Category Archives: cuts

Don’t let our BUSES go under!

Unless we make a huge fuss NOW, unless we shout and scream and stamp our feet, unless we people of Suffolk  behave like people who KNOW what is important in this world and ACT,  our Suffolk bus services might go for good. This is not scaremongering. This is a fact!

Yes,  this current Suffolk County Council  administration might finally see off  our rural buses, destroy forever  a service that has lasted the whole of the last centuary – and put all the people of Suffolk into the motor car just as that crass idiot Beeching envisaged all these years ago!

So how has this  happened?

Don’t listen to the wormtongued rewriters of the past.  Locally, we do indeed  suffer from the fact that  most of our  present day administrators right across the board  (so not only not only the Conservatives, but also Independents, Labour -my esteemed colleague the trainloving bike friendly  Cllr Martin being an honourable exception  – and even some Greens as well) would rather stick pins in their eyes or spend hour after hour in an unnecessary traffic jam, rather than get their backsides out of their cars.  It’s definitely not the best backgound to gain or retain  support for  public transport.

(Yon’t  believe me? – find out for yourself. Ask under Freedom Of Information how many car miles/ how many bus miles were claimed by the Leader, the Deputy Leader,  the Transport portfolio holder, the Chief Executive, your local County Councillor?  Ask what happened to patterns of council private car and bus usage over the last year?

I’m sure you’ll be happy to discover that your local County Councillor  (me) comes out smelling of roses – I gave up claiming ALL expenses in this financial year as a nod to general conditions, but before those days the only no-bicycle milage I ever claimed were the occasional bus or train journey.

However I can’t make up for the deficiencies of others all by myself.)

Nationally it is much the same – our current government clearly doesn’t give a monkey’s.  But remember the loss of our buses is not JUST a legacy  of a twenty-year dead Tory government, or a seven month Coalition, very easy tho it is for some to say so. (And they do!)   Labour are equally – no more – to blame.  Ok, maybe more, because they let the bus services dwindle and disappear during a time of supposed economic prosperity – prosperity built on the backs of not helping the poor out of the transport trap they had created for them.

Did they reregulate the bus service in those years of plenty? Did they HELL! While the overall cost of driving a car fell  by 14% in real terms under the ‘green-friendly’ Blair Brown administration,  Labour drove up bus and coach fares by a staggering 24% above inflation over the 13 years of their tenure. It was as if they really believed buses existed solely for the purpose of enriching a few private investors. Sounds familiar?

Thanks guys – you did a good job of maintaining Thatcher’s most divisive transport policies !

Me, I love buses. When I arrived in Woodbridge twenty years ago there were five regular reliable buses an hour in and out of Ipswich making their way by different routes through town . There was a little local shuttle that did an hourly round trip so pensioners and young mothers could go shopping/visiting with minimal trouble.  People without cars could make trips to the seaside, travel to the hospital, go home in the evenings all by bus. By the time the Labour government  ended we had lost most of that: we were down to two, poorly running buses an hour, travelling around the outside of the town along one single route, during working hours, and during the working week. Want to visit hospital? go out in the evening? visit the seaside? Use your car (if you’ve got one. If not, stay at home!)!

Now Suffolk County Council are using the blanket term ‘ cuts’  as a reason to reduce those last, non-profit-making routes. They are planning to cut the 16-19 Explore card (which allows young people to navigate the extortionately priced bus services without it costing an arm or a leg). They are planning to cut the last services that would see our children safley back from a night out in town without using a car. They are giving up responsibility of ensuring those who work and don’t drive can continue to contribute to out economy. This is truly outrageous.

I will stand by the concept of travelling sustainably while there is any sustainable transport left to use.  And I will  fight for the continuing use of rural buses for others, because unless SOMEONE does so, they will disappear for ever.

PLEASE HELP ME STOP THIS HAPPENING!

Woodbridge Town Council report December 2010

That NSD ‘consultation’ in full…

The SCC Full Council meeting on the 2nd of December voted  again on the New Strategic Direction – that is, the vision (some might prefer to call it a nightmare) of Suffolk County Council as an ‘enabling’ council rather than providing services.  Council looked at both the levels of ‘engagement’ SCC has reached with the public and local organisations, as well as developments in how the Council plans to implement the policy.

