The Jetty Lane launch at the Table, Woodbridge: There were so many people attending, we had to have the speeches outsideA year ago Suffolk thought we had seen off devolution. At the end of this year, we are once again looking at proposals for change in many arenas. A lot of things have happened in Suffolk over the last 12 months. Here are some of the most important to people locally.
Leadership changes at Suffolk County Council Following the departure of Deborah Cadman, Suffolk County Council has appointed Nicola Beach (executive director of infrastructure and environment at Essex County Council) as new Chief Executive, She will start work this summer. This is not the only change. Cabinet Member for Environment, Public Protection and Broadband Matthew Hicks challenged the hard right leadership of the Conservative leader, Colin Noble, supported by head of Scrutiny, Mary Evans – and won. The personality of the leader of the council has a strong impact on how it is run.
Last May, my party joined with the Greens and Independents to create the Lib Dem Green and Independent Group on Suffolk County Council and I had the privilege to be appointed the first (and only) Group Spokesperson for Women in the county. The group has had a number of successes in this last year: opposing the School Transport changes, calling successfully for the abolition of single use plastics in Suffolk, exposing the council’s gender pay-gap and supporting an urgent review of the transition arrangements for WASPI women. At the recent LDGI group AGM I was elected Deputy Leader.
Ex -Suffolk CC Leader Colin Noble unilaterally commissioned (expensive) report on council change Ex-leader of Suffolk County Council, Cllr Noble unilaterally commissioned think-tank Respublica to look at unitary options to run Suffolk. This greatly angered Suffolk’s seven district and borough council leaders, two of whom (Waveney’s Mark Bee and Mid Suffolk’s Nick Gowrley) are also county councillors, because the decision was taken without consultation . They wrote an open letter distancing themselves from this decision. The review was costed around £70,000. It however appears now to be on hold.
Jetty Lane CiC takes off Having been awarded a 125 year lease by Suffolk County Council in December, fundraising has started in earnest for the Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts Centre in Woodbridge. This will – as you know – provide facilities for the many local groups left homeless when the Woodbridge youth centre was pulled down last year. Apart from Just42, who currently are living in 2 shipping containers onsite, all other past users have failed to find suitable permanent accommodation in Woodbridge, because there is a clear lack of appropriate alternative facilities.
Jetty Lane directors gave up an entire week of the spring half-term to staff a public consultation at Woodbridge library to show the plans to the community and to get feedback. This showed once again the strength of support this project has from the people of the town.
The launch took place in April when the first bids for this exciting and sustainable heritage project went out.
Thoroughfare Solution? In late 2016 I regrouped the Thoroughfare Working Party to try and tackle the continuing issues of traffic in the Thoroughfare – balancing the needs of residents, visitors, traders, shoppers, pedestrians and (necessary) vehicle users. The aim was to try and find consensus to improve footfall and preserve the future of the Woodbridge Thoroughfare in all its aspects. There were two different issues with different enforcement needs (driving through and parking).Having come up with three workable potential solutions, the Thoroughfare Working Group held a public consultation on proposed changes to the Traffic Regulation Order in The Thoroughfare.
The results of this initial consultation showed that option 2b was the most popular (ie: No access at any time except permit holders and loading/unloading. This will include disabled drivers. This result has the backing of the Disability Action Suffolk Forum.) This would mean. The minimum lorry weight restriction will be removed. The new restrictions will be in force 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Parking will only be allowed in signed bays, which will be better marked. The signage both on the approach to the Thoroughfare, and in the road, will be much simpler and will show it as a pedestrian zone.
The next stage of the consultation will ensure that all those that may be affected by the proposed changes can have their say before we move to the final stage formal TRO consultation next year by Suffolk County Council.
I wish here to pay tribute to the late Tony Buckingham Woodbridge’s community engineer, who worked hard and productively with the group throughout the year , and who was working on the next stage when he sadly died tragically young earlier this year. His work was greatly appreciated and he will be greatly missed.
County Council Budget 2018-19 hits the most vulnerable Despite increasing council tax by 4.99% in 2018-19, Suffolk County Council will still be facing a budget gap and is responding with cuts of £23.9m. The majority of this will come from the Adult and Community Services budget, with an £11m cut achieved through “mitigation of care purchasing demand increases” and a £1m cut to the Sheltered Housing Grant. Other damaging cuts include reductions in funding to Citizens Advice and reduced subsidies for rural passenger transport, both of which impact most upon the most vulnerable.
