Confused about the Suffolk School Travel Consultation? I’m hearing people saying things like “why don’t kids go to their local school?” and “why don’t they cycle like we did?”
THIS IS MISSING THE POINT.
Be clear, Suffolk is already only providing free transport to those children who meet strict criteria: children must be over-8 and living OVER 3 miles from their catchment or transport priority school; or under 8 and living OVER 2 miles from ditto.
Suffolk County Council’s budget forecast paints worrying picture A Cabinet paper last week revealed that Suffolk County Council is forecasting an overspend of £10.2m on their 2017/18 revenue budget. The majority of this overspend is within Adult & Community Services (£2.3m) and Children’s Services (£6.4m). The narrative that ‘savings’ (eg ‘cuts’) can continue is increasingly unsustainable. “Leaner and fitter” has morphed to anorexia.
Opposition councillors are growing increasingly concerned: latest budget forecasts make it clear that, unless major changes occur, the Council’s finances are not sustainable in the long-term with the most vulnerable members of our county the most likely to suffer the consequences.
Suffolk County Council has had to make significant savings in response to continuing cuts in funding from central government. Demand for services, however, has continued to grow. This is no surprise to anyone. However, while there is no denying the issue of chronic underfunding from central government, Suffolk County Council has plumed itself on capping council tax for years . (Leader Colin Noble memorably maintained: “the vast majority of those on fixed pensions do not look to council services to help them in their old age. So he majority of old people are not reliant on libraries, buses, roads, care services, public health? News to me, and to them. And to Cllr Noble, clearly).
The administration called instead for for Suffolk to innovate in income generation.
Disappointingly this income has failed to materialise.
This is tragic. Proper investment in Suffolk’s economy, combined with regular tiny increases in council tax over the years, could have done much to avert the current worrying situation.
Home to School Transport – workshops announced In September, our LDGI Group successfully “called-in” the Cabinet’s decision to go to consultation on changes to the Home to School Transport policy, questioning the nature of the pre-consultation period, and arguing that more research needed to be done.
The Scrutiny Committee agreed with us, and voted to refer the decision back to Cabinet for further consideration. It has not yet been announced when Cabinet will reconsider the proposals.
Suffolk County Council has announced that two workshops will be taking place in November, to further discuss the challenge and help develop proposals for Cabinet to consider. However, invitations will only be sent to 80 randomly selected representatives. If you have not been invited, and feel that you should be a part of these workshops, you can contact either myself or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Motion to improve early years funding rejected by Council At the meeting of Council on Thursday 19th October, our LDGI group supported a Labour motion which called on the Council to (1) lobby central government for more funding in Suffolk and (2) pass the full amount of funding received on to providers. Unfortunately, the Conservative majority refused to back the motion.
Since September 2017, working families are entitled to 30 hours of free childcare, whilst all families are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare. Suffolk is one of only 37 local authorities which this year had a reduction in early years funding, receiving a total of £31 987 186. This equates to £4.41 per hour. However, childcare providers receive a base rate of only £3.87 per hour, and many are struggling to run their businesses on this low rate.
The motion highlighted the difficulty faced by childcare providers across the county, and questioned why the Council did not pass through a higher rate of funding to providers.
Councillor Gordon Jones (Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Education and Skills) stated that the Council only retains £2.1m, which is used to meet their statutory duties. He has yet to provide a full breakdown on how this money is spent
Bus timetable changes and issues due to Woods Lane Closure The closure seems to be proving as problematic as forecast. First are using shuttle buses to extend the 800 Park and Ride journeys beyond Woodbridge due to delays on account of the Woods Lane works. I have already had one complaint that these are not integrated in ticketing terms with the P&R services.
It also seems that the notices on the suspended bus stops on Bredfield Road is leading a number of older residents to assume that bus services are completely suspended therefore entrapping them in this part of Woodbridge.
The temporary shuttle bus stops are not clearly signed and the shuttle bus does not adequately cover for the suspended bus stops.
