Category Archives: Council reports

Reports I make on a monthly basis to Woodbridge Town Council

Whats new at SCC – September 2012

This month a lot of my news seems to be about transport or highways

 Woodbridge Buses – marginal improvements: I’m happy to report that after all my lobbying over the last years, the situation for bus-users in Woodbridge has seen a marginal improvement. I’m telling you about them and reiterating my mantra use them or lose them.

Back in August we actually  saw the unheralded addition of one later Monday-Saturday Ipswich/Woodbridge bus service in each direction:  the new 64a – an evening service that passes the Ipswich Hospital. Woodbridge residents haven’t had this luxury since the evening 64 buses were renamed 62a and b and diverted. Unfortunately the new later bus for people in Woodbridge – the 64a – only extends travel times to mid- evening,  Even more unfortunately the direction of the 64a is not ideal for Woodbridge users, because it goes to and from Woodbridge instead of the other way round. This means that the last 64a bus from the Ipswich hospital to Woodbridge is at 19.17, yet the last bus from Woodbridge to the hospital andIpswich is at 19.58).  As usual we inWoodbridge are easier to reach than to leave. And of course the 64a does nothing whatsoever to solve the problem of Sunday and bank holiday travel.

Similarly, I am pleased to notice that after the representations of Suffolk young people – and most particularly those of Woodbridge- the 165 bus is now offering a young person’s fare 16-19 (no proof of ID needed), pegged at between the child and adult fare. Sadly, First buses still don’t  offer a young persons fare for south east Suffolk students –although they’re happy to do so for Lowestoft ,Yarmouth and Norwich young people. Why should we suffer this discrimination? Time to lobby!

 Scrutiny of CC’s decision regarding SCC’s Elderly and Disability Passes : After Cabinet reconsidered the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme and rejected the plea for change in July,  I and my colleagues ‘called in’ their decision on the following grounds:

a) proportionality (The action taken to control expenditure exceeded that required to achieve a balanced budget.)

b) due consultation and the taking of professional advice from officers; (In reconsidering the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme, the County Council did not consult the relevant groups who are affected.  The one submission from the Suffolk Consortium of User Led Organisations & Individual Disabled People was received because they had asked to contribute. Other groups were not given an opportunity to do so.)

c) consideration for human rights (The changes implemented to the travel scheme impacted negativelyon disabled pass holders, and therefore maintaining this decision continues that impact.  Also there was no full Equality Impact Assessment when the original decision was made by the Cabinet)

d) openness; (There was a lack of consultation with relevant user groups including disabled people.)

g) There was insufficient data on costs of scheme enhancements, particularly with regard to other neighbouring authorities who have more than a year’s experience of the costs of operating the enhancements.

Cabinet’s cheeseparing and undemocratic  decision will therefore be discussed at Scrutiny on 27th September.

Five bidders for SCC Highways  Responsibility for gritting, maintenance and repairing potholes on Suffolk roads is scheduled for outsourcing by the Tory administration.  We have now been given the shortlist, to be decided by Cabinet on 11th December.

These are: Amey, Balfour Beatty Workplace, Carillion/Mott Macdonald, EnterpriseMouchel and MGWSP (May Gurney/WSP)

The rationale for this outsourcing is cost-cutting. My party is concerned however that the same ineffective scrutiny and poor contract management that has dogged Suffolk’s CSD will turn this project into another CSD, and result in the the people of this County paying significantly more for poorer roads.

Tour of Britain through Woodbridge This went very pleasantly and uneventfully on a beautiful clear day. I had a last-minute discussion with the road engineers last week  – as a result of which the potholes in the Market Square(and most especially the deep one by the Kings Head) were fixed, and no catastrophic crash occurred in Woodbridge. I wish to thank the East Area Highways Team for this prompt response.

Looking at the larger picture, I hope that the route of the peleton along Sandy Lane will support the need for calming this rat run which so many residents in both Woodbridge and Martlesham  have been arguing for  and for which I have offered the money from my QoL budget.

Autism Survey There seem to be an increasing number of people diagnosed with autism these days and so  Suffolk County Council is launching a survey in an endeavour to help both people with autism, and their family and carers.

