Category Archives: Social care

The situation of carers in Suffolk

EADT’s coverage of the problems faced by Carers

Brilliant to see the EADT taking the issues faced by unpaid carers – particularly working-age women – so seriously.

Their coverage  today:

http://www.eadt.co.uk/news/carers-don-t-want-cake-they-want-realistic-support-says-campaigning-councillor-1-5074532

highlights many of  the problems and inequities faced by women carers  in Suffolk: longterm stress,  poverty, loss of career, pension, loneliness, the often infantile and wholly inadequate nature of the ‘support’ on offer.

And as the LibDem Green and Independent Group’s spokesperson for Women I suggest the problems experienced by carers would be less hidden if Suffolk County Council made themselves more aware of the challenges facing women in the county!

A Plea: We All Can Care for Carers!

This week is Carers Week – and it’s come in balmy weather. My daughter and I have picked elderflowers and made 2 gallons of cordial. In between the elections and my full-time work and the emergency appointments with London specialists.

She and I are very much together, poor soul, whether she likes it or not. She is nice to me about this – but it must be a dreadful burden to be in your 20s and have your mother so very much in your life.

It’s nearly 17 years since the day she dropped like a stone as I baked her birthday cake and in a blink of an eye we went from real  people in our own right with lives to lead and places to go, to  carer and cared for: symbols, stereotypes, political footballs -people who were somehow less important, less valued than others. We lost friends, we lost caste, we lost identity.

Like most family carers, I started out bewildered, unrecognising, waiting for things to return to ‘normal – a day that would never come. Indeed it was years before I realised I was a carer – and that as well as providing help I needed help myself.

For, make no mistake,  being a family carer is hard. Being ‘on duty’ – responsible for keeping someone alive – 168 hours a week, every week, is quite as dreadful as it sounds. After a while, you have difficulty with everything: working, sleeping, socialising, existing.

Worst of all, you become invisible. Your work as a carer takes place in isolation, and though invaluable, is not valued. In fact the government refuses to call it work (though the cost of replacing you if you fall ill suggests the reverse). A family carer has no workmates. If you manage to keep a job on top of caring – and it’s no joke as a full-time carer – your colleagues may disregard you, disrespect you – even (obscurely) think less of you. People forget about you, you lose your place in social plans, in activity groups, in parties. You may even get called a killjoy because you can’t leave the house!

So of course, you are lonely. (And no, you don’t get used to it.)

To make this worse, family carers are often not seen as people in our own right but are defined by the condition of the person we care for: carers for dementia, for ASD, for Parkinsons, epilepsy, stroke, etc. Strange, as our own problems are easily identifiable and universal: exhaustion, stress, worry, loneliness, despair. Family carers have twice the suicide rate of non carers. Go figure.

How to help? Carer charities set up initiatives to encourage carers to be ‘better carers’. Er.. why?  What is really needed is for society to be better TO Continue reading A Plea: We All Can Care for Carers!

Suffolk’s Budget 2016-17: “Its mine it is and I wants it”

z79wxCutting and hoarding – the miser approach?  This year Suffolk County Council demonstrated its usual Gollum attitude to public money – inflicting impossible damage to vital services by slashing comparatively small sums while sitting on a hoard that it doesn’t want to disgorge.

Its mine it is, and I wants it.”

At SCC’s budget setting meeting of 11 February  it was cuts all the way. To community transport funding, to Park and Ride funding,  to the Fire services,  to Library stock, to  County Councillors’ locality budgets… the list goes on and on

There is no such thing as a free lunch“, announced the Cabinet Member  for Finance, shortly after devouring one.  And then started announcing ‘the  realities’ of austerity – and ignoring  the equal reality of the vast sums this administration keep hiding under their mattress, though they were given it in trust to spend on our behalf.

The cuts  (there is no point calling them efficiency savings) amount to £34.4m –  leading to a budget requirement of £445,659,553.  With all these cuts the budget will still  increase council tax by 2% – though in a figleaf to the administration’s electoral promise to freeze council tax for the entire electoral period this is worded as “”The budget is based on a freeze… but includes a 2% precept to fund Adult Social Care…”. What is it that George Orwell said about political language? That it was designed to “give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”?

Unsurprisingly on the day of the budget councillors were told the Conservative administration had ‘found’ more money at the last moment – 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”)  Predictably,  the Tory administration decided to bank this little windfall (under their rule our county’s piggybank of  reserves have increased by £100m to c£170m in 5 years)  instead of ameliorating a single cut.

Face it, Suffolk residents – you have the administration you voted in.

You have also the budget that 35 Conservative councillors and the ex-Conservative Councillor for Hadleigh , North Carolina resident Brian Riley voted for. ( Cllr Riley sent his apologies for important statutory councillor training on Child Exploitation earlier in the week. He had no difficulty in flying in from America to vote to impose these cuts on his constituents at the behest of his previous party on Thursday. Hadleigh residents who voted for Riley ‘to give Clegg a bloody nose‘ – how is that one working out for you?).

The total cohort of Suffolk County councillors amounts to 75.

The Lib Dems supported  a Labour amendment that tried to ameliorate – indeed turn back – the cuts. They were joined in cross-party unity with the Greens, the Independents and even UKIP. It was a tight vote but the administration squeezed through. The Labour amendment was lost 32-36. The Conservatives won their budget 36-27.