Local Planning Development Controversies Various developments have been concerning local residents this year, not least because many are finding it harder and harder to afford to live in the town while most people are reporting driving and parking problems.
The two most egregious examples highlighted different problems: the infamous so-caĺled ‘Cheese Wedge’ development of the ex-Suffolk Coastal District Council offices showed that the district council planning department has a degree of power that has so far appeared to trump reasoned and strong objections from both County and Town Council, and many interested and well-qualified groups and individuals, as well as local opinion. The Woods Lane development showed how development outside the town – and about which residents could have no say – could impact heavily upon the town in order to build housing that was in no sense ‘affordable’.
An additional point: Woodbridge has recently agreed a 20mph zone and additional calming for the entire town. One of the principle rationales was the impact of heavy traffic on our medieval town and to discourage rat-running on the B1438 which separates the town from the riverside. The problems encountered during the Woods Lane diversion only underline why the scheme is needed. The scheme however needs funding. I would therefore urge SCDC and SCC Highways to work together, using development money earmarked for community benefit, to benefit that community most harmed by these works – ie Woodbridge itself.
Highways Operation It was recently reported that Suffolk County Council had repaired 6500 potholes since the start of the year. However, there are still a number of issues with the way Highways carry out their repairs, and this headline figure does not paint an accurate picture of the situation in Suffolk. In 2016 Suffolk’s administration agreed a new Highway Maintenance Operational Plan with contractors, Kier, and towards the end of 2016 extended their contract early – despite their record of appalling performance.
We were promised that this would result in a much more unified and strategic way of working between SCC and contractors Kier to try and make things work more efficiently, meaning that the Highways small schemes backlog – created solely by this administration’s ideologically driven decision to outsource the contract in the name of efficiency savings – would clear at long, long last. This has not occurred.
Indeed the design for Woodbridge’s 20mph and calming plan – which I asked for following its approval back in February 2017 – did not occur or even begin to get started over this entire year. Indeed they now seem to be endeavouring to forget that the decision has been made! Fortunately I put all the paperwork on my blog the moment the decision was made so that I am able to refer people there when they suggest they do not know, have access to, or remember details of the decision makingf.
The roads are currently worse than they have ever been, county and government funding is ever less, and the Highways team are currently struggling to keep up with the need for repairs across the county. They are therefore resorting to temporary repairs which are quicker to complete than permanent repairs. They have recently introduced a more expensive temporary material that is supposed to last slightly longer. However, these pothole repairs will undoubtedly need to be repeated in the coming months as the temporary material deteriorates. Whether this represents value for money for Suffolk residents is an important question.
Suffolk Highways have also stated that they are “blitzing” whole areas of the road at once, rather than making multiple trips to the same area. However, it is important to note that they are only ‘blitzing ‘ those potholes that meet their intervention criteria which means that the blitz might not look much like a blitz to the external eye..
Swallows Nesting Restored to Woodbridge Station After I put our residents’ concerns about the destruction of swallow nesting at Woodbridge station to Greater Anglia, the issue was taken up by BBC Radio Suffolk, the EADT and social media. And the company listened and took the matter seriously.
On March 19 Greater Anglia installed two RSPB clay swallow boxes at the very places where the swallows have traditionally nested.
County Councillor’s Surgery My regular monthly open access County Councillor’s surgery in the library, is now in its 8th year, continues to bring in more and more people from across an ever-wider sector of Suffolk Coastal. It is clear that residents would be grateful if their own county councillors held open-access monthly surgeries. Overwhelming issues are parking, speeding, road surfaces, and pedestrian problems. However I deal with problems as diverse as deportations, youth issues, special educational needs, disability needs, social care crises, homelessness, and charitable organisation support.
Locality Spending My Locality budget spending this year has covered such diverse grants as: new sessions for the New Horizons Lunch Club, a grant towards the defribrillator in Warwick Avenue, leafletting the entire town on behalf of both our local doctors’ surgeries’ PPGs on the benefits of Social Prescribing, in addition to a grant for preplanning work for the Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts centre
After an excellent campaign by feminist activist Caroline Criado Perez and active support from Sadiq Khan, we finally see the first statue of a woman in Parliament Square – one among eleven men, and a bare century after women first gained (limited) suffrage.
