Since Conservative-run Suffolk County Council divested its Highways maintenance services to the efficiencies of the private sector , its not only the roads that are in bad repair. Cycle paths abutting the A12 are in a disgraceful state of disrepair, and many can no longer be used for cycling. This forces vulnerable cyclists back on the A12 amidst the fast traffic and HGVs – a situation the cycle-paths were specifically created to remedy.
Last week I discovered for myself that the A12 cycle path between Woodbridge and the Ufford turnoff is not only overgrown, but in places it has actually disappeared.
Travel was a choice between walking our bikes on the ‘cycle path’ or cycling on the A12. We chose the former as safer – but the damage to my own bicyle’s inner tube and front tyre was irreparable because of the thorns and brambles across the path.
Unfortunately we will have no option but to cycle this route tomorrow. Does my disabled companion – who has catastrophic epilepsy – take her chance on the A12, or add an extra half-hour to an hour to her thirty-minute journey battling through the jungle where a cycle path used to be?
It is not a choice Suffolk Highways should be offering her, me, or any other cyclist, in this, the self-described ‘Greenest County.’
I have written to the Cabinet member for Highways and the Deputy Director of Highways Operations asking for their assurance that they should abandon this policy of wilful neglect and restore these paths to a usable condition immediately.
Around Bury St Edmunds , the BSEVC have already announced that NO Bus Passes will be accepted, all fares will rise, under-16 fares will only apply if are accompanied by an adult, and the under 18 reduction is derisory. And, surprise, surprise, there seems to beno provision for young people to use SCC’s much vaunted youth card the Endeavour(that pallid simulacrum of the much more successful Explore card the young people of Woodbridge fought so hard with me to keep)
As Creeting resident Mark Valladares said bitterly on Twitter,
“My Conservative County Councillor claimed we would have a “better service at lower cost”. Now we know what he meant”
Mr Valladares also pointed out that BSEVC has scrapped the discounted return fare – his return fare is now up by 54%.
What will happen for us in Woodbridge needing to travel to the busless wastelands of east of the Deben and beyond? We have yet to be told. But the experience of our fellows in rural west Suffolk is not encouraging.
⇒T here will be a VERY BRIEF (1 hour) drop-in session to ‘inform’ us at:
⇒Suffolk Coastal Suffolk Coastal District Council, Council Chamber, Melton Hill, Melton, IP12 1AU Monday 6th June
10.30 & 11.30
⇒If you – or your friends or family – have an interest, I would strongly advise you to attend.
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:
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.
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?
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.
May I start by wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year.
Flooding update Although Woodbridge town survived the flooding on 6 December with relatively few problems, there were breaches to the river wall to the north and south of Martlesham Creek. Cattle had to be rescued from the flood along the north bank, where a 30m wide breach left 30 acres of grazing land underwater. Work has been undertaken on the north wall and footpath which leads from Kyson Point to the footpath from Sandy lane.
Ipswich Sexual Health Clinic This fiasco continues. From Monday 28 October the sexual health service has been operating a reduced level of service from the clinic based at Ipswich Hospital , with the service having to vacate the site completely from April 2014.
We were told that the reason for this move was that there were plans to create a sexual health hub in a more accessible location. However it turned out that the ‘accessible location’ might as well have been picked out of a hat! Gipping Court, Constantine Road proved not to be possible due to flooding issues. So, instead, the service has been relocated to Lindbergh Road in Ipswich – in other words, as far out of town as Ipswich hospital but with far poorer transport links for people from Woodbridge and beyond. In fact, Woodbridge people relying on public transport face a two-bus ride of about an hour plus a 20min walk to get to the new clinic. This is as opposed to the journey to Ipswich hospital which was a half an hour single bus plus a 7 minute walk.
So much for greater accessibility and the vaunted ‘good transport links’ ! I am continuing to point this out
Highways Issues of efficiency still continue after KierMG took over the contract to maintain the public highway network in Suffolk at the end of last year. (The public highway consists of any verge, footway, carriageway, bridleway or footpath whether or not maintained at public expense and over which the public has a right of way) . SCC is therefore starting a political group of councillors to work informally together in the new year with Suffolk Highways colleagues from SCC and Kier to help best meet needs for information and communication within the new contract. I am the nominated Lib Dem member of this group.
County Councillor’s Locality Budget I am glad to have been able to support Woodbridge town and Choose Woodbridge in providing funding for the skating rink, which will hopefully bring people into the town in mid -February.
County Councillor’s Surgery Surgery dates for the next few months will be on Saturday 18 January, Saturday 15 February, and Saturday 19 April. There will be no surgery in March as I will be in China
Threatened closure of 29 libraries.. the vanishing of the Road Crossing patrols.. loss of the rural evening and Sunday bus services.. closure of Youth Clubs.. divestment of Highway Services.. divestment of Country Parks.. vast sums spent on gagging clauses, consultants and senior management salaries and perks.. abolition of the Explore youth travel card.. sale and potential closure of Care Homes.. the plummeting of Suffolk schools down the educational league tables to their current places as 148th out of 151 at Primary school level, 141 out of 151 at secondary level… (there’s plenty more, but that’s enough to be going on with)
It’s quite a spectacular grime sheet, isn’t it?
As the 2013 elections approach it may be worth remembering that the Suffolk Conservatives made no mention of Suffolk’s New Strategic Direction when they went to the polls in 2009. Yet it didn’t stop them doing their darnedest to implement it without any mandate once they had their majority. (And when they were stopped, many of the NSD proposals continued under a different guise..)
It might be well to ponder this before voting. The Suffolk County Conservatives’ 5-pledge election manifesto is as thin as a lo-calorie water biscuit – and about as nutritious. They promise to replace a youth travel card they cut two years back, the high-speed broadband they funded in this electoral cycle, plus an (unavoidable) expenditure on care , a Country-wide ‘No ColdCalling Zone’ (go figure) and that old Tory staple of no council-tax increase – which is always wheeled out as an alibi for their more spectacular episodes of financial mismanagement. And .. er.. that’s it.
So – as I say – milquetoast from start to finish.
But who knows what may be on the secret agenda for the next four years?