Whats happening in Suffolk – Feb 2013

Disgraceful league table results for Suffolk schools, Son of Explore card returns, negotiations with the ‘preferred bidder’ for SCC’s highways procurement falls through 10 weeks before d-day…  

       …and Woodbridge Library needs Friends!

 

Suffolk Travel Card  On 29th January, SCC’s Cabinet heralded the return of a Suffolk Travel Card for young people.  It will provide uniform discounts and easier tickets, particularly for those young people in the County who need to reach further education establishments and employment.

I and the Lib Dems, welcome this card as we have been campaigning for the Explore card to return for nearly two years – as have many of the young people in Woodbridge affected by the cut.  However, we have a significant number of questions about its implementation given that the Cabinet paper contained little in the way of specific detail.

The card, set up originally for those young people, will most likely provide a 25% discount for travel, but this has yet to be confirmed and discussions with all bus providers across Suffolk has not yet taken place.  There is also a lack of clarity about how much the card will cost, whether it will be free or have a £10 charge, and what will happen when they try to widen the scheme to other members of the public in the County.

In addition to backing the Suffolk Travel Card, the Cabinet also backed the Kickstart campaign which aims to help provide access to scooters for rural young people with a grant of £100,000.

Highways Procurement          Although the County Council agreed a contract with Balfour Beatty to provide the highways services across Suffolk we heard last week that this had fallen through, ten weeks before the D-day of April 1st. It has therefore been decided that the procurement process will revert to the previous stage where Suffolk County Council can liaise with any, or all, of the bidders who submitted final tenders (including Balfour Beatty Living Places), before again identifying a preferred bidder.

This latest update casts doubt on whether the savings presented in the budget are going to be achievable for this year, and what is going to happen once the current contracts expire on the 31st of March.  The Lib Dem group  have asked a number of questions on this subject and we are still waiting to hear what exactly the consequences of this will be.

The questions are:

  • What happened since the Cabinet decision on the 11th Dec? What commitments weren’t confirmed, were they not outlined as part of the initial contract?
  • How much is it going to cost the County Council in interim arrangements?
  • What is the duration of the expected delay? When will the next preferred bidder be announced?
  • What is the impact on the staff at IBC now that the timetable has slipped?
  • What is the contingency plan now that contracts have reached their maximum term, will emergency extensions be required? What are the cost of these?
  • Do you envisage a serious risk to the continuity, delivery and quality of the highways service given this delay?
    and last, and possibly most importantly
  • Can SCC continue to be assured this way of proceeding is actually ‘best value’?

As yet we are not much the wiser – but it looks like interim arrangements will have to be made at least until September. I will keep you informed!

Huge drop in Suffolk’s school league rankings  Although it is pleasant to see that our local Woodbridge schools holding their own in the rankings  (at primary: St Mary’s was ranked one of 15 joint first, Kyson four places behind and in the top 200 most improved primaries in the country, and Woodbridge Primary 32nd ,while at secondary level Farlingaye was ranked overall third – ahead of all private schools in the county!). However, the release of this years GCSE grades show Suffolk has dropped to 141st out of 152 authorities for GCSE results. This comes on top of our equally appalling descent to (joint) 148h  out of 152 in the primary school rankings.  Under the previous administration, Suffolk had consistently ranked in the top third of Local Authorities for schools results.

SCC is choosing to claim that these disgraceful GCSE results  can be attributed to the controversial 2012 grade boundary shifts for English and English Language although  the grade boundary shifts affected all examinees nationwide and the tables cover 5 GCSEs.

Budget The County Council’s budget for the next financial year will be set this week.  In recognition of the truly appalling schools results and an increase in road accidents, the LibDem group have put in the following amendments to fund the following from Contingency reserves:

Service Area Total
School Improvement Services – Additional advisors £650,000
School Improvement – Teacher focused support £475,000
Looked after children – County commitment to MTFC £300,000
Five 20mph schemes – Funds to respond to local demand £300,000
Total £1,725,000

I will keep you updated as to the progress of the budget.

Health  Emergency heart attack care in Suffolk was examined at the recent Health Scrutiny. It  was revealed that whilst survival rates were greater than 95%, the target time of 150 minutes to one of the three treatment centres in Basildon, Norwich or Cambridge was exceeded for a quarter of Suffolk patients. The Health Scrutiny committee recommended continuing education for ambulance staff in the management of cardiac emergencies, and national and regional campaigns to educate the public about the need to dial 999 as soon as possible if someone experiences chest pain.

I have not been informed as to how the recommendation for national  and regional campaigns would be taken forward.

Additionally, a new £5m heart treatment centre is being built at Ipswich hospital for routine heart operations, including the insertion of stents.

Friends of Woodbridge Library I spent Saturday morning – National Library day – in Woodbridge library raising awareness of a need for a Friends Group.

After the fuss we made – in Woodbridge and elsewhere –   about how much we loved and needed our librariesSCC backtracked on its original proposals and threat of closures – which is  a (at least  temporary) relief. Instead it has divested all Library services to an Industrial and Provident scoiety, which is rather like a co-operative.  However, each of ourLibraries needs to make 5% savings on top the savings that are already embedded in the proposals via an increase in volunteers, more fund-raising events, or changing suppliers for maintenance contracts. Funding is onlyguaranteed  by SCC for the first two years.
Additionally, those libraries that do not have community groups are run by the IPS and have considerably less autonomy, because they have no representation on the board. This is becoming a problem in Woodbridge.

Because Woodbridge Library is  run by the IPS , decision-making occurs without any local involvement . A notable example is the matter of the moving in of Suffolk Coastal District services to the Woodbridge Library premises without consultation or consideration of local wishes or requirements.  All moneys earned by the Library go back to the IPS, rather than being spent at the discretion of  us locals.  In the case of the Tourist Information point, neither Woodbridge Library or the residents of Woodbridge were even consulted as to the amount of rent SCDC should be paying(!).  Indeed the whole issue appears to have been discussed between officers without any input from or reference to elected local councillors or the Library itself.

Woodbridge Library now needs to have Friends. Contact the Library directly if you want to help.

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