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

Greater Anglia: banning Martins and Swallows from Woodbridge station

Substance of my letter to Jamie Burles,  Managing Director, Greater Anglia, 20 Feb

I’m writing to you in great concern in your role as Greater Anglia’s Managing Director, having been forwarded worrying  correspondence from a constituent.

As you will see, he wrote to Greater Anglia about your recent installation of anti-bird wires at the station, and reminded Greater Anglia of the damage this would do to the families of hirondelles (swallows/swifts/martins) who nest at the Woodbridge station. These are not a huge number, but the birds return to their nesting sites year after year.

My constituent offered to point out the places where the wires could be removed in order that these wonderful, and increasingly endangered birds could continue their blameless existence

Disappointingly, his offer was met  with  a response from customer services at  Greater Anglia, that was terse, not to say rude and extraordinarily authoritarian in tone. It was also extremely ignorant of the habits of the birds in question:

The anti-bird wires have been placed at the station to prevent damage to the station and will not be removed.
I do hope that house martins find more suitable nesting sites and I am sorry that you will not get to see them with their chicks this year.

Mr Burles – perhaps Greater Anglia might bear in mind that Woodbridge Station has been in place since 1859!  I would imagine that hirondelles have been nesting here all this time (they return to the same nesting places year after year). They have done no damage in the 160 years the station has been opened. Why on earth should Greater Anglia claim they do so now? And why should Greater Anglia claim other sites as being ‘more suitable’?  For whom?

As all long-term residents of the town are aware, these birds are one of the delights of Woodbridge station.  They make us heart-soaringly happy  every spring and summer whatever the weather. Their arrival is a long-anticipated tradition.

Very unfortunately Greater Anglia repainted the station ceiling in 2017 at seemingly the moment the swallows/martins were about to nest. In consequence last season’s hirondelle nests vanished and the regular commuters of Woodbridge (of whom I am one) lost the joy of watching the little families appear.  This would seem to be in contravention to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

When GA  wrote “I am sorry that you will not get to see them with their chicks this year” you seem unaware that Greater Anglia was instrumental in this happening last year too!

Because the swift-flying, joyous swallows and martins were displaced, pigeons moved in to Woodbridge station last summer – and they do cause damage. This is presumably why Greater Anglia has suddenly installed bird wires. Talk about unintended consequences.

If the swallows and martins were allowed to nest again in their traditional sites I would imagine the pigeons would vanish. They never nested at the station before.

Can I just add that this matter is time-sensitive. Hirondelles are summer visitors.These amazing – and increasingly endangered – little birds are likely to be already on the wing, making their long journey back from Africa to nest at our station sometime in March.

Bearing this in mind, and knowing that Greater Anglia  did not have the full details when you first wrote to my constituent, I am writing to you, as Managing Director,  in the hope that Greater Anglia will change its mind and remove the bird wires, if only from around the hirondelle nesting sites in the corners of Woodbridge station. Not that they seem effective in stopping the pigeons from nesting.

Doing so would  not only immeasurably improve quality of life (for both the hirondelles and the commuters who watch them), it would also place Greater Anglia in a very good light, as a company that is suitably responsive to issues that are very important to local people.

Vote for (Suffolk) Women!

Caroline Page seconding the #WASPI motion, asking for fair transitional state pension arrangements for 50’s born women

February 6th 1918 saw  (some) modern British women get the vote.  100 years on,  I’m one of 22 women out of 75 councillors elected to Suffolk County Council.  22 -that’s 29% – significantly below the appalling  33% average women in UK councils – itself a flatline, increasing only 5% since 1997. At the current rate of progress it’ll take 48 years for the UK to reach gender equality – and nearer 80 in Suffolk.

We’re behind so many countries: Italy, Germany, Norway.  The Rwandan parliament is 64% female – in Suffolk,  there are 2 women out of 7 MPs, a pretty equivalent percentage to the county councillors.  And this is Suffolk! – Birthplace of women’s higher education, home of Women’s Suffrage.

Clearly something’s adrift.

In 1860 3 young women in a house in Aldeburgh planned to change women’s futures: Elizabeth Garrett became first woman to qualify in Britain (both physician and surgeon), co-founder of the first hospital staffed by women, first woman dean  of a British medical school, first female doctor of medicine in France, first woman in Britain to be elected to a school board, and (as Mayor of Aldeburgh), first female British mayor and magistrate – a lot of firsts in a lot of fields. Her friend Emily Davies opened university education to women: she founded Girton College, Cambridge.  Elizabeth’s 13-year-old sister Millicent became Millicent Fawcett, pioneer of women’s suffrage.

It is fair to say, the rest is – half-remembered – history.

