Category Archives: Council reports

Reports I make on a monthly basis to Woodbridge Town Council

Whats happening, Woodbridge, August/September 2018

SCC predicts financial shortfall  Last week, SCC admitted that it is not managing to control spending against the budget agreed by councillors in February 2018. Projections show the council will overspend by £8.6 million this financial year unless it is successful in reducing costs and making savings between now and 31 March 2019. This would mean that the council would have to dip into its reserves to balance the books.

We are told that rising demand for services and increased costs in Children and Young People’s Services account for almost £5 million of the projected overspend. This includes services for looked-after children, specialist social care for children and home-to-school transport. It is hard to see how any further savings can be made in statutory responsibilities.

There are also smaller, but significant, overspends in other council departments, including Adult Care and Corporate Services. Staff have been told by the new CEO that while SCC is committed to the pay and reward agreement agreed in April, it is currently at risk unless creative ways can be found to save money.

Woodbridge Cyclists were among hundreds cross county to support the motion

SCC agrees costed five-year cycling plan – but not ringfenced money!  At the Suffolk County Council full council meeting on 19 July, I seconded two motions asking for a commitment to investing in Suffolk’s cycling infrastructure.

The first motion asked the council to set up a cross-party group tasked with drawing up a costed five-year cycling plan, whilst the second motion asked the council to commit to ring-fencing at least 5% of its annual Integrated Transport Block for cycling infrastructure. In total 896 emails were sent from residents to councillors in support of this motion – which is apparently a phenomenal amount for a local authority area! (To put it in perspective, In Warwickshire, with a similar motion, 420 emails were sent). There were, unsurprisingly a significant number from Woodbridge.

Whilst there was unanimous support for motion 1, the administration would not support a commitment of funding for cycling infrastructure, and so unfortunately motion 2 was rejected.

Although the two motions were voted on separately, they are intrinsically linked: without a minor commitment of council funding, any future bids to the Department for Transport are likely to be unsuccessful. This has been the case for the past seven years, during which Suffolk has missed out on five opportunities to receive funding for cycling from the DfT. Currently, SCC spends approximately 10% of its Integrated Transport Block on cycling infrastructure, so the motion was not asking for additional money – just a firm commitment that a minimal level of funding would be available each year.

We are awaiting further information regarding the cross-party group that will draw up a cycling plan, and will keep you updated as this progresses.

Additional £6m borrowed to improve recycling centres  Suffolk’s administration has decided to borrow an additional £6m to fund improvement works for four of Suffolk’s recycling centres. The priority works are to:
• Deliver urgent improvements to the Foxhall (estimated cost £3 million) and Haverhill (estimated cost £1 million) recycling centres; and
• Secure sites for replacement recycling centres for Ipswich (estimated cost £1 million) and Stowmarket (estimated cost £1 million).

I have had contact from various residents unhappy with operations at the Foxhall site. My group has highlighted to the cabinet member responsible for waste services the importance of working with local councillors and residents when attempting to improve recycling centres.

Melton Hill ‘Cheesewedge’ development withdrawn, resubmitted  After my blog piece of 24 July articulating the benefit to the proposed erstwhile SCDC Melton Hill developer of replacing affordable housing with comparatively nugatory commutated payments – they withdrew their application to develop the site. It was swiftly replaced with another proposal , reducing affordable housing units from 33 to 15 on the spurious grounds of Vacant Building Credit. As you know, I spoke against this at the Woodbridge TC planning committee meeting of 4 Sept, and have written to the District articulating my concerns (attached). I would advise all interested individuals to do the same.

“Staying Close” scheme launched to support Suffolk care leavers  Suffolk County Council have been awarded funding by the Department of Education for a three-year pilot scheme to support young people leaving care in Suffolk. The “Staying Close” scheme intends to young people to start planning for independent living with the assistance and support of residential care workers from the age of 15.

Up till now, planning has often been left until close to the time a young person is due to move out, causing anxiety and distress. Early intervention and detailed planning from a younger age should help to alleviate this. Young people will then also continue to receive emotional and practical support from their children’s home and residential workers after they have moved out and started living independently.

The pilot scheme is being delivered in partnership with The Ryes Children’s Home in Sudbury, to test how this move-on care can be provided for young people who want to remain living close to their home.

Reduction in recycling rates harm “Greenest County” ambitions Recycling rates in Suffolk have dropped over the past 4 years, from 51% in 2013 to just 47% in 2017. Meanwhile, over 50% of waste in Suffolk is incinerated – much higher than the national average of 38%.