Social Worker of the Year: former Kyson pupil nominated second year running The Coastal and North East Ipswich Child in Care social work team is a finalist in the Social Worker of the Year Awards 2017 as a result of their outstanding work with children and their families.
Members of the team have previously been recognised for their outstanding achievements, including (I am very proud to say) former Kyson pupil Emily Tiplady-Ead whose immense professionalism and skills made herlast year’s national ‘Children’s Social Worker of the Year ’. Hearty congratulations, Emily!
Woodbridge Thoroughfare Consultation This received over 600 replies. A presentation will be mounted in the Library shortly to unveil the overwhelmingly popular result and to signpost the next stage
This is the last year of the four year county council electoral cycle. Apart from the ultimately bathetic non-event of Suffolk’s devolution – which managed to take up an extraordinary amount of last year’s council administrative time with absolutely no ultimate outcome – a lot of other things have happened in Suffolk over the last 12 months. Here are some of the most important to people in Woodbridge:
Agreed 20mph zone & calming in Woodbridge Years of requests from Woodbridge Town Council, individual bodies and local residents came to fruition in February when I presented a report and a mass of supporting documentation to Suffolk’s Speed Panel – and got through – ambitious proposals for speed calming in Woodbridge. I am grateful to the contribution of former Mayor Nigel Barrett to this and much cross-party support in managing to make this finally happen.
The overarching intentions will be:
to ensure that the ancient centre of Woodbridge is calmed
that heavy traffic is discouraged
that (often elderly) residents and visitors have easier access between the heart of the town and the riverside area
that children can walk and cycle safely to school
to help solve longstanding and persistent problems of heavy traffic in the Thoroughfare and surrounding streets
to assist in dealing with longstanding traffic related air quality problems at Melton Hill which is a designated Air Quality Management Area and an action for SCC to resolve
and by supporting the 20mph signage in the centre with a holistic scheme, to prevent unintended consequences of people ‘rat running’ elsewhere in the town
to support the Woodbridge ‘Walkers are Welcome’ initiative.
The approval of the panel, though vital, is only the first step. All speed changes have to be put out to community consultation before current speedscan be changed and funding has to be found from a variety of sources. There will be 4 years’ Highways funding from the County Councillor, and we will hope to draw from money for Air Quality and CIL money payable on account of local development.
Thoroughfare traffic improvement I regrouped the Thoroughfare Working Party in November to try and tackle the continuing issues of traffic in the Thoroughfare – balancing the needs of residents, visitors, traders, shoppers, pedestrians and (necessary) vehicle users. Representation is from all 3 levels of council (cross-party), retailers, residents, police and highways engineers. The aim is to try and find consensus for a short, mid- and long-term plan to improve footfall and preserve the future of the Woodbridge Thoroughfare in all its aspects because it is the heart of Woodbridge and the lifeblood of the town.
There are two different issues with different enforcement needs (people driving through and people parking).
We look as if we are close to reaching a solution which can be put out to community consultation.
Woodbridge Youth Centre Although some years ago I had been assured by Suffolk’s Chief Executive Deborah Cadman that no decision concerning the Woodbridge Youth Centre would be made without full disclosure to all Woodbridge councillors, I was called into a meeting last summer to be told the centre would close imminently.
The line was “we’re afraid something significant over the next year might force closure at short notice..so we thought we’d force closure at short notice now.”
The centre had been home to many community initiatives: Not only was it home for Just 42, there had been a youth club there for decades, The Gateway social Club for people with learning disabilities met there for 30 years, Company of 4 used it for rehearsals, it housed classes for Pilates, baby massage, country dancing, French, Italian, English as a second language, tai chi, as well as having a very important role in young people’s social care, and as a ‘safe house’ for children to meet parents in difficult home situations.