On the way back from Ipswich Hospital Garret Anderson centre the other day, a taxi driver asked  “who the chap was” that it was named after? And who in Suffolk links women’s suffrage and Fawcett Society with that 13yo  in Aldeburgh?

A crying shame when you consider that half of our county’s  population are women – about 370,000 of us all occupying Suffolk’s 3800 square kilometres. If we were spread across the county we might all be within shouting distance of each other – if we shouted very loud. And we’ve a lot of reasons to shout. The gender pay gap in Suffolk is 22.2% – above the national average. We have a higher than average level of violence against women. Last year, I established that Suffolk was not a good place to be a girl.

Women need all the help we can get – in Suffolk, as elsewhere.  So why so few women representing us?

First and foremost I’d say a lot of women simply don’t think of themselves as elected representatives. A shame, because so many women’s lives have required them to develop the skills sets, the energy, the drive, the determination, the ability to multitask and the fire in our bellies to be very good representatives indeed. A lot of women just don’t realise they have the skills, or that they have value.

Then, people in general have a very low awareness of government in general. They are often unclear as to which services are delivered by central government, and which by local. In Suffolk, people are often unclear as to which council of three they may mean when talking about ‘the council’. Who’d be elected to something you don’t understand?

What people do know about councils, they know in terms of dissatisfaction – transport, potholes, social care – all gone wrong. They know that some officers are paid large salaries. They often conflate these with councillors who are paid (small) ‘allowances’. Generally this means that ‘the council’ has an undeserved bad reputation: people see it as ‘them’ instead of ‘us’ and profligate with ‘our money.’

Most curious of all, when it comes to ‘our money’ people seem to make very little connection between local politics, voting and outcome. They  will see local elections as unimportant and ‘not bother’ to vote – though the effects of the county council budget will affect their roads, their schools their social care, their transport.

They will vote for a party that fails to raise council tax year after year – and then be astonished at the effect this has on their roads, their schools their social care, their transport.

Within this mindset very few women might want to be councillors – seeing it as a male environment and a negative one at that. And yet of course, it a council is a place where we the people can put many things right – and gender equality in  councillors can make this happen.

No, this isn’t pie in the sky – its common sense! Councils have budgets and allocate huge amounts of local funding – and they decide where it goes. If most councillors are middle-aged middle-class white men who have never had “the worry of how to put shoes on the children’s feet because you are paid so little as a carer”, or “worry if you can manage to hang on to your job while getting two children to schools in different directions”, they will not understand the issues of paying carers too little, or splitting siblings between schools, or failing to provide rural families with sufficient transport options. They may well have different funding priorities to women when it come to refuges, or rape crisis lines or supporting family carers. Not because they mean harm – but because it has never had to enter their head as personal priorities.

My own background as a councillor is, maybe, unusual – but I would suggest that the background of many women councillors IS unusual. Many experiences played a part, but I’d say, most importantly, was that I was a lone parent and full-time carer fighting for the needs for my disabled child – and very angry indeed about various things in society that I wanted to try and change. In the end my friends told me to put up or shut up  so I joined the party that was closest to my beliefs and put my name forward to stand as county councillor.

I stood against a respected, longstanding local politician – he was a past town, district, county councillor and past mayor too. And, against any  expectation I won. Was it because I wasn’t a “normal politician”?

I’ve been re-elected three times since. Because of that I have had the chance to raise more issues, fight for more causes, and gain more successes than I had ever thought possible as a private individual. And that is immensely satisfying.

But still as a woman you find you can speak to a silence and five minutes later a male councillor repeats what you say to rapturous applause – clearly you had a cloak of invisibility on.You speak with passion about an injustice and a political journalist tweets something dismissive about your manner of speech. Like Ginger Rogers you do everything Fred Astaire does but backwards and in high heels, and still get second billing. There are endless microaggressions. Why? It’s a numbers game.

But the winds of change are blowing here -as in the film industry, as everywhere. The atmosphere is suddenly getting markedly less aggressive

I love what I do because it has so much variety- and you can have so much direct effect. One day you are fighting to stop someone (it often seems to be a woman, low-hanging fruit) getting deported, the next, putting the spotlight on a controversial transport consultation, the next convincing the council about the injustice of WASPI pensions. There’s never a dull moment and it makes a real difference to real lives.

To my mind, politics isn’t a game of “them” and “us” – its about how ‘we’ want to get ‘our’ country, county, town to work   – and where women are concerned it’s a numbers game.

Our numbers and our expertise will ensure  that we can make it better for all of us in towns, in counties, in our country if we step up to the plate and have belief in our own capacities.

It is really as simple as that!

Women of Suffolk,  come and join in!

 

Suffolk’s School Transport Consultation – it affects YOU

Confused about the Suffolk School Travel Consultation? I’m hearing people saying things like “why don’t kids go to their local school?” and “why don’t they cycle like we did?”