Although incineration may be a better option than landfill, it is still less environmentally-friendly than other methods of waste disposal. Furthermore, there are concerns that the level of harmful particles released by incinerators could pose a serious threat to public health.

The Suffolk Waste Partnership, as part of the Greenest County Partnership, set a target of recycling at least 60% of municipal waste by 2020. These latest figures suggest we are moving further away from this target. If Suffolk County Council truly wants Suffolk to be the “greenest county”, we need to start focusing on environmentally-friendly methods of waste disposal and ways to increase recycling levels in the county.

Jetty Lane Planning Application submitted The planning application for Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts Centre has been submitted successfully. Community consultation takes place until 17 September.

It is not listed as Jetty Lane, but as,
DC/18/3456/FUL | Ground, Mezzanine and First floor Community centre and carparking. (Including accommodation for Art Studios / Art Exhibition Hall (Kingston Hall), Scout facilities (scout hall- Deben Hall and ancillary accommodation, Co-working office

It is not listed as Jetty Lane, but as,
DC/18/3456/FUL | Ground, Mezzanine and First floor Community centre and carparking. (Including accommodation for Art Studios / Art Exhibition Hall (Kingston Hall), Scout facilities (scout hall- Deben Hall and ancillary accommodation, Co-working office accommodation on the upper floor to generate revenue to sustain the other facilities offered to the community. Carparking, Vehicle crossover (existing location) | Woodbridge Community Resource Youth Centre The Avenue Woodbridge Suffolk

Please support this application and encourage others to do the same before 17 September, either via the district planning portal https://publicaccess.eastsuffolk.gov.uk/online-applications/ (and search for DC/18/3456/FUL)
Or by emailing comments directly to d.c.admin@eastsuffolk.gov.uk making sure DC/18/3456/FUL is in the subject line

Appendix:   My Letter to Suffolk Coastal re latest Melton Hill Development Application

Continue reading Whats happening, Woodbridge, August/September 2018

What’s been happening: July 2018

 

Newly painted, more easily visible bollards in the Thoroughfare – funded from my locality budget. Thank you, Quay church volunteers!

Opposition’s “call in” of Suffolk County Council school transport cuts unsuccessful   On Tuesday 19 June, Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet voted to change the Home to School Transport policy so that only children travelling to their nearest school would receive free transport. The changes are due to be phased in from September 2019.

As you may be aware, I and my colleagues within the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group have been opposed to this policy change since it was announced in September 2018. There has also been very vocal opposition from schools, parents, carers and parish councils across Suffolk. We called in the decision to Suffolk’s Scrutiny.

The “call-in” was successful on three fronts:
1. Concern at the quality and reliability of the financial modelling;
2. Whether the Cabinet were fully informed of the role of the Consultation Institute;
3. Whether there was enough analysis of the experience of Essex County Council, who implemented a similar policy in 2013.

Unfortunately despite the considered opinions of really competent and well-qualified members of the public, the Conservative administration failed to recognise their own financial forecasts were flawed. The decision will therefore go ahead.

Major review of Suffolk Highways announced The new Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Highways, Cllr Mary Evans, has launched a major review of the way highways in Suffolk are maintained.

Areas due to be reviewed include:
• Existing policy which determines how resources are deployed, known as the Suffolk Highway Maintenance Operational Plan (HMOP);
• How the location of potholes on the road is considered alongside the width and depth, recognising the impact they can have on cyclists and motorcyclists;
• How utility companies coordinate roadworks and are held to account for their actions;
• How residents, councillors and businesses are informed about road repairs and how they can access information;
• Financial control and contract management;
• How town and parish councils can work closer with Suffolk Highways to make the best use of their local knowledge, skills, money and time.

I welcome this

Woodbridge 20mph scheme progression  Having had a preliminary design and costings drawn up I have met with Suffolk Highways to discuss the progression of Woodbridge’s 20mph zoning. Martlesham’s Cllr O’Brien joined me for my meeting with Highways officers and they agreed in principle to add the extra length of Sandy Lane onto the TRO for the Woodbridge scheme, if Cllr OBrien contributes the appropriate amount to signage and scheme.

The Woodbridge Town Clerk has put in a significant CIL bid to support the scheme.

After discussion with the officers it looks like I will be able to include the Thoroughfare scheme (separated because of decriminalisation of transport issues) which will be funded from my Highways budget.

