Category Archives: Suffolk Coastal District Council

Strange story of the Woodbridge Station ticket machine

Four months back,  when I attended the launch of the East Suffolk line hourly service, I  took the opportunity to ask Greater Anglia Customer Service Director Andrew Goodrum  where the proposed ticket machines at Woodbridge station were and when they were going to arrive?

(This was – and remains – a very important question.  SCDC had recently decided to close the Woodbridge Tourist Information Centre in the teeth of opposition from a large number of residents, myself, and all of Woodbridge Town Council,  apart from Cllrs Holdcroft, Mulcahy and Sayle . These three were in favour  despite the fact that older Woodbridge residents would lose ticketing facilities.  Since then the  Centre has been closed and the ticketing facilities have been lost).

I blogged on Mr Goodrum’s helpful reply a couple of days afterwards:    “You will be pleased to know there is absolutely no need to lobby for these [machines] as they have been purchased a while back. They are not yet installed as they need weatherproofing because they are designed for indoor use.

So, have these machines arrived? No they jolly well have not. And surely it cannot take four months to waterproof a machine, however lovingly you do it!

A week ago I wrote to Mr Goodrum:

You may remember we met at the launch of the hourly service from Lowestoft to Ipswich, back on December 9th.  I was – and continue to be – a huge fan and supporter of this service which is so useful for so many of us in Suffolk Coastal. I use it regularly myself – both to reach Ipswich and to travel north.

On the day of the launch I took the opportunity of bending your ear about the proposed ticket machine which Greater Anglia was due to install on the platform at Woodbridge. You assured me that the machine had actually already been purchased but that there would be a delay in installation as it would need to be weatherproofed.

This was four months ago. I do hope you can tell me that installation is now imminent – and indeed give me an e.t.a. –  as I have a number of constituents who are anxious to use it.  

He has not – so far –  replied.  I am currently following the matter up further

PS This does not solve the equally strange  conundrum of the story in the EADT a day or two before the launch. Our local MP Therese Coffey, and her assistant, Woodbridge Town Council’s deputy mayor (the aforementioned Cllr Mulcahy) were described as having  “joined forces and launched a campaign to urge train operator Greater Anglia to install an automatic ticket machine at the station“.

How could they  launch a campaign to urge the company to install something that the company had already  bought and was already planning to install?

It just doesn’t make sense! 

Woodbridge Library needs Friends!

Save Woodbridge Library - and all the others in Suffolk. We love them and use them
Save Woodbridge Library – and all the others in Suffolk. We love them and use them

After huge protest from Suffolk residents of all ages and backgrounds,  kickstarted by the Lib Dem councillors and the library-loving residents of  Woodbridge, Suffolk County Council’s administration backed down on some of their more worrying  threats. Instead it has outsourced  the Library organisation into an Industrial and Provident Society for the benefit of the community.  This means that the Suffolk Library system has become a member-based organisation  of individual libraries.

Under these new proposals there are no planned closures for Libraries in the County – which is  a (at least  temporary) relief.  However, each of the Libraries will be tasked to make 5% savings on top the savings that are already embedded in the proposals.  This may mean an increase in volunteers, more fund-raising events, or changing suppliers for maintenance contracts. Funding is only guaranteed  by SCC for the first two years. Additionally, those libraries that do not have community groups are run by the IPS and have considerably less autonomy, because they have no representation on the board.
This is becoming a problem in Woodbridge.

Because Woodbridge Library is  run by the IPS , decision-making occurs without any local involvement . A notable example is the matter of the moving in of Suffolk Coastal District services to the Woodbridge Library premises without consultation or consideration of local wishes or requirements.  All moneys earned by the Library go back to the IPS, rather than being spent at the discretion of  us locals.  In the case of the Tourist Information point, neither Woodbridge Library or the residents of Woodbridge were even consulted as to the amount of rent SCDC should be paying(!).  Indeed the whole issue appears to have been discussed between officers without any input from or reference to elected local councillors or the Library itself.

