Whats up in Suffolk June to July 2016

Caroline  Page, Woodbridge County Councillor (Phot: Toby Gray Photography)
Caroline Page, Woodbridge County Councillor (Phot: Toby Gray Photography)

These last few weeks have been dominated by the national Referendum  and the Norfolk and Suffolk Devolution debates, but other things have – of course – been happening on the domestic front.  Locally there has been continuing work to secure the future of the Woodbridge Youth Centre,  on a slightly larger stage the big issues in SCC have been the political stability of the Conservative administration, the future of the Ipswich Park and Ride and a new plan for maintaining Suffolk’s Highways.

SCC’s Conservative majority on a knife-edge  After a Conservative Carlford win Suffolk County Council continues to be led by a technical minority administration, with the following political make-up:

Conservative 37 – Labour 15;  LibDem 7; UKIP 10; Green 2; Independent 4 (eg a technical opposition of 38)

However, one of the Independents remains the notorious Hadleigh councillor, ex-Conservative Brian Reilly, who will insist on holding onto his council seat although  disgracefully he has lived in North Carolina for a long time now. In Cllr Riley’s absence this makes the vote 37:37.  On the rare occasions he graces the chamber with his presence, he votes with the Conservatives (this  presumably being why they have been so reluctant to take constructive steps to get him removed).

A new Highway Maintenance Operational Plan  SCC’s Cabinet  has just approved Suffolk’s new Highway Maintenance Operational Plan.

Basically they had little option because the past Highways Maintenance plans have been a disaster, criticised by everyone, regardless of party affiliation. (And anyway, this Plan has been running (‘trialled’) without Cabinet consent since early May.)

The good news is that it concedes that the previous way of Highways Maintenance working was unwieldy and inefficient, as county, town and district councillors across Suffolk can testify. There will now be a much more unified and strategic way of working between SCC and contractors Kier to try and make things work more efficiently than they have (with clear matrices for action for all eventualities). This may mean that the Highways small schemes backlog may clear at long, long last.

The bad news is that the mantra of ‘you’ve got to pay the market price for the work you get’ is very much to the fore, so there is no suggestion of many highways schemes being affordable any more.  (An example was given of how a simple Highways marking job where the paint cost £49 would be charged out at £1989.) Unfortunately this seems to be the inevitable result of a market driven solution. Small towns like Woodbridge will no longer be able to rely on their County Councillors’ Highways budgets. Currently these are half what they were at best (mine is £6660 this year).  Yet jobs will be many times more expensive.

At the Cabinet meeting I asked whether this was not a case of the ‘tail wagging the dog’? That this newly designed Highways Maintenance Operational Plan (the second one in a year!) had been constructed to fit the contractor because the contractor had been unable to stick to the agreed plan?(This was loudly rejected – but with little evidence).

In particular I  pointed out the anomaly of a private organisation uttering the ‘you’ve got to pay the market price for the work you get’ mantra whilst

  1. having no competition to ensure that they are offering good value for money
  2. charging for the time worked by SCC officers  on projects (when these officers  have already been paid by SCC) when billing councillors for these projects             and
  3. failing to recognise the principle of counter-charge that ought to apply when the contractor wastes the time of County Councillors – who they rely on heavily for advocacy and intermediary work.

Surely these charges must be reciprocal? I suggested. Surely a free market model will not be wholly accurate unless the councillors too have a market rate set against  the work they do? For equity,  a charge for councillors’  work ought to be introduced which could then be levied  against  excessive charges and the incompetence of the contractor. Why should local highways budgets suffer from inflated charges without any redress?

Naturally this is far too sensible and logical a suggestion to be accepted by the SCC administration, but  I am recording it to ensure you are aware that the suggestion was made by me, in defence of local councillors’ highways budgets.

For the rest, we will have to wait to see how this will pan out.

