Category Archives: Cabinet

Woodbridge Town Council Report Jan 2011

Suffolk becomes the only County in the east without its own Fire Control Room

Just before Christmas, Liberal Democrat councillors ‘called in’ the County Council’s decision to move its Fire Control Room to Cambridge from Colchester Road Ipswich, because the building it currently occupies is being sold. There were other options possible, such as negotiating sharing with the Suffolk police HQ.

This move was described as ‘an interim measure prior to the introduction of the nations Regional Fire Control rooms’ – planned to be in place by 2013.

The Public Protection Scrutiny Committee met on the 21st of December to examine the decision, and to listen to our reasons against this decision. These included

  • The total lack of information regarding the certainty of the proposed national Regional Fire Control Rooms
  • No evidence within the original paper of consultation with those many and varied organisations who work with the Fire Control Room such as  Suffolk Family Carers, Trading Standards etc.
  • The lack of contingency plans put in place in case there was a national delay, or indeed an update in policy on the proposed national regional control rooms.
  • The distance of the Suffolk  retained staff travelling to the Cambridgeshire site
  • The diminution of local knowledge and expertise inevitably caused by siting this control room  so far away from the area it controls

Unfortunately the opportunity to look at this decision once again was turned down by the scrutiny committee’s majority Conservative membership.

Embarrassingly for them, immediately after this decision was rubber-stamped the Government revealed that the proposed  Regional Control Rooms are going to be abolished.  This ‘interim measure’ is therefore interim sine die

This leaves Suffolk as the only county in East Anglia without its own regional control room, thereby losing the county the benefits of local knowledge, speedy response, and county control as well as many of its dedicated staff.

Loss of Woodbridge’s only ‘Lollypop person’

Amongst the proposals being considered in the continuing issues of the New Strategic Direction  is one to cease funding the school crossing patrol service which looks after 98 schools in Suffolk, including one in Woodbridge: ie. the crossing at St Mary’s in Burkitt Road. If this decision is approved at the  next Full Council on 17th February  then the service will end, probably during the summer term.

The view of the Service Director, Economy, Skills and Environment  is that:  “We recognise that it is primarily the responsibility of parents and carers to ensure that their children arrive at school safely.”

However, at the Resource, Finance and Performance pre-Budget scrutiny just before Christmas I asked him :  What risk assessment has been done on the effect this cut might have on child pedestrian safety?”

His answer was:We will be carrying out audits at all the school crossing patrol sites in January and February 2011.  The safety engineers carrying out the audits will examine all available data related to mode of travel to school, casualty data, school catchments and crossing patterns. The engineers will identify alternative crossing points, such as light controlled crossings if they exist close to the patrol sites. In some instances, minor alterations will be made to sites and any inappropriate signs will be removed. Road safety officers will advise parents, carers and children to use alternative sites and routes and provide road safety education and training in the affected schools.

This seem to be is a different way of saying “We recognise that it is primarily the responsibility of parents and carers to ensure that their children arrive at school safely.”

Cuts in concessions for young persons’ travel

Although the bus services in Suffolk have become extraordinarily expensive as well as patchy, up till now young people have had  to help with their travelling to post-16 education, to work and to find work, and for socialising.

Explore cards: available free to students 16-19, have  enabled them to pay only half adult fares on buses and many off peak rail journeys. Poorer students have also had EMA.

As regards post-16 transport, the SCC post-16 transport policy relies on the fact that all post-16 students can have an Explore card to help with fares, and if their parents are poor, EMA too. This means that up to now transport to work and educational opportunities should be in the reach of all young people in Suffolk – and a very good thing that is too!.

The NSD’s proposed cuts means that the EXPLORE card is not just under threat –  sadly, the decision has already  been made to cut it completely. I have always been right behind it because it helps young people with transport to work, to education and to social activities, and liberates teens from dependence on others. It should also get teens out of cars and onto buses in the evenings thus creating a significant saving in  life and limb  (tho the recent appalling reduction in local buses and the planned cutting of so many of the SCC funded remainder – see below – makes this very much more difficult). The loss of the Explore card WILL have an adverse impact on both educational choice and work for the young people of Suffolk.

