Category Archives: Ipswich Hospital

What’s been happening in Suffolk 2013-14

Here is the annual report I gave yesterday to Woodbridge Town Council’s AGM,  highlighting some aspects of the running of Suffolk County Council over the last year that people may find of interest:

Caroline Page,  Woodbridge County Councillor
Caroline Page, Woodbridge County Councillor

Electoral makeup of Suffolk County Council 2013-4  The electoral year 2013-4 started with a newly elected county council, which brought  significant changes in the dynamics of SCC. The Conservative group retained their overall majority, but it was reduced from 35 to 3. The political make-up of the council has been: Conservative 39; Labour 15; UKIP 9.  Liberal Democrat 7; Green 2; Independent 3.

I was re-elected for a third term, retaining my place as ViceChair of the Education Transport Appeals committee. I have continued as LibDem spokesman for Transport and Highways.

There has been a welcome improvement in the democratic process in this year, with the establishment of cross-party Policy Development Panels to look at areas of concern in all directorates. I have been sitting on various panels to do with transport: so far 20mph Speed Limits, Other Speed Limits; Rural Transport

Budget 2014  There was a further reduction in Government grants to the County Council this year requiring £38.6m of spending cuts across most services.  SCC once again took advantage of central government’s council tax freeze deal – which provides central funding for all those councils NOT raising council tax.

My party was concerned – most particularly with Adult and Continuing Services – that apparent efficiencies are masking significant service cutbacks, and that any budget cuts  made in  Childrens and Young Peoples’ services might impact on the chances of improving performance.  The  future of Suffolk depends on the aspirations of its young people.

Gains will finally be made by moving Customer Service Direct back in-house but a hard lesson has been learned here. Proof, if proof was needed that outsourcing services doesn’t always make savings and is not always best.

Outsourcing of Highways Services to Keir MG  In October 2013, SCC finally managed the long-anticipated outsourcing of Highways services to an external company – Kier MG – after the debacle earlier in the year  where the arrangements for the procurement of a prior preferred bidder fell apart literally at the last moment.

The new highways contract to with Kier MG started on the 1st of October. I think it is fair to say there have been significant teething troubles in the first months: extraordinary delays and a hefty increase in costing for Councillor-funded projects. I am on the Councillor Working Group which meets with Keir MG representatives and SCC officers to improve information, and have not been backward in bringing local concerns  for improving information.

Raising the Bar in Suffolk Schools  At the end of 2013 SCC adopted  findings of a 10 month independent inquiry into school performance  in Suffolk as part of the ‘Raising the bar’ initiative.  These include working harder to attract and retain talented teachers, having an awards programme to recognise excellence in teaching, working with governors to improve the management of schools – and building a partnership with the London borough of Hackney which has seen its educational standards improve dramatically over recent years.

Although in Woodbridge, the schools are doing well (Farlingaye was recently rated outstanding in all areas by Ofsted), Suffolk was rated 148th out of 151 councils at primary level, 141st out of 151 at secondary level. Eight years ago, Suffolk schools were rated as being in the top thirties.

Public Health  Public Health Suffolk  moved to Suffolk County Council on 1st April 2013 and commissions a range of services for all  Suffolk residents, notably adult and child obesity, smoking cessation and sexual health. Before this date these services were commissioned by the NHS.  Over year Public Health Suffolk has been assessing services across Suffolk to ensure equity of provision in all areas.

I still  have concerns that no efficient, central accessible sexual health clinic has yet been found to replace that which closed at Ipswich Hospital . The recent move to buildings in the old Holywells site has done nothing to provide services that are accessible to the young people of Woodbridge, reliant on public transport. Holywells is less accessible than Ipswich Hospital!

Suffolk Circle  In March 2014 Suffolk Circle folded and SCC quietly wrote off nearly a million pounds of our money.  In 2010 SCC’s Cabinet unilaterally decided to give just under £800,000 sight unseen to a company called Participle to produce a good neighbour by subscription scheme  based on Southwark Circle, in London.