Future of the Ipswich  Park & Ride  SCC’s administration’s plans to make the Park & Ride service self-supporting by getting the bus companies that operate alongside it to take over its services were looked at by the Suffolk CC’s Scrutiny committee who were not satisfied with what they saw and voted  to send the plans back to Cabinet. These were reassessed and once again passed.

In a slightly rewritten proposal the  ultimate future of the P&R will not hang immediately on the success of this scheme. If it fails, the plan will have to go back to Cabinet for reassessment before any thought of closure. However, Woodbridge and Martlesham residents will be concerned to discover there is as yet no clarity as to which First buses will be operating at the Martlesham end. This obviously makes a difference – both to the P&R service AND to the service it operates within.

(I had been told by officers very clearly that it would NOT be the Martlesham-terminating 66, but our less circuitous 63, 64, 65 will become Park and Ride buses. The Labour spokesperson has been equally clearly informed it will be the 66. I asked Cabinet Member James Finch for disambiguation at the previous Cabinet meeting. Unfortunately  he had no idea whatsoever.)

I have been promised that once the scheme has been passed we will get confirmation as to which of these two options  will be in operation.

I remain unsure how successfully this  service will work. It seemed to me that the best way to make the P&R more income-generating would be to make it more responsive to unmet demand  – and that would be to provide a good service for London commuters. This our local buses does not do.

Indeed at the moment I cannot see any very compelling reason why people should now drive to the P&R from Woodbridge rather than getting on the same bus in Woodbridge – especially as they will be able to use their bus passes in Woodbridge but will pay to sit on the same bus if they board it at the Park & Ride! We will wait and see as more details emerge.

 

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Devolution voted in by SCC (though not by me)

At the SCC Devolution debate last week , councillors broke party lines to speak and vote their mind.  I was one of the 20 county councillors who – after much thought -opposed  the offered Devolution deal (despite my personal support for the concept of Devolution). This was in line with my party’s stance: we approve of giving local authorities more control over spending, but this proposal leaves much  of the crucial decision-making with the government.

My concerns were: the clear democratic deficit  this devolution deal will offer – an overarching authority will have one member from every council; the thorny question of an elected Mayor (and all the extra bureaucracy that would go with that post); the relative smallness of the sums offered to Suffolk;  the fact that  the Government  will still  oversee everything it wishes to oversee, but just without the responsibility, thus making the county the ‘fall guy’ for its more unpopular decisions  – and possibly most of all – the government’s target for Norfolk and Suffolk to build an additional 240,000 houses in Suffolk and Norfolk by 2031.  This is the equivalent of creating in Suffolk 4 extra towns the size of Ipswich, or increasing every town and village by 35%. This magnitude of growth is not needed to satisfy local demand, but is intended for people moving out of London.

Suffolk badly needs housing, but not to this extent. We specifically need starter homes, disability-specific housing and accommodation for older people wanting to downsize – all for a population already living in Suffolk. (And whose needs are not catered for). Our towns, roads and commuter rail are  already congested. How will our county cope with growth of this magnitude? Why is it needed?

Such largescale  development would  only be viable if there were also appropriate local jobs on offer and a well designed transport infrastructure to match (unless the intention is to house Suffolk residents in new build and sell off the picturesque housing to second home owners).

Despite such reservations voiced by many, devolution was voted in by a resounding majority (40 for, 20 against, 3 abstentions, and a couple of hurried departures just before the vote…).

A public consultation including a MORI telephone poll and an online survey has opened and will remain open over the summer only. You can find it here .  As ever, I suggest you should respond if you want your views to be counted.

(Whilst of course, we wait to see if Devolution still has legs.  It was very much Cameron and Osborne’s baby. Will it survive a new leadership, especially a post-Brexit one where so much governmental time will have to be taken up negotiating the nation’s way out of the mess we got ourselves in to? )

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Join the Lib Dems – stand for the 48%!

48Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has pledged to fight the next General Election on a platform taking Britain back into Europe.

Since Britain voted for Brexit on Thursday thousands of people have joined the Liberal Democrats and all Suffolk Lib Dem groups are seeing a share of this surge. Remain-leaning Woodbridge is no exception.