In this case Suffolk Coastal district council wished to save money, and didn’t specifically have  Woodbridge interests at heart. There are rumours that they were offering as low as £2000 per annum rent for the ir occupancy of part of the library – and the Library’s consequent reduction of income-generating space.  Is it best value? If they don’t disclose we cannot know.  A Friends group would help Woodbridge to ensure it gets best value from and for its Library space!

It is now time to set up a Friends of Woodbridge Library group to allow the people of Woodbridge – and the surrounding district – a greater degree of control.

Please contact Woodbridge Library if you want to be part of this -we’d love it if you did! 

Update: it looks like the first meeting will be in the afternoon, 16 March

Tourist Disinformation at SCDC

As that eminent essayist and wit Sydney Smith once put it: “Never try to reason the prejudice out of a man. It was not reasoned into him, and cannot be reasoned out.”

If  the Woodbridge Tourist Information Centre does indeed close  and the Conservative  Cabinet who run Suffolk Coastal District Council have just voted unanimously to do so  it will be because of ideology rather than  factual information, public opinion or common sense.  (Oh yes – and a certain amount of covert sniggering, face-pulling, pretended boredom and grandstanding among Cabinet members and their supporters) .

Of course the  SCDC Cabinet claim they are not closing the Woodbridge Tourist Information Centre. Oh no, no, no. They are just shutting it down and replacing it with a ‘Tourist Information Point’ . Which they claim is the same thing with half the staff and half the services, and not recognised as a Centre  “because the criteria for a TIC are quite prescriptive (sic)” and which is planned to be sharing space in Woodbridge library with SCDC’s planning desk and – oh yes – the Citizens Advice Bureau:  all breathing down each other’s necks and earwigging on each other’s conversations.  I do hope there will be room for a book or two, but I wouldn’t count on it.

I have just sat through the Cabinet meeting where this decision was rubberstamped by a bunch of self-congratulatory apparatchniks  who were as close to the biblical deaf adder as it was possible to be, refusing to hearken to the voice of those speaking wisely and, incidentally, sensibly however wisely and sensibly they spoke.  It is clear that the democratic democratic deficit that plagues the Suffolk  Cabinet system is as strong at Suffolk Coastal District level as it is at Suffolk County. Il nʾest si mavais sours que chuis chʾoër ne voeilt, as they used to say.

So why should the  Woodbridge Tourist Information Centre be closed to be replaced by a Tourist Information Point (the difference is not just of terminology)? Hard to say.

Here’s a rundown of the more egregious arguments:

*  Portfolioholder Geoff Holdcroft majored on the cost of the rail tickets  that (according to SCDC) the TIC sells at a loss and the consequent waste to the public purse. It has not struck the good councillor that he should be apologising to all of us for managing to convert a quarter of a million pound turnover into any kind of  loss at all! To compound his poor performance, it turned out that operating  loss of £4,761  he brandished was more than halved when he admitted he’d forgot to disclose ‘customer fees.’

* ‘No-one uses Tourist Information Offices – they are on the way out‘ . Yet the annual footfall in Woodbridge is the highest its been in 5 years:  20% of which is for rail ticket sales and 80% for everything else.

* The Suffolk Coast website would be the information provider of the future. And it  had 140% increase to 11,000 hits in August.  Wow! I had 33,000 hits on this blog in September. Does this mean I am three times as successful in advertising Suffolk Coastal as Suffolk Coastal?

*   Time and time again the argument for closing shifted to suit the convenience of those who want to support the closure. It was like nailing jelly to the ceiling: the closure was because of those tickets, no it was footfall, no it was that only local people used it, no it was in the wrong place, no it was  those tickets (again), no it was public benefit.

Had Woodbridge Town Council  been consulted as to this move? No, because there is “no statutory duty to do so“.  I quote.  Woodbridge Town Councillors Ball, Binns and Grimwood  all put up good arguments against the closure to the silence and averted faces of Cllr Ray Herring and his Cabinet.  In fact the only Woodbridge Town Councillor to be  given an enthusiastic hearing (apart from Cllr Holdcroft  – the mute with the bowstring)  was Cllr Josh Sayles, who quite coincidentally supported the move wholeheartedly. He gave a setpiece pro-closure speech – all sound and fury and signifying nothing. Basically Cllr Sayle  is proud to be young and use the internet and sees no need for the TIC by the station. Quite.