Suffolk County has offered the site on a long lease if a good business case can be made within a year for a new centre, and (once Just42 was rehoused in temporary accommodation), we have got a group together to ensure that we can rebuild the youth centre on its present site as soon as possible for all users!
New rural Community Transport – new difficulties for Bus Pass holders After Suffolk’s Conservative administration stopped supporting scheduled bus services in many parts of rural Suffolk back in the Andrea Hill era rural dwellers have relied on a patchwork of demand responsive services.
In June these were brought together under a new community franchise offer, with the aim of rebranding and savinf significant sums (the county no longer provide free vehicles – saving some £570k (which largely voluntary bodies would have to find) – but also SCC would HALVE the community subsidy from £1.4m to £700k over the next four years) Although Suffolk was told this would create parity across Suffolk, it has instead created a postcode lottery .
While Suffolk Coastal Community Transport -operated by previous operators CATS and FACTS (in Felixstowe)- will be operating the same services as before: a mix of Demand Responsive Transport (on which bus passes will be accepted), and door-to-door and community car services on which passes won’t be accepted (exactly as before.) in mid-Suffolk, the franchisees no longer operate Demand Responsive Transport in their Community Transport offer – eg Bus Passes will NO LONGER be accepted, under-16 fares will only apply if are accompanied by an adult, and the under 18 reduction is derisory with no provision for young people to use SCC’s Endeavour card.
This leaves all people eligible for concessionary passes in mid Suffolk with the choice of accepting £100 in vouchers and no pass (for travel outside midSuffolk) or a pass that cannot be used where they live. And of course Suffolk bus pass holders from other districts cannot use them to travel into mid-Suffolk either.
Queen’s 90th Birthday Commemorative Badges for Woodbridge Children In the past Britain’s schoolchildren were always given a souvenir to commemorate special occasions and this year it seemed – particularly in this time of austerity – a good idea to revive this custom. So I funded a commemorative badge for every child in every Woodbridge school to celebrate and commemorate the Queen’s 90th birthday (2975 badges). Over the birthday week deputy Mayor Clare Perkins and I personally handed out about 2000 badges.
Suffolk Highways Maintenance Controversy: A new Highway Maintenance Operational Plan, and Contract extension In the summer Suffolk’s administration agreed a new Highway Maintenance Operational Plan with contractors, Kier, and towards the end of 2016 extended their contract – despite their record of appalling performance.
Basically Suffolk’s administration had little option for the former because the past Highways Maintenance plans have been a disaster, criticised by everyone, regardless of party affiliation. (And anyway, the new Plan had been running (‘trialled’) without Cabinet consent since early May.)
The good news is that it concedes that the previous way of Highways Maintenance working was unwieldy and inefficient, as county, town and district councillors across Suffolk could testify. There should now be a much more unified and strategic way of working between SCC and contractors Kier to try and make things work more efficiently than they have, meaning that the Highways small schemes backlog – created solely by this administration’s ideologically driven decision to outsource the contract in the name of efficiency savings – may clear at long, long last.
The bad news is that the mantra of ‘you’ve got to pay the market price for the work you get’ is very much to the fore, so there is no suggestion of many highways schemes being affordable any more. (I have recently been quoted £5,000 to ‘design’ the siting of a single bollard!) Small towns like Woodbridge will no longer be able to rely on their County Councillors’ Highways budgets. Currently these are half what they were at best (mine is £6660 this year). Yet jobs will be many times more expensive.
At county Cabinet meeting I asked whether this was not a case of the ‘tail wagging the dog’? That this newly designed Highways Maintenance Operational Plan (the second one in a year!) had been constructed to fit the contractor because the contractor had been unable to stick to the agreed plan?(This was loudly rejected – but with little evidence).
In particular I pointed out the utter absurdity of a private organisation mouthing the ‘you’ve got to pay the market price for the work you get’ mantra whilst providing no competition to ensure that they are offering good value for money. I was talked down, of course.
