What’s been happening: July 2018

 

Newly painted, more easily visible bollards in the Thoroughfare – funded from my locality budget. Thank you, Quay church volunteers!

Opposition’s “call in” of Suffolk County Council school transport cuts unsuccessful   On Tuesday 19 June, Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet voted to change the Home to School Transport policy so that only children travelling to their nearest school would receive free transport. The changes are due to be phased in from September 2019.

As you may be aware, I and my colleagues within the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group have been opposed to this policy change since it was announced in September 2018. There has also been very vocal opposition from schools, parents, carers and parish councils across Suffolk. We called in the decision to Suffolk’s Scrutiny.

The “call-in” was successful on three fronts:
1. Concern at the quality and reliability of the financial modelling;
2. Whether the Cabinet were fully informed of the role of the Consultation Institute;
3. Whether there was enough analysis of the experience of Essex County Council, who implemented a similar policy in 2013.

Unfortunately despite the considered opinions of really competent and well-qualified members of the public, the Conservative administration failed to recognise their own financial forecasts were flawed. The decision will therefore go ahead.

Major review of Suffolk Highways announced The new Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Highways, Cllr Mary Evans, has launched a major review of the way highways in Suffolk are maintained.

Areas due to be reviewed include:
• Existing policy which determines how resources are deployed, known as the Suffolk Highway Maintenance Operational Plan (HMOP);
• How the location of potholes on the road is considered alongside the width and depth, recognising the impact they can have on cyclists and motorcyclists;
• How utility companies coordinate roadworks and are held to account for their actions;
• How residents, councillors and businesses are informed about road repairs and how they can access information;
• Financial control and contract management;
• How town and parish councils can work closer with Suffolk Highways to make the best use of their local knowledge, skills, money and time.

I welcome this

Woodbridge 20mph scheme progression  Having had a preliminary design and costings drawn up I have met with Suffolk Highways to discuss the progression of Woodbridge’s 20mph zoning. Martlesham’s Cllr O’Brien joined me for my meeting with Highways officers and they agreed in principle to add the extra length of Sandy Lane onto the TRO for the Woodbridge scheme, if Cllr OBrien contributes the appropriate amount to signage and scheme.

The Woodbridge Town Clerk has put in a significant CIL bid to support the scheme.

After discussion with the officers it looks like I will be able to include the Thoroughfare scheme (separated because of decriminalisation of transport issues) which will be funded from my Highways budget.

Jetty Lane update  Jetty Lane has been lucky enough to be benefiting from a number of generous initiatives and donations – perhaps most notably an amazingly generous anonymous donation of £10,000 last week which will enable the CIC apply for planning permission (yes, its very expensive!).

However, the CiC has also enjoyed the help of many other kind supporters over the last month: both  donations from individuals and support from: the Regatta bucket collection, the Great Get Together, the Riverside Musical Theatre’s Showstoppers, and a lovely coffee morning fundraising from Deben Yacht club.

Jetty Lane’s most recent consultation with hirers was held on 25th June. The CIC will have another display in the library shortly.

Quay Church assist in making Thoroughfare bollards more visible   Many thanks to the volunteers of the Quay church 1000 hours scheme who worked with me and my Locality Budget to repaint the Thoroughfare bollards, making them more visible to people with restricted visibility. This was a key request concerning  Woodbridge from Suffolk Coastal’s Disability Forum.

Consultation launched on future commissioning of specialist education services  Suffolk County Council have launched a consultation into the commissioning strategy for the development of Suffolk’s specialist educational provision.

Demand for specialist education places in Suffolk for children with SEND continues to grow, and currently the county council has a much lower number of specialist education places than other similar authorities. This means that many children in Suffolk are forced to travel out of county to access the education provision they need – and often Suffolk County Council foots the bill.

At a time when the Council wishes to reduce the amount of free home-to-school transport it provides citing fears of escalating costs, it is vital that we begin to provide more SEND provision within Suffolk.

The 6 week consultation will look at three options for meeting the additional demand for specialist provision. More information and a link to the consultation can be found online at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/SENDsufficiencyeducation

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Woodbridge Town Council – WHAT is going on?

Lord Nolan’s 7 Principles of Public Life

A massive loss of data. Extraordinary secrecy. Accusations of party politicking from a majority party that has for years overseen the debacle and is now busy evading the issue.

What on earth is going on in Woodbridge?

Firstly, why the party politics? I’m sure most of Woodbridge residents would totally support a non-political town council. Indeed, one wonders why Woodbridge Town Council – alone amongst its peers- wants to have a party-political structure at this level of local government. There is no equivalent in any similar town or parish  for miles.

(This is  exactly why the LibDems and Greens have stood down in the current Woodbridge Kyson by-election to offer the chance of better political balance to the town!)

Woodbridge Town Council are now admitting  to losing ‘some data’ ?  Some emails (they contend with increasing desperation) were deleted “possibly inadvertently or as a result of implementing the new GDPR legislation. ” The question is, how many emails is ‘some data’? Tens? Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Astonishingly, the number seems to be closer to the last than the first.