Jetty Lane update  Jetty Lane has been lucky enough to be benefiting from a number of generous initiatives and donations – perhaps most notably an amazingly generous anonymous donation of £10,000 last week which will enable the CIC apply for planning permission (yes, its very expensive!).

However, the CiC has also enjoyed the help of many other kind supporters over the last month: both  donations from individuals and support from: the Regatta bucket collection, the Great Get Together, the Riverside Musical Theatre’s Showstoppers, and a lovely coffee morning fundraising from Deben Yacht club.

Jetty Lane’s most recent consultation with hirers was held on 25th June. The CIC will have another display in the library shortly.

Quay Church assist in making Thoroughfare bollards more visible   Many thanks to the volunteers of the Quay church 1000 hours scheme who worked with me and my Locality Budget to repaint the Thoroughfare bollards, making them more visible to people with restricted visibility. This was a key request concerning  Woodbridge from Suffolk Coastal’s Disability Forum.

Consultation launched on future commissioning of specialist education services  Suffolk County Council have launched a consultation into the commissioning strategy for the development of Suffolk’s specialist educational provision.

Demand for specialist education places in Suffolk for children with SEND continues to grow, and currently the county council has a much lower number of specialist education places than other similar authorities. This means that many children in Suffolk are forced to travel out of county to access the education provision they need – and often Suffolk County Council foots the bill.

At a time when the Council wishes to reduce the amount of free home-to-school transport it provides citing fears of escalating costs, it is vital that we begin to provide more SEND provision within Suffolk.

The 6 week consultation will look at three options for meeting the additional demand for specialist provision. More information and a link to the consultation can be found online at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/SENDsufficiencyeducation

What’s been happening: June 2018

  •  School Transport consultation: Suffolk County Council Cabinet will be only discussing a single (non-preferred) option On 19 June  the controversial changes to entitlement to school transport are being discussed by SCC’s Cabinet. Supporting documents from the consultation show overwhelming public opposition to proposed school transport change Options 1 and 2 (1 = immediate change of entitlement to nearest school only, and 2 = a staggered change); and overwhelming support for Option 3 (Make no changes and carry on as before, allowing travel to nearest and catchment and transport priority schools) . Entitlement is only if the eligible child is more than 2miles (under 8yo) and more than 3miles (8-16) from school and is attending. (There is not and has never been an entitlement to school transport for students living under this distance unless the route has been declared not safe to walk/ or over this distance if they attended through parental choice rather than place-entitlement)

Of the 3600 responses to Suffolk County Council’s home-to-school transport consultation, 85% “strongly oppose” and a further 5% “oppose” Option 1; 70% “strongly oppose” and a further 12% “oppose” Option 2. In contrast 73% of respondents strongly support, and another 10 ‘support’ retaining the status quo: Option 3. Option 3 is therefore very clearly the will of the people.
3.600 is the most responses received by any Consultation in recent years, and it is clear that parents, teachers and communities across Suffolk have very serious concerns.

Despite this, cabinet has decided on, and will only be discussing Option 2.

Back in March, the Conservative majority at Suffolk County Council voted unanimously against an opposition motion that would have allowed all councillors the chance to vote, unwhipped, on all the final school transport proposals, before the Cabinet makes a decision in June. This was unfortunate to put it mildly.

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 to you (2018: March, February, January and passim). In these, I urged Woodbridge Town Council to respond to the consultation, both individually and as a formal body. I was particularly concerned because I had heard from SCC that there had been a low response rate from the East of the County. I have had neither acknowledgement nor confirmation as to whether Woodbridge Town Council did this, which is disappointing.

I also contacted Farlingaye High School to ask it to ensure parents were wholly aware of a need to respond, and gave up one Saturday morning just before the end of the consultation to hold an awareness-raising stall in Woodbridge Thoroughfare where local people could respond directly. We were responsible for about thirty responses from that morning alone.

It was clear that the people of Woodbridge had very little understanding of the impact Options 1 and 2 had to the town – a town with 7-8 local schools. Reducing eligibility for buses means that there will be significantly more cars driving on our streets and parking near our schools during the school rush.

Cabinet makes this decision on June 19th. I, along with my Group, have opposed the proposed changes since they were first announced in September and we will continue to raise our concerns at the Cabinet meeting.

New Council Leaders: Following a leadership challenge in the Conservative Group at the Council, Cllr Matthew Hicks has been elected as the new Leader of Suffolk County Council, replacing Cllr Colin Noble. His Deputy will be Cllr Mary Evans, former Chair of Scrutiny.