As for Kier’s contract extension, this appeared to be for no more cogent reason than Macbeth’s “I am in blood so stepped that should I go no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.” Again, I spoke and urged the council to return to cheap, efficient, knowledgeable in-house provision as we had in the past. Again, the quiet voice of reason was overlooked. Cassandra could take my correspondence course.
Political Make-Up of Suffolk County Council A lot of these unpopular decisions have been forced through by a wafer-thin majority: the Conservative run council has spent the last year balancing (and occasionally tipping over the edge ) of a minority administration. As we come up to the council elections the current balance is technically hung 37:37 with one vacancy . The make up is
Liberal Democrat: 8
So, if you don’t like the state of the roads, of social care, of the libraries – remember to register your dissatisfaction through your vote. (The Suffolk LibDems county manifesto can be found here )
Another Cuts budget for Suffolk, 2017-8 Suffolk County Council’s County Budget 2017-18 was set at the beginning of February. The Conservatives emphasised keeping spend down and how they have amassed large reserves over the past seven years of zero council tax rises. Labour wanted to spend to preserve services and give the residents of Suffolk what they need. Lib Dems felt the Conservatives were cutting too hard but Labour were spending at the top limit of what would be possible. The Conservative’s slender majority carried the day and a further £30million will be cut from services.
Woodbridge Library petition gains 1200 signatures in 10 days Amongst the many cuts to this forthcoming year’s budget, Suffolk County Council is inflicting a further £230,000 cut to the library service. (£280,000 if we include the archives) on top of the significant cut made in this last year.
In ten days in February I got 1200 signatures in Woodbridge to amypetition which read “We oppose any further reductions to the funding of Suffolk’s invaluable and irreplaceable library services, and urge Suffolk County Council not to make this cut. “ The people who signed were of all ages, backgrounds and political affiliations – the eldest was 101. The one thing they agreed on was that these cuts were unacceptable. Over and over again the signatories’ comments repeated the fact that our libraries are ‘essential’, ‘vital’, and that users want “No more cuts!”. At the budget meeting I asked the administration, on behalf of the people I represent, to withdraw this cut. Once again, they did not listen.
Proposals for Ipswich Northern Bypass – and how each impacts on Woodbridge Woodbridge residents may think that a Northern bypass for Ipswich has little to do with them – but the plans will bring it close. With Ipswich coming to a standstill every rush hour and every closure of the Orwell bridge, a progress report into the need for additional road capacity to the north of Ipswich, has been published (the long-proposed Ipswich Northern bypass). Initial broad route corridors have been considered for a potential link between the A12 and A14; and are:
an inner corridor from Martlesham to Claydon
an middle corridor from Woodbridge to Claydon
and an outer corridor from Melton to Needham Market.
All of these will impact on residents of Woodbridge. Obviously each potential corridor would have different impacts on the environment, and on the potential to support future growth. We now have to wait the next stage of study will examine route options in more detail, including traffic, economic and environmental impacts. It will also consider the extent to which the options might support potential future scenarios for housing and employment growth beyond 2031.
First “No Cold Calling Zone” for Woodbridge Suffolk Trading Standards and I visited every home in Morley Avenue to talk to residents about their experiences with cold callers, to set up a ‘No Cold-Calling zone’ in the Avenue and to supply “No Cold Calling” door stickers advertising this.
Woodbridge Library Reading challenge 400 children registered this year, 60% of whom finished the challenge. This meant Woodbridge Library volunteers spent 250 hours helping with the scheme over the summer, and I presented 240 certificates at the award ceremony in September!!!This year I augmented the scheme by funding story-reading sessions for the children over the summer, a Dream Jar competition and a magic show to finish the afternoon off in style, once the certificates had been presented.
Planning Developments I have, as ever, made representations both to planners and to Highways officers regarding proposed developments in my division where I have been concerned that the impact on county council infrastructure and services would be unsustainable. The Gladwells and Queen’s House developments were cases in point.
