Category Archives: Schools

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.

What will be replacing EMA?

Remember – although EMA has been abolished, this doesn’t mean that post-16 students will  be left high and dry (although some people want you to believe this, for purely political reasons). Instead the coalition  are proposing a new allowance that will be targeted at those who need it most.

This is very good news for those who are worried that loss of EMA will prevent them attending school or college

The government’s intentions about EMA are therefore very different  to Suffolk County Council’s disgraceful and undemocratic decision to scrap Suffolk’s Explore card tomorrow – right in the middle of the academic yearThere was not even a figleaf of a consultation or ‘conversation.’  So please don’t stop signing the Save the Explore Card petition and pressing for this decision to be reversed. We are now only 1000 signatures short!

The government’s proposals are that:

  • Everybody who started their course this academic year and is on the £30 per week rate will continue at the current rate to the end of the academic year  and will receive payments of £20 per week in their second year.
  • All students on EMA who started their course in the 2009/10 academic year will continue to receive the full rate.
  • An additional £15 million will be set aside to provide bursaries of £1,200 for the most vulnerable students, for example those in care, with severe disabilities or single parents living on their own. This is more than the maximum available to students currently on EMA.
  • Finally, schools, colleges and training providers will have £165 million put into a discretionary learner support fund each year which will be available for them to distribute to students facing financial need.
    This is the equivalent of just over £800 for every young person who received free school meals at the age of 15.

Across the country students face very different costs and barriers to attending school or college. In some places – such as huge swathes of rural Suffolk –  students have to travel a long distance to attend, or may find it hard to get transport. On the other hand, some courses involve prohibitively costly equipment.  Under the new plans schools and colleges can decide individually exactly how to distribute the money available to support their students in need.

The government wants to have a short consultation on its plans. You have till the 20 May to respond to this consultation – which you can do online.

So, if you get or got EMA, if you are a parent, grandparent or friend of someone who had it, has it, or will need support in the future  – or if you are just interested in social justice, please  add your two pennorth. We can ensure properly targeted support for the workers of the future if we all contribute to the decision-making!

Woodbridge Town Council Report March 2011

This month’s report deals with the legitimisation of  various appalling cuts by the administration (who at the same time are letting money flow through their fingers on such essential front line services as extremely expensive consultants training them to ‘listen’ (hah!) and ‘gagging’ payments – £520,000 last year alone) to stop the mouths of ex-staff members

SCC  2011-12 Budget

The end of February saw Suffolk County Council’s  final budget setting meeting. Here the budget of cuts, already approved by the Cabinet, was voted through by the Conservatives on the County Council.  The cuts will affect many people in rural and urban areas throughout the county.  I strongly opposed, in particular,  decisions taken to reduce vital frontline services, including the scrapping of school crossing patrols, local buses and the eXplore card.

At the meeting my group put forward an amendment to the budget which would have saved many frontline services.

I feel that the people of Woodbridge NEEDc to k now what there WERE fully-costed options to these cuts, although the Conservatives would have us believe there were none.

We believed it would be possible to provide funding for all these services if we looked at savings from the centre of the organisation and used a small proportion of the £108m which the council holds in reserves.  Our amendment would have saved the following services:

  • Libraries
  • Youth Clubs /Youth provision
  • Subsidies to public transport services for Sundays, evenings and Bank Holidays
  • Park and Ride Service from the Bury Road, Ipswich site
  • Funding for the eXplore student card, which gives half price travel on buses up to age 19
  • School Crossing Patrol Service
  • Retain all Household Waste Recycling Centres, instead of reducing them from 18 to 11
  • Continue checking lorries to see if they are overloaded.
  • Stop the divestment of the Fire Control Function to Huntingdon
  • Keep Felixstowe as a Day Crewed fire station, instead of reducing it to retained
  • Retain full time crewing of the Ipswich Aerial Appliance

By using these funds;

  • Re-open Bury Road Park and Ride by reviewing revenue streams for Park and Ride to increase income, including from concessionary fares, creating a cost neutral service
  • Reduction in Road Maintenance Revenue Budget – not affecting emergency repairs
  • Business Mileage reduction of 10% – saving nearly £1m a year
  • Reduction of hours, to enable the continuation of all Household Waste sites
  • Reduction of one Director and 2 Assistant Director posts
  • Reduction of 2 Cabinet posts
  • Reduce back office staff in Fire Service & review the number of appliances attending incidents (at present, for example, they send 5 appliances to a cat up a tree)
  • Reduce External Room Hire by 30%
  • Felixstowe Fire Station to 5 day weekday manning
  • Use of Service reserves
  • Reduce Corporate Contingency reserve
  • Reduce Management of Change reserve