THIS IS MISSING THE POINT.

Be clear, Suffolk is already only providing free transport to those children who meet strict criteria:  children must be over-8 and living OVER 3 miles from their catchment or transport priority school; or under 8 and living OVER 2 miles from ditto.

Parental choice plays no part.

If you want to send your child to a non-catchment or non-tp school, it’s your lookout! Your car Continue reading Suffolk’s School Transport Consultation – it affects YOU

Reduction to free school transport entitlement: respond, or have no say

Proposals to reduce eligibility for free school transport in Suffolk will adversely affect students 5-18 -and their families. The changes have the potential to bring hardship -especially in rural areas: loss of choice; a postcode lottery for places and courses; potentially the splitting of siblings between schools. It will also put a lot more cars on the roads round our schools -with preductable effects on speed, safety, airquality, and quality of life. Continue reading Reduction to free school transport entitlement: respond, or have no say

Whats been happening in Suffolk, December-January 2017-18

Happy New Year! My January 2018 report  to Woodbridge & Martlesham councils covered a range of things: school transport, tree preservation, plastic bottles, WASPI women’s pensions, as well as updates on the Thoroughfare  and the success of the Jetty Lane  proposals

School Travel Consultation launched Although Suffolk parents, governors and councillors have voiced serious concerns over a consultation on proposed changes to the Suffolk School Transport policy, it was agreed by Suffolk’s Cabinet in December after significant controversy toward the end of last year. As you may remember, I spoke against this for a number of different reasons: perhaps most pertinently that the paper offered Cabinet three options of which the third was an unviable “Do nothing”. I suggested that a viable third option was to lobby central government for more funding to cover the shortfall caused by central government funding decisions – such as the de facto raising of statutory school leaving age from 16 to 18 without additional funding.  However, despite our strongly-voiced concerns, nobody but Cabinet members has a vote at Cabinet and the consultation was therefore voted through unanimously.  This public consultation was launched on Tuesday 12 December and will run until 28 February 2018. The consultation survey, along with more information on the proposals, can be found at www.suffolk.gov.uk/schooltravel. I would be grateful if this information was disseminated as widely as possible.

A number of workshops have been organised, where the proposals will be discussed and questions answered. The only close one to Martlesham/Woodbridge is:

Venue Room Date Time
Kesgrave Conference Centre

Twelve Acre Approach, Ipswich IP5 1JF

Orwell Room 16 Jan 2018 19:00-20:30

In addition to the workshops, there will also be a Have Your Say event. This is an opportunity for members of the public to present alternative options to a panel.

Venue Date Time
West Suffolk House

Western Way, Bury St Edmunds IP33 3SP

30 Jan 2018 19:00-22:00

To book a place at the above events and for full details, visit www.suffolk.gov.uk/schooltravel or call 0345 603 1842 (Mon-Fri 08:30 – 18:00). For my concerns, http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2017/12/10/education-transport-proposal-my-concerns/

I would strongly urge you to respond to the consultation survey and encourage all parents to do the same – and attend one of the events if possible. If you would like any further information or clarification on the potential impacts of changing the policy, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Suffolk County Council signs the Woodland Trust’s Tree CharterThe Lib Dem, Green and Independent Group proposed a motion to Suffolk County Council on 7 December, asking them to sign the Woodland Trust’s Charter for Trees, Woods and People. I am pleased to report that this received unanimous support.

The Charter was launched on 6 November to mark the 800 year anniversary of the influential 1217 Charter of the Forest. The Woodland Trust is leading a call with more than 70 organisations from across multiple sectors, and hopes the Charter will bring the discussion of the importance of forests and trees back into public consciousness. There are ten principles which underpin the charter:

  1. Thriving habitats for diverse species
  2. Planting for the future
  3. Celebrating the cultural impact of trees
  4. A thriving forestry sector that delivers for the UK
  5. Better protection for important trees and woods
  6. Enhancing new developments with trees
  7. Understanding and using the natural health benefits of trees
  8. Access to trees for everyone
  9. Addressing threats to woods and trees through good management
  10. Strengthening landscapes with woods and trees

Unanimous support for LDGI Group’s motion on plastic recycling   Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for the Environment, announced in October that he would be examining the possibility of introducing a plastic bottle Deposit Return Scheme in the UK to improve recycling rates.

At the meeting of Suffolk County Council on 7 December, Cllr Penny Otton (Lib Dem) and Cllr Robert Lindsay (Green) proposed a motion calling on the Council to pledge support for the introduction of such a scheme, and to offer Suffolk as a pilot area should one be needed. This was met with unanimous support. Both the Cabinet Member for the Environment and the Lib Dem, Green and Independent Group will be writing to the Secretary of State, urging him to implement this new recycling scheme in the UK.

