Category Archives: Council spending

More Conservative cuts for Suffolk’s JAMs

1200 people signed Caroline Page’s Woodbridge petition against budget cuts to Suffolk Library services in 10 days!

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 appalling state 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.

As the meeting , I presented a petition of 1200 local residents’ signatures gathered over the last week in  Woodbridge   and spoke as follows:

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 the New 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. “

Because it has worked so well – in  the case of Highways Procurement, for example?

Isn’t it time to replace ideology with some practical common sense?

The oldest signatory to the Woodbridge Save Suffolk Library Services petition

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 they agreed 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 areI 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.

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*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.”

Strange but true !

Bus Timetables or special allowances for Councillors? No contest

The 65b Woodridge service seemed to be getting plenty of custom on Good Friday

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?

 

                                                          

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!