In addition to being your County Councillor, and opposition spokesperson on Transport, I am also Vice-chair of Educational Transport Appeals.  With all these hats on I have already raised the issue of these threats to young people’s travel  through direct questioning and minuted statements –with Educational transport AND the portfolio holder AND at the pre-Budget Scrutiny.

At this last, I asked: Have any calculations been carried out to ascertain what increase is anticipated in the increased use of cars to take older pupils/sixth-form students to school as a result of stopping the Explore card?

They answered: There has been no attempt to calculate a potential increase in car journeys.  Any impact of the Explore proposal is closely linked to the policy on discretionary transport for post 16 students.  Therefore, discussions with stakeholders will take place around the wider issue of post 16 education transport as a whole, and the impact which current budget proposals may have.

I have no idea what this actually means.

Further serious reductions to Woodbridge bus services

I have also been given details of those bus services likely to be affected by the reductions in SCC’s public transport subsidies (as set out in the proposals for next year’s budget).  Again, these are victims of the NSD ideology – and have little concern for the consumer.

The budget proposals envisage “a remodelling of public transport services that have been piloted in parts of Suffolk over the last couple of years and  based on the premise that the best way of enabling people in rural areas to access learning opportunities, employment and services will be to use demand-responsive services to access a core of scheduled bus and rail services running on fixed routes.

This allows for rural people without cars having transport needs that can be predicted a day in advance – so, remember,  no getting ill or crises at short notice!

SCC are  looking to roll this approach out across rural Suffolk. Interestingly enough, the administration  made a large capital allocation to fund the operation of demand-responsive transport a full year before these new cuts were deemed necessary under the NSD. I leave you to draw your own conclusions as to why this might have been.

The list of services described as ones “which would not be a priority for continued subsidy under the new model” includes a number which impact on Woodbridge. Andrew Gutteridge, Strategic Commissioner (Sustainable Transport) –sic – the officer in charge – writes “In drawing up this list we have prioritised core daytime services and those services that maximise accessibility and connections with rail.  The aim is to provide a core network with which demand responsive services can interconnect. “

Sadly  what this really means  in real English is that all evening and weekend services and the more rural routes are for the chop.

The Woodbridge related routes that are ‘threatened’ (if this isn’t an understatement) are:

  • 62a and 62b Ipswich – Wickham Market/ Rendlesham (that is, every evening and all the Sunday bus services through Woodbridge!)
  • 70, 70a, 118 – the rural route from Ipswich  to Woodbridge through Grundisburgh and Bealings
  • 70, II8, 119 – the Ipswich to Framlingham routes
  • 71, 163, 173, IP179,  IP512: Orford, Felixstowe, Woodbridge, Ipswich routes. The ONLY easy way for non-car owners to get to Felixstowe

At the pre-budget scrutiny, I asked the following questions:

1.  Has an impact assessment been done, for example, on the effects on people who use these buses to get to and from employment and for young people accessing education and social activities?

Answer: The equality impact screening process has begun.  There is no intention that people will be deprived of the opportunity to travel to learning, employment and essential services, but this is expected to be by more flexible and demand-responsive solution in some cases.  Where there are specific education placements on affected services, there may be specific provision for those journeys, and the draft budget contains an adjustment to the home to school transport budget to reflect this.

NB: I know many bus passengers. I have yet to meet a single one who has had an impact assessment undertaken on the loss of these buses to their lifestyle

2 Could sponsorship or cost-sharing be investigated for this instead of reducing the services?

Answer: Every effort will be made to reduce the impact of the cuts by sharing resources and materials with Eastern Region authorities and Suffolk Roadsafe partners. (CP: ?)

We will continue to seek support from the Government (and the Highways Agency) and the private sector.(CP: ?)

The Government produces free publicity materials (under the Think campaign banner) and has indicated that it will support cyclist training through the Bikeability scheme in 2011/12.

Well, that’s a relief!

