Category Archives: Council spending

Suffolk’s Budget 2016-17: “Its mine it is and I wants it”

z79wxCutting and hoarding – the miser approach?  This year Suffolk County Council demonstrated its usual Gollum attitude to public money – inflicting impossible damage to vital services by slashing comparatively small sums while sitting on a hoard that it doesn’t want to disgorge.

Its mine it is, and I wants it.”

At SCC’s budget setting meeting of 11 February  it was cuts all the way. To community transport funding, to Park and Ride funding,  to the Fire services,  to Library stock, to  County Councillors’ locality budgets… the list goes on and on

There is no such thing as a free lunch“, announced the Cabinet Member  for Finance, shortly after devouring one.  And then started announcing ‘the  realities’ of austerity – and ignoring  the equal reality of the vast sums this administration keep hiding under their mattress, though they were given it in trust to spend on our behalf.

The cuts  (there is no point calling them efficiency savings) amount to £34.4m –  leading to a budget requirement of £445,659,553.  With all these cuts the budget will still  increase council tax by 2% – though in a figleaf to the administration’s electoral promise to freeze council tax for the entire electoral period this is worded as “”The budget is based on a freeze… but includes a 2% precept to fund Adult Social Care…”. What is it that George Orwell said about political language? That it was designed to “give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”?

Unsurprisingly on the day of the budget councillors were told the Conservative administration had ‘found’ more money at the last moment – a Transitional Grant of £1.9m  and an extra £1.6 million from the Rural Services Delivery Grant. This money goes specifically  to Suffolk on its ‘super-sparsity indicator'( because of “additional rural costs… including the small size of rural councils, scattered and remote populations, lack of private sector providers, and poor broadband and mobile coverage”)  Predictably,  the Tory administration decided to bank this little windfall (under their rule our county’s piggybank of  reserves have increased by £100m to c£170m in 5 years)  instead of ameliorating a single cut.

Face it, Suffolk residents – you have the administration you voted in.

You have also the budget that 35 Conservative councillors and the ex-Conservative Councillor for Hadleigh , North Carolina resident Brian Riley voted for. ( Cllr Riley sent his apologies for important statutory councillor training on Child Exploitation earlier in the week. He had no difficulty in flying in from America to vote to impose these cuts on his constituents at the behest of his previous party on Thursday. Hadleigh residents who voted for Riley ‘to give Clegg a bloody nose‘ – how is that one working out for you?).

The total cohort of Suffolk County councillors amounts to 75.

The Lib Dems supported  a Labour amendment that tried to ameliorate – indeed turn back – the cuts. They were joined in cross-party unity with the Greens, the Independents and even UKIP. It was a tight vote but the administration squeezed through. The Labour amendment was lost 32-36. The Conservatives won their budget 36-27.

My own speech referred to the transport cuts :

The cuts to Community Transport , Park and Ride and Passenger Transport budgets amount to £750,000.  That’s a £1 for every man woman and child in Suffolk. Not a large sum, you might say? Certainly small enough for Suffolk to lose without comment from the administration on the failed Suffolk Circle scheme, which closed so quietly in 2014. Remember that, Cllr Noble?

However these cuts are likely to be catastrophic to the services affected, to the roll-out of the new look Community Transport , now tasked with doing so much more for so many more  with so much less; to those who can’t look up timetables on smartphones and laptops as the loss of printed timetables requires because they simply don’t have the smartphones and laptops (and many older bus users don’t have!)  and most of all  -because possibly fatal – for the park & ride service.

Today I travelled on the park and ride route – 45 mins to Ipswich stuck in a jam of single occupancy cars on the Kesgrave road. There’s no denying this service is desperately needed. Its arguably not well  enough promoted. Arguably the  charging policy may need review. But its need is unarguable. Indeed, instead of cutting this funding,  I’d argue we need to refund and bring back the Bury Road Park and Ride the Tories cut so disastrously a year or two ago.  Park and Ride loss  will mean a huge loss of amenity for out-of- Ipswich residents: city centre access, railway access, hospital access, Suffolk 1 access.

I’d also argue that all cuts  to the public transport budget particularly when  over £2m Rural Services Delivery Grant money was specifically allocated  to Suffolk on its super sparsity indicator  – that is   specifically to help us with  issues such as our scattered and remote population – are an exercise of power without responsibility: an inability of the administration to recognise the unintended consequences of these cuts.

