Category Archives: Council spending

Cuts in Suffolk – don’t ever forget who’s holding that knife!

As your county councillor I am horribly anxious about so many different  things simultaneously.  

This week  its been the almost certain loss of Suffolk’s libraries, school crossing patrols, care homes, bus services, the eXplore card, and services for families  that has  been most worrying me.  That, and the impact of these losses on the people of Suffolk.

For clearly, Suffolk residents are  likely to be losing all of these, losing them irrevocably, sacrificed to the ideological insanity of an ‘enabling’ council, run by affluent, untroubled  people who say:  “Do as I say, not as I do!”   It is  a Topsy Turvey world where those who run it can demand  pay moderation, job cuts, and employment freezes for everyone else but themselves;  can parrot the mantra of “Greenest County” and drive everywhere in a 4×4; can declare themselves determined to protect ‘the most vulnerable’  but do not include in this category the elderly, the very young, the disabled , or the disadvantaged.  

Pah!  

However,  I would urge you not to confuse national policies with our current disgraceful  local vandalism. For a start, such confusion could – no, WILL –  let those responsible off the hook! The New Strategic Direction has been a long time in the planning. It is making cuts greater than required in services the administration doesn’t value. A cynic would suggest that it is using the national situation as a cover for doing so.

Remember, in Suffolk the Liberal Democrats are not in any kind of coalition – they are very strongly the opposition party.  And as you know, both I and my colleagues have been fighting these cuts from the day they were first heralded, back in last September. Let us be clear here – although we are in opposition,  Suffolk Lib Dems are fighting this New Strategic Direction as a matter of common sense rather than party-political politicking.  We are fighting it because the effects will hit people of all ages, and backgrounds and political hue.

We – like any sane, sensible people – think there IS such a thing as society, and that  actually in Suffolk we had – till recently – a society that ran quite well. One that looked after its old and its sick and disabled, that tempered the wind to the shorn lamb. We think a  County Council should respond to its residents and their needs:  that the council is there to represent  and protect them and serve them. We are not so arrogant that  we forget that SCC  is paid for by the people of Suffolk, out of their own money! We feel that those who pay the piper should be allowed to call the tune!

 The council’s current bizarre ‘New Strategic Direction’ (which seems to combine ‘selling off of the family silver’ with dumping some of it in a skip) does not seem to think  this way. Far from intending to deliver ‘the best’ for the people of Suffolk,  the NSD  does not intend to deliver anything at all!

 Care homes, libraries, bus services and school crossing patrols:  all of these are not just ‘optional extras’ to be dispensed with and disposed of  by those who do not use them (and seemingly fail to remember they do not own them).  Yet there is such a thing as society in Suffolk, and all these services are ones that make you proud that it still exists.

Suffolk County Council is cynically using the cuts in central government grants to justify what it plans to do, but central actions (whatever we think of them) do not in any sense explain what is being done here in Suffolk.  The Coalition government is not going to win any popularity contests while trying to recoup the eye-watering deficit bequeathed by Gordon Brown and the last thirteen years.   However it should not be expected to carry the can for the ‘scorched earth’ decisions being made – without reference to the public or even a business plan – by those who have created the ‘New Strategic Direction’.

But the CEO and the Tory administration at Suffolk County Council are not the only people to blame for this mess. There’s also the sheer apathy of all too many of the people of Suffolk to factor in!    

In late October/November last year I  – together with many other colleagues – trudged around a large area of Suffolk Coastal delivering 23,000 copies of an emergency leaflet which tried to alert the people of Suffolk to what lay ahead. 

The administration accused us of ‘scaremongering’ – yet our direst predictions were less terrible than the truth.

We did our best and gained a huge amount of support from those prepared to listen – but it was not enough. Far too few people took notice. Some hoped it wouldn’t  really happen under a Tory watch, others hoped to regain popularity for the Labour party by standing on the sidelines and letting our society crumble, others  just hoped that the problem would go away if they shut their eyes and buried their heads in the sand.   

So, once again I urge you to put aside party-political differences and take action!  After months of refusing to listen to the people it represents, Suffolk County Council has finally  put up an e-petition site. Register on it and add your name  to an existing petition or  start a new one. Or best – do both!

http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/

You can sign any petition – the only qualification is that you need to live, work or study in Suffolk (for example, I have signed all the Library petitions as I believe in an integrated service for the county) but current petitions that particularly affect you are :

Save our School Crossing Patrols – the St Mary’s School Woodbridge lollipop man is going to be cut along with the other 97 lollipop posts across Suffolk, to save a sum of money that equates to to less that 80% of the Chief Executive’s annual salary!

Save Woodbridge Library: it will not be closed –  but it is still in danger of ‘divestment’.