I pointed out that ‘engagement’ was very different from consultation (the engagement questionnaire never asked whether the people of Suffolk wanted this to happen, only whether they understood what was happening – go figure!), and  that the NSD had in fact been driven through without any public consultation by the ten members of the current SCC cabinet.  I referred to the 1500 (and counting) responses I had personally received from Suffolk residents against the NSD, which was three times as many as was recieved by SCC’s engagement exercise by the same date.  Additionally,  my colleague John Field mentioned that the 30% reduction in costs over 4 years bore very little relationship to the maximum 11% total loss of income Suffolk was actually going to suffer over this period (You can find the figures for this here and the full text of my speech here ). I voted against continuing with the NSD until proposals were properly budgeted, but the motion was carried 44-11.

This decision has huge – and apparently adverse – significance for our local services across a wide range of provision, from elderly care, to young person’s transport, to weekend and evening bus services, to who runs our library and how, to highways services.

I will keep you informed when I have any more concrete information – which is unlikely to be soon. The decision has been made without any of those who voted for it having any idea of what they are planning to do!

Two funds that might be useful in extremis

Transforming Suffolk Innovation Fund & the Transforming Suffolk Community Fund

Presumably as a direct result of the above, Suffolk County Council has teamed up with the Suffolk Foundation to launch two different grants for voluntary and community projects across the county.

The first is the Transforming Suffolk Community fund, which looks to aid smaller community groups with a one off grant of between £500 and £5,000  to aid with the cost of the projects which will meet one of these four priorities;

  • Creating a stronger and vibrant community
  • Green issues including carbon reduction
  • Learning and skills
  • Health related projects.

This grant is for one-off funding and requires the spending to be completed within 12 months of receipt of the funds.

The second is the Transforming Suffolk Innovation Fund run by Suffolk County Council, which looks to provide a grant over three years of up to £50,000 to innovative voluntary and community projects that;

  • Will integrate existing services or develop new ones with the objective of long term sustainability;
  • Will support sustainable voluntary and community organisations by helping them to help themselves;
  • Carry out research into needs and service provision;
  • Will develop innovative and/or transferable practices for delivery of new and improved services.

The fund totals £2.5m for the whole county, and is available through an application process at the County Council  For more information, and for access to the application form, you can contact either:

The Suffolk Community FoundationTel: 01473 734120  www.suffolkfoundation.org.uk

Or

Suffolk County Council’s External Funding team: Tel: 01473 264283

http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/BusinessAndConsumer/RegenerationAndCommunityDevelopment/Funding/

I’d be very interested in getting personally involved with this

Call-in of Fire and Rescue Control Room  move

After the SCC Cabinet meeting for December  the Liberal Democrats felt obliged to ‘call in’ Cabinet’s decision to move the Suffolk Fire and Rescue Control room out of the county to Cambridgeshire. This means the decision will now have to go to  to a scrutiny committee to  examine the justification behind the decision – and possibly overturn it!

The Lib Dems asked for the call-in in respect of  the following points

  • Out of Office services – will these be transferred to Cambridge as well, if so what is the affect on the provision of these?
  • Why was this matter not taken to Full Council to ensure a debate  and vote amongst all members of the Council,  particularly as the County Council is the Fire Authority.
  • How will Suffolk maintain effective control of matters relating to the efficiency, scrutiny and monitoring of a service that will be run by an adjoining fire authority.
  • What mechanism will be in place for Suffolk to manage and rectify errors which may have a reputational or life safety implication bearing in mind that the S.C.C remains responsible but will have no direct line management over the people delivering the service?
  • Who is liable for errors – at the moment SFRS are directly responsible, have monitoring processes and the ability to rectify?
  • Why has the control room got to be exported out of Suffolk, why cannot this continue within Suffolk, for example with the Police?
  • What happens if an agreement with Cambridgeshire Fire Authority does not allow transfer of service until after the Colchester Road Fire Station has closed?”

