Category Archives: Lollipop patrols

Suffolk Tories: the Milquetoast Manifesto

Snapshot of Suffolk’s County Council  2009-13:

Threatened closure of 29 libraries.. the vanishing of the Road Crossing patrols..  loss of the rural evening and Sunday bus services.. closure of Youth Clubs.. divestment of Highway Services..  divestment of Country Parks..  vast sums spent on gagging clauses,  consultants and senior management salaries and perks.. abolition of the Explore youth travel card..  sale and potential closure of Care Homes..  the plummeting of Suffolk schools down the educational league tables to their current places as 148th out of 151 at Primary school level, 141 out of 151 at secondary level… (there’s plenty more, but that’s enough to be going on with)

It’s quite a spectacular grime sheet, isn’t it?

As the 2013 elections approach it may be worth  remembering that the Suffolk Conservatives made no mention of Suffolk’s  New Strategic Direction when they went to the polls in 2009. Yet it didn’t stop them doing their darnedest to implement it without any mandate once they had their majority. (And when they were stopped, many of the NSD proposals continued under a different guise..)

It might be well to ponder this before voting. The Suffolk County Conservatives’ 5-pledge election manifesto is as thin as a lo-calorie water biscuit – and about as nutritious. They promise to replace a youth travel card they cut two years back, the high-speed broadband they funded in this electoral cycle, plus an (unavoidable) expenditure on care , a Country-wide ‘No ColdCalling Zone’ (go figure) and that old Tory staple of no council-tax increase – which is always wheeled out as an alibi for their more spectacular episodes of financial mismanagement. And .. er.. that’s it.

So – as I say – milquetoast from start to finish.  

But who knows what may be on the secret agenda for the next four years?

SCC’s new Leader – where do we go from here?

Most of Suffolk must be as relieved as I was at Monday’s election of  Mark Bee as future Leader of Suffolk County Council.  Mark, who replaces Jeremy Pembroke, was elected in the first round of the Suffolk County Tories’  AV style election process, by a significant majority.

The first signs are  in many ways encouraging: Mark was not in the Cabinet , not  tainted with creating any of the lunacies of the New Strategic Direction,  not on the committee that appointed the Chief Executive. Indeed he has shown every sign of being Suffolk County Tories’ quiet voice of reason.

However, we cannot forget that all Conservatives , backbench as well as front bench,  voted  for every single New Strategic Direction proposal at full council.   It is hopeful that Mark Bee should say

” if we are to expect others to help, we have a duty to listen to them in return, to hear their concerns, and to build solutions together, at a speed that we can all follow… That is why I’d like the time between now and the council meeting on May 26, to be a time for reflection and review.”

That any member of the current administration – let alone the Leader elect  – should be officially sanctioning the listening and hearing of Suffolk  people’s concerns is refreshing!   Personally I do hope the portfolio-holder in charge of libraries will take heed.

But at the moment  Mark Bee continues to maintain  that “the direction in which we are heading is the right one“.  He hasn’t yet – despite the Evening Star’s headlines – actually gone so far as to ‘save ‘ the school crossing patrols.   All he has said is  that “in the areas where the patrols are most needed, we will look to continue to fund these, unless or until a suitable alternative arrangement has been found.”

This is far from being the same thing.

Mark says he wants to spend the next few weeks in reflection and review – hopefully about many of the most contentious of recent cuts forced on us by Suffolk County Council’s NSD  (all of which we Lib Dems provided alternative costings to retain back in February)

  • Will school crossing patrols be reprieved? Suffolk received more petition signatures about this than any other petition in the history of the council!
  • What hope is there for the libraries? The so-called ‘consultation has – so far – been a thinly veiled arm-twisting of local communities to take over these, or lose out.
  • And how about transport? The cutting of the Explore card, halfway through the school/college year has already caused extreme hardship amongst the young  and poor – particularly the young and rural poor who are seeing additional barriers in the path of  aspiration and education.  Not only to them, but to their parents. Similarly the ‘working hours only ‘ demand-responsive solution to cutting scheduled service, and the new conditions being placed on concessionary travel card holders are causing huge hardship for people without other choices in the countryside.
  • Will Mark Bee reflect on problems such as these, and having reflected, have a Damascene conversion?

Now, wouldn’t that be lovely!

Town Council Report April 2011

This is my last council report before the Woodbridge Town elections – and there are a number of very contentious issues to tell you about as Suffolk County Council suffers some form of melt-down with the departure of very senior executives and mixed messages regarding their initiatives abounding.

Changes

The County Council has recently seen several high profile changes. Firstly the County’s Monitoring Officer, Eric Whitfield, left the organisation suddenly and at 24 hours notice for personal reasons.  SCC’s Interim Head of Legal Services, David White was appointed Interim Monitoring officer. Tragically David died a few days later. I am sure all our sympathies are with his poor family  at this time.