The notion was ‘spun’ as long-term assistance to the council’s social care budget by supporting the vulnerable elderly. But as the Circle defined ‘the elderly’ as anyone aged over 50, this included over a third of Suffolk’s population!  An extra £100,000 spent by SCC on a ‘scoping exercise’  failed to identify the large number of pre-existing interest groups and services for both the over-50s and the ‘frail elderly’ that were already operating in Suffolk

Suffolk Circle’s target membership was supposed to be 1630 members by March 2013 and 3500 by March 2014, when the funding finished and the scheme was supposed soar onwards without it.

As it was, Suffolk Circle ground to a halt in March the moment the money ran out, admitting it had achieved no more than 2000 members in its entire existence. Southwark Circle folded in the same month.

I will be raising the issue of  the necessity for  accountability and responsibility for this money – especially at a time of such pressing need.

Challenge to SCC Leadership  At the end of the year, a challenge to Conservative Leader Mark Bee for the leadership of the SCC by Colin Noble Cabinet Member for Finance, failed. A challenge by ex Cabinet Member for Transport and then Chairman Guy McGregor to Deputy Leader Lisa Chambers also failed. The Cabinet reorganisation that followed this has removed three very longstanding supporters of Andrea Hill’s New Strategic Direction to the backbenches.

Emprotesting2 (2)Further loss of local buses This year has seen the loss of the 164 and 165 services to Woodbridge (indeed to Suffolk Coastal), the diminution of several other services (most particularly the 63 to Framlingham now restricted to 4 daily buses on working Mondays to Fridays with one additional bus on schooldays). This means there is no bus link whatsoever between Ipswich/Martlesham/Woodbridge and Framlingham on a Saturday.

I wrote to our local MP, and to the County council, asking  if they could use their influence to try and change some of these decisions at a local level. (This appears to have had some effect, as there has been a slightly better service on the 64 and 65 since then).

I have also asked SCC  to use its voice to press to alter – at national level – the ridiculous ethos of so-called competition which has caused deregulated buses to provide such a terrible service in the countryside. In the past County Councils ran bus services on the basis that popular routes could subsidise essential routes with smaller passenger numbers. I have sympathy with Councils that see no reason to subsidise only loss-making services. The loss of the 165 shows us on what a tightrope the services run. Yet rural services are not a frivolous luxury – they can make the difference between productive employment and training and expensive enforced idleness.

I have pressed it also to ask  the government to look at the frankly unfair differentials in per capita spending on public transport across the country. Each Londoner gets about three times as much spent on them as each person in Suffolk despite the huge economies of scale London offers – and London buses aren’t deregulated. Why should our constituents be worth any less?

DSCF8771 (577x1024)Your County Councillor In May, to celebrate my re-election, I walked with the Woodbridge and district youth group  Just 42 Fund-raiser Julia Hancock from Felixstowe to Lowestoft. Between us we raised £2500 for the charity.

Road budget I have used some of my highways budget this year in calming Sandy Lane:  pedestrian and cyclist warning signs  at each end and at the railway bridge, and white edge markings throughout. These also give warning of the road edge at night which is very useful, particularly to cyclists on this route, part of  Sustrans cycle route 1.

I have also had some road signs put up, most notably to prevent lorries trying to use St Johns Hill as an unsuccessful rat run!

Locality budget This has been used to support projects as diverse as the Summer Reading Challenge; Benches, Trophy for Best Allotment Competition Seckford Explorers Unit flag,  Grit Bins, High Vis Jackets, Wheelbarrows and Snow Shovels, Mobile ice rink, Chairs for Bowls clubhouse, and a Wireless Projector for HomeStart.

Surgeries   I have held 10 County Council Surgeries over the last year, on the 3rd Saturday of every month (excluding March and August). They continue to be well-attended.

 

 

 

What’s been happening in Suffolk, Jan 2014

May I start by wishing you a happy and  prosperous New Year.