And – one might say -about time too.
The unveiling yesterday was an interesting and entertaining ceremony – my personal highlights being Theresa Lola’s excellently understated poem, and a raw rocking preview song from the forthcoming musical ‘Sylvia’ which has me booking tickets already. (And in our current state of terror alert it might be ungracious to query the necessity for the ‘moat’ and bars that separated out the great and good invited attendees – so many of whom were men – from the rest of us .)
I was in the ‘rest’ category but, as Suffolk LDGI Group Spokesperson for Women, I raised the profile for Suffolk, I stood at the front with my banner Millicent Fawcett: Suffolk Women Lead the Way.” https://twitter.com/CroPage/status/988686126239174656
It is a point that needs making!
Aldeburgh sisters Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Agnes Garrett (who – baulked by the patriarchy – in her desire to become an architect founded the first interior design company run by women ) were all strong supporters and advocates of women’s suffrage. Suffolk, not London, is the birthplace of women’s suffrage.
Which brings me to here and now. Birthplace of Womens suffrage it may be, but 150 years after Millicent started her first suffrage petition I’m one of 29% women councillors (22/75) elected to Suffolk County Council – significantly below the appalling 33% UK average. At the current rate of progress it’ll take 48 years for the UK to reach gender equality – and nearer 80 in Suffolk. In Suffolk 2 out of 7 MPs are women, a pretty equivalent percentage to the county councillors.
Suffolk may have been the birthplace of women’s suffrage, of women’s higher education, of women’s independence – but modern Suffolk has a high gender paygap, high levels of violence against women, specifically poor outcomes for girls (particularly in rural areas). Seems to me Suffolk is yet fully to engage in recognising the importance of its own women and what they have to offer.
We could start by acknowledging the past. Ipswich recognised this last year with blue plaques, but when I asked a (nameless) past mayor why all the blue plaques in my own town of Woodbridge memorialise men, he replied ‘Perhaps its because women have never done anything.’ Armed with a copy of the Dictionary of National Biography I found five in less than half an hour. The famous women of Suffolk are hiding in plain sight and while the gender balance ofdecision makers continue to remain so heavily tipped towards men this is likely to be where they will remain.
Now we have a statue of one Suffolk woman in Parliament square, we need to ensure that we have public statues and memorials to all the Suffolk women who have and do so much within Suffolk. We cannot expect young women to wait 100 years for their work to be acknowledged; we cannot expect young women in Suffolk to realise their work will be acknowledged, if it looks as if they will have to wait 100 years.
Suffolk LDGI Group Spokesperson for Women
February 6th 1918 saw (some) modern British women get the vote. 100 years on, I’m one of 22 women out of 75 councillors elected to Suffolk County Council. 22 -that’s 29% – significantly below the appalling 33% average women in UK councils – itself a flatline, increasing only 5% since 1997. At the current rate of progress it’ll take 48 years for the UK to reach gender equality – and nearer 80 in Suffolk.
We’re behind so many countries: Italy, Germany, Norway. The Rwandan parliament is 64% female – in Suffolk, there are 2 women out of 7 MPs, a pretty equivalent percentage to the county councillors. And this is Suffolk! – Birthplace of women’s higher education, home of Women’s Suffrage.
Clearly something’s adrift.
In 1860 3 young women in a house in Aldeburgh planned to change women’s futures: Elizabeth Garrett became first woman to qualify in Britain (both physician and surgeon), co-founder of the first hospital staffed by women, first woman dean of a British medical school, first female doctor of medicine in France, first woman in Britain to be elected to a school board, and (as Mayor of Aldeburgh), first female British mayor and magistrate – a lot of firsts in a lot of fields. Her friend Emily Davies opened university education to women: she founded Girton College, Cambridge. Elizabeth’s 13-year-old sister Millicent became Millicent Fawcett, pioneer of women’s suffrage.
It is fair to say, the rest is – half-remembered – history.
On the way back from Ipswich Hospital Garret Anderson centre the other day, a taxi driver asked “who the chap was” that it was named after? And who in Suffolk links women’s suffrage and Fawcett Society with that 13yo in Aldeburgh?
