In the past, Britain’s schoolchildren have always been given something to commemorate special occasions and this year it seemed – particularly in this time of austerity – a good idea to revive this custom. So I offered to fund a commemorative badge for every child in every Woodbridge school to celebrate and commemorate the Queen’s 90th birthday.
Woodbridge Town Council agreed that this would be an excellent idea; we agreed a design, and it was full steam ahead.
Monday saw Woodbridge Deputy Mayor Clare Perkins and me sorting, counting and bagging 2975 badges – one for every school-child in Woodbridge (allowing a few over at each school for emergencies)!
On Wednesday, Clare and I gave out 2,000 badges to the pupils of Farlingaye , Woodbridge, the Abbey and Queen’s House schools.
On Friday 10th June the Deputy Mayor and I had a wonderfully full fun day in Woodbridge’s primary schools. We attended assembly at St Mary’s School, the Queen’s Birthday Celebration lunch at Woodbridge County Primary and the Queen’s Birthday Party at Kyson Primary School – and handed out 1,000 special souvenir badges to 1,000 excited children throughout the day!
I was SO impressed with the lovely way the children behaved towards each other and the calm and pleasant manner in which all the schools are run. They are a credit to the town!
It would be nice to think that when these children are my age, some of them may pick up that badge from the back of the drawer and remember a sunny day, back near the beginning of the century when they were young…
With local government funding decreasing, the SCC’s Conservative administration has made it clear that its top priority has been to keep the council tax bill down, and thus is finding it more and more difficult to fund frontline services.
Suffolk has been facing intimations of a new way of delivering local government, with the start of the Devolution negotiations.
At the end of the year, the refusal of the administration to accept Scrutiny’s concerns about the new Community transport model, proposed cuts to Suffolk Fire and Rescue services, and the unexpected announcement of Academisation of all UK schools (followed by an equally unexpected U-turn) were top news.
Suffolk’s erstwhile strong Conservative majority administration has slowly dwindled away and the the year finished with the County Council being in no overall control.
(This is a round up of the information I report to the Woodbridge and Martlesham AGMs)
Budget 2016 -17 At SCC’s budget setting meeting in February, the SCC’s Conservative administration proposed cuts to of £34.4m to community transport funding, to Park and Ride funding, to the Fire services, to Library stock, to County Councillors’ locality budgets… – leading to a budget requirement of £445,659,553. With all these cuts, our council tax still increased by by 2% – (though in a figleaf to the administration’s electoral promise this was worded as “”The budget is based on a freeze… but includes a 2% precept to fund Adult Social Care…”) .
On the day of the final budget meeting more money did appear – apparently from nowhere– a Transitional Grant of £1.9m and an extra £1.6 million from the Rural Services Delivery Grant. This money goes specifically to Suffolk on its ‘super-sparsity indicator’ because of “additional rural costs… including the small size of rural councils, scattered and remote populations, lack of private sector providers, and poor broadband and mobile coverage”. However, SCC decided to bank this little windfall (over the last 5 years our county’s reserves have increased by £100m to c£170m) instead of ameliorating a single cut.
A rainbow coalition of the entire opposition voted against this budget in cross-party. It was a tight vote but the administration squeezed their budget through.
Leadership and constitution of SCC’s administration After the putsch of right-wing Conservative Colin Noble for leadership of the Conservative party and Suffolk County Council from moderate Mark Bee, the County Council’s Conservative majority has lurched along on a knife edge.
At May 15 2016 , after the resignation of Cllr Alan Murray (the day after tipping the vote at the March full council meeting), and the death of Cllr Peter Bellfield in April, SCC’s political make-up is:
Conservative 36; Labour 15; LibDem 7; UKIP 10; Green 2; Independent 4, plus 1 vacancy.
This gives SCC’s opposition a majority whenever it votes in unison. One of the Independents is, however, notorious North Carolina resident and Hadleigh councillor, Brian Riley. He is often absent, and on the occasions when he crosses the Atlantic to attend Council he votes with the Conservatives.
Local Bus Services After more than two years of stability, major changes have been made to the services to Woodbridge and beyond. From September First bus halved the frequency of the 64 and 65 buses (that is the Rendlesham and Saxmundham buses) adding the additional short-route 63 bus to fill this gap locally to Woodbridge and Melton – but not helping passengers going on to Saxmundham, Rendlesham, Leiston etc.
The Sunday service to Woodbridge and Melton continues – so far without threat.
A new cost-saving model of Community Transport was proposed and has been imposed by by the administration (see my blog for full details). Although SCC scrutiny objected, and sent the decision back to Cabinet, Cabinet overturned this objection without further comment.
Devolution Much of this year has been taken up with an off-stage ‘will we, won’t we’ devolution debate. A devolution deal for East Anglia was announced by the Chancellor in mid-March and now needs to be ratified by all County and District and borough councils and the (unelected) LEP boards involved. (This may not be plain sailing – Cambridge City and Cambridge County have already shown themselves to be against this).