I have had a lot of people writing to me about this –  both anxious individuals and organisations  -and am hoping to get a local group together to raise awareness and protest efficiently about these bus changes  – and the cutting of the Explore cards – and I hope you may wish to join me in this. Please contact me, if so.   In the interim, have a look at this, as a kind of briefing document:

http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/public-transport/suffolk-the-death-of-the-rural-bus/

What will be happening to Suffolk Libraries?

In the Resource, Finance and Performance pre-Budget scrutiny just before Christmas, one of the 16 proposed savings was “Divesting libraries to communities”.  This was estimated to create a very modest saving (£350,000) and would have a “Medium to High impact” on the public.This divestment-for-the-purpose-of-saving  was, we were told,  in addition to an already proposed saving of £710,000 on this years’ library services that ACS has decided on to compensate for an overspend in the care budget 2010 -11. What a choice, eh?

I would like to point out that in a recent UK-wide survey, Suffolk’s library service was revealed as the second most cost-effective (ie. cheapest) public library service in the country!

We (the SCC Lib Dems) asked the following pertinent questions:

  • Will all libraries be divested?
  • What will happen to the mobile library service?
  • How will the current integrated service be protected?

We were told:

In line with the New Strategic Direction, we do not expect that the council will be a direct provider of library services in the future.

We are already making efficiency savings for 2011/12 by reducing the numbers of management and support posts, and working together with Cambridgeshire, Essex, Southend and Thurrock councils to share the provision of stock services and thus reduce cost.

We expect to publish a consultation paper in the new year to consult the people of Suffolk about how to provide library services, at significantly lower cost, over the coming three years.  This will cover the mobile and branch libraries and how the integrated service might continue.  Following the outcomes of the three month consultation, we will put final proposals for an affordable library service to Cabinet, and begin to implement them during the second quarter of 2011/12 and in subsequent years.  The action plan is likely to include the procurement and selection of providers from communities and interested organisations.  It is likely to result in some library closures.

So watch that space! It might replace a library or two.

Suffolk’s NSD: overarching concerns; SCC Consultations & Online Petitioning

a ) At the pre-budget scrutiny which looked at next year’s proposed cuts I asked one single overarching question about the cuts proposed by the SCC adminisistration in support of their NSD:

These proposed savings are in service delivery – many of them frontline – yet there is scope for substantial savings in executive pay via downsizing and divestment of executive roles. Why is this option not being explored?

Answer: All services have proposals relating to restructures and reductions in staff costs. These are designed to reduce management costs more than frontline staff costs. Restructures are already underway in directorates and this process will accelerate as we make changes to implement the New Strategic Direction for the council.

This doesn’t exactly explain why the highest echelons of SCC’s senior management seem to be so immune from the cuts that will hit all the rest of us.

b) Suffolk County Council are currently engaging in a number of consultations and ‘engagement exercises’, including:

  • New Strategic Direction ‘Engagement’ – ongoing
  • Future of Suffolk Country Parks and Recreation sites – ends 14th Jan 2011
  • Suffolk Care Homes consultation – ends 24th Jan 2011
  • Schools admissions Consultation – ends 28th Feb 2011

I urge you to respond and make sure that you have given your views.

http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/CouncilAndDemocracy/Consultations/Listing.htm

c) Possibly in response to adverse publicity about a lack of democracy in cabinet-style decision-making (for example the Fire Control Room move was decided without a general councillor vote  at Cabinet level) Suffolk County Council has launched an online petitioning system, so that members of the public can bring an issue to the attention of the council, or publicly approve or disapprove of a council decision.

PLEASE USE IT

http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/News/EPetitions.htm

Woodbridge Town Council report December 2010

That NSD ‘consultation’ in full…

The SCC Full Council meeting on the 2nd of December voted  again on the New Strategic Direction – that is, the vision (some might prefer to call it a nightmare) of Suffolk County Council as an ‘enabling’ council rather than providing services.  Council looked at both the levels of ‘engagement’ SCC has reached with the public and local organisations, as well as developments in how the Council plans to implement the policy.