A crying shame when you consider that half of our county’s population are women – about 370,000 of us all occupying Suffolk’s 3800 square kilometres. If we were spread across the county we might all be within shouting distance of each other – if we shouted very loud. And we’ve a lot of reasons to shout. The gender pay gap in Suffolk is 22.2% – above the national average. We have a higher than average level of violence against women. Last year, I established that Suffolk was not a good place to be a girl.
Women need all the help we can get – in Suffolk, as elsewhere. So why so few women representing us?
First and foremost I’d say a lot of women simply don’t think of themselves as elected representatives. A shame, because so many women’s lives have required them to develop the skills sets, the energy, the drive, the determination, the ability to multitask and the fire in our bellies to be very good representatives indeed. A lot of women just don’t realise they have the skills, or that they have value.
Then, people in general have a very low awareness of government in general. They are often unclear as to which services are delivered by central government, and which by local. In Suffolk, people are often unclear as to which council of three they may mean when talking about ‘the council’. Who’d be elected to something you don’t understand?
What people do know about councils, they know in terms of dissatisfaction – transport, potholes, social care – all gone wrong. They know that some officers are paid large salaries. They often conflate these with councillors who are paid (small) ‘allowances’. Generally this means that ‘the council’ has an undeserved bad reputation: people see it as ‘them’ instead of ‘us’ and profligate with ‘our money.’
Most curious of all, when it comes to ‘our money’ people seem to make very little connection between local politics, voting and outcome. They will see local elections as unimportant and ‘not bother’ to vote – though the effects of the county council budget will affect their roads, their schools their social care, their transport.
They will vote for a party that fails to raise council tax year after year – and then be astonished at the effect this has on their roads, their schools their social care, their transport.
Within this mindset very few women might want to be councillors – seeing it as a male environment and a negative one at that. And yet of course, it a council is a place where we the people can put many things right – and gender equality in councillors can make this happen.
No, this isn’t pie in the sky – its common sense! Councils have budgets and allocate huge amounts of local funding – and they decide where it goes. If most councillors are middle-aged middle-class white men who have never had “the worry of how to put shoes on the children’s feet because you are paid so little as a carer”, or “worry if you can manage to hang on to your job while getting two children to schools in different directions”, they will not understand the issues of paying carers too little, or splitting siblings between schools, or failing to provide rural families with sufficient transport options. They may well have different funding priorities to women when it come to refuges, or rape crisis lines or supporting family carers. Not because they mean harm – but because it has never had to enter their head as personal priorities.
My own background as a councillor is, maybe, unusual – but I would suggest that the background of many women councillors IS unusual. Many experiences played a part, but I’d say, most importantly, was that I was a lone parent and full-time carer fighting for the needs for my disabled child – and very angry indeed about various things in society that I wanted to try and change. In the end my friends told me to put up or shut up so I joined the party that was closest to my beliefs and put my name forward to stand as county councillor.
I stood against a respected, longstanding local politician – he was a past town, district, county councillor and past mayor too. And, against any expectation I won. Was it because I wasn’t a “normal politician”?
I’ve been re-elected three times since. Because of that I have had the chance to raise more issues, fight for more causes, and gain more successes than I had ever thought possible as a private individual. And that is immensely satisfying.
But still as a woman you find you can speak to a silence and five minutes later a male councillor repeats what you say to rapturous applause – clearly you had a cloak of invisibility on.You speak with passion about an injustice and a political journalist tweets something dismissive about your manner of speech. Like Ginger Rogers you do everything Fred Astaire does but backwards and in high heels, and still get second billing. There are endless microaggressions. Why? It’s a numbers game.
But the winds of change are blowing here -as in the film industry, as everywhere. The atmosphere is suddenly getting markedly less aggressive
I love what I do because it has so much variety- and you can have so much direct effect. One day you are fighting to stop someone (it often seems to be a woman, low-hanging fruit) getting deported, the next, putting the spotlight on a controversial transport consultation, the next convincing the council about the injustice of WASPI pensions. There’s never a dull moment and it makes a real difference to real lives.
To my mind, politics isn’t a game of “them” and “us” – its about how ‘we’ want to get ‘our’ country, county, town to work – and where women are concerned it’s a numbers game.
Our numbers and our expertise will ensure that we can make it better for all of us in towns, in counties, in our country if we step up to the plate and have belief in our own capacities.
It is really as simple as that!
Women of Suffolk, come and join in!