Cllr Hicks has promised a “new era” of politics at the Council, with a focus on mutual respect, collaboration and co-operation. We are hopeful that he might be more open to working with, and listening to, councillors from other parties (although the School transport paperwork is not encouraging).

The first major change has been the removal of the unwieldy and untransparent Cabinet Committees, only established in September 2017. They will be replaced by Policy Development Panels (although we do not currently have the full details on how these will operate.) These worked very well in the past: I worked with Mary Evans on the former Transport PDP where we created the new speed panel frameworks were created. This may be a hopeful sign for the 20mph and associated calming in Woodbridge.

In other news there has been a change in Leadership in my group. Last May my party joined with the Greens and Independents to create the Lib Dem Green and Independent Group on Suffolk County Council and I had the privilege to be appointed the first (and only) Group Spokesperson for Women in the county, in addition to Spokesperson for Transport and Adult Care. The group has had a number of successes in this last year: opposing the School Transport changes, calling successfully for the abolition of single use plastics in Suffolk, exposing the council’s gender pay-gap and supporting an urgent review of the transition arrangements for WASPI women. At the recent LDGI group AGM, the Leadership moved to Green Cllr Andrew Stringer, and I was elected Deputy Leader.

Woodbridge 20mph zone and Thoroughfare scheme are both now finally showing signs of progression. I have had an outline design for the 20mph and associated calming scheme created and costed; the Town Clerk has applied for £100,000 CIL money to help fund this. Cllr Patricia O’Brien wants to be involved at the Martlesham end. I have asked her to inquire of our colleague Cllr Nicoll if he has any interest in forwarding the part of the scheme that is on the Melton Woodbridge division border. We are meeting with officers in a couple of weeks.

Bollards in the Thoroughfare We have been advised by Disability Action Suffolk that these need painting in order to make them more visible to visually impaired pedestrians. I have talked to Quay Church who have kindly put this on a programme of community work they are doing this month. I will be funding the paint: black as before but wit bright bronze stripes and tops

Outstanding’ schools in Suffolk have not had Ofsted inspections for years
Astonishingly, the National Audit Office has revealed that over 1600 schools in the UK have not been inspected by Ofsted for 6+ years. In Suffolk, 23 outstanding schools – almost half of those rated ‘outstanding’ – have not been inspected for at least 6 years. For 6 of these schools, their last inspection was over a decade ago. This means that whole cohorts of students have gone through school without a single Ofsted inspection.

My Group’s Spokesperson for Education, Cllr Penny Otton, raised the issue and her concerns at May’s Council meeting. The Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Education, Gordon Jones, assured her that he shared her concerns and would raise it with the head of Ofsted.

Ofsted response is that the majority of ‘outstanding’ schools are exempt by law from inspections. However, if a number of concerns or complaints are raised against a school, they would have the power to carry out an inspection. This is worrying because it is external inspections which define

Unitary discussions on hold In March, it was announced that then-leader Colin Noble had unilaterally commissioned the think-tank Respublica to produce a report outlining the options for a unitary council in Suffolk. This news was not well-received by the District and Borough Councils, who had not been consulted by Cllr Noble.

However, in the lead-up to the Conservative Group leadership election in May, Cllr Noble announced that work producing the report had been suspended. It is not yet clear whether this work will resume under the new leader, Cllr Hicks.

Millicent Fawcett Statue and women in government: As Suffolk LDGI Group Spokesperson for Women, I made it my business to attend the unveiling of Millicent Fawcett’s statue in Parliament Square, carrying a banner to remind onlookers: “Suffolk Women Lead the Way.”https://twitter.com/CroPage/status/988686126239174656 It was a point needing making!
Aldeburgh sisters Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Agnes Garrett were all strong supporters and advocates of women’s suffrage. Suffolk, not London, is its birthplace. However, 150 years on, women make up only 29% of councillors elected to Suffolk County Council – significantly below the low 33% UK average (the exact % women on Suffolk Coastal District Council). 2 Suffolk MPs are women, out of 7
Modern Suffolk has a high gender pay gap, high levels of violence against women, specifically poor outcomes for girls (particularly in rural areas). Suffolk is yet fully to engage in recognising the importance of its own women and what they have to offer.

I was recently invited to appear on BBC’s Sunday Politics to stand in for Norman Lamb – specifically to talk about women in politics and the local elections.