There are two surveys available – one for people living with an autistic spectrum condition  and another for their carer or family member. 

It would be useful of you could publicise this

County councillor’s surgery: this takes place on 15 September this month. Everyone welcome!

What’s been happening in Suffolk: June 2012

Woodbridge Jubilee beacon from across the Deben. The beacon was built and lit by 1st Woodbridge Scouts

Over the last month everyone was concerned with the Queen’s Jubilee. However I single out for special notice Suffolk County Council – who, for reasons best known to themselves, held a party on the evening of  4th June  to celebrate the  SCC Jubilee beacon being lit. They were clearly oblivious to the notion that any County Councillor worth their salt would  be on their own home patch enjoying local celebrations, and  their local beacon. At least I was.

Other things of importance:

Suffolk Circle If you remember, a couple of years back SCC committed £680,000 over 3 years to fund a ‘good neighbours ‘scheme in Suffolk. This was, to put it mildly, a controversial decision. Last month I told you that Suffolk Circle’s first year of operation was looked at in critical detail by the Scrutiny Committee to assess whether it was an effective/cost-effective means of providing support  to the over 50s. The main recommendations of the Committee were:

  1. Any proposed future partnerships between the County Council and third party organisations should be looked at by Scrutiny before any final decisions are taken by Cabinet;
  2. the Committee be provided with details of the outcomes from the Business Review of the Suffolk Circle ;
  3. the Business Review should take account of different mixes of income from tokens and subscriptions and developing closer working with the voluntary sector, in the context of planning for Years 2 and 3;
  4. the County Council and the Suffolk Circle should give consideration to how marketing could be used:

i.            to encourage members from rural communities to join;

ii.            to proactively reach out to the most vulnerable people in Suffolk;

iii.            to clearly demonstrate in plain English the benefits of membership to potential members;

  1. the County Council and Suffolk Circle take steps to improve communication with voluntary sector organisations, including a proactive approach to signposting services; and
  2. the Committee be provided with data regarding the number of membership renewals and the demographic make up of the membership, using Acorn data.

I will keep you up to date when I hear more from the County about the Circle.

New Chairman, New Travel Card The Annual General Meeting of Suffolk County Council took place on the 24th of May, where Cllr Jeremy Pembroke, the former leader and Conservative councillor for Cosford was appointed Chairman for the next year. Anne Whybrow, Conservative member for Stowmarket was also elected as the Vice-Chair.  At the same time the Lib Dem party announced that our Leader, Kathy Pollard, has stepped down, after a  prolonged brush with very ill-health, and is replaced by Cllr David Wood.

Cllr Mark Bee then gave a State of Suffolk Address, in which he highlighted the main aims for the year and reviewed the past year.   Interestingly, in this  he heralded the return on an Oyster-type young persons travel card because issues of transport are causing such harm to the education and employment prospects of the young people of Suffolk. Equally interestingly, he failed to mention that this was required to replace the  Explore young person’s travel card which his own administration (under previous leader Jeremy Pembroke) decided to cut halfway through the last academic year and which has already caused significant harm to the education and employment prospects of young people in Suffolk.

Any sign of a restoration is obviously a successful outcome for me, my party and the members of Just 42, amongst others: we  have been lobbying for the restoration of this card since it was withdrawn.  However the proposal is currrently limited to the young people of Ipswich, who  Scrutiny discovered have suffered least from the withdrawal.  It  must be extended as soon as possible if the Leader’s words are to mean anything at all. I have blogged, written and spoken publicly on how necessary this is if we are to support the badly-affected young people of rural Suffolk  to support themselves.

We also welcomed Cllr Bee’s announcement of a one-post Cabinet post reduction  for the next year. My party has been calling for such a reduction for two years.

Textiles Recycling Scheme Launched The Suffolk Waste Partnership has recently launched a scheme where residents across the entire County will be able to recycle clothes.  I do have some concerns about the effect of this scheme on charities, although the Council says that the aim is not to take away the clothes that would be donated, but to try to redirect some of the 7,000 tonnes of clothing that goes to landfill each year.   Having said this, they then supply a list of  those items that are deemed acceptable and unacceptable – many of which would be acceptable at a charity shop.