I pointed out that ‘engagement’ was very different from consultation (the engagement questionnaire never asked whether the people of Suffolk wanted this to happen, only whether they understood what was happening – go figure!), and  that the NSD had in fact been driven through without any public consultation by the ten members of the current SCC cabinet.  I referred to the 1500 (and counting) responses I had personally received from Suffolk residents against the NSD, which was three times as many as was recieved by SCC’s engagement exercise by the same date.  Additionally,  my colleague John Field mentioned that the 30% reduction in costs over 4 years bore very little relationship to the maximum 11% total loss of income Suffolk was actually going to suffer over this period (You can find the figures for this here and the full text of my speech here ). I voted against continuing with the NSD until proposals were properly budgeted, but the motion was carried 44-11.

This decision has huge – and apparently adverse – significance for our local services across a wide range of provision, from elderly care, to young person’s transport, to weekend and evening bus services, to who runs our library and how, to highways services.

I will keep you informed when I have any more concrete information – which is unlikely to be soon. The decision has been made without any of those who voted for it having any idea of what they are planning to do!

Two funds that might be useful in extremis

Transforming Suffolk Innovation Fund & the Transforming Suffolk Community Fund

Presumably as a direct result of the above, Suffolk County Council has teamed up with the Suffolk Foundation to launch two different grants for voluntary and community projects across the county.

The first is the Transforming Suffolk Community fund, which looks to aid smaller community groups with a one off grant of between £500 and £5,000  to aid with the cost of the projects which will meet one of these four priorities;

  • Creating a stronger and vibrant community
  • Green issues including carbon reduction
  • Learning and skills
  • Health related projects.

This grant is for one-off funding and requires the spending to be completed within 12 months of receipt of the funds.

The second is the Transforming Suffolk Innovation Fund run by Suffolk County Council, which looks to provide a grant over three years of up to £50,000 to innovative voluntary and community projects that;

  • Will integrate existing services or develop new ones with the objective of long term sustainability;
  • Will support sustainable voluntary and community organisations by helping them to help themselves;
  • Carry out research into needs and service provision;
  • Will develop innovative and/or transferable practices for delivery of new and improved services.

The fund totals £2.5m for the whole county, and is available through an application process at the County Council  For more information, and for access to the application form, you can contact either:

The Suffolk Community FoundationTel: 01473 734120  www.suffolkfoundation.org.uk

Or

Suffolk County Council’s External Funding team: Tel: 01473 264283

http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/BusinessAndConsumer/RegenerationAndCommunityDevelopment/Funding/

I’d be very interested in getting personally involved with this

Call-in of Fire and Rescue Control Room  move

After the SCC Cabinet meeting for December  the Liberal Democrats felt obliged to ‘call in’ Cabinet’s decision to move the Suffolk Fire and Rescue Control room out of the county to Cambridgeshire. This means the decision will now have to go to  to a scrutiny committee to  examine the justification behind the decision – and possibly overturn it!

The Lib Dems asked for the call-in in respect of  the following points

  • Out of Office services – will these be transferred to Cambridge as well, if so what is the affect on the provision of these?
  • Why was this matter not taken to Full Council to ensure a debate  and vote amongst all members of the Council,  particularly as the County Council is the Fire Authority.
  • How will Suffolk maintain effective control of matters relating to the efficiency, scrutiny and monitoring of a service that will be run by an adjoining fire authority.
  • What mechanism will be in place for Suffolk to manage and rectify errors which may have a reputational or life safety implication bearing in mind that the S.C.C remains responsible but will have no direct line management over the people delivering the service?
  • Who is liable for errors – at the moment SFRS are directly responsible, have monitoring processes and the ability to rectify?
  • Why has the control room got to be exported out of Suffolk, why cannot this continue within Suffolk, for example with the Police?
  • What happens if an agreement with Cambridgeshire Fire Authority does not allow transfer of service until after the Colchester Road Fire Station has closed?”

