Category Archives: Schools

What’s been happening in Suffolk 2014-2015

My anuual report: highlighting some of the more important issues in Suffolk over the last year

SCC Leadership  At the end of 2014-5 the Conservative administration  of SCC hold the balance of power by a single vote. The current party composition is Conservative 38; Green 2; Independent 4; Labour 15; Liberal Democrat 7; UKIP 9.

At the beginning of April the leader of the Suffolk County Conservative party Mark Bee stood down and was replaced in an internal party election by Colin Noble,  who had attempted to unseat him last year. This was, of course, far from an internal party matter, as it brought wide-ranging changes to the Cabinet (including the loss of highly intelligent -and numerate- Jenny Antill; sane and knowledgeable Alan Murray, and the bike- and bus- friendly Graham Newman). Cllr Noble was elected SCC Leader at the SCC Annual  Meeting on May 21. A full slate of Tories voted for him,  a rainbow coalition of the opposition LibDem, Labour, Independent, Green and UKIP – voted against. This  meant Cllr Noble was elected in, 37:31. No abstentions.

(For those  new to Suffolk politics, Cllr Noble is former cheerleader of the ill-fated New Strategic Direction (which was going for a ‘virtual’ council with all its services divested), and the equally ill-fated Suffolk Circle.)

2015-16 budget Conservative budget proposals included savings of £38.2 m, leading to a budget requirement of £454,981,413.  Reserves were forecast as reaching £165million by the end of March. Although this was opposed by opposition parties, who recommended dipping into the reserves to fund such things as transport to statutory education for the poorest over-16s, the administration’s budget was voted in, 37-31.

Home to school transport  Central government has made changes  to the age of statutory education, making it now  compulsory to stay in education or training until one is 17 – and shortly 18. This is causing concern in Suffolk and having a particular impact on poorer students who have to travel to college, as Suffolk’s free home to school transport policy  (as indeed the  national home to school transport  policy) only covers students up to 16 years old.

Over 16s can avail themselves of a discretionary – paid – option but it costs £540 a year. The SCC Administration say that the Endeavour card (offering 1/3 off available journeys  by some operators) will cover the problem, and that there are Bursaries to help the needy.  This is not proving to be an adequate response. While the government has made it mandatory for young people to remain in education or training until 17 it is  a continuing concern that we have no funding mechanism in place to support the poorest young people of the county for this last year of what is now statutory education.

20mph and Other Speed limits The Transport  Policy Development Panel -of which I have been a founder member – has established clear guidelines for 20mph and Other Speed Limit Criteria policies  for Suffolk. Both of these were approved by Cabinet during past year.  The new policies aim to ensure that  appropriate speed  limits are applied fairly, and transparently across the county while reflecting  local concerns– and enabling local County Councillors to make representations on behalf of the communities they represent. Woodbridge is currently in the process of applying for a 20mph limit to calm local traffic.

Highways Maintenance Whilst there have been some successes –  the resurfacing of Ipswich Road, Drybridge Hill, Warwick Avenue and Haugh Lane are notable examples – the divested  highways maintenance  under KMG has remained slow and inadequate  – and -most particularly the minor works – increasingly expensive. There has been a backlog of County-Councillor-commissioned works that has only recently been tackled. This has been a universal problem and we have made strong representations.  Another mild winter means that the gritting services have yet to be tested.

Sunday Bus Services  From July last year, Woodbridge resumed a Sunday/Bank Holiday bus service, sponsored by SCC, allowing car-free travel between Woodbridge and Ipswich, including, importantly, the hospital.  This was on a use-it-or-lose-it basis – three services a day till Christmas. It has now increased to 5 services a day and the route extended to Melton.

Other Bus Improvements I have been able to arrange the  replacement of the ‘balancing poles’ at the Hamblin Road bus shelters with proper seating so that people are now able to sit and wait for their buses at long last. I have also arranged with Suffolk Onboard an the bus companies for two new bus stops on the Ipswich Road –  above the Notcutts roundabout -so that people wanting to get to Framfield surgery and Clarkson Court will find it easier to use  the bus services.

Care UK    Serious concern was raised last autumn at the way Care Uk was running  Suffolk care homes. The firm took over SCC’s 16 care homes in 2012 and is building 10 replacements. A CQC inspection found Mildenhall Lodge below standard in four of five categories while a safeguarding inspection raised concerns about another home, Asterbury Place. SCC Health Scrutiny looked at current arrangements for ensuring the quality of care in residential homes in Suffolk in October concluded that it was not fully satisfied that lessons had been learned from the findings of the recent CQC inspection of Mildenhall Lodge. Further, that the Committee was not yet satisfied that all the appropriate steps had been taken to improve the quality of care at the Suffolk homes run by Care UK. As I write new admissions to Mildenhall lodge remain suspended, nearly a year after the original concerns were raised.