Acceptable items: all clean clothing, socks and shoes, boots, wellies, slippers, hats, scarves, gloves, bed linen, blankets, sheets, pillowcases, handbags, belts, clean underwear, curtains, towels, tea towels and stuffed toys

No thanks – dirty or oily items, duvets, quilts, sleeping bags, pillows, cushions and carpets.

All I say is, please remember to give to charities anything you would have given before  – and only hand clearly unsaleable items to the recycling scheme. Re-use is better than recycling any day of the week.

County Councillor surgery My next surgery is this upcoming Saturday, 16th June, in the Woodbridge library. As ever, everyone is  welcome

Last year at SCC – a brief review

 The past year at Suffolk County Council has seen a further reduction in grants from Government and greater pressure on limited finances.  Last year, SCC had been pressing ahead with its new approach to budget cuts, which it called the ‘New Strategic Direction’  and which had intended to divest or outsource many of the Council’s services.  

 2011-12 saw some significant changes. The New Strategic Direction has officially been abandoned.  We now have a new Council Leader in the form of Cllr Mark Bee, as well as a new Chief Executive in Deborah Cadman, and whilst many services are still being divested, we do not have the instability around the Council that SCC had last year. However, divestment and outsourcing continue under different names 

New Strategic Direction – Abandoned or just renamed?   

As you may well remember, last year the Council (under its then Leader, Cllr Jeremy Pembroke and its then Chief Executive Officer, Andrea Hill) designed and adopted a policy it called the  ‘New Strategic Direction’. This  intended to divest or outsource many of the services that SCC currently provided – without much or anything in the way of consultation. At one point it was claimed that the NSD would result in the Council retaining a mere  500 members of staff left at its strategic core .

As a result of the changes at the top of the organisation: 2011-12 has seen the election of a new Leader and the appointment of a new Chief Executive, and the ‘New Strategic Direction’ has been – at least officially – abandoned. 

Despite this, many services continue to be outsourced.  Over the past year we have seen the following externalised or to be externalised from the Council –

  • Library service (to which I will refer later)
  • Archaeology and archives to a new Heritage Organisation  (on-going)
  • Highways ( these will be run by a private contractor set to start in April 2013)
  • In-house Bus and Coach Fleet (on-going)
  • Supporting Families Delivery Agency
  • Adult Employment Advice Guidance Learning and Skill Service (Realise) ( this was granted permission at the 20th March Cabinet meeting).
  • Eastern Facilities Management (set up as an external company last year)
  • Residential Care Homes (which will now be run by Care UK)
  • Country parks

So whilst the administration is performing an official step away from the New Strategic Direction, many of the council operations continue to be externalised.

The sheer volume of this outsourcing can be seen through the example of the Adult and Community Services:  in March 2012 Adult and Community Services are directly employing 3,557 members of staff; a year later (March 2013), the number of staff is estimated to be 895.

Decision-making and democracy

This year saw the continuation of an increasing trend whereby most of SCC decision-making  is being performed via the dozen councillors appointed from and by the controlling group and who form the Cabinet. Although the monthly Cabinet meeting at which decisions are finalised is open to the public – and other councillors and members of the public can make comments – only Cabinet members can vote. Cabinet takes place monthly, although full council meetings are now  generally scheduled only every two months and do little more rubber-stamp decisions being made.

This is clearly a serious problem  if the Cabinet makes decisions at odds with what the people of Suffolk want to happen.

The Budget  

 Towards the end of February every year, the County Council sets its budget.  This year many of the savings present were due to service redesigns, and increasing efficiencies.  However, due to the continuing reduction in Government grants it was stated that there still needed to be a £50m reduction in Council spending over the next two years.

Below are the main savings that the administration proposed, and were voted in at the Full Council meeting on the 9th of February –

  • 1.5% efficiency savings across all directorates  (in ACS this amounts to £4m budget reduction).  The efficiency savings also include reducing the procurement spend by £1m by negotiating better deals, and reducing the budget of the CSD contract by £1.5m
  • Reducing management costs across the organisation – £1.5m (12/13); £0.5m (13/14)
  • Targeting resources in children’s services to reduce demand I am not actually sure what this means on the ground, but I imagine it means moving the goalposts at which services aredelivered – £1m (12/13) £2.5m (13/14)
  • Re-letting the highways contract – a saving of £2m but not applicable until 2013/2014 budget.
  • Service redesign in ACS – £8m.