The Liberal Democrats are particularly concern about the risk associated with moving such an important facility to Cambridgeshire, and the fact that this decision was made by ten people without consultation, preventing all councillors to debate an issue which might adversely affect the whole county. I have been approached by both local and county fire service representatives, anxious to point out  that this is a potentially dangerous decision to make. An option might be, for example, to see if the control room could be combined with the Police control centre in Suffolk, thus making savings while retaining locality.

These are the papers for the Call-in of the Fire and Rescue Service command and Control Function.

http://apps2.suffolk.gov.uk/cgi-bin/committee_xml.cgi?p=detail&id=1_15012

Gritting

Due to our advance planning, Woodbridge is at the forefront of keeping people safe and mobile . Early in the year after we had all been anxious at the potential  impact of snow  and icy weather on Woodbridge residents  I offered to fund grit bins and equipment for local volunteers to keep the pavements clear and  Woodbridge Town Council were very proactive in drawing up a scheme of potential troublespots that needed addressing. And due to this forward planning Woodbridge has been able to tackle the ice and snow relatively efficiently.  Ten grit bins are on site and another four on order: Cross corner;  St Johns Hill/Castle St;  California/Ipswich Road (where I’m the volunteer); Fitzgerald Green; Mill Lane; Haughgate Close; Colletts Walk; Warren Hill Road; Market Hill; Victoria Road; Peterhouse; Portland Crescent and Farlingaye. There is also a few grit piles, one of which we hope to establish at the back of the Doctors surgery in Little St Johns Street to prevent breaks. It could also be used to ensure safe arrival at the library.

I hope you saw we were covered in the local papers, together with a nice picture of me, town councillors and volunteers in front of the shire hall.

As a volunteer, I personally spent 15 hours gritting around California, around the Seal and down the footpath that runs along the top of Ipswich Road.  I reckon that totalled about 15 miles of roadway walked and gritted. The interesting thing was that by doing this, it encouraged more volunteers to come out to help. Particular thanks must go to Jill and Ian W, Pauline H, and Patrick G who have all helped nobly keeping the Ipswich Road/California axis clear

So, if people express any interest, do urge them to contact the  Town Clerk and volunteer. Many hands make light(ish) work– and lets face it,residents will find it so much more productive than moaning that somebody else hasn’t done it.

Volunteers get to use a barrow, a snowshovel and a a hi-viz jacket; they’re covered by SCC insurance and the benefits include a slimmer figure, the warm glow of having helped –  and lots of gratitude. Not a bad deal, really

Appropos of this I would like to pay tribute to the people who run the gritting lorries who go out day and night trying to keep as much of the thousands of miles of Suffolk roads passable as possible.

It seems to be fashionable amongst certain Suffolk car-drivers to criticise these heroes pretty well without thought or reflection.  Me: I have nothing but the utmost admiration for them. The service is run via a handful of people working throughout the nights and they do a fantastic job – and all without expectation of any kind of thanks at all.  I rang a highways officer at 11am on day in the last cold period. He sounded a bit dazed (tho very competent). It turned out he’d just got back into the office having been out on the roads personally gritting since midnight the night before!

As well as remembering to be grateful that our service is so good, we MUST also make sure that any hamfisted attempts at divestment protect the efficiency and effectiveness that we are currently managing in-house. Other counties with privatised gritting services are not managing half so well.

New traffic island at the top of Ipswich Road (Clarkson’s Crossing)

There will be some sort of official naming ceremony for this at some time as – due to the input of  the Farlingaye students – Woodbridge now has the only named crossing in Suffolk (they christened it the Clarkson crossing, after the local anti-slavery activist). I am happy to see the crossing  seems to be used by the very people it was intended for, and I also think it might be slowing the traffic on entering Woodbridge. The LED sign half-way down Ipswich Road – which is on order but has not yet arrived – should also help reduce speed.

Suffolk’s NSD – a Noddy Style Democracy?

Sadly, at full council yesterday the Conservative administration used its large majority to carry on with its horrifyingly unformed proposals of divestment  – and STILL without any public mandate.