Although it is very difficult to get the person in the street in Suffolk interested in devolution, it is vital that they do because it is about a fundamentally different relationship between Government and local public services and it affects all of us.
The East Anglia Deal would see decisions currently made by Government on things such as infrastructure, growth, employment and skills being made by the Board of a new Combined Authority, consisting of all the Leaders of County and District Councils – and a directly elected Mayor. In other words it would be pretty much like the Cabinet system that currently operates in Suffolk County Council – with the potential for the same democratic deficit.
It is proposed that the first mayoral elections would be in May 2017 alongside county elections.
The directly elected Mayor would act as Chair to the East Anglia Combined Authority and would be responsible for local transport, roads, strategic planning and housing. The new East Anglia Combined Authority, working with the Mayor, would receive the following powers:
Control of a new additional funding allocation of £900m over 30 years (£30m a year across the entire devolved region – not a great deal in the scheme of things) to boost growth
Joint responsibility with the Government to co-design the new National Work and Health Programme designed to focus on those with a health condition or disability and the very long term unemployed. (!)
There would also be commitment to continue improvements to local health and social care services, continuing to join up services and promote integration between the NHS and local government.
Looking ahead, I remain deeply concerned that any future deal involving education or NHS trusts will NOT involve the people of East Anglia shouldering the burden of PFI debt incurred by central government (not only our local debts eg the PFI debt on Elizabeth Garrett Anderson building, but also eg the mountainous ones on the Addenbrookes site). I have asked for further information on this.
Academisation of all UK schools At the end of the year, the Chancellor announced the surprise compulsory ‘academisation’ of all state schools, secondary by 2020, primary by 2022, taking them all out of local authority control . This had significant implications for all our local schools. New and existing academies were expected to become part of Multi-Academy Trusts, although a few stong ones may have been allowed to remain stand-alone.
In a subsequent U-turn, enforced Academisation will only be to those schools in special measures (as before). ‘Successful’ schools will only become Academies if they chose to do so.
Funding will go directly to Academy trusts , leaving the County Council still responsible for place planning, transport and admissions and ‘vulnerable learners.’
Very controversially, (under the heading ‘The Right resources in the Right Hands’) it appears that on academisation there will now be be a transfer of the school estates to the Secretary of State for Education. This needs unpicking – currently it looks startlingly similar to Henry VIII’s policy towards the monasteries
Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service Cuts In March’s Full Council meeting at Endeavour House I spoke on the LibDem/Labour motion to stop SCC’s proposed reduction in Fire appliances and full time crews (defeated 36-35 – all Conservatives voting for the cuts, and every single opposition councillor present: LibDem, Labour, Green, UKIP and Independent , voting against). Conservative county councillor, Alan Murray, resigned the following day.
In supporting the Suffolk Fire & Rescue Services I put the local case for Woodbridge retained fire station and its need for the continuing support of Ipswich fire crews – looking at daily staristics for the previous months, it seems clear the Woodbridge is ‘offline’ for several hours on an average of one day in two –generally in the afternoon (the very time of day when fire engines are most likely to be called out). We are therefore reliant on the fulltime crews in Ipswich.
Ultimately these cuts were slightly watered down. In particular, as regards Ipswich, Cabinet decided to remove the second full-time crewed fire engine from Ipswich (Princes Street) fire station but keep 4 of the crew of full-time firefighters . These 4 full-time firefighters will be used to support on-call fire engine availability across the county during weekday. The on-call fire engine and on-call firefighter establishment at Princes Street (scheduled to be cut ) will remain. However, the third fire engine from Ipswich (East) fire station will be cut and the number of on-call firefighters at the station from 21 to 15/
These cuts strike me as particularly concerning in light of the development which is likely to be taking place around Woodbridge, Martlesham and Melton.
Police Cuts A ‘re-design’ of the force to save £20m has lost police officer, PCSO and civilian posts. As follows:
From 1 April, the Woodbridge and District Safer Neighbourhood team was reduced to a Sergeant, two Police Officers and three PCSOs from previous staffing of a Sergeant, three Police Officers and seven PCSOs. The SNT remains in the new building so recently opened at the fire station in Theatre Street, Woodbridge. However it will no longer be a public access location! Better access for the public’ was one of the key benefits of the move – see my blog entry on the subject – June 14.
The only public access to Suffolk police will be at the three main police stations (Ipswich, Bury and Lowestoft), although there will be ‘intercoms’ to police headquarters to use at the front doors of other buildings .
Woodbridge County Councillor Locality budget 2015-16
In 2015-6 I made the following grants:
In April 2016 have made a further couple of grants to the Rural Coffee Caravan and to Headway, the head injury charity , and to provide a commemorative badge to each child in Woodbridge for the Queen’s 90th Birthday.
Woodbridge County Councillor monthly surgeries
This is the sixth year I have held regular monthly surgeries for the benefit of constituents.
I held 11 surgeries for constituents over the last year – on the third Saturday of every month except August. These were held at Woodbridge Library, and from January, at the new time of 9-11 am.
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.
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.