Category Archives: LibDem Green & Independent Group

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

 

Moving the Goalposts: Suffolk’s School Transport proposals

This week Suffolk’s cabinet decided to enter into formal consultation on  worrying changes to our current Suffolk Home to School Transport arrangements.

These changes are profound.  Most importantly,  the proposal is that  free travel will only be provided where a qualifying school student attends their nearest school. Currently it is available for qualifying students attending their catchment school, nearest school, or transport priority area. Between the schools organisation review and the the advent of free schools, these may be three different schools in some areas. ‘Not fair’, according to the administration who oversaw this chaos.

Such a decision  will impact specifically on rural families, and those from families with single parents, limited incomes and few travel choices. Additionally, the last shreds of subsidised travel for 16-18 year olds will no longer be provided.

If, after the consultation, the decision were made to adopt the proposal, it would be implemented for all students across Suffolk with effect from September 2019, without consideration for decisions made in good faith by families before this date.

The intention is to make savings. However the preconsultation has been unable  to identify any specific proposals or indeed the savings that might be intended to be made.

And why are these changes being made? Simply, Suffolk can’t afford  the transport we have provided up till now. Costs  – we are told sorrowfully- have gone up.  But gosh,  not our Council tax – which the leader is so proud of having not raised for seven, yes SEVEN, years.   No wonder the county  can’t afford to provide the transport that rural Suffolk students need!

To add insult to injury the proposals are being  cynically marketed as “unlocking capacity to benefit Suffolk residents, not just the small proportion of school children” because the abolition of school-specific bus services ‘may’ allow private companies to come forward to offer services! (Not that any have to date. That was another question I asked.)

So, having comprehensively annihilated scheduled rural bus services (because of the cost), Suffolk County council now complains that it has to rely on expensive closed buses and taxis to meet its statutory obligations to the students of this county – and expresses surprise that this provision is not open to the Suffolk residents it deprived of buses in the first place.

I think the expression is No shit, Sherlock.

 Why on earth, ( I asked the Cabinet)  having previously stopped funding various public and community bus services across the county on the grounds that they were ‘not financially viable’,  are you now contending that there will be a market solution to the school transport budget problem?

Because we are getting rid of the closed buses  that we replaced the cancelled scheduled services with“, was the Topsy Turveyland reply. You couldn’t make it up…

The young people of Suffolk are worth investment.  Instead of further penalising rural residents by moving the goalposts  once again, I call on Suffolk County Council to make proper provision for the  rural families of this county by once again subsidising  rural bus services, retaining current Home School travel provision, and  funding student travel right up to the new de facto statutory school age  of 18 out of our ever-increasing reserves.

You will be pleased to hear the LibDem, Green and Independent Group has ‘called in’ this Cabinet decision, which means it will now have to go to the Scrutiny Committee to be  investigated properly before it can be implemented.

Watch this space.

Update: Im glad to tell you that the LDGI Group call-in  (proposed by LibDem Councillor Penny Otton , and seconded by Green Councillor  Andrew Stringer) was successful. Cllrs Otton  and Stringer persuaded Scrutiny of the justice of their argument – citing Essex where the same proposals ended in very little actual savings. The proposals now have to be re-examined by Cabinet

 

I’m Speaking up for Women

Caroline Page, County Councillor, Woodbridge; LibDem Green & Independent Spokesperson for Women

When the Suffolk County Council LibDem Green and Independent Group was formed, I was appointed Group Spokesperson for Women. The first and only Group in this county to have one.

Interesting, because there IS no Suffolk County Cabinet member for Women for me to shadow.

So why am I spokesperson? Because there is no Suffolk County Cabinet member for Women for me to shadow.

Suffolk is not only a county in which it isn’t good to be a girl or woman, Suffolk is a county that is not even aware of the fact.

When I checked charity Plan  International UK’s statistics last September and discovered Suffolk was a poor place to be a girl (in terms of important measures: Child Poverty, NEET, Teenage pregnancy, GCSEs and Life Expectancy) both Suffolk’s County Cabinet and officers were lost for words. It clearly was not the kind of info they collected. They have yet to get back to me as to what they will do about it.

Again, when I broke the news that 1 in 2 of 59 year old women were unpaid family carers (odds not shared by men until they were 75) this came as a complete surprise to those who represent the people of Suffolk. Despite the fact this will have a huge impact on working-aged women’s careers, incomes, life outcomes, and PENSIONS – and that too much of what is heard about  #WASPI debate has been along the lines of “Diddums. Why shouldn’t you women expect to be equal to us men?” (Men, I ask you, why isn’t 1 in 2 of you a family carer at 59? Is it because you want a decent pension pot? Yes? Well,  I have every sympathy. I want one too!).

Instead of addressing the inequity, the men who run Suffolk’s finances don’t notice it and underspend on the family carers’ budget to fund its social care programme…

When  a former Mayor of Woodbridge was asked why there were no blue plaques to women in Woodbridge, he replied: “Maybe women have never done anything.” Really and truly. This in Woodbridge which is represented by a woman MP, a woman County Councillor, and currently, a woman Mayor.

Seems that Suffolk – nursery of those indomitable seekers after equality, Elizabeth and Millicent Garrett – is in need of a reminder that equality is still a long way off.

So how do we create equality?

– Part of this is making an end of female objectification. A  good start would be universal application of my ‘Eric Pickles test ©“.  It goes: Would that headline/ad/statement make sense if it was about Eric Pickles? That photo of a “wardrobe malfunction”? that clickbait where someone “shows off their new, toned beach body”? that fitness ad about “getting a pert and peachy derriere”? Does it sound silly with Eric there? Yes? Well then, leave women out of it too, thank you very much. It encourages disrespect and disregard.

– Part of it is pointing out inequality in any arena. I have spent several years tweeting Radio4’s Today programme about their inability to distinguish between sport and men’s sport. With final success, but only after years when for weeks on end the only female name mentioned in their sports reports was the mare running in the 3.40 at Lingfield.

Unimportant? Only if you’re wanting to sustain a narrative of male importance and female inconsequence. I’m afraid it was constant nagging that did the trick with Radio 4. Sloppy journos who just want to talk to their chums shouldn’t be allowed to set the agenda. Because, the agenda set , suddenly the narrative is,  “nobody’s interested” (just like a playground bully saying “nobody likes you,”) – and blow me, fame and funding follow the narrative. The strongest woman in Britain lives in Melton. Did you even know that?

– Partly it is about defending the utter necessity for certain woman-specific provision. We can all dream of an equal society, but whilst 1 in 4 women experiences domestic violence, whilst one British woman is killed by a man – generally one she knows – every 2.4 days, women and children desperately need refuges,  support, safe spaces for access, and the funding for all this. Any meninists protesting equality will not make these requirements less needful, less vital.

And all people – men and women – who believe in equality realise this as truth.

But without a woman to speak up for equality in the Suffolk administration – what happens to it?  It is ‘assumed’ as existing without existing. The funding gets lost because the issue has no direct relevance to the men in charge – and the whole county suffers.

Sad but true.

And I am going to be here to carry on pointing it out, until the Suffolk  administration realises this too.