 Flooding update Although Woodbridge town survived the flooding on 6 December with relatively few problems, there were breaches to the river wall to the north and south of Martlesham Creek. Cattle had to be rescued from the flood along the north bank, where a 30m wide breach left 30 acres of grazing land underwater. Work has been undertaken on the north wall and footpath which leads from Kyson Point to the footpath from Sandy lane.

Ipswich Sexual Health Clinic This fiasco continues. From Monday 28 October the sexual health service has been operating a reduced level of service from the clinic based at Ipswich Hospital , with the service having to vacate the site completely from April 2014.

We were told that the reason for this move was that there were plans to  create a sexual health hub in a more accessible location.  However it turned out that the ‘accessible location’  might as well have been picked out of a hat!  Gipping Court, Constantine Road proved not to be possible due to flooding issues. So, instead,  the service has been relocated to Lindbergh Road in Ipswich – in other words, as far out of town as Ipswich hospital but with far poorer transport links for people  from Woodbridge and beyond.  In fact, Woodbridge people relying on public transport  face a two-bus ride of about an hour plus a 20min walk to get to the new clinic. This is as opposed to the journey  to Ipswich hospital which was a half an hour single bus plus a 7 minute walk.

So much for greater accessibility and the vaunted ‘good transport links’ !  I am continuing to point this out

Highways Issues of efficiency still continue after  KierMG took over the contract to maintain  the public highway network in Suffolk at the end of last year. (The public highway consists of any verge, footway, carriageway, bridleway or footpath whether or not maintained at public expense and over which the public has a right of way) . SCC is therefore starting a political group of councillors  to work informally together in the new year with Suffolk Highways colleagues from SCC and Kier to help best meet needs for information and communication within the new contract. I am the nominated Lib Dem member of this group.

County Councillor’s Locality Budget  I am glad  to have been able to support Woodbridge town and  Choose Woodbridge in  providing funding for the skating rink, which will hopefully  bring people into the town in mid -February.

County Councillor’s Surgery Surgery dates for the next few months will be on Saturday 18 January, Saturday 15 February, and Saturday 19 April. There will be no surgery in March as I will be in China

 

What’s been happening in Suffolk, October 2013

This month’s report has a lot to do with a number of different forms of transport: rail, road, bus AND cycle – and also has a sentence in Anglo-Saxon embedded in it:

Greater Anglia Cycle ‘consultation’  Greater Anglia’s draft cycle strategy consultation finished on 1 November. It worried a number of people – from intercity commuters, to public health officers, to those involved in tourism to your average working godger.  And me (needless to say).

Details were nebulous but  it seemed  (when you cut through seemingly deliberately unspecific verbiage) that the rail company was proposing to remove cycles from an unspecified number of their trains – up to and including all of them – preferring people to keep bicycles at each end of their daily journey or to use Greater Anglia’s own version of Boris bikes at an extra cost of £3.80 a day.

The impact of this would be felt by all cycle rail users, but most particularly those with fewer choices: those using the trains from stops in in rural areas, second-class passengers, those with complex journeys, and of course the young and less affluent.

Suffolk travellers would be particularly at risk because it seems as if decisions are being proposed on the basis of the status and usage of out of-county stations (London, Norwich, Cambridge) with little concern as to the situation of the passengers who have to join or leave the trains on the interim stops in Suffolk.

I have blogged elsewhere the response I made to this consultation as your County Councillor, LD spokesperson for transport and rail-travelling cyclist

Sexual Health: Ipswich clinic  Free and timely Sexual Health care was instituted  by act of parliament in 1917 because the powers that be  – even in that pre-NHS time – recognised how important this was to the health of the whole country. Apparently there were more soldiers out of action because of untreated sexually transmitted diseases than were  wounded in action!

At the end of October, the Sexual Health clinic at Ipswich Hospital, which was purpose-built in 1991, was to close. Public health is now a county council remit. Although a number of interim measures are being instituted to ensure some continuity of services. I asked Full Council:  Can you please tell me what  facilities for immediate STI diagnosis (eg microscopy), for immediate on-site free dispensing of drugs (as opposed to by prescription collected from a pharmacist) and for co-ordination of contact tracing  Public Health is ensuring are put in place in the immediate aftermath of closure?