In the run up to the Referendum the Lib Dems’ quiet voice of reason was often  overlooked by a media wanting the thrill of a car-crash interview. Why listen to reason when you could have grandstanding,  exaggeration and outright lies instead?

The economic uncertainty following the Brexit vote  will affect jobs, people’s homes and livelihoods. It may derail all sorts of plans, essential to the economic wellbeing of our area. While accepting the result of the referendum, the Liberal Democrats intend  to make the case for us to rejoin the heart of Europe.

For many millions of people, this was not just a vote about Europe. It was a howl of anger at politicians and institutions who they felt they were out of touch and had let them down,”  Tim Farron  says.

The British people deserve the chance not to be stuck with the appalling consequences of a Leave campaign that stoked that anger with the lies of Farage, Johnson and Gove.

“The Liberal Democrats will fight the next election on a clear promise to restore British prosperity and role in the world, with the UK in the European Union, not out.

If you agree with us, JOIN US and help to make this happen.”

And I agree with Tim! You can join here

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Will your pass be accepted on SCC’s New Community Transport?

So, people of Suffolk,will you be able to afford your new Community transport as re-engineered by your caring sharing Suffolk County Council? Will it accept your bus pass even?  I really wouldn’t count on it.

In Suffolk Coastal we haven’t yet been told the situation, but elsewhere in the county people already have had very bad news. Predictably, LibDem anxieties about the format of Suffolk’s new Community Transport franchises are already showing themselves to be justified.

UPDATE: I am very happy and relieved to report Suffolk Coastal Community Transport -operated by  previous  operators CATS  and FACTS(ibn Felixstowe)-  will be operating the same services as before:  a mix of Demand Responsive Transport (on which bus passes will be accepted), and door-to-door and community car services on which passes won’t be accepted (exactly as before.) They are available for booking by anyone – old, young, disabled, ablebodied, carowner or  carless  to and from areas without a bus service or with very sparse services. They will operate Monday to Saturday 7-7, and can be block-booked  (better than before) up to two weeks in advance.
The phone number is 01728 635938
Please use it folks. Or lose it.

However in mid-Suffolk, the  franchisees BSEVC have already announced that they will be operating no Demand Responsive Transport in their Community Transport offer – eg   Bus Passes will NO LONGER  be accepted, all fares will rise, under-16 fares will only apply if are accompanied by an adult, and the under 18 reduction is derisory. And, surprise, surprise, there seems to be no provision for young people to use SCC’s much vaunted youth card the Endeavour (that pallid simulacrum of the much more successful Explore  card  the young people of Woodbridge fought so hard with me to keep)

What price Suffolk's new Community Transport Franchise deal? A lot in BSE- with the new company accepting NO BUs Passes, nor fares for under 16s unless accompanied by an adult (!) plus an overall increase in adult fares. And will the SCC Endeavour card be honoured? Er.. no
(click to enlarge) What price Suffolk’s new Community Transport Franchise deal? A lot in BSE- with BSEVC accepting NO Bus Passes, nor fares for under 16s unless accompanied by an adult (!), scraping discounted returns  plus offering an overall increase in adult fares.  Nice.   And will the SCC’s Endeavour card – that supposed banner of support for the  travel-poor young people of Suffolk-  be honoured? Er.. no

As Creeting resident Mark Valladares said bitterly on Twitter,

“My Conservative County Councillor claimed we would have a “better service at lower cost”. Now we know what he meant”

Mr Valladares also pointed out that  BSEVC has scrapped the discounted return fare – his return fare is now up by 54%.

