April: What’s been happening in Suffolk

Conservatives deny councillors the chance to debate final school transport proposals  On 22 March, the Conservative majority at Suffolk County Council voted unanimously against a motion that would have allowed all councillors the chance to vote on the final school transport proposals, before the Cabinet makes a decision in June. These proposals have been causing considerable concern to the county at large.

They may also have a significant impact on Woodbridge – because it is a town containing 8 schools. Woodbridge Town Councillors will recall I raised this as a significant concern in previous reports (March, February and passim) and urged Woodbridge and Martlesham Councils to respond to the consultation, both individually and as a formal body. I also contacted Farlingaye High School, and gave up one Saturday morning to hold an awareness-raising stall in Woodbridge Thoroughfare where local people could respond directly.

The cross-party motion, proposed by Labour and seconded by the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group, called for an extraordinary Council meeting to debate and hold a non-binding vote on the final proposals. This would have given councillors representing the most affected areas, the chance to have their say and raise their concerns, whatever their political allegiance. I am deeply disappointed that this motion did not receive the support of the county council. It is very strange that Conservative councillors have denied themselves the opportunity to fully represent those who elected them.

From the very beginning, my group has fought against these proposals. We are extremely concerned that a change in school transport policy will not achieve any significant savings, whilst causing untold harm to thousands of rural families – and local roads. In my roles as groiup spokesperson for Transport, for Women and my many years on Suffolk’s Educational Transport Panel I have been particularly concerned (see various of my blog entries, my letters to the EADT, my speeches at council, cabinet etc).

Many other councillors share our concerns. They, and their constituents, deserve the right to have a say. It is a shame they did not have the courage to speak up and support this motion.

SCC announces new Chief Executive Suffolk County Council has appointed a new chief executive, Nicola Beach, following a unanimous recommendation by the authority’s Staff Appointments. Nicola, who is currently executive director of infrastructure and environment at Essex County Council, will join SCC this summer. Sue Cook will continue in her role as Interim Chief Executive until this time, when she will return to her role as corporate director of health, wellbeing and children’s services.

Colin Noble commissions Respublica to examine options for public sector change in Suffolk  The Leader of Suffolk County Council, Cllr Noble, recently announced that he has – apparently unilaterally -commissioned think-tank Respublica to look at public sector reform in Suffolk. It will examine the current arrangements for public service delivery in Suffolk and will report back on the merits of making a bid to the government for a reformed system.
The review will look once again at the possibility of a unitary county council in Suffolk. However, Cllr Noble has also insisted that other options will be considered, such as East and West Suffolk unitaries, an option including a Greater Ipswich unitary council, or enhancing the existing two-tier system. This review is costed at around £70,000.
Suffolk county councillor were not consulted as to the commissioning and neither were Suffolk district/borough councillors. The announcement has not been well-received by the leaders of the seven district and borough councils in Suffolk. In fact, leaders Mark Bee (Waveney, David Ellesmere (Ipswich), Nick Gowrley (Mid Suffolk), John Griffiths (St Edmundsbury), Ray Herring (Suffolk Coastal), John Ward (Babergh), and James Waters (Forest Heath) published an open letter criticising the this commissioning without previous discussion as” totally contrary to the spirit of joint working, collaboration and partnership that together we have worked hard to develop and implement for Suffolk.”
“We cannot subscribe to, or support, your commission of the ResPublica review,” the leaders conclude.

Suffolk County Council’s gender pay gap remains significant Suffolk County Council’s pay report revealed that, although the Council employs nearly three times as many women as men, there is still a significant gender pay gap in favour of men.

The County Council’s mean gender pay gap is 14.8%, whilst the median pay gap is 18.6%. In other words, although Suffolk County Council employs relatively few men, they are overrepresented in the better paid sectors and underrepresented in the less well-paid sectors. (All the statistics refer to the average hourly pay rates of employees.)

When discussing the report during Council on 22 March, the Conservative Deputy Leader commented “we employ women [in low paid roles] because that is probably better suited to their characteristics… Most women are naturally caring”.

This response is concerning. Reverting to “nature” and so-called essential differences between men and women as an explanation for the gender pay gap obscures the real problem and makes it much more difficult to resolve: the council needs to be recognising and confronting these gender stereotypes, not reinforcing them.

Jetty Lane Public Consultation Having been awarded a 125 year lease by Suffolk County Council in December, fundraising has started in earnest for the Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts Centre in Woodbridge.

This will – as you know – provide facilities for the many local groups left homeless when the youth centre was pulled down last year.

Apart from Just42 who currently are living in 2 shipping containers onsite, all other past users have failed to find suitable permanent accommodation in Woodbridge, because there is a clear lack of appropriate alternative facilities.

The Jetty Lane directors (of whom I am one) have just given up an entire week of half-term to staff a public consultation at Woodbridge library. This showed once again the strength of support this project has from the people of the town.

The Jetty Lane  launch will take place this month and the first bids for this exciting and sustainable heritage project are due to go out this month.

Swallows hopefully to return to Woodbridge Station Wonderful news! After I put our residents’ concerns about the destruction of swallow nesting at Woodbridge station to Greater Anglia (see March report). The issue was taken up by BBC Radio Suffolk, the EADT and social media. And the company listened and took the matter seriously.

On March 19 Greater Anglia installed two RSPB clay swallow boxes at the very places where the swallows have traditionally nested. Thank you, Greater Anglia! Let us hope our soaring summer friends will be back with us by next month!

Social Prescribing I have recently funded a leaflet on behalf of the PPGs of both Woodbridge GP surgeries which has gone out to 7000 homes in the vicinity. This describes the benefits of social prescribing and how to achieve them. It has been received with great approval by the NHS who is planning on putting it out in other areas.
In brief social prescribing is the notion that, while recognising that medication helps clinical need eg clinical depression; also recognises there are other needs that might be helped by activities such as walking, exercise, music, writing, language learning, gardening, volunteering etc

Potholes – funding boost & rise in insurance claims
Potholes continue to be a key issue for councillors and residents alike. There are two significant updates this month:

Suffolk County Council receives cash boost to deal with potholes. Following the bad weather in February and March, Suffolk County Council received £2.5m of additional funding from the Government to help with road repairs.

Suffolk Highways are encouraging residents to report potholes using the reporting tool (available at highwaysreporting.suffolk.gov.uk) and have already received over 11,000 reports in 2018.

However, concerns have been raised by some councillors and residents who have been informed by the online tool that a pothole has been repaired, when in fact the work has not been carried out. If you experience this, please let me know so that I can inform the Cabinet Member for Highways of the problem.

Rise in insurance claims against Suffolk County Council. Insurance claims against Suffolk County Council due to “carriageway surface defects”, such as potholes, nearly doubled between 2013 and 2017, rising from 363 to 647 last year. A total of 2239 claims were made in this five-year period, but 84.7% of these were successfully defended by the council. Despite this, between 2013 and 2017, Suffolk County Council paid out £226,432 in compensation and legal fees.

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