County Councillor’s Surgery My regular monthly open access County Councillor’s surgery in the library, now in its 7th year, continues to bring in more and more people from across an ever-wider sector of Suffolk Coastal. It is clear that many Suffolk residents would be grateful if their own county councillors held open-access monthly surgeries. Currently I am the only one. Just saying!
Overwhelming issues are parking, speeding, road surfaces, and pedestrian problems. However I deal with problems as diverse as deportations, youth issues, special educational needs, disability concwens, social care crises, homelessness, charitable organisation support – and benches!
Locality Spending My Locality budget spending this year has covered such diverse grants as: new sessions for the New Horizons Lunch Club, a contribution to the Rural Coffee Caravan (which has volunteered to do sessions in parts of Woodbridge); rent for Woodbridge premises for the head injury charity Headway; badges for all schoolchildren 16 and under in Woodbridge to commemorate the Queen’s 90th birthday; promotion and publicity materials for Woodbridge Community Circle; support for Woodbridge Library’s reading scheme; support for the first Woodbridge Ambient Music Event; reading materials for Got to Read’s adult literacy scheme in Woodbridge; sessional funding for Suffolk Rape Crisis; in addition to a large £7000 grant to kickstart the rebuilding of the Woodbridge Youth Centre
Suffolk County Council have just voted in a further budget of cuts – in which various Conservative councillors (the sixth age of Man “In fair round belly with good capon lined“) stood up and explained portentously how these cuts were due to their prudence, and concern for the welfare of the people of Suffolk, hem hem.
So no mention at all that these cuts could have been mitigated if
the very same Conservative councillors hadn’t foolishly boasted that they could run the country as efficiently as ever without raising the council tax over the last seven years (or as Leader Colin Noble gleefully puts in his blog of 25 -03-2013 “And even better news we have promised that if elected we will freeze the Council Tax for the whole of the next term. So that[‘s] 0%, 0%, 0%, 0%, 0%, 0%, 0%! ” -a simple explanation for the truly appallingstate of Suffolk roads, social care, and community transport services etc. over the last few years!
The current situation could also have been mitigated IF the same Conservative administration had actually spent their entire committed budget every year, instead of squirrelling away an annual seemingly planned spending shortfall of £10m, on top of their reserves. Some cuts they have made therefore – the cuts to library budget, for example – seem to be cuts that they made by choice. Because – again, I quote Colin Noble’s blog *:
I do not know what planet Councillor Noble is living on – or who the people are he thinks he represents! Clearly not library users.
Amongst the many cuts to this year’s budget, Suffolk Conservatives proposed a further £230,000 cut to the library service budget . Concerning because since they became IPSs, our libraries have been well used – and used for so many purposes – by readers, reading groups, writing groups, clubs; for old, for young, for retired, employed, unemployed and first job seekers; for AGMs, poetry readings, play performances, and the ever-popular reading challenge. I hold my monthly surgery in Woodbridge Library because it is such a community hub.
As Woodbridge county councillor I vehemently oppose these cuts to library services. My party opposes these cuts. The residents I have spoken to locally, regardless of age, background, or political affiliation, have opposed these cuts. Investing in the immense range of things our libraries do so well and so cheaply is building social capital that benefits Suffolk in a huge range of ways.
In my view it is simple madness to damage it or throw it away.
Yesterday the Labour party presented an amendment to the Conservatives’ budget, overturning the cuts and suggesting over £15m of expenditure from reserves to replace some of the damage Cllr Noble’s administration has done over the last years.
I am supporting the Labour amendment, not because I agree with all of it, but because we need to make a stand for the communities we represent against what has clearly become a culture of cuts in the name of ideology, covered thinly with the cloak of Austerity.
A few years ago the administration opposite were trumpeting the virtues of theNew Strategic Direction ‘s ‘virtual council’– now in our Chief Finance Officer’s report , “the county is committed to being a smaller and ever-more-effective Council with a much greater emphasis on commissioning and much lower levels of direct service provision. “
Isn’t it time to replace ideology with some practical common sense?