OK, then, who supports the closure of the TIC  in Woodbridge? The people of Woodbridge?

No, we were told, Woodbridge people don’t want it to go – but they don’t count. They are only interested in buying rail-tickets. And how can they be tourists? they live here.  Shame on them for using the TIC and buying rail tickets! (In fact the only people that Cabinet expected to use Woodbridge TIC were people who came by cars to Woodbridge and who didn’t want to buy any rail tickets and who wanted to look around Woodbridge and nowhere else.)

So, who else?  Woodbridge Town Centre Management? Officers rather fudged the point and referred vaguely to the manager before the manager before the last who left long before the decision was mooted.  They didn’t quote the most recent Town Manager, Neil Boast:

I am sure that many of you are already aware and dismayed at the proposed Suffolk Coastal District Council decision to close the Woodbridge Tourist Information Centre and have an ‘information point’ in the Library. The council believes that Aldeburgh TIC and Felixstowe TIC which will remain open, will serve Woodbridge! It seems absurd that Woodbridge will close and Aldeburgh remain open. Visitors often arrive by train and the Woodbridge TIC is ideally located at present. An information point in the Library will be a poor substitute.

So back to those pesky tickets again. Can old people use the internet? Can they learn? Can they be supported in the library? Can they even afford a computer?  How will they manage without the TIC ticketing service? Panic. Oh, its easy, said a (Conservative) councillor. You can buy a ticket on the train – I do it every day.  Great relief all round . Oh yes, of course, choruses  everyone, we can buy tickets on the train.

Yes. Of course. And the cost of a return ticket to Exeter bought on the train is £319.00. If bought in advance with the proper advice it could be just over £40.00.  Quite a difference.

This cannot matter to to Woodbridge Town Councillors Holdcroft and Sayles. But an important point when Woodbridge Town Councillor Les Binns referred to elderly constituents who may be too poor to afford a computer.  His example was an elderly constituent of his who needed to buy a rail ticket to Exeter. Maybe they can’t afford that kind of point-of-sale on-cost?

Interestingly enough Cabinet was presented with other options to this proposal. One at least was  worthy of investigation: “To seek a contract with a community group to run the TIC“.  Cllr Holdcroft was asked whether there had there been any effort whatsoever to do this? Of course not. It might, after all, been possible. And the SCDC Cabinet was not looking for a possible alternative to closing the Woodbridge TIC .

I wonder why not?

This decision is not a done deal, because it is going to be called in to scrutiny by a cross-party selection of councillors.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

For further information on the rationale for this closure see my blog entry App-Trap -Justification for closing the Woodbridge tourist information centre

App-trap – why close the Woodbridge Tourist Information Centre?

What will really, really, really help tourism in Woodbridge? A Tourist Information Centre? Or  a planned app for people with mobile devices that will give them targeted information?

The latter, according to the latest mouthful of lowgrade technological codswallop used by the Suffolk Coastal District Council Cabinet to justify their unjustifiable proposed closure of the Woodbridge Tourist Information Centre, while retaining the ones at Aldeburgh and Felixstowe.

Wait (I hear you say). Aldeburgh has no rail station, a very limited bus service,  a large population of second-home occupancy – oh, and 1 in 5 households in Suffolk don’t have a car… Aha – but Aldeburgh is nearer to Waveney than Woodbridge– and SCDC is in partnership with Waveney. Simples.

The easy way to save money in a hurry is to slash and burn – and now the men with grey suits (and machetes) would like us to think that the number of users of its TICs  is declining. Or anyway TICs are not an essential service and can be cut without too much of a fuss.

To put it another way, they are undertaking a service review which is “focussed on making sure our services are as efficient as possible but also that they are still relevant and needed by our customers. The reality is that the use of our tourist services are changing, with more and more people going online for their information and fewer visiting our offices.” This is according to Cllr Geoff Holdcroft, SCDC Cabinet Member for Leisure and Economic Development, who has conveniently forgotten the 8 million people in the UK who have never ever used the internet.  And the number of people who come to Woodbridge by train and who couldn’t take that train to Aldeburgh.