Education Suffolk’s ten year slump in the education league tables seems finally to have been halted an to be turning around, but a recent Ofsted report suggests SCC has been “too slow” in reacting to areas of concern raised in last year’s hightly critical inspection – although it did say that “decisive improvements” had been made in areas of weakness identified in last year’s report.

Much of the  strategy has been implemented too recently to impact substantially on pupils’ outcomes sd yet. Pupils’ attainment in Suffolk remains below average, particularly for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children. As a result, 25,000 Suffolk children do not attend a ‘good’ primary or secondary school.

Customer Service Direct – CSD brought back in-house  On 1 June SCC moved Customer Service Direct – back in-house.  CSD,  in which BT had a majority stake alongside the county and Mid Suffolk councils, handled SCC’s  financial administration, IT, and personnel functions. The councils’ call centres  were also operated by CSD .The cost of the contract was initially £301 million, but this increased to £427 million over 10 years as more functions were added to the service.

Woodbridge Fire and Police station merger  After consultation Woodbridge police station was mergedwith the existing fire station , with the aim of allowing the services to work much more closely together and for the services  to become even more cost effective. On 19th I welcomed councillors, police and fire officers to the station for an opening by the PCC and  member for Public Protection.

County Councillor’s Surgeries  I held 11 surgeries in the past year – on the 3rd Saturday of every month except August; 10-12 at Woodbridge Library. They have been popular and well-attended.

It’s the year of the Goat – Guo nian hao!

IMG_20150222_160215550 (1) (631x800)过年好!拜年了!

As many people know, I have been learning Chinese for twelve years now. It is a very interesting language to learn, and in a county like Suffolk -hosting the port of Felixstowe and Huawei at BT -ever more essential!

This year  I was invited by the ACCE, the Anglo Chinese Cultural Exchange to open the Chinese New Year  Variety show by singing  the Teresa Teng classic “Yueliang daibiao wode xin” onstage at the Ipswich Corn Exchange.  Your county councillor is multi-talented!

I was joined by three fellow students who have all been learning 普通话 – that’s putonghua or standard Chinese for years, from local teacher Di Suling. When we tell people that we learn Mandarin, we are all used to people saying things like “Of course, you must be ‘good’ at languages..” and “It must be very difficult..

No.

My view is that if everyone else in the world can learn to speak other languages, why shouldn’t we in Britain finally start joining in? And actually Chinese is no more difficult than any other language – it just look like it ought to be.

Suffolk schools, now is the time to start having Chinese on the GCSE syllabus! We will all need it in years to come..

.

Whats been happening – November to December

Restored Sunday bus goes from strength to strength! Having finally got the 65b service back in July, after years when Woodbridge residents were cut off from any Sunday or holiday bus transport whatsoever (including getting to Ipswich hospital for visiting, A&E and minor injuries!) We were told – quite fairly–  ‘use it, or lose it’  Woodbridge residents have risen magnificently to the challenge  – and as a direct result  the 65b will not only be retained at least until March but will also now run 5 times a day in each direction from January, and the service has been extended out to Melton.  Again, we must continue to remember that it’s a case of use it or lose it – so when shopping for Christmas, or in the sales – remember to take the Sunday bus!

Woodbridge Rail StationTicket Machines!  Sadly, the machine continues to be less than wholly fit for purpose. It spends much of its time out of order or malfunctioning, leaving many Woodbridge residents frustrated – either out of pocket, having had to pay twice for a ticket, or facing a penalty fine for a fare they have paid!  I have recently been contacted by a stream of people complaining about this problem , including overseas visitors who found  local travel very difficult and some residents who have told me  that their only option to this is making a 15 mile round trip to use the machines in Ipswich (as the Saxmundham ticket machine is often  also out of action).

Suffok Speed Limit Criteria  For some months now I have been part of the crossparty  policy development panel  working on developing a new  Speed Limit Criteria policy for Suffolk. SCC Cabinet will be seeking to approve this today. If approved, the  new policy aims  to ensure that speed  limits are applied fairly, and transparently across the county while reflecting  local concerns where appropriate  – and enabling local County Councillors to make representations on behalf of the communities they represent.

This would complement the new 20mph policy that  the same panel  (on which I also sat) developed  and which Cabinet approved earlier this year.

Suffok’s Education and Learning Infrastructure Plan  SCC is also developing Suffolks Education and Learning InfrastructurePlan. This is of particular interest to me as I have been arguing that there is insufficent bringing together of strategic issues  locally.  The  coverage of the  future eduction situation in  Woodbridge is not wholly encouraging:


Woodbridge/Melton
Issue: Potential housing of up to 500 houses in the  longer term
Solution: Investigate local primary provision in the area to ensure capacity is available or local schools are able to expland to accommodate growth. Also ensure that local secondary provision, already at capacity, is able to expand as appropriate.”

