BBC Charter – have your say

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 20mph limit – what you may have missed!

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 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).

Dear Sir

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!

Better Bus Passes WERE affordable all the time!

Emprotesting2 (2)
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!”

Suffolk Fails Disabled People

Caroline Page, County Councillor, Woodbridge
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!”

New leader for the LibDems: Tim Farron

TIm Farron's call to the people of Britain - "You are liberal? Join us!)
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 Farron
Tim Farron

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!