Talking trains, apparently Woodbridge TIC has particular difficulties in not being done away with, just because of  the time it spends selling rail tickets and providing transport information.  That’s good – it generates income?  Far from it  according to Cllr Holdcroft. He told a packed Woodbridge Town Council meeting last night that every ticket sold by the TIC in Woodbridge costs the council taxpayer £1.  (Personally I would like to see the facts behind and details on this one – given the price of rail tickets these days, the continuing local need and the heavy competition and discounting between the companies ‘selling on’ it would seem an impossible feat without a high level of council incompetence in negotiation or some very sharp means of public accounting.)

Putting that aside we are then presented with another facer. The Council’s other two TICs at Aldeburgh and Felixstowe will continue to provide a full range of services including ticketing and booking facilities, and will offer us  a telephone support and a postal service.  So tickets won’t lose money in Aldeburgh then?

Luckily not all is lost for Woodbridge  “Our commitment to encouraging tourism remains as strong as possible and our modernised service would see us still providing information from a new service based at Woodbridge library, backed up with internet-based information” . This  glib optimism  is not gaining the csupport of those who run b&bs in Woodbridge, or those who rely on the rail ticketing services for travel and for information to get about along the East Suffolk Line and beyond, or those retailers, restaurateurs, publicans and hoteliers who rely on tourists for trade or those who run tourist sites: the huge number of people who use or rely on the Woodbridge Tourist Information centre every day and who would find it hard to do so if it were replaced by a telephone or a postal service from Aldeburgh.  The local economy, in other words.

It also leaves us with a couple of  problems.

For a start,  this proposal concerning the library is a bit like telling your children that you’re not buying them  food because it’s too expensive, but they can go next door for dinner. Has anyone in SCDC actually asked the library about this plan, or have they just assumed they are willing to provide space and staff time? The library has never been owned by SCDC.  And from the 1 August it isn’t even controlled by Suffolk County Council. It is controlled by an IPS. Might the library have its own views on becoming SCDC’s cheap tourist information centre and ticket provider because SCDC is too cheeseparing to run its own? (Especially now the library knows that the ticket sales will cost them £1 a ticket). What’s in it for the library?

Secondly, the TIC looks very nice in its ornate iron-frilled white building. As gateway to Woodbridge its  presence might well be adding to the good impression of our town given to visitors as they arrive by car, bus or rail. And its certainly much easier  for new arrivals to find than the library.

Tourism remains a key part of our local economy and we are confident that potential visitors to our district will continue to get the information they need to help them choose to come here and enjoy all our district has to offer. We will continue to offer fresh innovations to attract tourists such as our joint working with Waveney’s tourism service and with local tourism businesses and partnerships to offer a better service, our Suffolk Coast website and a planned app for people with mobile devices that will give them targeted information” says Cllr Holdcroft.

So that’s all right then.

But  I’d like to know who  are the confident we? We in Woodbridge are not confident!

If you wish to contact SCDC to give your views before their Cabinet makes its final decision on November 6th, contact the portfolio-holder via this link

When’s a majority NOT a majority? Suffolk Coastal!

Oh dear.  I AM a sap!

Only a month ago I wrote the following (click to open the link)

Just to remind you all that if you want to have your say on Suffolk Coastal District Council’s future leadership, you need to act fast.  SCDC  is choosing whether the district council is run in future by a Leader, appointed from amongst the district councillors, or by a  Mayor, elected by us and wants to hear from you by 3 December 2010 – eg next Friday.

I shouldn’t be allowed out on my own, should I, poor innocent that I am!

In my defence,  as a resident of Suffolk Coastal, I might hope to think the best of my local council.  I was, I admit, a little mystified (not to say disturbed)  at the extreme lack of prominence Suffolk Coastal District council were giving to this supposedly very important excercise of the democratic process.  As Geof Butterwick, a local parish councillor, put it:

The website item was not exactly highlighted. The Coastline article wasn’t headlined ( it took me several scans to spot the postage stamp sized article on page 3).  I’m not sure to what extent the EADT picked up on the press release issued on 15th October, but it certainly wasn’t enough to promote much of a public debate.