Save Woodbridge Buses  Cuts – confirmed yesterday – to SCC subsidised services will leave Woodbridge without any evening, sunday or bank holiday bus services, plus cut easy links to other towns and villages. This will cause huge problems to those who can’t, don’t, or can’t afford to drive 

Save the Explore Card  Up till now young people have had this card to help with travel costs to post-16 education, to work and to find work, and for socialising. Explore cards were available free to students 16-19, and have enabled them to pay only half adult fares on buses and on many off-peak rail journeys. Additionally, 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 a very good thing too!. The proposed abolition of the card would mean there will be more cars on the road because many more young people will be driven or drive to school, college, employment etc. It will put more, less confident cyclists on busier roads. It will lead to less take-up of FE education because of difficulties of access. It will harm young people’s chances of going for job interviews and training. The proposed abolition is a retrograde step that threatens the very education and employment opportunities that our young people need in order to help us out of our current economic crisis. It also makes a mockery of our ‘Greenest county’ aspirations 

(NB: A word of warning sometimes the e-petition links work poorly. If so , go to the site and navigate from there! And if it doesn’t work, keep trying until it does.)

Save our Woodbridge Lollipop patrol!

Seven years ago Suffolk’s lollipop men and women were being hailed by Suffolk  county council as  ‘greatly appreciated frontline staff’ as the golden anniversary of this wonderful, useful and CHEAP service was being celebrated.

School crossing patrols were formally recognised in Britain by the Schools Crossing Patrols Act of 1953.  Lollipop people are one of only four agents entitled to stop traffic by law (The others being the police, traffic wardens and some members of the Armed Forces).  Lollipop men and women have long done a fantastic job for a pittance and little thanks. But worse is to come..

Today all 98 patrols  in Suffolk are being cut by order of the Suffolk County Council’s Conservative administration to save a paltry £174,000  ( that is, a mere 79% of the Suffolk CEO’s annual salary).  At the very same time, SCC  is  adding another £2m to its roads budget which will weigh in at a truly gobsmacking £18.2 million this  next financial year. You couldn’t make it up.

Do you ever get the feeling that the people running SCC have simply got their priorities well and truly WRONG? that they haven’t the faintest idea about what really matters in the real world?

Dear Cllr Pembroke, dear  Cabinet:  Lets get this straight. School crossing patrols  – like the one run here in Woodbridge  by our invaluable St Mary’s School lollipop man Terry – are  not set up on a whim.    No, they are established at sites where children are in danger from road traffic when walking to and from school as assessed  – not by naughty bad people who just want to irritate you – but by national guidelines (establishedby the Local Authority Road Safety Officer’s Association and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents , no less)

So they’re not what you might call a frivolity …

Ten years ago in Woodbridge the Times reports on how the (then)  Woodbridge Lollipop man, Frank Howe, was knocked to the ground by an impatient driver while on patrol on Birkett Road, directly outside St Mary’s School.

“This driver was revving his engine,” Howe recalled. “I could see by the way his mouth was going that he was cursing me for keeping him. He mounted the kerb and went to pass me. His wing mirror caught me and I went down. He didn’t stop. Luckily, an off-duty policeman saw what happened and forced him to come back.

“The parents and children were very shocked, but they had taken down his registration number. He was prosecuted, given a £350 fine and eight points on his licence, but I never got an apology.”

Cllr Pembroke, Cabinet, can I ask you: has traffic become less busy in the last ten years?

The same article quotes the (then) SCC officer in charge  of the School Crossing service as saying:

“We want our lollipop men and women to know just how much we appreciate them. We see them as frontline members of staff, very visible!”

What a difference seven years can make, folks.

So, Cllr Pembroke, Cabinet – let’s get this straight

  • School crossing patrols were instituted and enshrined  by Act of Parliament because they were needed;
  • They have been running for over sixty years because they clearly continue to be needed;
  • Over these years the roads have got busier and busier;
  • Patrols only operate where children are in danger from road traffic when walking to and from school (this danger assessed by national guidelines);
  • We want to get children out of the car and back onto their feet – to combat child obesity and encourage independence , as well as discourage the fumes and jams and road danger caused by heavy schoolrun traffic;
  • patrols are very very cheap to run – £2,500 – £3,500 a year
  • SCC also has (although in my opinion, totally self-serving, unrealistic and self-deluded) aspirations to be ‘the Greenest County.’

And you want to close  every school crossing patrol in Suffolk to save less money than you pay your Chief Executive as basic salary???

A final question, Cllr Pembroke: What is a cynic? According to Oscar Wilde,  its  A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Cllr Pembroke, you and your Cabinet need to recognise that the  tiny cost of the Suffolk School Crossing patrols bears  little  relationship to  their extraordinary value to the people of Suffolk! Let’s hope you  recognise this before we all learn the hard way the truth of Wilde’s other famous quote from the same play: Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.

If you wish to encourage Cllr Pembroke and his Cabinet to change their minds , you could always write directly to the Leader of Suffolk County Council at Endeavour House, Ipswich.  Closer to home, St. Mary’s School has  a paper-based petition available to sign in school.