Woodbridge Town Council add that “data was retrieved”  – but don’t specify what data, and how much? Tens of emails?  Astonishingly it might not even be as much as this!

If  – instead of blandly asserting might is right – Woodbridge Town Council wants to demonstrate the transparency required by the 7 Nolan Principles of Public Life – which aren’t optional, by the way -it needs to man up and admit the scale of the current problem rather than going “into camera” (eg secretly) in order to hide the facts from the people Woodbridge Town Council were elected to represent.

But we, the people of Woodbridge, need to know.

We need to know on whose behalf these emails were written. Can Woodbridge Town Council confirm how many years of emails have been deleted? Can they  tell us what these emails contained?

If they can’t do this, Woodbridge Town Council cannot assert they were unimportant.

The facts are simple- when it comes to data, it seems Woodbridge Town Council have no clear idea what it is they have lost and they are showing all the signs of a rabbit in the headlights. The current problem is not a matter of a few defective park signs. It is significant data loss: the deletion of many, many, many official emails.

Woodbridge Town Council asserts there is no problem because they say they can prove “no public money was lost”. But they are unable to produce the full audit trail behind their decisionmaking. All jobs over a certain sum need comparative quotes to ensure best value. Do we have these?

It seems Woodbridge Town Council would  have grave difficulty in proving in the required detail how years of decisions,  financial and otherwise, were made.  I am very glad that they are taking a proactive attitude going forward, but we, the town, need a full description  of all the horses they lost before they finally got around to buying a bolt for the stable door.

Additionally one must wonder whether  Woodbridge Town Council has any idea of what commitments may have been made on behalf of its electors in the deleted emails? Wouldn’t it be better to face this possibility head on?

Finally why on earth did  Woodbridge Town Council cover up this catastrophe by refusing to make it public to the very people it concerns! Their own personal embarrassment (for overseeing such a mess) is no answer. This is not Woodbridge Town Council’s money, data. It is OUR money, OUR data. The emails were on OUR behalf.

As a county councillor known for my impartial representation of all the people of the town regardless of party, creed, colour, age, gender and background I am deeply shocked and disappointed with the way so many of our town councillors are handling this embarrassing situation.

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School Transport: Cabinet decides on the option nobody wanted

Twitter and blogs get the news out that  journalists don’t cover  😉

On Tuesday, Suffolk County Council’s Conservative Cabinet passed an undemocratic proposal limiting access to free school transport.

I put it like this because the media narrative is that “Councillors voted unanimously.” Er… No. While any councillor could question, only the wholly Conservative Cabinet could vote. And while the Cabinet members opened their mouths, it was not to question. They spoke in turn uncritically, to offer support.

Undemocratic because – having gone to public consultation and the public having made their feelings abundantly clear – Cabinet voted on an option that was universally unpopular. It did not even consider the option supported by 90% of respondents.

If the public relied on the media to inform them, they would not have been aware of what happened at the meeting. The media  conscientiously reported the flavour of the many excellent tabled questions from the public. However, they totally ignored the literally hours of  forensic questioning from the opposition –  LibDem, Green and Labour councillors  – which teased out many problems and concerns with the favoured  proposal.

In other words the situation was framed as ‘councillors v public’ instead of ‘Conservative Cabinet fobbing off the questions of their opposition colleagues’. You might want to query this narrative and what purpose it serves.

In my particular case, I travelled as fast as I could on public transport to and from an emergency surgical appointment at Addenbrookes to be there in time to hold the Cabinet to account along with my Lib Dem, Green and Labour colleagues. We all asked many questions. (I must do new Leader Matthew Hicks justice and say he chaired the meeting with justice and impartiality, allowing the opposition all the questions they wished to ask and cutting short members of his own party who merely wished to make eyewateringly inappropriate declarations of loyalty, instead of questioning Cabinet. Another issue the media could have picked up on, ‘an if it would’.).

In my own questions I queried the administration’s terms of reference. Was Suffolk’s offer really “more generous” than the government minimum, when the government minimum covered urban and rural students  indiscriminately? City students do not have 3 mile walks to their catchment school: city schools are closer and public transport is plentiful and cheap.

We were told how expensive our spend was- over £100 a student head as opposed to Salford’s £2.

However, as I pointed out,  Salford has a total area of 8 sq miles. It would actually be well-nigh impossible for a child to live more than 3 miles from their local school in Salford! Suffolk, in comparison, has an area of 1466sq miles, used to grow the food and provide the electricity that places like Salford rely on. We are not comparing like with like.

I also asked, bearing in mind we were removing entitlement to bus travel, why there was no Traffic Impact Assessment for the county – and while the very limited (Thurston area only) TIA failed to consider issues such as pollution and air quality? (Answer: too expensive/work in progress. Hardly a scientific answer)

And, bearing in mind over 70% of respondents were women , and local government cuts disproportionally affect women,  l asked whether Cabinet  could be genuinely satisfied that the IA’s conclusion that “impact on women would be minimised by phasing in the changes”, fully addressed the  actual impact these changes would have on  women. Ominously  – but unsurprisingly -this question was not answered at all.

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Caroline Page, LibDem County Councillor for Woodbridge