To put it mildly.

Which is why I aired the subject in my blog. It was almost as if – impossible though this may sound – Suffolk Coastal didn’t WANT people to know this consultation was taking place!

OK, the truth was, Suffolk Coastal District Council’s ‘consultation’ over an elected Mayor was pretty much like Suffolk County Council’s ‘engagement’over their New Strategic Direction: an exercise in Harry Potter-like invisibility masquerading as ‘giving the people a say.

However, putting that to one side, I DID (o why?) genuinely believe that  this was a public consultation, one where the council were interested in finding out the public’s opinion.   Like I say, I’m an innocent sap…

So what happened?

For a start, only 118 people responded (one of whom was me).  This low response rate can be attributed to two causes: invisibility and apathy. Many Suffolk residents seem to have given up actually directing the fate of their county – possibly because they are less than wholly convinced that their opinion counts for anything.  Leave it to someone else, and whinge about the outcome, is the watchword of all too many! However there are plenty who are interested…

Did they KNOW this consultation was going on?

Well – unless you’d read my blog – would YOU?

Of the 118 responses,  there were 70 votes for a Directly Elected Mayor & Cabinet,  and 47 for the current Leader & Cabinet mode. (There was also 1 ‘don’t know’.)

GREAT! So there was a clear mandate, then.  I mean, if a district council election brings out only a tiny percentage of the electorate, does that disqualify the elected councillor from his win, Mr Herring? fellow councillors? Well – does it?

On the 30 December, I got an email from SCDC saying

Thank you for taking the time to submit the questionnaire regarding the consultation on Suffolk Coastal District Council’s future leadership arrangements.  Your comments have been noted

A nice choice of words.  ‘Noted and ignored’ would be more accurate..

The vote was 60% in favour of a  change to a directly elected mayor, with  a mere 40% against it. So what did SCDC decide to do? To continue with the current system.

Or as the minutes point out:

The Monitoring Officer advised that the new-style Leader and Cabinet model was almost identical to the Council’s current arrangements; the main difference being that the Leader would be elected by the Council for a period of four years rather than each year (although he or she could be removed at any time by Council). It was also suggested that while there might be some limited support for a democratically elected Mayor as suggested by the relatively small number of responses to the consultation, there was not any compelling evidence to indicate that there was any stronger form of governance than the Leader model. Conversely, the adoption of the Mayoral model would have extra financial implications as it would require the Council to run separate elections for the appointment of the Mayor at least every four years; it could also be extremely confusing for the electorate who would already have had to deal in May 2011 with district council elections, parish elections and an anticipated alternative vote referendum. Additionally the Government had already indicated that the leadership models would undergo further changes in the near future.

So that’s all right then! You’ll all be pleased to know that the minutes also show that Leader of the Council Ray Herring, commented

that in carrying out a “light touch” consultation the Council had done at least what was required, and perhaps more. There had been a press release, the details had been advertised on the Council’s website and in Coastline; additionally the East Anglian Daily Times had published at least one article on the subject. The response had been disappointing, which seemed to indicate that there was not a groundswell of opinion within the District in favour of the Mayoral model.

Yet what must have really disappointed Mr Herring was that, despite this ‘light touch’ non-consultation ( of which very few were aware other than other SCDC councillors)  his administration had managed to elicit approval for the status quo from fewer respondents than there are actual members of his council! Quite a remarkable feat. I’m not sure theis particular Leader would recognise a ground swell of opinion unless it jumped up and hit him in the face!

So anyway, folks, that’s Suffolk  democracy, for you.   Of course, you could say its pretty much the same as if Labour had decided it would form the next administration with its 29% of the vote .  Or that the whole of Suffolk were in favour of the iniquitous New Strategic Direction instead of ten members of an inner – and undemocratic – cabinet…

I find it amazing that we send so many British soldiers to fight overseas – supposedly to establish democracy  in other people’s  countries –  when we’re not exactly ‘good at it’ back home!