Deposit Return Schemes work by adding a small deposit charge to the cost of plastic bottles, which is refunded to the consumer when the bottle is returned for recycling. These “reward and return schemes” are already in place across Europe, including in Germany and Denmark, and evidence suggests they are an effective recycling method. The recycling rate for countries with a Deposit Return Scheme stands at over 90%, whilst Britain currently recycles just 57% of plastic bottles.

SInce we passed this motion the Government seems  finallyto have taken the idea on board.

Suffolk County Council votes unanimously to support WASPI women           As the Lib Dem, Green and Independent Group Spokesperson for Women (indeed the only spokesperson for Women at Suffolk County Council), I seconded a cross-party motion asking the Council to offer support to the 35,000 WASPI women in Suffolk who are suffering from changes in state pension age. Once again, this received unanimous support, and the Interim Chief Executive will be writing to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions calling on the government to reconsider transitional arrangements for these women.

Women Against State Pension Inequalities (WASPI) is a national campaign, which highlights the unfair impact that state pension age changes have had on women born in the 1950s. Many women expected to receive a state pension at 60 and were not properly informed by the government of the age increase, leaving them stranded without income or forced to delay retirement plans. WASPI agrees with the equalisation of state pension age, but does not agree with the unfair way the changes were implemented – with little or no personal notice, faster than promised, and leaving no time to make alternative plans.

If you would like more information, please visit: http://www.waspi.co.uk/  or my blog http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2017/12/12/waspi-success-at-suffolk-county-council/

Success for Jetty Lane CIC  Directors of the recently formed Jetty Lane CiC took its business plan and designs for a new youth centre to a panel of Suffolk County Council Corporate Property just before Christmas. It was accompanied by a letter telling them it

“is a project that is designed to address sustainably the currently unmet needs of many disparate groups in Woodbridge (and its environs), with particular emphasis on young people and the arts.

In order for Jetty Lane first to fund-raise and then to function most effectively, it will require the certainty of a long lease. We are therefore here today to ask you to give the CiC a lease of 125 years on the site at IP12 4BA.

We are also asking for the lease to be at a peppercorn rent: two youth charities will be permanently housed at the centre, while many of the other users are charities or community groups. The CiC itself is a not-for-profit organisation which is working purely for the benefit of the community.”

The  panel expressed themselves very satisfied with the design and plans, which they described as ‘inspiring and ambitious.’  We were very flatteringly told we had “made their day”
The directors had expected to have  to wait 2 weeks for a decision but Suffolk County Council offered us the 125 year lease at a peppercorn rent (subject to terms & conditions) on the spot!
What a wonderful Christmas present to the young people and community of Woodbridge!

Council requests extension of Adult Social Care Levy Cllr Beccy Hopfensperger, Cabinet Member for Adult Care, called on the Council to lobby government to extend the National Adult Social Care Levy and explore other mechanisms to support social care because it is increasingly unaffordable.

Although my LibDem, Green and Independent Group supported this motion, and agree that social care requires an urgent funding review, we questioned why the Cabinet Member had not already been lobbying the government. The challenges facing social care are not new.

Suffolk chosen as pilot scheme for 100% Business Rates Retention  In the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement, released on 19 December, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced that Suffolk had been chosen as a pilot scheme for 100% business rates retention for the 2018-19 financial year.

Suffolk is one of only 10 pilot areas announced. Both the county council and the district/borough councils will be part of the scheme. However, until more information is released from the Department for communities and Local Government, it is not possible to say exactly how much additional income this could generate into the Suffolk system.

Woodbridge Thoroughfare Consultation -responses to results  The results of the initial consultation were presented for 3 weeks at the Library – (end of November to mid December) to ensure that plenty of visibility and transparency was given. It was also covered in the EADT and the resuts can be seen on my blog

Eight email responses were received as a result . Of those

  • 2            were supportive
  • 2            were simple questions of fact to which factual answers could be given.
  • 1            was a suggestion
  • 3            were strong objections. All 3 of these were from – or obo – elderly & infirm people who felt they could not get from carparks to the Thoroughfare. All 3 criticised the process and suggested we should have had more thought of disabled people. In each answer I pointed out the scope and extent of the consultation, the views of the Suffolk Coastal Disability Forum, and then mentioned the potential mitigation via the passes with the taxi firm, pointing out taxi access was something that was not possible currently, and that people too infirm/disabled to use a concessionary bus pass when entitled to one are able claim £150 taxi vouchers  annually from SCC in lieu.

The next step has been to ask the relevant Highways officers to give me a quotation and then start work on the design http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2017/12/03/results-of-public-consultation-on-woodbridge-thoroughfare-sept-2017/