My own speech referred to the transport cuts :

The cuts to Community Transport , Park and Ride and Passenger Transport budgets amount to £750,000.  That’s a £1 for every man woman and child in Suffolk. Not a large sum, you might say? Certainly small enough for Suffolk to lose without comment from the administration on the failed Suffolk Circle scheme, which closed so quietly in 2014. Remember that, Cllr Noble?

However these cuts are likely to be catastrophic to the services affected, to the roll-out of the new look Community Transport , now tasked with doing so much more for so many more  with so much less; to those who can’t look up timetables on smartphones and laptops as the loss of printed timetables requires because they simply don’t have the smartphones and laptops (and many older bus users don’t have!)  and most of all  -because possibly fatal – for the park & ride service.

Today I travelled on the park and ride route – 45 mins to Ipswich stuck in a jam of single occupancy cars on the Kesgrave road. There’s no denying this service is desperately needed. Its arguably not well  enough promoted. Arguably the  charging policy may need review. But its need is unarguable. Indeed, instead of cutting this funding,  I’d argue we need to refund and bring back the Bury Road Park and Ride the Tories cut so disastrously a year or two ago.  Park and Ride loss  will mean a huge loss of amenity for out-of- Ipswich residents: city centre access, railway access, hospital access, Suffolk 1 access.

I’d also argue that all cuts  to the public transport budget particularly when  over £2m Rural Services Delivery Grant money was specifically allocated  to Suffolk on its super sparsity indicator  – that is   specifically to help us with  issues such as our scattered and remote population – are an exercise of power without responsibility: an inability of the administration to recognise the unintended consequences of these cuts.

Yes, this is a time of austerity and we must all get real. SO lets talk the reality of reality. And at a time of austerity we have a duty to support those people who are suffering most from the impact of austerity. Efficient reliable public transport underpins education, employment, training, access to health and social care.  Of course I support Labour’s amendment!

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.

Democracy in Suffolk: SCC Conservatives – what’s going on?

A game of Tug of War with Suffolk in the middle? While other elections go on, Suffolk’s county Conservatives quietly continue to tear themselves asunder…

A couple of weeks ago came the news that  Conservative councillor for Hadleigh, Brian Riley, planned to continue holding his seat as county  councillor (and drawing his councillor’s allowance)  from North Carolina. This was particularly galling to the Lib Dems  as the Hadleigh seat had been occupied – and occupied  well- for over twenty years  by indefatigable LibDem councillor David Grutchfield, who only stood down at the last election  due to ill health.

(It also  suggests the pointlessness of a protest vote.  People in Hadleigh who changed voting allegiance to show  Nick Clegg a thing or  two have rather cut off their own noses to spite their faces, haven’t they?  Showed Nick Clegg a whole lot, haven’t you, folks? – and really really helped make sure you get your buses back and your old folk looked after and your schools and social care problems adequately looked at!

Well, its worth pointing out…)

NOW we have the news that Suffolk County Council Leader Mark Bee is standing down, after what has seemed from the outside rather like a year of overt and covert party infighting following the failed putsch of former New Strategic Direction cheerleaders Guy MacGregor and Colin Noble last April.

Was he pushed or has he left of his own free will?

Regardless of one’s political beliefs, Bee came in and steadied a very rocky boat in the wake of the Andrea Hill fiasco.  And we may well wonder, in failing to support this decent and honourable man  whether the Suffolk Conservative party are – yet again – prioritising party factions and personal ambitions over the needs of the county they are elected to represent!

The Conservatives are playing their cards close to their chest – but it looks like the battle will be between Colin Noble, hoping to be third time lucky, and Bee’s nomination,  Jenny Antill.

Mrs Antill has degrees in Law and Russian Studies from London University and was an investment analyst in the City of London until she retired in 1999. She worked for a number of institutions, including James Capel, Merrill Lynch and Putnam Investments.

Colin NobleSuffolk Circle
March 2012: SCC’s first year funding for Suffolk Circle was £350,000: at the year end it had only recruited 362 members (who, despite paying a minimum subscription £30 each, had also cost SCC £1000 a head!) And Cllr Noble STILL has the temerity to talk about wasting public money!

In public debates Colin Noble is fond of making reference to an 18.5% council tax rise raised by the Labour & Liberal Democrat administration in 2003. He never mentions whether it provided value for money. Maybe for him, that isn’t an issue.  He is, however strangely silent on the subject of Suffolk Circle  a “Pay-annual-subscription-to-get-a-good-neighbour-scheme”  that Cllr Noble and his then Conservative Cabinet colleagues unilaterally decided to give just under £700,000 to, sight unseen, in camera, as a three year start-up – for reasons it is hard to understand, very much more recently.  Based on the premise that every person over 50 in Suffolk was ‘old’ and neglecting to recognise the many many groups that provide similar services for free,  even a person who did sums on eight fingers and two thumbs could see that Suffolk Circle, as a scheme, was doomed to financial failure.  And indeed this baby was a baby which circled the plughole and sank without remark a year ago the moment that SCC’s seed funding ran out (and with ab-so-lute-ly total silence from Cllr Noble) -having cost every man woman and child in Suffolk – council tax payer or no –  a little over a pound a head. 

Next week’s winner? We wait and see.  We, the people of Suffolk, will need persuading that we are not losers whichever way things pan out.