Yes, this is a time of austerity and we must all get real. SO lets talk the reality of reality. And at a time of austerity we have a duty to support those people who are suffering most from the impact of austerity. Efficient reliable public transport underpins education, employment, training, access to health and social care.  Of course I support Labour’s amendment!

What’s happening locally – February 2015

Suffolk County Council budget 2015-16.  Suffolk County Council will be debating the county’s 2015-16 budget at  this Thursday’s  full council. The administration is proposing  to cut £38 million in the next financial year – bringing its overall revenue budget down to less than £500 million for the first time in many years. It says that the cuts will be made by changing the way the council delivers  services and that front-line services to members of the public should not be seriously impacted. Opposition parties suggest that it is definitely  time to start dipping into the council reserves – likely to be over £150million by the end of next month.

Martlesham and Woodbridge Neighbourhood plans  It has been brought to my attention a small part of Martlesham Parish is under consideration in both the Martlesham and Woodbridge Neighbourhood plan area designation applications. It can of course can ultimately be included in only in one neighbourhood plan.  As  my County Council division covers the area  in question, I am very happy to offer myself as ‘honest broker’  should one be required.

The topping  out ceremony of  the combined Woodbridge  Fire and Police Station took place last Thursday. Work is proceeding fast, and the police are expected to move in in May.

Great East Swim training programme offer.  SCC is offering 48 places for people  aged between 14 and 25 and 48 places for those over the age of 50, who don’t regularly partake in physical activity, thanks to funding and support from Sport England. This includes

  • Three months fully supported training with professional swimming coaches
  • Three months free membership to one of the participating leisure centres
  • Physiotherapy support from Allied Health Professionals Suffolk
  • Free entry to the Great East Swim 2015
  • Free wetsuit hire.

Valued at over £200 per participant the opportunities are being made available at a small one-off charge of £25 per person.

The Sportivate programme for those aged 14-25 will be held at Crown Pools in Ipswich or Leiston Leisure with 25 places at each location; the programme for those aged 50+ will be held at Crown Pools Ipswich and Felixstowe Leisure Centre with 24 places in each location.

Woodbridge Buses I had a small  personal success in getting the timetables at the Turban centre relocated and reprinted after a photograph  I took of them, showing that you had to be seven foot tall to read them went viral on Twitter. Desperate measures indeed, but they were replaced in 24 hours, having been a problem for months!

 

What’s been happening in Suffolk 2013-14

Here is the annual report I gave yesterday to Woodbridge Town Council’s AGM,  highlighting some aspects of the running of Suffolk County Council over the last year that people may find of interest:

Caroline Page,  Woodbridge County Councillor
Caroline Page, Woodbridge County Councillor

Electoral makeup of Suffolk County Council 2013-4  The electoral year 2013-4 started with a newly elected county council, which brought  significant changes in the dynamics of SCC. The Conservative group retained their overall majority, but it was reduced from 35 to 3. The political make-up of the council has been: Conservative 39; Labour 15; UKIP 9.  Liberal Democrat 7; Green 2; Independent 3.

I was re-elected for a third term, retaining my place as ViceChair of the Education Transport Appeals committee. I have continued as LibDem spokesman for Transport and Highways.

There has been a welcome improvement in the democratic process in this year, with the establishment of cross-party Policy Development Panels to look at areas of concern in all directorates. I have been sitting on various panels to do with transport: so far 20mph Speed Limits, Other Speed Limits; Rural Transport

Budget 2014  There was a further reduction in Government grants to the County Council this year requiring £38.6m of spending cuts across most services.  SCC once again took advantage of central government’s council tax freeze deal – which provides central funding for all those councils NOT raising council tax.

My party was concerned – most particularly with Adult and Continuing Services – that apparent efficiencies are masking significant service cutbacks, and that any budget cuts  made in  Childrens and Young Peoples’ services might impact on the chances of improving performance.  The  future of Suffolk depends on the aspirations of its young people.

Gains will finally be made by moving Customer Service Direct back in-house but a hard lesson has been learned here. Proof, if proof was needed that outsourcing services doesn’t always make savings and is not always best.

Outsourcing of Highways Services to Keir MG  In October 2013, SCC finally managed the long-anticipated outsourcing of Highways services to an external company – Kier MG – after the debacle earlier in the year  where the arrangements for the procurement of a prior preferred bidder fell apart literally at the last moment.

The new highways contract to with Kier MG started on the 1st of October. I think it is fair to say there have been significant teething troubles in the first months: extraordinary delays and a hefty increase in costing for Councillor-funded projects. I am on the Councillor Working Group which meets with Keir MG representatives and SCC officers to improve information, and have not been backward in bringing local concerns  for improving information.