I am very concerned on behalf of the people of Suffolk that the administration wants to be “a smaller council” “with a much greater emphasis on commissioning” because then they need not take responsibility for being less effective. The proposed Library budget cuts are comparatively small. And our libraries are an irreplaceable resource: they lend books, support study, provide a knowledge base, host clubs and hobby groups and foster new writing and literature and that’s just for starters. In the last ten days on the streets of Woodbridge, I managed to get 1200 signatures for this petition which says “We oppose any further reductions to the funding of Suffolk’s invaluable and irreplaceable library services, and urge Suffolk County Council not to make this cut. “ The people who signed were of all ages, backgrounds and political affiliations – the eldest was 101. The one thing theyagreed on was that these cuts were unacceptable. Comments range from asking “Are you mad?” to “A brilliant community service”,”Shame on you!” “Libraries are an integral part of our future and our history – knowledge is power”. Over and over again is repeated the fact that our libraries are ‘essential’ and that users want “No more cuts!”
So why cut? If Suffolk has underspent by millions year on year (as both LibDems and Labour disclosed) we didn’t need to cut the library budget last year on the grounds of affordability – and we certainly should not have the brass neck to cut it by a further quarter of a million this year . Suffolk Libraries are scooping up people failed by the employment, education, social care services, all on top of their – statutory, may I remind you – remit to lend us books. Funding is cut to the bone –and STILL Suffolk’s administration proposes cuts. And will no doubt wash their hands of the consequences, like jesting Pilate.
I agree with many things in the Labour amendment – in an absolute requirement for Suffolk to support public transport and education transport and to support those of all ages in need of help and care, but if it were only to ensure that our wonderful libraries remain the admiration of the rest of the country – which they currently are – I can have no option but to support this amendment!
Such eloquence, eh? But still the prevailing Conservative vote was against common sense and common interest. I’m sorry, folks. We tried.
*I have provided a screengrab for Cllr Noble’s blog because astonishingly enough one is unable to access it via a County Council computer. Should you try, you get the message
“Oops, it looks like this site isn’t categorised! Uncategorised websites aren’t available as they may be unsafe.”
Last year Suffolk’s Tory administration made extra payments (Special Responsibility Allowances or SRAs) to 48 out of 75 Suffolk county councillors. So, not very special then.
And with 82% (32 of 39) Tory county councillors getting a SRA, it seems a (Conservative) councillor had to be rather special NOT to get one.
In December’s full council meeting, I tabled a question asking the Leader of Suffolk County Council how he could justify this sharp rise in allowance payments to members of his group at a time of continuing belt-tightening? I didn’t get a very clear answer except that the councillors in question ‘worked very hard’. No doubt. As do many other colleagues, without extra reward.
Coincidentally, in April, Suffolk County Council stopped printing individual bus timetables to save money.
Or as Cllr Finch, Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport put it succinctly:
"we have been actively promoting digital methods of accessing bus times using on-line journey planning, mobile apps and Real Time Passenger Information. We have now reached the point where we will no longer be printing the twenty different timetables to give to customers. The final print run will be in April. After this time we will be signposting customers to www.suffolkonboard.com where they will be able to download or print their own timetables and use the comprehensive journey planner"
Cllr Finch and his advisers seem to live in a world where everybody has easy access to libraries , computers, smartphones, printers, apps. Sadly not all bus users live in this world.
Unsurprisingly, his decision has had a bad effect on a lot of people, but particularly on the elderly, including many Woodbridge residents. I have been passing on their comments – often in video form – to Cllr Finch ever since.
Very coincidentally, Suffolk’s Conservative administration expected to save £50,000 this year by not printing bus timetables for people who really needed them – the same amount of money that they spent on additional special responsibility allowances for Conservative councillors.
Don’t you think its time the Tories on Suffolk County Council reviewed their priorities?