unofficial statutory leaving age of 18. On the other hand, continuing cuts in central funding, assisted by ideological reluctance to increase taxation at either national or local level means that SCC are trying hard to cover impossible bills. The London-based, urban-centric nature of central government has a track-record of making decisions without funding support, that puts rural-dwelling young people at a very particular disadvantage. They have so much further to travel to education and so much less in the way of public transport to fall back on than their urban peers.
This is my letter in today’s EADT, 2-07-2015.
Many people have contacted me re with concerns about SCC’s new post-16 ‘discretionary’ policy which will offer students travel to the nearest place of education only. This sounds reasonable, until you look at the plight of the rural young.
The government’s Raising the Participation Age (RPA) insists on education, training and employment until 18. However, almost all support for travel finishes at 16. And for many rural post-16 students , there may be literally no other transport to education apart from the SCC-chartered bus the discretionary pass is used on, because the bus services have been cut.
A few years ago SCC replaced many rural bus routes with ‘demand responsive transport,’ A Rural Transport PDP working group last year found this was incompatible provision for school attendance. Remaining bus routes often run a regular service except for the one bus at school times which has been taken off-route so as to run a school- specific service – ironically for bus-pass holders only. And if a student wants to continue their studies at their catchment school since age 11 (Farlingaye, for example) – but there is another education provider a shade closer, too bad!
Let me remind readers that a discretionary bus pass is not free. It costs the student £600 a year. But the bonkers bus deregulation laws – aimed at promoting competition -won’t allow one to pay for a seat on a school bus if one has no discretionary entitlement. It’s a deeply unhelpful scenario for those who just need transport to get from A to B!.
I have yet to establish what is the situation of the rural young person who is literally unable to attend mandatory school college or training because there is no public transport and they do not drive. Are they sanctioned?
In February’s 2015 Budget debate, I suggested affordable transport was so crucial to education that we take money out of reserves to support educational transport for disadvantaged post-16 year olds. My plea was ignored. The council needs to revisit this decision.
I also call again on the county council to lobby for the extra funding to support RPA. Compare the prospects of our rural young with those in London – an Oyster card gives free, accessible and appropriate travel for all young people. We cannot continue to lose out to the Londoncentric travel funding policies of successive governments – who simply ignore the problems faced by rest of us . Young people in Suffolk also deserve to achieve their potential!
And finally, it is surely time for Suffolk to lobby for the re-regulation of local bus services, so that we do not carry on spending our council tax payers’ money patching together pieces of a fractured system that fails in a rural setting
Regular walkers are delighted that the footpath round Martlesham Creek is once more up and running after a long time out of action. For the last couple of months we walkers have been able to enjoy the views again. Its a lovely walk.
The river wall, and the footpath that runs along it, were damaged in the December 2013 storm surge. The landowners have repaired the river wall, which now incorporates two lower sections, which are designed to allow water to overtop in extreme tides in a controlled way so as not to damage the walls. The water will then drain back into the river at low tide through sluices. This will hopefully prevent such a breach occurring again.
I walked back last night after giving my monthly report at Martlesham Parish Council, and the midsummer evening highlighted clearly the four different surfaces they are trialling here. In addition to Crushed Concrete and Hoggin, the AONB are trialling two novel surfaces, Tenax and Ankalok, on the low sections. They are interested to hear how the public think these new surfaces perform alongside the two surfaces that are most usually used via this survey.
If you use the footpath, do fill in the survey and and give your views. I did.
(I also lost a lovely pair of hornrimmed specs walking between Martlesham Parishe Hall -and Woodbridge. I walked along Dr Brittans path, across the fields to Old Martlesham church, round the churchyard and down to Martlesham Creek, around the creek path and up into Woodbridge via Kyson Point, Broomheath and California. If anyone picks them up… )
If you need to discuss Suffolk services and would rather not do so by phone or email, don’t forget you can always come and meet me face to face.
My regular monthly surgery is held today at Woodbridge Library 10-12 noon, and on 18th July. There will be a break in August before it restarts on September 19th.
As ever, all are welcome.