Raising the Bar in Suffolk Schools  At the end of 2013 SCC adopted  findings of a 10 month independent inquiry into school performance  in Suffolk as part of the ‘Raising the bar’ initiative.  These include working harder to attract and retain talented teachers, having an awards programme to recognise excellence in teaching, working with governors to improve the management of schools – and building a partnership with the London borough of Hackney which has seen its educational standards improve dramatically over recent years.

Although in Woodbridge, the schools are doing well (Farlingaye was recently rated outstanding in all areas by Ofsted), Suffolk was rated 148th out of 151 councils at primary level, 141st out of 151 at secondary level. Eight years ago, Suffolk schools were rated as being in the top thirties.

Public Health  Public Health Suffolk  moved to Suffolk County Council on 1st April 2013 and commissions a range of services for all  Suffolk residents, notably adult and child obesity, smoking cessation and sexual health. Before this date these services were commissioned by the NHS.  Over year Public Health Suffolk has been assessing services across Suffolk to ensure equity of provision in all areas.

I still  have concerns that no efficient, central accessible sexual health clinic has yet been found to replace that which closed at Ipswich Hospital . The recent move to buildings in the old Holywells site has done nothing to provide services that are accessible to the young people of Woodbridge, reliant on public transport. Holywells is less accessible than Ipswich Hospital!

Suffolk Circle  In March 2014 Suffolk Circle folded and SCC quietly wrote off nearly a million pounds of our money.  In 2010 SCC’s Cabinet unilaterally decided to give just under £800,000 sight unseen to a company called Participle to produce a good neighbour by subscription scheme  based on Southwark Circle, in London.

The notion was ‘spun’ as long-term assistance to the council’s social care budget by supporting the vulnerable elderly. But as the Circle defined ‘the elderly’ as anyone aged over 50, this included over a third of Suffolk’s population!  An extra £100,000 spent by SCC on a ‘scoping exercise’  failed to identify the large number of pre-existing interest groups and services for both the over-50s and the ‘frail elderly’ that were already operating in Suffolk

Suffolk Circle’s target membership was supposed to be 1630 members by March 2013 and 3500 by March 2014, when the funding finished and the scheme was supposed soar onwards without it.

As it was, Suffolk Circle ground to a halt in March the moment the money ran out, admitting it had achieved no more than 2000 members in its entire existence. Southwark Circle folded in the same month.

I will be raising the issue of  the necessity for  accountability and responsibility for this money – especially at a time of such pressing need.

Challenge to SCC Leadership  At the end of the year, a challenge to Conservative Leader Mark Bee for the leadership of the SCC by Colin Noble Cabinet Member for Finance, failed. A challenge by ex Cabinet Member for Transport and then Chairman Guy McGregor to Deputy Leader Lisa Chambers also failed. The Cabinet reorganisation that followed this has removed three very longstanding supporters of Andrea Hill’s New Strategic Direction to the backbenches.

Emprotesting2 (2)Further loss of local buses This year has seen the loss of the 164 and 165 services to Woodbridge (indeed to Suffolk Coastal), the diminution of several other services (most particularly the 63 to Framlingham now restricted to 4 daily buses on working Mondays to Fridays with one additional bus on schooldays). This means there is no bus link whatsoever between Ipswich/Martlesham/Woodbridge and Framlingham on a Saturday.

I wrote to our local MP, and to the County council, asking  if they could use their influence to try and change some of these decisions at a local level. (This appears to have had some effect, as there has been a slightly better service on the 64 and 65 since then).

I have also asked SCC  to use its voice to press to alter – at national level – the ridiculous ethos of so-called competition which has caused deregulated buses to provide such a terrible service in the countryside. In the past County Councils ran bus services on the basis that popular routes could subsidise essential routes with smaller passenger numbers. I have sympathy with Councils that see no reason to subsidise only loss-making services. The loss of the 165 shows us on what a tightrope the services run. Yet rural services are not a frivolous luxury – they can make the difference between productive employment and training and expensive enforced idleness.

I have pressed it also to ask  the government to look at the frankly unfair differentials in per capita spending on public transport across the country. Each Londoner gets about three times as much spent on them as each person in Suffolk despite the huge economies of scale London offers – and London buses aren’t deregulated. Why should our constituents be worth any less?

DSCF8771 (577x1024)Your County Councillor In May, to celebrate my re-election, I walked with the Woodbridge and district youth group  Just 42 Fund-raiser Julia Hancock from Felixstowe to Lowestoft. Between us we raised £2500 for the charity.