I was assured that these will continue at the hospital for the immediate future.

Park & Ride Ipswich Buses have taken back the running of the Ipswich Park & Ride services  at Martlesham and Copdock. Passengers will even  have access to free wi-fi as they travel.  Park and ride tickets will also  be valid on other services run by the company in the town. I consider this to be excellent news. If they decide to reopen the Bury Road park and Ride – as I have been calling for, since its incomprehensible and foolish closure – it will be even better news.

However  I have been contacted by a local parish councillor who asks if it is still correct that the County Council underwrites these services by over  £600,000 pa, pointing out that if this is the case, the business rate payers of  the rest of Suffolk are ‘giving Ipswich businesses a handout’ . He further adds that every P & R  bus journey needs a minimum of 20 passengers to offset the equivalent environmental impact of cars etc.. I am inquiring about this.

Tolling the A14? Suffolk County councillors are more or less united in criticism  of  government proposals to toll the A14. At full council,  the SCC administration accepted my party’s view that years of underinvestment in Suffolk railways has left us with rail services from Ipswich to Cambridge and Peterborough which fall well short of what is required for effective day-to-day operation and amended their motion on A14 tolls accordingly. Although there are government plans for a number of enhancements to the UK road network,  the A14 improvement scheme is the only one with an inbuilt plan for tolling. A s – in its current state – the rail system is unable to provide a viable  alternative to a tolled A14, it makes any decision to toll doubly unfair, because there isn’t the capacity for a reliable public transport alternative .

Anglo-Saxon Attitude  Suffolk County Councillors received an impromptu lesson in Anglo Saxon from Lib Dem group leader Dave Woods, when they agreed to name the Council Chamber ‘King Edmund’s Chamber’. (King Edmund ruled  East Anglia from about 855 until he was killed by the Danish Great Heathen Army in 869AD. He was initially patron saint of Suffolk,  but then went on to become patron saint of England, before being deposed by St George.)

While the other group leaders described Suffolk’s  Anglo Saxon patron saint in terms of his geographical location, origin and community spirit,  Cllr Wood quoted the maxim by which King Edmund lived:  Gif þu eart to heafodmen geset, ne ahefe þu ðe, ac beo betwux mannum swa swa an man of him (which, roughly translated means:  If you become a ruler, don’t be puffed up, but  be amongst people as one of them.) This, said Cllr Wood, was an excellent maxim for all elected officials to live by. And after he had translated it, the other parties agreed

Continuing Complaints: Ticket Machine at Woodbridge Station I continue to have complaints from people regarding the unreliability of the ticket machine at Woodbridge station. The latest complaint (today, 6 November)  was from a constituent who told me that “this time it said it was printing the tickets and then didn’t deliver. I now have to buy some more and collect them on the train. Now there is over a £100 out of my bank account awaiting a refund for two lots of tickets. I blasted Greater Anglia but they say the machine is not theirs.”  I am raising the issue with Greater Anglia.

Locality budget: Grit bins, Benches – and possibly an Ice Rink  The latest applications from my locality budget are for grit bins, benches and potentially an ice rink to support shopping in Woodbridge at Christmas. I very much hope the latter comes to fruition as it seems an excellent idea for generating Christmas footfall.

Having started the trend for funding local gritbins from the county councillor’s locality budget,  I suspect we are the market  town in Suffolk with the most (something like 37). This is excellent . However, the system relies on the public spirit of local volunteers, who remain thin on the ground. Having myself cleared miles of snow and ice along Ipswich Road and California over the last three years I would urge all our younger and most ablebodied councillors to put their shoulder to the broom too.  Many hands make light work.