Secondly, Graham Dixon, the Director of Resource Management also left the organisation to pursue other interests. He left on the same day and at the same notice as Eric Whitfield.  Andrea Hill has indicated she will now take up the role of Director of Resource Management.

Finally, Cllr Jeremy Pembroke has decided to retire as County Council leader and will also step down at a Councillor at the next election.  Cllr Pembroke has been a Councillor for a total of 8 years, and leader of the authority for 6.  The next leader will be chosen at the Conservative Group meeting on the 18th of April. Currently the contenders are Cllrs Colin Noble, Mark Bee and Guy McGregor.

March Full Council

Suffolk County Council held a Full Council meeting on the 17th March. The most notable item was an update to the New Strategic Direction (NSD) which recommended that the County should seek to have wider ‘conversations’ with communities across Suffolk.  The paper suggested that rather than focusing on individual services to be provided in the community, the Council should look to see what group of services local areas would ‘like’ to take on.  I spoke on the unintelligibility of this entire paper, quoting George Orwell to suggest that: “what looks like an unclear expression of a clear thought might actually be a perfectly clear expression of an unclear thought.”  Despite considerable opposition from the opposition, the report was voted through by the administration.

A motion put forward by the Greens recommended a referendum to gauge the public’s viewpoint on the New Strategic Direction.  It  was defeated due to the cost of holding such a referendum. An amendment which would have seen the referendum become internet-only,was also defeated as it would have provided accessibility issues for all those without a computer.

This NSD update being voted through affects all of the following issues:

Trying to restore the Explore card

Because the SCC administration accepted the NSD update, the Suffolk Explore card was abolished on the 1 April – halfway through the school and college year – causing considerable distress to a large number of young people. The Explore card gave half price bus and rail travel to  young people beyond the age of statutory education (eg 16-19). The long-term implications of this are immense.

Monday’s Evening Star covered the subject in a high profile article

The Save the Explore card e-petition on the Suffolk CC site needs only another 900 signatures before the decision can go back to full Council. Please please sign this and get everyone you know to sign it –  the long-term impact of this decision will be likely to affect everyone in Suffolk. http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/Save-the-eXplore-card-

‘Your Place’ and Woodbridge

Because the SCC administration accepted the NSD update,  the “Your Place” initiative is in place.  We are lucky have the two SCC officers who have volunteered to assist me in the SCC ‘Your Place’ initiative: David Chenery and Jo Cowell.

For those who don’t know, ‘Your Place’ is the New Strategic Direction’s Localism concept seen as returning decision-making to individual areas rather than the council as a whole.

In actuality it appears to mean that huge savings can be made at County Council level by ensuring that elected county councillors involve themselves in a lot of ‘business development’ work that was previously done by paid employees of the Council, on top of their not inconsiderable work-load.

The flaw in this plan is that if your county councillor doesn’t try to do, fails to do, or is not up to doing  the work, the impact will be felt by the locality.  And if your councillor does try to do what ‘Your place’ is requiring, they are in serious danger of working themselves to death.

‘Your plac’ in fact is suspiciously close to “Do what we say, or your district gets it!

It is also a gross exploitation of the willingness of elected representatives to work long barely remunerated hours for the public good, while reducing the responsibility and work-load of senior SCC executives whose pay has not decreased with their reduced responsibilities!

Woodbridge library

Following directly on from the last point, the “Your Place” officers alerted me to the fact that Woodbridge has yet to provide any business plan for taking over the library and that SCC sees this as being a matter of huge concern for us residents of Woodbridge.

The SCC “ consultation” states that it “aims to encourage community and voluntary groups, businesses, local councils and individuals across Suffolk to have their say about ways to run their local library differently and at reduced cost.” This is amplified by the Portfolio-holder who says

“I have made it very clear from the launch of the consultation, and it is very clear in the consultation document, that the council is looking for new providers for all the libraries, not just those proposed as community libraries…

“When the consultation has finished, the responses, including people’s views on the categorisation, will be analysed and recommendations will be put to Cabinet in July. I do not know at this point what those recommendations will be.”

However, this does not seem to reflect SCC’s expectations of this ‘consultation’ : indeed from what the “Your Place” officers told me, what appears to be required are hard business proposals by 30th April for running our local library with 30% cuts.  I have just been warned verbally by my officers that there have been no expressions of interest at all from Woodbridge, warning me that “unless proposals are put forward by the community, the community will have decisions made for them”. Worryingly the officers say:

“In addition to the 30% cut, the other issue about libraries is that of ownership – there is an issue about who will own the libraries and the options in the consultation include the following:

Following the Cabinet’s decision, we will start the process of arranging for other organisations to take over the running of libraries. (CP points out : In other words: the cabinet’s decision is already made before the consultation is over. This is in direct contradiction to Judy Terry’s comment above.) There are a number of ways in which we may select organisations to do this.