Road budget I have used some of my highways budget this year in calming Sandy Lane:  pedestrian and cyclist warning signs  at each end and at the railway bridge, and white edge markings throughout. These also give warning of the road edge at night which is very useful, particularly to cyclists on this route, part of  Sustrans cycle route 1.

I have also had some road signs put up, most notably to prevent lorries trying to use St Johns Hill as an unsuccessful rat run!

Locality budget This has been used to support projects as diverse as the Summer Reading Challenge; Benches, Trophy for Best Allotment Competition Seckford Explorers Unit flag,  Grit Bins, High Vis Jackets, Wheelbarrows and Snow Shovels, Mobile ice rink, Chairs for Bowls clubhouse, and a Wireless Projector for HomeStart.

Surgeries   I have held 10 County Council Surgeries over the last year, on the 3rd Saturday of every month (excluding March and August). They continue to be well-attended.

 

 

 

The short life of Suffolk Circle- and what it cost us Suffolk taxpayers!

SuffolkCircle 21April2014

In March – just as I left the country – Suffolk Circle folded and Suffolk Tories quietly wrote off nearly three quarters of a million pounds of our money.  What a surprise!

Even back in 2010 when SCC’s Conservative Cabinet unilaterally decided to give just under £700,000 sight unseen to produce a “Pay-annual-subscription-to-get-a-good-neighbour-scheme” you could see there were potential problems (see blogpost July 2011) .

The notion was ‘spun’ to the people of Suffolk as long-term assistance to the council’s social care budget by supporting the vulnerable elderly. But as the Circle defined ‘the elderly’ as anyone aged over 50, this included over a third of Suffolk’s population. Such a ludicrously long-term ‘long-term solution’ should have raised alarm bells with anyone of even average mathematical ability. Unfortunately it seems there was no such person overseeing Suffolk Circle.

Furthermore, despite spending a year and £100,000 of taxpayers’ hard-earned money on a ‘scoping exercise’ – neither the (then) Cabinet Member for Adult and Continuing Services – Colin Noble – nor Suffolk Circle itself appeared to be aware of the huge number of pre-existing interest groups and services for both the over-50s and the ‘frail elderly’ that were already operating in Suffolk * (I know, I know. You couldn’t make it up.)

Colin NobleSuffolk CircleSo unsurprisingly Suffolk Circle missed its modest targets from the beginning.

In the first year it spent £350,000  and only got 362 members. These members had paid a minimum subscription of £30 each and STILL cost the council £1000 a head. Nice going! (362 people make up 0.16% of Suffolk’s over-50s, by the way).

The  modest target-setting continued. Suffolk Circle’s target membership was supposed to be 1630 members by March 2013 and 3500 by March 2014 when the funding finished and the scheme could soar to dizzy heights without it. As it was, Suffolk Circle ground to a halt in March the moment the money ran out, admitting it had achieved no more than 2000 members in its entire existence.  Paid for by the hardworking Suffolk taxpayer, who had had this scheme foisted on them – without consultation and in secret – by a set of ideological nitwits who had picked up the notion from goodness knows where.

No oversight, no claw-back, no responsibility taken. Let’s just pretend it didn’t happen, shall we?

But don’t you think the frail elderly of Suffolk deserve more? and all the local groups, from Age UK Suffolk to Wickham Market and District Family Carers who could have taken that money and spent it wisely and responsibly?

I do.

Colin Noble – until last week Cabinet member for Finance at SCC – has suddenly (and perhaps in view of the above, inexplicably) become rather passionate about debate in policy-making:

 “We believe that the members of the council should debate policy and come up with proposals that are taken up by the cabinet and then implemented by the senior officers,”  he is quoted as saying last week. “At present we feel it is developed by the cabinet and senior officers, and then given to the backbenchers for them to approve. I believe it is best when policy is robustly debated before being adopted and taken forward to be implemented.”

Cllr Noble, we members of the council would have loved to debate the issue of Suffolk Circle if the decision hadn’t been made by you and your colleagues in camera. As it was, non-Cabinet members first saw the briefing documents for Suffolk Circle when we scrutinized its shoddy performance one year on.

Don’t you think it’s a bit rich to start talking about debating policy now, after you threw the better part of a million pounds of Suffolk taxpayers’ hard-earned money down the gurgler?