The Liberal Democrats are particularly concern about the risk associated with moving such an important facility to Cambridgeshire, and the fact that this decision was made by ten people without consultation, preventing all councillors to debate an issue which might adversely affect the whole county. I have been approached by both local and county fire service representatives, anxious to point out  that this is a potentially dangerous decision to make. An option might be, for example, to see if the control room could be combined with the Police control centre in Suffolk, thus making savings while retaining locality.

These are the papers for the Call-in of the Fire and Rescue Service command and Control Function.

http://apps2.suffolk.gov.uk/cgi-bin/committee_xml.cgi?p=detail&id=1_15012

Gritting

Due to our advance planning, Woodbridge is at the forefront of keeping people safe and mobile . Early in the year after we had all been anxious at the potential  impact of snow  and icy weather on Woodbridge residents  I offered to fund grit bins and equipment for local volunteers to keep the pavements clear and  Woodbridge Town Council were very proactive in drawing up a scheme of potential troublespots that needed addressing. And due to this forward planning Woodbridge has been able to tackle the ice and snow relatively efficiently.  Ten grit bins are on site and another four on order: Cross corner;  St Johns Hill/Castle St;  California/Ipswich Road (where I’m the volunteer); Fitzgerald Green; Mill Lane; Haughgate Close; Colletts Walk; Warren Hill Road; Market Hill; Victoria Road; Peterhouse; Portland Crescent and Farlingaye. There is also a few grit piles, one of which we hope to establish at the back of the Doctors surgery in Little St Johns Street to prevent breaks. It could also be used to ensure safe arrival at the library.

I hope you saw we were covered in the local papers, together with a nice picture of me, town councillors and volunteers in front of the shire hall.

As a volunteer, I personally spent 15 hours gritting around California, around the Seal and down the footpath that runs along the top of Ipswich Road.  I reckon that totalled about 15 miles of roadway walked and gritted. The interesting thing was that by doing this, it encouraged more volunteers to come out to help. Particular thanks must go to Jill and Ian W, Pauline H, and Patrick G who have all helped nobly keeping the Ipswich Road/California axis clear

So, if people express any interest, do urge them to contact the  Town Clerk and volunteer. Many hands make light(ish) work– and lets face it,residents will find it so much more productive than moaning that somebody else hasn’t done it.

Volunteers get to use a barrow, a snowshovel and a a hi-viz jacket; they’re covered by SCC insurance and the benefits include a slimmer figure, the warm glow of having helped –  and lots of gratitude. Not a bad deal, really

Appropos of this I would like to pay tribute to the people who run the gritting lorries who go out day and night trying to keep as much of the thousands of miles of Suffolk roads passable as possible.

It seems to be fashionable amongst certain Suffolk car-drivers to criticise these heroes pretty well without thought or reflection.  Me: I have nothing but the utmost admiration for them. The service is run via a handful of people working throughout the nights and they do a fantastic job – and all without expectation of any kind of thanks at all.  I rang a highways officer at 11am on day in the last cold period. He sounded a bit dazed (tho very competent). It turned out he’d just got back into the office having been out on the roads personally gritting since midnight the night before!

As well as remembering to be grateful that our service is so good, we MUST also make sure that any hamfisted attempts at divestment protect the efficiency and effectiveness that we are currently managing in-house. Other counties with privatised gritting services are not managing half so well.

New traffic island at the top of Ipswich Road (Clarkson’s Crossing)

There will be some sort of official naming ceremony for this at some time as – due to the input of  the Farlingaye students – Woodbridge now has the only named crossing in Suffolk (they christened it the Clarkson crossing, after the local anti-slavery activist). I am happy to see the crossing  seems to be used by the very people it was intended for, and I also think it might be slowing the traffic on entering Woodbridge. The LED sign half-way down Ipswich Road – which is on order but has not yet arrived – should also help reduce speed.

Suffolk’s NSD – a Noddy Style Democracy?

Sadly, at full council yesterday the Conservative administration used its large majority to carry on with its horrifyingly unformed proposals of divestment  – and STILL without any public mandate.