My next County Councillor’s Surgery is on Saturday 16th November  10am to midday, in Woodbridge Library. No appointment necessary, but you may have to wait at busier times

Whats happening in Suffolk – Feb 2013

Disgraceful league table results for Suffolk schools, Son of Explore card returns, negotiations with the ‘preferred bidder’ for SCC’s highways procurement falls through 10 weeks before d-day…  

       …and Woodbridge Library needs Friends!

 

Suffolk Travel Card  On 29th January, SCC’s Cabinet heralded the return of a Suffolk Travel Card for young people.  It will provide uniform discounts and easier tickets, particularly for those young people in the County who need to reach further education establishments and employment.

I and the Lib Dems, welcome this card as we have been campaigning for the Explore card to return for nearly two years – as have many of the young people in Woodbridge affected by the cut.  However, we have a significant number of questions about its implementation given that the Cabinet paper contained little in the way of specific detail.

The card, set up originally for those young people, will most likely provide a 25% discount for travel, but this has yet to be confirmed and discussions with all bus providers across Suffolk has not yet taken place.  There is also a lack of clarity about how much the card will cost, whether it will be free or have a £10 charge, and what will happen when they try to widen the scheme to other members of the public in the County.

In addition to backing the Suffolk Travel Card, the Cabinet also backed the Kickstart campaign which aims to help provide access to scooters for rural young people with a grant of £100,000.

Highways Procurement          Although the County Council agreed a contract with Balfour Beatty to provide the highways services across Suffolk we heard last week that this had fallen through, ten weeks before the D-day of April 1st. It has therefore been decided that the procurement process will revert to the previous stage where Suffolk County Council can liaise with any, or all, of the bidders who submitted final tenders (including Balfour Beatty Living Places), before again identifying a preferred bidder.

This latest update casts doubt on whether the savings presented in the budget are going to be achievable for this year, and what is going to happen once the current contracts expire on the 31st of March.  The Lib Dem group  have asked a number of questions on this subject and we are still waiting to hear what exactly the consequences of this will be.

The questions are:

  • What happened since the Cabinet decision on the 11th Dec? What commitments weren’t confirmed, were they not outlined as part of the initial contract?
  • How much is it going to cost the County Council in interim arrangements?
  • What is the duration of the expected delay? When will the next preferred bidder be announced?
  • What is the impact on the staff at IBC now that the timetable has slipped?
  • What is the contingency plan now that contracts have reached their maximum term, will emergency extensions be required? What are the cost of these?
  • Do you envisage a serious risk to the continuity, delivery and quality of the highways service given this delay?
    and last, and possibly most importantly
  • Can SCC continue to be assured this way of proceeding is actually ‘best value’?

As yet we are not much the wiser – but it looks like interim arrangements will have to be made at least until September. I will keep you informed!

Huge drop in Suffolk’s school league rankings  Although it is pleasant to see that our local Woodbridge schools holding their own in the rankings  (at primary: St Mary’s was ranked one of 15 joint first, Kyson four places behind and in the top 200 most improved primaries in the country, and Woodbridge Primary 32nd ,while at secondary level Farlingaye was ranked overall third – ahead of all private schools in the county!). However, the release of this years GCSE grades show Suffolk has dropped to 141st out of 152 authorities for GCSE results. This comes on top of our equally appalling descent to (joint) 148h  out of 152 in the primary school rankings.  Under the previous administration, Suffolk had consistently ranked in the top third of Local Authorities for schools results.

SCC is choosing to claim that these disgraceful GCSE results  can be attributed to the controversial 2012 grade boundary shifts for English and English Language although  the grade boundary shifts affected all examinees nationwide and the tables cover 5 GCSEs.

Budget The County Council’s budget for the next financial year will be set this week.  In recognition of the truly appalling schools results and an increase in road accidents, the LibDem group have put in the following amendments to fund the following from Contingency reserves:

Service Area Total
School Improvement Services – Additional advisors £650,000
School Improvement – Teacher focused support £475,000
Looked after children – County commitment to MTFC £300,000
Five 20mph schemes – Funds to respond to local demand £300,000
Total £1,725,000

I will keep you updated as to the progress of the budget.