  • We can delegate the running of the service to another council – this could be town or parish, borough or district, or even to a council outside Suffolk.
  • We may invite Suffolk community groups to bid to take on the running of a library, and this is more likely for community libraries.
  • We may open up the opportunity more widely to all potential providers, and this is more likely for county libraries.
  • We may, if appropriate, negotiate directly with a suitable organisation to take over the running of a library.”

“So” say the “Your Place” Officers” it might be worth checking whether the Town Council have picked up on this aspect of the consultation as well as the 30% reduction in costs. I understand that the Seckford Foundation have had discussions with relevant people about the libraries, but I am unaware of any proposals from them. This may be a link that the Town Council would want to explore further – possibly to develop a partnership approach?”

The business of  ‘ownership’ is very important, as it raises all sorts of issues about our wonderful expensive, purpose-built town hub: which houses the Library but is not ‘the library’.   These are not issues that are going to go away if we refuse to address them.

The “Your Place” officers also asked whether Woodbridge Town Council had considered raising their precept to cover the library (and were frankly amazed when I told them how little the total precept amounts to and thus how truly unlikely this is. )

It seems to me that, far from consultation, this is arm-twisting!

Bearing in mind

  • that nowhere has SCC articulated that this ‘consultation’ was actually a disguised bidding process;
  • that SCC has produced frankly inappropriate and indigestible financial figures for Woodbridge Library to be used to support this consultation/bidding process (I have just yesterday received useful figures on the running of the library after having complained at what is available online) ;
  • that small towns like Woodbridge with a potential ‘county’ library are at a huge disadvantage against a private company in producing a business plan at short notice,
  • that also, Woodbridge Town Council, and Suffolk Coastal District Council are both going into elections a week after the ‘consultation’/bidding process is proposed  to have finished. It would seem extremely unreasonable to expect a) the councillors currently in post to be making long term decisions for other councillors to honour b) the new council members to be dreprived of a chance of making proposals on such a momentous issue

In light of these points, I have written to the portfolio holder and the senior SCC officer to request that the consultation process should be extended in the interests of the libraries, and the residents of Woodbridge – and other towns like it .

I hope this meets with your approval. If so, it would be helpful if Woodbridge Town Council also wrote to this effect.

Trying to restore lost bus services

Because the SCC administration accepted the NSD update, a programme of cuts and reductions took place across SCC’s subsidised bus services.Following the cancellation of the 62a and b evening and Sunday services I joined with John Forbes, Councillor, Martlesham P.C., Julie Clarke, Councillor, Rushmere P.C., James Wright, Rushmere P.C. Public Transport Liaison Officer, Martin Grimwood, Councillor, Woodbridge T.C. and Suffolk Coastal District Councillor for Kesgrave West, Geof Butterwick, Councillor, Melton P.C. and Sue Hall, Kesgrave T.C. Public Transport Liaison Officer last week to articulate residents’ problems and  to see if we could come up with any solution. Geoff Butterwick has come up with an idea that may salvage at least a Friday and Saturday evening service for a truly tiny payment spread out between all the parishes and town councils. This is still embryonic. As I am away, I am hoping Cllr Grimwood will be able to elaborate

Woodbridge lollipop patrol

The SCC administration has rejected the Chair of St. Mary’s School PTA’s attempt to get the abolition of the School Crossings brought back to Council. Although there had been many petition signatures, officers decided they had been presented before the council meeting in question and that adequate discussion had been allowed.

I discussed the situation with the relevant SCC officer , who suggests various options for replacing the school crossing patrol from other purses, including the Town Council’s. I asked him about the situation of St Mary’s, which, being a church school, has no catchment area and calls in pupils from a wide area outside the Woodbridge district.

Why therefore, I asked should Woodbridge Town Council foot the bill for such a crossing patrol?

What would happen if everyone refused to fund it? would the Council be responsible?

Apparently all SCC school crossing patrol sites are going to be scored 1-3 for safety (3 being the least safe)  by SCC engineers. The officer confirms there will be distinct potential problems for SCC  if a school like St Mary’s is scored as a 2 or 3 but nobody is prepared to take over responsibility for the school crossing.

Roads and footpaths miscellaneous

  • After intervention from the SCC Highways people the Duke of York’s large Car Parking sign that greeted people as they drove into Woodbridge has been removed.
  • Work continues at on the traffic calming project at Cross Corner
  • I’m also personally  very grateful for the repainting of the white lines on Naunton Road which can only  encourage drivers to stay on the correct side of the road! This will significantly add to the safety of this particular little piece of highway – where I was knocked over on my bike last year by a driver taking the corner on the wrong side of the road who hit me head on.
  • After some pressure from myself, the footpath along the estuary from Kyson Point to the Sewage works at Sandy lane (which runs along the southern boundary of Woodbridge district) is in the process of being built up and strengthened as it had  worn so far into the embankment as to be often totally impassable in the wet seasons.