I will keep you updated to whether this has been achieved, but it is worth noting that each quarter the Cabinet will receive an update each quarter on how the Council is doing for this financial year, and currently the Council is £5.443m underspent so far.

At the meeting the Liberal Democrats submitted an amendment to the  proposed budget in which we proposed alternative cuts to support those services that we feel SCC should be supporting at all costs: 

  • Re-instate the Bury Road Park and Ride
  • Bring back an equivalent to the Young Persons eXplore card (based on a £25 admin fee)
  • Implement unlimited travel for those 7,000 people in Suffolk  eligible for Concessionary Passes due to disability
  • Re-instate  bus routes cut at last years budget
  • Top-up the Learning and Improvement Service – to provide greater support to a wider range of schools
  • Fund the Looked after Children service – to develop alternatives to out of County placements
  • Create a NEETS Apprenticeship Scheme 

In order to pay for the measures above we proposed that savings could come from;

  • 30% reduction in External Room Hire
  • 10% Reduction in Business Miles
  • Reduce Cabinet Posts by 1
  • Reduce the Road maintenance Budget
  • Cut the cost of the CSD Contract.

Unfortunately the amendment was dismissed out of hand.  We are concerned about the continuing loss of vital services; we are also concerned at the sheer amount of money coming out of Adult and Community Service comes at a time when we are being constantly warned about the growing elderly demographic.

Street Lighting:  

over the last few months Suffolk County Council has been moving to an Intelligent Street Lighting System, allowing the council to switch off some street lights, dim others, and leave some on – all by remote control. This takes us back to how things were, before the wasteful days when it became cheaper to leave lights on than switch them off. This – as we all know –  is no longer the case.  The Intelligent Light System came into use  in Woodbridge on 26 March 2012.

Concessionary Bus Passes   

Earlier in the year (July 2011) , I and Cllr John Field submitted a motion to Full Council calling for a change in the time limits currently placed on concessionary bus pass holders.

Ever since the Concessionary Bus Passes responsibility moved to the County Council, those eligible for bus passes have been limited to travel between 9:30am and 11pm – a  statutory minimum set up by urban-decisionamakers who have no concept of the difficulties in ther countryside. but places strict limits on those eligible due to both age and disability to be able to travel freely and independently, and to make doctors appointments and socialise.

Our motion suggested that we should remove all time limits to those bus pass holders due to disability, and extend the current arrangements for those over 60 to enable them to travel a half-hour earlier –  from 9 in the morning and not 9:30am Reversing these  concessionary pass decisions would support full, affordable participation in society to two valuable groups of Suffolk residents: those who do not want to let their disability stand in the way of their achievements and those who do not want to let their age confine them to home. Whilst the motion was amended slightly at Full Council, it was fully supported by all parties in recommending that the Cabinet looks once again at the decision and analyses the possibility of changing the current arrangement.

Having got this far – the subject stalled and Cabinet has decided nothing  to date. We have just heard that the subject will not be discussed until the 10th of July that Cabinet looks  at the issue again, which is outside the scope of this AGM report! 

Similarly, a great deal of fuss has – rightly – been made about SCCs cutting of the youth travel card, which has had a bad impact on young people’s chances and choices – in terms of education, training, apprenticeships, work and socialisation. We vwere able to bring the cut into SCC’s scrutiny of Young People Not in Employment Education and Training, and again, this decision has been returned to Cabinet.

Libraries      

Over the past year the stance from the Council administration on Libraries has changed considerably.  Last year it was stated that if local Libraries were not supported by local groups then a number of the smaller sites would have funding removed from them, which would ultimately mean closure.

However, towards the end of last year the council changed their mind and opted to outsource the Library organisation into an Industrial and Provident Society for the benefit of the community.  This means that the Library system will become a member-based organisation where local libraries will become members of the IPS and be able to vote on policy decisions, and what the organisation will do with the funding that it receives from the Council.