I’m sharing below the speech I made against this decision. Unfortunately, despite its undoubted brilliance, and despite equally superb and  accurate speeches by my leader Kathy Pollard, deputy leader, David Wood, and colleague John Field, all the backbench conservatives voted with their leaders rather than their consciences  to support this unformed, uncosted, un-budgeted,  and undemocratic piece of ideologically-driven decision-making.

So in the years to come, folks,  you need to remember that this decision to ‘divest’ is NOT a coalition decision. This is NOT a national decision. It is NOT based on national cuts . No, the responsibility for the NSD  lies squarely in the hands of Leader Jeremy Pembroke, his Cabinet  – and all the Tory backbenchers on Suffolk County Council with huge reservations – not one of whom had the bottle to vote so in public!

My speech against the NSD

In September this council agreed  – via its socking Tory majority –  to push through the Cabinet recommendation , the NSD

–  Which stands for… what exactly?  Me, I think Noddy-style Democracy sums up the process pretty fairly!

Now there are lots and lots of reasons to object to this Enid  Blyton fantasy, the NSD, but I’m only given 3 minutes.

So, I won’t mention their spurious 30% cuts, nor the value of the services they want to sell off or throw away .  As regards its  lack of logic and responsibility to the people of Suffolk – I’ll confine myself to quoting the Deputy Leader :

“If people don’t value a service, it won’t be delivered. If no-one comes forward with an offer to deliver it, that’s proof it’s not needed.”

(What a superbly Toytown approach to service delivery that is, by the way! So, if no-one comes forward to unblock your loo, is that proof your loo’s not blocked? )

No, my three minutes is going on the democratic deficit that led to this decision – and the democratic deficit that underpins your  subsequent  ‘consultation’.

Now, I missed last meeting for serious personal reasons and so couldn’t cast my vote against the NSD. Did it matter?  Not a jot!

Why? Because the future of Suffolk’s services lies

  • not in the hands of its half a million plus electors,
  • not in the  hands of the 75 county councillors who represent them,
  • – and, – NOT  – in the hands of the  55 Tory councillors opposite who hold a majority vote.

NO, it  has been made by my esteemed colleagues, the Leader and  cabinet.

These ten people have unilaterally decided to  ‘transform Suffolk public services”.

Last September, Council also agreed “proactive and wide-ranging engagement across Suffolk to establish whether the key NSD proposals found favour with the communities.”  Note that  weasel word ‘engagement’ rather than ‘consultation.’

I’m sorry Jeremy, but your ‘proactive and wide-ranging engagement’ is a farce. Nowhere in your ‘engagement activity’  did you ask the VITAL question, “Shall we do it?”

Instead you askedDo you understand it?” And indeed, by 21 November you had 528 responses – 63% of who DID ‘understand’  Jeremy, the concept of ‘selling the family silver’ is very easy to understand.

What people don’t understand  is WHY you’re selling it without asking the family first.

So we Lib Dems decided to hold our own ‘engagement process’. We  actually walked around, we delivered 23,000 leaflets, we visited not a single town, once – as several of the Conservative councillors say they did – but town after town over and over again and talked to many residents  about your NSD.  And, you know what? People had never heard of it.

They were appalled, Jeremy!  We didn’t get 528 responses– we’ve had over 1500, and rising.

Aren’t you – even a little bit – aware of  just how angry most people are?

Or maybe this is the area where YOU ‘don’t understand’!

Now, some of my constituents think your plans ridiculous,

Some  of them think they are reprehensible.

But maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe they’re just WRONG.

Couldn’t you all  just admit you’re wrong?  There are lots of my colleagues opposite, who I know are privately very unhappy about what’s happening and how.  Of course you are. You’re friends of democracy – no fans of fairytales. You represent the people of Suffolk with as much passion and dedication as I do.

So why not go for it! Why not summon up the courage of all those thousands of crosses on your ballot papers?  People voted for democratic values. For Suffolk values!  NOT for Noddy Style Democracy. Suffolk is not Toytown! Playtime is over! So lets  consult properly – and LISTEN to the replies. The people of Suffolk aren’t  children. They don’t need fairy-tales. You can trust them to make grown-up decisions!