Category Archives: Suffolk County Council

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 !

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

 

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?

 

                                                          

Cycle-paths die in Suffolk’s free market

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It is impossible to cycle along this cyclepath. SCC has not maintained it for 2 years

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.

Not only is the path overgrown, somebody has kindly left an enormous pile of thorns across it. Gee, thanks
Not only is the cycle path overgrown, somebody has kindly left an enormous pile of thorns across it. Gee, thanks

Whats up in Suffolk June to July 2016

Caroline Page, Woodbridge County Councillor (Phot: Toby Gray Photography)
Caroline Page, Woodbridge County Councillor (Phot: Toby Gray Photography)

Though these last few weeks have been dominated by the national Referendum  and the Norfolk and Suffolk Devolution debates, other things have – of course – been happening on the domestic front.  The big issues in SCC have been a new plan for maintaining Suffolk’s Highways and the future of the Ipswich Park and Ride, not to mention  the political stability of the Conservative administration, while locally,there has been continuing work to secure the future of the Woodbridge Youth Centre

A new Highway Maintenance Operational Plan  SCC’s Cabinet  has just approved Suffolk’s new Highway Maintenance Operational Plan.

Basically they had little option because the past Highways Maintenance plans have been a disaster, criticised by everyone, regardless of party affiliation. (And anyway, this Plan has been running (‘trialled’) without Cabinet consent since early May.)

The good news is that it concedes that the previous way of Highways Maintenance working was unwieldy and inefficient, as county, town and district councillors across Suffolk can testify. There will now be a much more unified and strategic way of working between SCC and contractors Kier to try and make things work more efficiently than they have (with clear matrices for action for all eventualities). This may mean that the Highways small schemes backlog may clear at long, long last.

The bad news is that the mantra of ‘you’ve got to pay the market price for the work you get’ is very much to the fore, so there is no suggestion of many highways schemes being affordable any more.  (An example was given of how a simple Highways marking job where the paint cost £49 would be charged out at £1989.) Unfortunately this seems to be the inevitable result of a market driven solution. Small towns like Woodbridge will no longer be able to rely on their County Councillors’ Highways budgets. Currently these are half what they were at best (mine is £6660 this year).  Yet jobs will be many times more expensive.

At the Cabinet meeting I asked whether this was not a case of the ‘tail wagging the dog’? That this newly designed Highways Maintenance Operational Plan (the second one in a year!) had been constructed to fit the contractor because the contractor had been unable to stick to the agreed plan?(This was loudly rejected – but with little evidence).

In particular I  pointed out the anomaly of a private organisation uttering the ‘you’ve got to pay the market price for the work you get’ mantra whilst

  1. having no competition to ensure that they are offering good value for money
  2. charging for the time worked by SCC officers  on projects (when these officers  have already been paid by SCC) when billing councillors for these projects             and
  3. failing to recognise the principle of counter-charge that ought to apply when the contractor wastes the time of County Councillors – who they rely on heavily for advocacy and intermediary work.

Surely these charges must be reciprocal? I suggested. Surely a free market model will not be wholly accurate unless the councillors too have a market rate set against  the work they do? For equity,  a charge for councillors’  work ought to be introduced which could then be levied  against  excessive charges and the incompetence of the contractor. Why should local highways budgets suffer from inflated charges without any redress?

Naturally this is far too sensible and logical a suggestion to be accepted by the SCC administration, but  I am recording it to ensure you are aware that the suggestion was made by me, in defence of local councillors’ highways budgets.

For the rest, we will have to wait to see how this will pan out.

 

SCC’s Conservative majority on a knife-edge  After a Conservative Carlford win Suffolk County Council continues to be led by a technical minority administration, with the following political make-up:

Conservative 37 – Labour 15;  LibDem 7; UKIP 10; Green 2; Independent 4 (eg a technical opposition of 38)

However, one of the Independents remains the notorious Hadleigh councillor, ex-Conservative Brian Reilly, who will insist on holding onto his council seat although  disgracefully he has lived in North Carolina for a long time now. In Cllr Riley’s absence this makes the vote 37:37.  On the rare occasions he graces the chamber with his presence, he votes with the Conservatives (this  presumably being why they have been so reluctant to take constructive steps to get him removed).

Future of the Ipswich  Park & Ride  SCC’s administration’s plans to make the Park & Ride service self-supporting by getting the bus companies that operate alongside it to take over its services were looked at by the Suffolk CC’s Scrutiny committee who were not satisfied with what they saw and voted  to send the plans back to Cabinet. These were reassessed and once again passed.

In a slightly rewritten proposal the  ultimate future of the P&R will not hang immediately on the success of this scheme. If it fails, the plan will have to go back to Cabinet for reassessment before any thought of closure. However, Woodbridge and Martlesham residents will be concerned to discover there is as yet no clarity as to which First buses will be operating at the Martlesham end. This obviously makes a difference – both to the P&R service AND to the service it operates within.

(I had been told by officers very clearly that it would NOT be the Martlesham-terminating 66, but our less circuitous 63, 64, 65 will become Park and Ride buses. The Labour spokesperson has been equally clearly informed it will be the 66. I asked Cabinet Member James Finch for disambiguation at the previous Cabinet meeting. Unfortunately  he had no idea whatsoever.)

I have been promised that once the scheme has been passed we will get confirmation as to which of these two options  will be in operation.

I remain unsure how successfully this  service will work. It seemed to me that the best way to make the P&R more income-generating would be to make it more responsive to unmet demand  – and that would be to provide a good service for London commuters. This our local buses does not do.

Indeed at the moment I cannot see any very compelling reason why people should now drive to the P&R from Woodbridge rather than getting on the same bus in Woodbridge – especially as they will be able to use their bus passes in Woodbridge but will pay to sit on the same bus if they board it at the Park & Ride! We will wait and see as more details emerge.