I have asked for this  information to be expanded on, bearing in mind that Farlingaye, designed for 750  pupils, now accommodates around 2000 and that the the physical impossibility of moving this number around the corridors has caused lessons to be reduced to 3 a day for the last 8 years. I understood that these  developments aren’t seen as enough to fund a further school, but query what further expansion  might be humanly possible in the circumstances!

I also want to understand why the strategic  issues of Farlingaye are siloed within Woodbridge/Melton when it has a catchment area of 400 square miles including, for example Rendlesham (where I see further development is also indicated).

Additionally, strategic development of schools seems to stop at the buildings themselves and does not consider the impact on local roads.

Warwick Avenue:  That  long-awaited resurfacing of Warwick Avenue is delayed again –  until March 2015 – but this time there is an excuse! I have been lobbying for this seriously overdue and much-needed repair work for years, and  am very glad that it  is finally going ahead. The repairs had been planned for the end of 2014, but when cores were taken from the concrete slabs that make up the road, it was discovered that they had metal reinforcement, making hopes of using an in-situ recycling technique impossible.  I am now told that the SCC contractors, KMG, will be bringing in a specialist surfacing  contractor to remove any asphalt on the slabs, repair the slab joints and lay high density asphalt overlay.

Let us hope this will finally and at long last provide the reliable and stable road surface that Warwick Avenue residents deserve – and for which they have been waiting for such an unreasonably long time!”

County Councillor Surgeries  My  monthly walk-in surgeries continue to be very successful and well-attended. In October I discovered 14 people waiting for me when I opened.  The final Surgery of the year will take place on 20December 2014 10-12 in the library as ever.

Dates for the early part of 2015 will be: 17 January, 21 February. 21 March and 18 April.

Finally,

Happy Christmas and all good wishes for a peaceful New Year!

Whats been happening in Woodbridge, June to July 2014

Very much a transport and roads report, this month:  Cabinet passed some amazingly positive recommendations about public transport services; I joined with Cllr Bond to help fund the resurfacing of Farlingaye HS’s permissive footpath, and a mysterious sinkhole has appeared at the Ipswich Road end of Sandy Lane.

Public transport in Suffolk   Last week Cabinet approved almost all the recommendations of the Suffolk  cross-party Policy development panel on public transport on which I was a core member. As you know I have been lobbying to defend, protect and  improve rural bus services for years and I’m very pleased  that many of the recommendations now passed by Cabinet are ones I have been agitating for for some time – including:

  • Suffolk County Council should develop a clear vision for the future of public transport and support this with a more transparent and stand-alone strategy for meeting the travel needs of the county
  • Ensure that no further savings are sought from SCC’s discretionary budget for public transport without first fully understanding the impact on users and the possible cost implications for other public services.
  • Suffolk County Council should lead a countywide campaign to lobby the government and the county’s MPs for a more equitable distribution of national funding to support public transport in rural areas, urging the government to recognise the importance of public transport in supporting people’s health and wellbeing and in raising educational achievement, to acknowledge the particular problems faced by councils such as Suffolk County Council in providing public transport in rural areas, and to allocate funding accordingly.
  • Suffolk County Council should work with community transport operators to assess redesigning services to ensure young people trying to get to education, training or employment can book regular trips.
  • Suffolk County Council should ensure that the importance of public transport is reflected in its priorities and that its wider role in supporting people’s health and wellbeing is acknowledged across all policy areas.
  • Designing a protocol by which planning authorities ensure proposed new developments take full account of public transport needs at an early stage and encourage public transport as people’s first choice.

Grant towards Farlingaye’s permissive path   I have collaborated with my colleague Michael Bond to part-fund the resurfacing of the footpath which runs alongside Farlingaye High School between Catherine Road and Houchell’s Meadow and Haugh Lane and which provides such a significant community benefit to constituents in both our divisions.  We are contributing a total of £3000 from our locality budgets, which together with a contribution from Cllr Ball will be enough to fund the entire operation..

Chasm at the junction of Sandy lane/Ipswich Road  A large deep hole of unknown provenance has opened up at this junction some weeks back . Although barriers have been put up, it is not clear who has done so, and no remedial work has been undertaken – this is because the presence of the barriers caused everyone to  believe that someone else was responsible and was already in the process of taking action to fix it. SCC highways team were assuming these barriers were put up by the utilities company  responsible, though they have been unable to discover which one it is.

The Highways department  now tell me they will ‘take the hit’ and do the repair themselves, though I have asked them to continue tracking down the responsible company to reclaim the  money back if appropriuate.  It is, of course, perfectly possible that the barriers were put up by some public-spirited person who is as yet nameless, and that the hole is actually a sink hole.

See separate update.

Surgery dates for the second  half of 2014  As you know, I continue to hold my regular monthly surgery on the THIRD SATURDAY of every month. This is held at Woodbridge Library, 10am – 12 noon. Dates for the rest of 2014 are:

  • 19 July 2014
  • Please note: there will be no surgery in August
  • 20 September 2014
  • 18 October 2014
  • 15 November 2014
  • 20 December 2014

 

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.