I’m sharing below the speech I made against this decision. Unfortunately, despite its undoubted brilliance, and despite equally superb and  accurate speeches by my leader Kathy Pollard, deputy leader, David Wood, and colleague John Field, all the backbench conservatives voted with their leaders rather than their consciences  to support this unformed, uncosted, un-budgeted,  and undemocratic piece of ideologically-driven decision-making.

So in the years to come, folks,  you need to remember that this decision to ‘divest’ is NOT a coalition decision. This is NOT a national decision. It is NOT based on national cuts . No, the responsibility for the NSD  lies squarely in the hands of Leader Jeremy Pembroke, his Cabinet  – and all the Tory backbenchers on Suffolk County Council with huge reservations – not one of whom had the bottle to vote so in public!

My speech against the NSD

In September this council agreed  – via its socking Tory majority –  to push through the Cabinet recommendation , the NSD

–  Which stands for… what exactly?  Me, I think Noddy-style Democracy sums up the process pretty fairly!

Now there are lots and lots of reasons to object to this Enid  Blyton fantasy, the NSD, but I’m only given 3 minutes.

So, I won’t mention their spurious 30% cuts, nor the value of the services they want to sell off or throw away .  As regards its  lack of logic and responsibility to the people of Suffolk – I’ll confine myself to quoting the Deputy Leader :

“If people don’t value a service, it won’t be delivered. If no-one comes forward with an offer to deliver it, that’s proof it’s not needed.”

(What a superbly Toytown approach to service delivery that is, by the way! So, if no-one comes forward to unblock your loo, is that proof your loo’s not blocked? )

No, my three minutes is going on the democratic deficit that led to this decision – and the democratic deficit that underpins your  subsequent  ‘consultation’.

Now, I missed last meeting for serious personal reasons and so couldn’t cast my vote against the NSD. Did it matter?  Not a jot!

Why? Because the future of Suffolk’s services lies

  • not in the hands of its half a million plus electors,
  • not in the  hands of the 75 county councillors who represent them,
  • – and, – NOT  – in the hands of the  55 Tory councillors opposite who hold a majority vote.

NO, it  has been made by my esteemed colleagues, the Leader and  cabinet.

These ten people have unilaterally decided to  ‘transform Suffolk public services”.

Last September, Council also agreed “proactive and wide-ranging engagement across Suffolk to establish whether the key NSD proposals found favour with the communities.”  Note that  weasel word ‘engagement’ rather than ‘consultation.’

I’m sorry Jeremy, but your ‘proactive and wide-ranging engagement’ is a farce. Nowhere in your ‘engagement activity’  did you ask the VITAL question, “Shall we do it?”

Instead you askedDo you understand it?” And indeed, by 21 November you had 528 responses – 63% of who DID ‘understand’  Jeremy, the concept of ‘selling the family silver’ is very easy to understand.

What people don’t understand  is WHY you’re selling it without asking the family first.

So we Lib Dems decided to hold our own ‘engagement process’. We  actually walked around, we delivered 23,000 leaflets, we visited not a single town, once – as several of the Conservative councillors say they did – but town after town over and over again and talked to many residents  about your NSD.  And, you know what? People had never heard of it.

They were appalled, Jeremy!  We didn’t get 528 responses– we’ve had over 1500, and rising.

Aren’t you – even a little bit – aware of  just how angry most people are?

Or maybe this is the area where YOU ‘don’t understand’!

Now, some of my constituents think your plans ridiculous,

Some  of them think they are reprehensible.

But maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe they’re just WRONG.

Couldn’t you all  just admit you’re wrong?  There are lots of my colleagues opposite, who I know are privately very unhappy about what’s happening and how.  Of course you are. You’re friends of democracy – no fans of fairytales. You represent the people of Suffolk with as much passion and dedication as I do.

So why not go for it! Why not summon up the courage of all those thousands of crosses on your ballot papers?  People voted for democratic values. For Suffolk values!  NOT for Noddy Style Democracy. Suffolk is not Toytown! Playtime is over! So lets  consult properly – and LISTEN to the replies. The people of Suffolk aren’t  children. They don’t need fairy-tales. You can trust them to make grown-up decisions!