Category Archives: cuts

Suffolk in October/November: my report

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.

Suffolk County Council’s Leader on the needs of old people on fixed pensions. What world is he living in?

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 schooltravel@suffolk.gov.uk.

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

 

Things you need to know happened in February

Very positive news about speeding in Woodbridge and sorting the Thoroughfare issues offset news of yet more budget cuts and library cuts. There is also hope for Woodbridge for the new Park & Ride. I’m also planning to  ‘claim’ a piece of land for a bus stop.

Suffolk’s County  Budget 2017-8   Suffolk County Council’s County Budget 2017-18 was set at the beginning of February. The  Conservative emphasis was on 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.

In the end the administration carried the day and a further £30 million will be cut from services.

Suffolk Library Services suffer further cut   Amongst the many cuts to this year’s budget,  Suffolk County Council is inflicting a further £230,000 cut to the library service.  (£280,000 if we include the archives) .

Over the last years, staff and volunteers have worked  to keep all the  Suffolk libraries open as IPSs and to increase and improve provision across the county. They consider they have already streamlined  services as far as practicable. 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.

In the last ten days  on the streets of Woodbridge,  I managed to get 1200 signatures for a 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. 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.

Sadly, they did not listen.

20 mph zone and calming  proposals for Woodbridge   We are on target to get the report to the Suffolk County Council Speed Panel for the meeting of 22 February where I will present it.
(STOP PRESS: I GOT IT THROUGH. More to follow)

Woodbridge Thoroughfare Working Group update   This is meeting very productively with reps from all Woodbridge’s elected parties, and councils, the police, the Highways officers, the traders and the residents  with the aim of trying to 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.

A sticking point is enforcement, and only some of the enforcement issues can be solved by the prospective decriminalisation of parking offences and its transfer from the police to Suffolk Coastal District Council.

(Speeding issues could be assisted by a change in speed limit. STOP PRESS: The Thoroughfare is part of the newly agreed 20mph zone See above!)

As the mystifying signs at the beginning of the Thoroughfare are the legal consequence of the current TRO (traffic regulation order) it would seem sensible to simplify the TRO (hopefully in advance of the transfer) so as to be able to discourage unnecessary through traffic by correct, legal and simple signs.(Read all about the complexities of the situation here)

Currently questionnaires about usage, access, and deliveries  are being filled in by traders and residents, and various options of simple signage are being investigated to best reflect the consensus. A TRO could be built around this

Proposals for Ipswich Northern Bypass – and how each may pact on Woodbridge 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 (aka  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.

Preliminary traffic modelling has indicated that roads in each of these corridors would have different effects on traffic eg. an outer corridor would have more benefit to longer distance trips than trips more local to the Ipswich area.

Each potential corridor would also have different impacts on the environment, and on the potential to support future growth.

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.

You can download the report in full here https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/roads-and-transport/public-transport-bus-pass-and-transport-planning/consultations-and-studies/

Proposed Bus Shelter opposite Notcutts  Having been unable to find out ownership of the untended strip of land next to the Cherry Tree on which there is a broken bench, SCC Highways intends to put up notices ‘claiming’ it so as to allow us to put up a bus stop there without (potentially) being sued!

County Councillor’s Surgery  My monthly  County Councillor’s  surgery in the library, now in its 6th year, continues to bring in more and more people. December’s surgery had people waiting for the 9am start, was packed from start to finish, and lasted for three and a half hours (so finished an hour and a half late) due to pressure of numbers.

The overwhelming issues are parking, speeding, road surfaces, and pedestrian problems. However I deal with issues as different as  deportations, youth issues,  special educational needs problems, social care crises, homelessness, and charitable organisation support. Unfortunately I had to cancel February’s surgery through illhealth – the first time I’ve ever done this in over 6 years.

There will only be to more surgeries in the remainder of this electoral cycle:18th March – and my final surgery of this electoral cycle on 15 April.

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.

——————————————————————————–

*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 !

Save Our Suffolk Library Services

Jan 2017: Woodbridge residents cluster to sign petition against further Library cuts

Today I stood  with like-minded people outside Woodbridge Library with a Petition  opposing yet more cuts to the Suffolk libraries budget. Freezing cold and blowy, and we had 200 signatures in two hours. A fantastic start!

Suffolk County Council is proposing to slash a further £230,000 off the already pared-to-the-bone budget for Library services, despite the £150million reserves this Conservative-run administration have built up  and hold “against a rainy day”.  (In other words, for a time just like this.)

Our wonderful libraries have made amazing efforts to maintain services in the face of massive reductions to library funding ( there’s been a  30% reduction since 2011). The budget has already been cut to the bone. This further proposed  cut is a cut too far.

As your county councillor I vehemently oppose these cuts to library services. My party opposes these cuts. Everybody I have spoken to in Woodbridge, regardless of age, background, or political affiliation has 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. It is simple madness to  damage it or throw it away.

THE BUDGET WILL BE DEBATED AND VOTED ON ON FEBRUARY 9th 2017. THE CURRENT ADMINISTRATION HAVE A WAFER-THIN MAJORITY. IT MAY BE POSSIBLE  TO CHANGE THEIR MINDS    Please sign and circulate the petition  (you can download it here: Library Petition 2017) and return to me by 8 February.

And if you want a reminder, here are some  Reasons to FIGHT for SUFFOLK LIBRARIES

Suffolk Libraries are essential because they:

  • provide friendly, welcoming, and helpful facilities for recreation and study that reflect the changing needs of local people
  • support study for students of all ages – and especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • provide materials for many people’s leisure-learning and hobbies, enhancing and maintaining their growth ad mental health
  • provide a centre for social activities and interaction of many types enhancing community cohesion
  • introduce our children to the lifetime pleasures of reading
  • provide a place for quiet study, and particularly for those who don’t enjoy such facilities at home
  • provide a source of reference material in both physical and on-line formats
  • are a key resource for the unemployed to help support them back into employment
  • provide internet access for people who can’t afford such equipment, don’t have the space to accommodate it, have occasional need or just need help with the processes
  • provide mobile libraries to ensure a service can be maintained in low-population-density rural areas

 

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!