You can also add your signature to the SCC e-petition on the subject  by clicking this link http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/Save-our-School-Crossing-Patrols

Distribute that middle! Losing Suffolk libraries through a logical fallacy

If you thought an ‘undistributed middle’ had something to do with eating too much Christmas pud, think again. In Suffolk its the administration’s pitiful excuse for  reducing  our our loved, valued, and needed library services.

SCC’s consultation paper : Have your say on the future of Suffolk’s libraries was launched last week.  The first page of this document sets the framework for you ‘having your say’. It is titled: Services to be delivered differently in the future‘  and the first paragraph is  a whole lot of guff about iPods, e-books and Twitter – just to reinforce the fact that we no longer really need books on bookshelves. And just as well…

Why?  The document tells us that:

“With major changes affecting the country’s economy, and government’s aim to cut the national budget deficit over the coming years, Suffolk County Council must reduce its funding to libraries by at least 30% over three years.”

Eh? Did I miss something? This is a perfect example of a logical fallacy : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy_of_the_undistributed_middle

Another  example of this  flaw in argument can be seen in the following:

“Dollar bills are green, trees are green, so money must grow on trees.”

Yes,  Mr Pembroke, there are major changes in the country’s economy.

Yes, the government wants to  cut the national budget deficit over three years.

THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT THERE IS ANY NEED OR REQUIREMENT FOR ‘SCC TO REDUCE ITS FUNDING TO LIBRARIES BY AT LEAST 30% OVER THREE YEARS’!

(And  did you know that The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 makes the provision of ‘a comprehensive and efficient’ public library service a statutory requirement?)

As usual, when justifying their divestments and cuts, SCC  points to cuts in central government grants.  Again, this document fails to mention  that the government grant which is  being cut (by 26% over 4 years, not 30% over 3)  forms only part of SCC’s income. The rest of which is staying the same, or rising. In other words, SCC  does not have to impose of cuts to the Suffolk library service  of over 30% over 3 years at all!

Rather,  it means is that SCC  sees libraries as a ‘soft’ target. In fact, SCC has taken three-quarters of a million pounds away from library funding this year to pay for a hole in care finances already. Yet there has been no proposed reduction whatsoever to Suffolk’s multi-million pound  road maintenance budget. Lorries before learning!

We all know that some cuts, some pain IS going to be unavoidable – but there are different ways of targeting them. For example, you can discover what your residents want.

Norfolk is –  like Suffolk – run by a Tory administration. It is – like Suffolk – rural, and thinly populated in many places.  So how is it managing the problems of less funding? Has  Norfolk  told people that its too expensive to run frontline services? No! Instead of insisting on a mad, undemocratic, ideologically motivated  New Strategic Direction , and deciding on outcomes before consultation with its population,  Norfolk has held a ‘Big Conversation’ – and established what  its residents’ priorities are! After all it is their council tax and their services!

Big Conversations? You might object to the terminology – you can’t fault the way their minds were working.  You can read more about Norfolk’s so much more ‘grown up’ and democratic process  here

Suffolk’s embarrassingly autocratic  library ‘consultation’ will continue  until 30 April. As ever, I urge you to have your say.  I warn you – just as in the case of Suffolk’s Care Homes – ‘having your say’ on the future of Suffolk’s libraries doesn’t mean the administration is allowing you any opportunity to say their idea is bad, and you want no part of it.

Oh no – all this consultation gives you is a chance  to explain your idea for running your divested library.   For example, Question 4 is:  “How will your idea  or interest generate changes or significant efficiencies in the way the library operates to reduce what the county council pays by a minimum of 30%”

Am I the only person who  thinks this is frankly ludicrous when we remember the ‘New Strategic Direction’ is the brainchild of an exceptionally highly paid Chief Executive, who only recently flatly refused to countenance the idea of a voluntary 10% pay cut for herself?  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-suffolk-12232070

SCC consultation document writers may be bad with words but they really are expert at the “when did you stop beating your wife”-type question.

Woodbridge library is ‘safe’:  that is, it will remain one of the 15  ‘County Libraries‘  free from divestment – unless someone really really wants to take it over.   However the other 29  (now designated Community) libraries, including Wickham Market,  Framlingham, Debenham, Kesgrave, Leiston, Oulton Broad and Southwold  are up for divestment – that is, being taken over by community groups.  At the bottom of this page is a little  notice in quiet print:

“If the response to this consultation is disappointing, and the county council does not receive viable proposals and ideas from people, groups, businesses and other interested parties for ways to run community libraries, we propose that funding will stop from 2012.

Not that your arms are being twisted!

You may – whether or not your  own library is on the list – feel like filling in the consultation document. You may, on the other hand feel like filling in one of the e-petitions that are proliferating on the Council’s  brand spanking new petition site:

http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/

You might also write to your local paper, councillor or MP. Or all of these. Good luck!

this does not mean that there is any need or requirement for ‘scc to reduce its funding to libraries by at least 30% over three years