Category Archives: Suffolk Coastal District Council

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!

SCDC leadership- Vote NOW: will it be a Boris or a Jeremy?

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.

At present the Council operates a ‘Leader and Cabinet’ system where 9 district councillors take collective responsibility for the Council’s main decision-making. A leader is appointed annually from within the councillors , whose political composition is currently: Tory 45, LibDem 9, and Labour 1.

The plus side of this system is representation of councillors’ views (though with a significant tilt to the majority party). Whether there is a minus side depends on how representative of or responsive to your views you think your leader and cabinet are. There is also the possibility of Buggins Turn.

The alternative would be a mayor elected by us, the electorate.

The Mayor – not being appointed from within – might turn out to  be very independent of the views of the councillors. This may be for good or for bad.

More details can be found on http://www.suffolkcoastal.gov.uk/yourcouncil/democracy/consultation/

SCDC want to know whether you prefer:

  • Option 1 – A Leader and Cabinet.
  • Option 2 – A directly-elected Mayor and Cabinet.
  • No preference.
  • Don’t know

You can complete an online questionnaire

Or write to:

Head of Legal and Democratic Services
Suffolk Coastal District Council,
Melton Hill,
Woodbridge,
Suffolk IP12 1AU.

The council tells us you can have your say on the proposed changes until 3 December 2010.