Health  Emergency heart attack care in Suffolk was examined at the recent Health Scrutiny. It  was revealed that whilst survival rates were greater than 95%, the target time of 150 minutes to one of the three treatment centres in Basildon, Norwich or Cambridge was exceeded for a quarter of Suffolk patients. The Health Scrutiny committee recommended continuing education for ambulance staff in the management of cardiac emergencies, and national and regional campaigns to educate the public about the need to dial 999 as soon as possible if someone experiences chest pain.

I have not been informed as to how the recommendation for national  and regional campaigns would be taken forward.

Additionally, a new £5m heart treatment centre is being built at Ipswich hospital for routine heart operations, including the insertion of stents.

Friends of Woodbridge Library I spent Saturday morning – National Library day – in Woodbridge library raising awareness of a need for a Friends Group.

After the fuss we made – in Woodbridge and elsewhere –   about how much we loved and needed our librariesSCC backtracked on its original proposals and threat of closures – which is  a (at least  temporary) relief. Instead it has divested all Library services to an Industrial and Provident scoiety, which is rather like a co-operative.  However, each of ourLibraries needs to make 5% savings on top the savings that are already embedded in the proposals via an increase in volunteers, more fund-raising events, or changing suppliers for maintenance contracts. Funding is onlyguaranteed  by SCC for the first two years.
Additionally, those libraries that do not have community groups are run by the IPS and have considerably less autonomy, because they have no representation on the board. This is becoming a problem in Woodbridge.

Because Woodbridge Library is  run by the IPS , decision-making occurs without any local involvement . A notable example is the matter of the moving in of Suffolk Coastal District services to the Woodbridge Library premises without consultation or consideration of local wishes or requirements.  All moneys earned by the Library go back to the IPS, rather than being spent at the discretion of  us locals.  In the case of the Tourist Information point, neither Woodbridge Library or the residents of Woodbridge were even consulted as to the amount of rent SCDC should be paying(!).  Indeed the whole issue appears to have been discussed between officers without any input from or reference to elected local councillors or the Library itself.

Woodbridge Library now needs to have Friends. Contact the Library directly if you want to help.

Evening buses: a slight improvement?

I am happy to report that after all my lobbying over the last years,  the situation for bus-users in Woodbridge has seen a marginal improvement.

Two weeks back saw the unheralded  addition of one later Monday-Saturday 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,  rerouted to ensure they did not pass the Ipswich Hospital – or anywhere near – and then, as I predicted,  finally cut 18 months back “because usage was not sufficiently high” (you can read my report of this here).

As careful and neat piece of constructive dismissal as you can imagine!

Unfortunately the new later bus for people in Woodbridge – the 64a – only extends travel times to mid- evening,  an hour later than is currently available and  is at the expense of bus-users in Kesgrave. These were the Bixley residents who were serviced when the previous 64 services became the 62a/b services and were rerouted away from Ipswich Hospital and through Bixley.

(Confused? I think we were all meant to be. It made protest so much harder).

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 and Ipswich is at 19.58).  As usual we in Woodbridge 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.

Ah me. Seven years ago there were five or six buses an hour travelling from Woodbridge to Ipswich (and returning) four that wentvia the hospital  and a regular hourly service (from Ipswich out to Woodbridge and beyond, again via the hospital) that went on up to ten or eleven at night. I remember it well. And I can’t remember these buses being other than full.

But those were the days when bus routes were created to supply the demand, rather than altered every month or so, by people who want to use limited stock to make the greatest return, and with no feeling of responsibility for people who rely on their services…

Still, let us not be surly, because this additional service is jolly well better than nothing and please could everyone who needs an evening bus service use it as often as they can. For a start, it is a chance to match up hospital visiting by bus more exactly with the visiting times. For another, if we do not use it it will be withdrawn with as  little warning or advertisement as it – just as the  62a and b were 18 months ago.

As ever, its a case of ‘use it or lose it.’