Under these new proposals there are no planned closures for Libraries in the County. Instead those libraries that do not have existing community groups will be run by the IPS.  Each of the Libraries will be tasked to make 5% savings on top the savings that are already embedded in the proposals.  This may mean an increase in volunteers, more fund-raising events, or changing suppliers for maintenance contracts.

We are told that one of the main benefits of using this system over that of an in-house Library service is that with an IPS, the Council can bid for charitable status.  This means that there would be a significant reduction in the amount of business rates that the organisation will pay – potentially 80%.

Recently the Council has been making a number of appointments to the IPS board, the body that will manage the grant allocations to libraries.  The appointments will exist whilst the IPS is being set up and will by 2013 be replaced by a board elected by IPS members.

New Chief Executive and New Council Leader  

As I have mentioned above, last April, Cllr Mark Bee the Conservative representative for Beccles became the new leader of both the Conservative Group and the County Council.  . 

 In another change at the top, SCC’s Chief Executive Andrea Hill left the organisation in July 2012.  For a total of six months the Director for Economy, Skills and Environment Lucy Robinson stepped in as interim Chief Executive.  In December Deborah Cadman, was officially appointed as the new Suffolk County Council chief executive.  She had previous roles as the Chief Executive of EEDA, St Edmundsbury Council, and the Leader Inspector of the Audit Committee.

Council Pay scales

Suffolk County Council recently published details of its Pay Policy (as now required by law). Amongst the facts and figures that you may find interesting :

  • In 2011 SCC agreed a (downward) revised salary level of £155k for the Chief Executive post. It is a spot salary meaning there will be no increments ; there are no additional bonus, performance, honoraria or ex gratia payments.
  • Salary structure for Directors ranges from £98,393 to £126,733. New appointments to this level are on a “spot salary” basis and will not attract incremental progression. There are no: overtime, flexi-time, bank holiday working, stand-by paymentsetc. paid to these senior staff:  they are expected to undertake duties outside their contractual hours and working patterns without additional payment.
  • The salary ranges for Assistant Directors and Senior Managers are as follows: Assistant Director (higher) – £85,795 – £96,824 Assistant Director – £ 68,096 – £83,829 Senior Manager – £55,287 – £64,399
  • Rest of the workforce: eight grades ranging from £12,145 to £55,239.  The lowest paid full time equivalent basic pay of £12,145 is used to determine the local definition of ‘low paid’.  There are 100 workers currently on this grade
  • The current pay ratio is 1:8.  This means that the Chief Executive (top earner) earns eight times more than the Council’s median earner (for which the rate is £19,621). When measured against the mean average, this ratio is 1:7; and when measured against the lowest paid it is 1:13.

Public Questions and Participation Sessions  

 The County Council has revamped its public participation guidelines so that members of the public may speak at nearly all committee meetings as well as asking questions at Council and Cabinet meetings. I am proud to say that Woodbridge residents have had a very strong presence at such meetings – indeed, young people from Just 42 were the youngest people ever to question full Council and hold their own in Scrutiny. Long may this continue.

 Please head to the link below for more information, and click on the meeting you wish to speak at   http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/your-council/decision-making/public-speaking-at-meetings/

Locality and Quality of Life Budgets   

I made grants last year  from my locality budget to the following:

  • Tide Mill Trust £1000
  • Repairs of St Mary’s Church Tower: £1000
  • Town grit bins (including one outside the Shire Hall more in keeping with the ‘look’ of the square) £830
  • Solar Panels for the Community Hall £3,000
  • Woodbridge Library for children’s Reading Challenge £300
  • Woodbridge Town Pastors: £1000

Quality of life budget: Little expenditure this year as the 2 schemes mooted are still being assessed and designed:

  •  improvements to the safety of walkers and cyclists on Sandy Lane (National Cycle route 51)
  • solar powered speed sign in Pyches Road

However a small grant has been made for road signs  to flag up the Warwick Ave PO  to motorists

 My County Councillor surgeries   

Since  October I have been running regular monthly surgeries: every third Saturday of the month at Woodbridge library 10-12. No bookings are needed.