All posts by Caroline Page

Lib Dem County Councillor for Woodbridge, Suffolk; Elected 2008, 2009,2013; LD spokesman, Transport; Vice-Chair Education Transport Appeals; Speed Limit Panel member ; Campaigns for Rural Transport, Buses, Rail, Cycling, Young People, Libraries, Disability, Epilepsy & Carers

Millicent Fawcett: does Suffolk value its women today?

Reminding Parliament Square that Millicent Fawcett was not only a woman – but a Suffolk woman!

After an excellent campaign by feminist activist Caroline Criado Perez and active support from Sadiq Khan, we finally see the first statue of a woman in Parliament Square – one among eleven men, and a bare century after women first gained (limited) suffrage.

And – one might say -about time too.

The unveiling yesterday was an interesting and entertaining ceremony – my personal highlights being Theresa Lola’s excellently understated poem, and a raw rocking preview song from the forthcoming musical ‘Sylvia’ which has me booking tickets already. (And in our current state of terror alert it might be ungracious to query the necessity for the ‘moat’ and bars that separated out the great and good invited attendees – so many of whom were men – from the rest of us .)

I was in the ‘rest’ category but, as Suffolk LDGI Group  Spokesperson for Women, I raised the profile for Suffolk,  I stood at the front with my banner Millicent Fawcett: Suffolk Women Lead the Way.” https://twitter.com/CroPage/status/988686126239174656

It is a point that needs making!

Aldeburgh sisters Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Agnes Garrett (who – baulked by the patriarchy – in her desire to become an architect founded the first interior design company run by women ) were all strong supporters and advocates of women’s suffrage. Suffolk, not London, is the birthplace of women’s suffrage.

Which brings me to here and now. Birthplace of Womens suffrage it may be, but 150 years after Millicent started her first suffrage petition I’m one of 29% women councillors (22/75) elected to Suffolk County Council – significantly below the appalling  33% UK average. At the current rate of progress it’ll take 48 years for the UK to reach gender equality – and nearer 80 in Suffolk. In Suffolk 2 out of 7 MPs are women, a pretty equivalent percentage to the county councillors.
Suffolk may have been the birthplace of women’s suffrage, of women’s higher education, of women’s independence – but modern Suffolk has a high gender paygap, high levels of violence against women, specifically poor outcomes for girls (particularly in rural areas). Seems to me Suffolk is yet fully to engage in recognising the importance of its own women and what they have to offer.

We could start by acknowledging the past. Ipswich recognised this last year with blue plaques, but when I asked a (nameless) past mayor why all the blue plaques in my own town of Woodbridge memorialise men, he replied ‘Perhaps its because women have never done anything.’ Armed with a copy of the Dictionary of National Biography I found five in less than half an hour. The famous women of Suffolk are hiding in plain sight and while the gender balance ofdecision makers continue to remain so heavily tipped towards men this is likely to be where they will remain.

Now we have a statue of one Suffolk woman in Parliament square, we need to ensure that we have public statues and memorials to all the Suffolk women who have and do so much within Suffolk. We cannot expect young women to wait 100 years for their work to be acknowledged; we cannot expect young women in Suffolk to realise their work will be acknowledged, if it looks as if they will have to wait 100 years.

Caroline Page
Suffolk LDGI Group  Spokesperson for Women

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: Continue reading April: What’s been happening in Suffolk

Social prescribing: walking the walk

Having just entered another decade, I’m looking back through times past. To long ago, when I was a lone parent, sole earner, and fulltime carer of a seriously ill child.

Dark days.

I worried all the time about everything. And I mean everything. About shoes, electricity bills, packed lunches, hospital emergencies, school trips and…  In fact there was so much to worry about all the time, I didn’t know where or when to stop.

Life could easily have become too much.
In this sea of troubles, one thing kept me afloat: the world outside.

Suffolk is simply so beautiful that there isn’t a season when there isn’t something to look at and love and cause your heart to soar. From snowy days and the murmuration of starlings, to spring flowers and swallows nesting.  Faint echoing cuckoos along the Deben – and then elderflowers with promises of cordial and champagne and days lengthening… followed by all the flowers and fruit and fun of summer, sea-swimming and late nights watching for meteor showers. The rich joy of autumn next, as you trek alongside fresh-cropped fields – revelling in golden tints and harvest moons and hints of frost. Then back to winter, with Orion ramping overhead, broadshouldered and brilliant in icy black night skies.

These things were – are – wonderfully there, all day every day; however lonely, or desolate or desperate I was feeling. A cycle of support and happiness on my doorstep. And all for free.

I walked weekly with kind friends and poured my heart out. In turn they too poured out their hearts to me. If my child was well enough to get to school, I might rush into the weather of outside, whatever it was, and walk alone as fast and far as possible, or get on my bicycle and make for the sea. If school sent her home as ‘too ill’, I took her with me and we shared joys together, bluebell woods, and blackberries and (one memorable rainy May) several nightingales singing in woodland down by the Deben.

She never once was the worse for it. More, these delights held us up when we might have fallen.

And, of course, in time life became much better.

There are many conditions for which medicines and medical intervention are – necessary, crucial, critical. But for many more, they may not always  be the best answer. The difficulties I faced could have been addressed with pills, but for me the best prescription was – is – walking and being outside. To this day, I do my GP’s Health Walk (every Friday, Ufford Park, 9am. Open to all).

Others find their stress is diminished, or joy of life renewed by learning a new skill or language. Helping others. Dancing. Joining a group to campaign or raise funds. Singing their heart out. Gardening… (the list is endless).

‘Social prescribing’ is a matter of realising that while our NHS doctors are invaluable, the answer to some of our problems lies elsewhere. And often in our own hands.