 

*Just in the area local to Woodbridge this could be taken to include: Church groups, Suffolk Carers, Royal British Legion, WI, English Country Markets, Library groups, writers groups and book groups, amateur dramatics and play readings, Good Neighbour Groups, Tea dances, Ramblers, Age UK (including their telephone befriending scheme), Wickham Market Family Carers Support Group, political parties, WRVS, lunch groups, charity work, NADFAS, WAMRAG, and groups for those interested in art, photography, music, opera, ballet, the theatre – to name but a few.

 

What’s been happening in Suffolk – Feb 2014

This month we’ve heard that that Sizewell will be swapping waste with Dungeness – and that it will travel along the East Suffolk line; that Suffolk is at the bottom of the league for vulnerable adult abuse; that we have been automatically opted in to the sharing of our medical records – and that the council tax will once again be frozen (courtesy of the government’s Council Tax Freeze deal) but that – despite the deal –  we will be making cuts of more than £38million .

 

Sizewell Waste Disposal  Magnox  has published its preferred option for managing Intermediate Level Radioactive Waste (ILW) and Fuel Element Debris (FED) at its sites in England (including Sizewell A). Sizewells FED will be transferred to Dungeness, and the ILW from Dungeness will arrive for storage at Sizewell.

SCC Cabinet agrees that this is a ” sensible and pragmatic solution for disposing of Sizewell’s FED given the relatively small amount of FED arising at Sizewell and the fact that such materials are capable of being transported by rail.” The rail in question includes the East Suffolk line.

Cabinet also recommends that if Magnox and EDF can’t achieve a joint approach to storage of ILW, Magnox should consider options for managing ILW from Sizewell A that do not involve building a store at the site, most particularly as any proposal for the construction of an ILW store at Sizewell which provides for the importation of ILW from elsewhere would be contrary to P the Council’s adopted Waste Core Strategy

Ultimate disposal of this waste remains open-ended. Cabinet will insist on a package of Community Benefits “to reflect the fact that interim storage of waste at Sizewell is dependent on the provision of the national Geological Disposal Facility. “

Creation of a national disposal facility  continues to be as nebulous in form placing and timescale as it has always been – potentially further off than the 2040 planning assumption date used.Cabinet  sees the interim store as “ fulfilling a nationally important role in radioactive waste management over a long period.”

I do not know if I am the only person to be concerned by this? It seems to smack of Sir Humphrey’s IBD YBD.

GP data – opt out Everyone in Woodbridge will have received  about how the government is wishing to share   personal health data with a variety of ‘approved’ (but unspecified) organisations and researchers.

The leaflet says “If you are happy for your information to be shared “(or if you have thrown away the leaflet unread) “you do not need to do anything. There is no form to fill in and nothing to sign.”

In other words – you will have automatically opted into having your full medical history shared with whoever the government decides appropriate.

This being the case, it is very important that everybody should be made aware  that unless they opt out, they are sharing their entire health history linked – not to name –  but to their date of birth, full postcode, NHS number, and gender.

Suffolk at bottom of national rankings for adult abuse  Suffolk  has the second highest number of substantiated reports of vulnerable adult abuse in the country with 645 fully-substantiated and 315 partially-substantiated cases out of over 3,000 reports. Statistics from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, which were published last week, show a total of 3,015 referrals were made to Suffolk adult social care safeguarding teams in the 2012/13 financial year.

Suffolk ranked behind only Kent out of 152 local authorities.

The referrals cover such areas as the neglect of people’s health and well-being and physical or mental abuse. In Suffolk, 2,005 of the referrals were for women and 1,010 for men while nearly half related to adults with a physical disability.

Suffolk Healthwatch has described  the data  as “alarming’.

SCC Budget 2014-5  The 2014-5 budget was formally approved by Cabinet at the end of January and will now go to full council. It  will see £38.6m of spending cuts across most services. I will provide full details once these have been finally agreed.

Suffolk County council is once again taking advantage of central government’s council tax freeze deal – which provides central funding for all those councils NOT raising council tax this year. The same deal is/has been on offer for each of the five years of this government, and Suffolk has always taken advantage of it. When the SCC administration mention their  pledge to freeze council tax at its present level  – which they repeat with a great deal of empressement  every year –  no-one ever remembers to mention the tax freeze initiative . Which effectively pays them to freeze our council tax.  Just saying.

County Councillor’s Locality Budget I have funded a free skating rink to encourage local shopping in Woodbridge in mid -February.

County Councillor’s Surgery My surgery dates for the next few months are:  Saturday 15 February, and Saturday 19 April. There will be no surgery in March as I will be in China. Surgeries are at Woodbridge Library 10-12 as ever. All welcome