These savings would be heavily focused on the use of the ‘management of change’ budget, which was set up for business transformation during the year at the council, and the ‘corporate contingency’ fund, which is there to help manage risk throughout the year.  We believe with the current financial situation this is the best time to use the reserves to ensure communities will continue to receive essential services.  Even Eric Pickles agrees with us. Unfortunately the Suffolk conservatives did not, and the amendment was defeated on the day, with every Conservative voting for the cuts.  You can find all the information regarding the budget at this link

http://apps2.suffolk.gov.uk/cgi-bin/committee_xml.cgi?p=detail&id=1_15073

Libraries Update

The consultation for Libraries is still going ahead, as the County are looking to divest, or close most of of the Libraries around the County.  A meeting between SCC  officials and councillors and Suffolk library activists on 25th February  has brought forward new information (see James Hargraves and Andrew Grant Adamson’s accounts of this meeting which both attended, as supporters of Stradbroke and Debenham libraries individually)

The original classification of the 44 libraries into 15 county libraries, to be protected and divested as a group, and 29 community libraries, which would close if community groups did not take them over, has been effectively abandoned.

Only Ipswich County Library, Bury St Edmonds and probably Lowestoft remain in a core group to be divested. This appears to mean that Chantry (Ipswich), Gainsborough (Ipswich), Beccles, Felixstowe, Hadleigh, Halesworth, Haverhill, Mildenhall, Newmarket, Stowmarket, Sudbury and Woodbridge, join the other 29 seeking community arrangements.

No libraries will be closed without a further consultation. The process of divesting all libraries is expected to take two or three years.

Those who believe libraries should continue to be run as a Suffolk County Council service should write this when filling in the consultation response form.

The consultation began on the 18th of January, and finishes on the 30th of April.  You can find the consultation on the home page of Suffolk County Council under the Consultation heading.   http://www.suffolk.gov.uk

Loss and adverse change to Woodbridge bus services

In addition to the budget cuts as specified above, the County Council has made significant reductions in the levels of subsidy provided to passenger transport, a total of £2.2m, which enable commercial services to operate in non-peak time slots.  This means that some services will cease completely, whereas others will stop operating in the evenings, and on weekends. As I alerted you last meeting, the 61a and b have closed already as ‘non-profit-making’. This was despite representations from me, and reminders to the EME Directorate and portfolio holder that all three tiers of local government in Woodbridge had  told SCC and the operators last year WHY it was non-profit making and suggested a change or route that would make it more so.

The County Council has now released information of all those buses that will now cease or change hours.

The underlying principle of most of the timetable changes has been to remove evening and Sunday services. This of course is not much of an issue  for those who are mobile by other means. It is a tragedy for others. Particularly as the SCC line that these services’will be replaced by demand responsive transport’ does NOT apply as the DRT team confirm they have no interest or intention  in extending the service beyond 7-7 Monday to Saturday. Basically this is a huge loss to people who may have few choices.

I have placed a full list of the cuts and changes elsewhere on this blog (click here for details)

Full information can be found on  http://www.suffolkonboard.com/news/changes_to_public_transport_services_april_2011

Petitioning SCC against cuts

A change in national legislation means that the SCC now has to provide online petitioning for its residents.  This means members of the public are – at last – able to create, and sign electronic  petitions to disapprove a Council decision or bring an issue to their attention.

There are currently a lot of petitions online – all of which relate to recent decisions made by the county.  Once a petition reaches 3,675 signatures, the issue then has to be debated in Full Council. The eXplore card petition  is  proving particularly popular – having got over halfway already. It is an issue particularly close to my heart as losing this card will make a huge difference

a)       to the education and employment prospects of a whole generation of Suffolk’s young people.

b)       to the provision of scheduled bus services

I have recently told that Suffolk County Council is prepared to accept  all the library petitions together as one petition.  This means they have already reached the 3,675 and so hopefully it means this will be brought back to council shortly.

Just to remind you, the epetition site is: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/News/EPetitions.htm

Ipswich Road: Clarkson Crossing and the Solar-powered 30mph Speed sign

A bit of good news to end with: two of my Quality of Life budget safety projects are now successfully finished:

On Tuesday morning a specially designed commemorative plaque will be unveiled  by Farlingaye students at the new Clarkson Crossing in Ipswich Road (named after Thomas Clarkson, Suffolk’s famous anti-slavery campaigner, and not after Jeremy!). This commemorates the work Farlingaye HS students put into this with Suffolk County Council.

I am delighted to say that the Solar-powered 30mph speed sign I proposed, negotiated and paid for out of my Quality of Life budget is now installed at the bottom of the Ipswich Road hill, just before  the John Grose garage, Sandy Lane and the blind bend.  I hope you have  NOT noticed it, because that means you would have been driving at less than 30mph.