We wait for information

Babergh The Dining Room, Hadleigh Town Hall, Market Place, Hadleigh, IP7 5DN Friday 27th May Drop in

10.30 & 11.30

Forest Heath Forest Heath District Council, Council Chamber, College Heath Road, Milden hall, IP28 7EY Friday 3rd June Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
Ipswich Ipswich Town Hall (Change) Friday 10th June Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
Mid Suffolk Mid Suffolk District Council, The Dove Room, 131 High Street, Needham Market, IP6 8DL Wednesday 8th June Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
St Edmunds bury St Edmunds bury District Council, West Suffolk House, Western Way, Bury St Edmunds, IP33 3SP Wednesday 1st June Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
Suffolk Coastal Suffolk Coastal District Council, Council Chamber, Melton Hill, Melton, IP12 1AU Monday 6th June Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
Waveney Waveney District Council, Riverside, 4 Canning Road, Lowestoft, NR33 OEG Wednesday 25th May Drop in between 14.00 & 15.00
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Woodbridge’s Youth Club homeless? Help Just42!

Just42close (2)On Tuesday I was called to a meeting at Endeavour House to be told baldly that Suffolk County Council has decided that Woodbridge’s  Youth Centre (which hosts the popular  youth and children’s work charity, Just42 amongst many other groups and SCC units) will close imminently.

Everyone  who knows Woodbridge knows there has been some form of youth club held at the Woodbridge site ever since it was first built! (And the site has been threatened for some years  – see here for details)

This is a call from me to everyone in Woodbridge to help! After years of cuts to core services, Just 42 remains the only such group left  in our part of Suffolk,  its irreplaceable work  funded entirely by grants and donations. We cannot allow this valuable asset to be lost to Woodbridge !

As a longtime supporter of Just 42 I’m very concerned that we manage to re-house Just42  immediately in temporary accommodation so that there is no break in their valuable services. It’s also important that we start fund-raising at once so that we can rebuild the youth centre on its present site as soon as possible for all users!”

According to Just 42 Manager Caroline Rutherford, landlords SCC “told us that the building is well beyond its design life and  they say they’re concerned over potential health & safety risks in the future.” Although Caroline was not “entirely surprised” that the building will eventually have to close, bearing in mind its very poor state of repair, she was “terribly shocked to be told that we have to vacate the building by the end of August or indeed -in the worst case- in the next 5 days!!”

Basically SCC seem to be saying “we’re afraid something significant over the next year might force closure at short notice’..so  we thought we’d force closure at short notice now…

Extensive research by the parties most interested in the future of the Youth Centre suggests that it is  ideally sited in terms of (public transport/vehicular/pedestrian) access, privacy and recreation for the wide range of groups who use it . We are very short of space in Woodbridge these days, when even gardens are being infilled. There is nowhere else that offers this perfect combination.

Worryingly,  SCC sent out a  Press Release (during their meeting with me!) that was inaccurately headed ‘closure of former community building  – implying to the Suffolk media that the Woodbridge Youth Centre is no longer in use. However this  building is  a very current community building, hosting 11 community groups, hot-desking SCC’s integrated services, the Inclusion team, specialist service, the adoption team and workforce development and the offices of Just 42 as well as one-off bookings which run to the middle of next year.

Amazingly the release made no mention  even of Woodbridge Youth Centre’s most high profile  occupant – Just 42 even though it  supports over 2000 children and young people in the Woodbridge area through itsrange of clubs, projects and a mentoring scheme.

As you know, I celebrated my last election by walking from Felixstowe to Lowestoft to raise funds for Just 42 because it is exceptional! From the hub in the Youth Centre,   Just 42 gives support, advice and help  over a wide area to encourage local young people 10-18 to succeed and fulfil their potential. And Just 42 is not only doing this well and effectively – it is doing it on a shoestring! (Details here http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2013/05/23/just-42-weve-raised-nearly-2500/ )

The precipitate sending out of SCC’s press release without informing the many groups and individuals using the building  has caused and is causing extreme  anxiety. Some of the stakeholders  first heard the news via the radio yesterday and the learning disabled members of the Gateway Club were only alerted as they arrived today!  They have used the centre for 35 years. This was an incredibly cruel and uncaring way to break the news to stakeholders!

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Caroline Page, County Councillor for Woodbridge