Category Archives: Suffolk County Council

Suffolk’s NSD – a few sneaky sums

We all know the story  – Suffolk has to make 30% cuts and all because of those naughty bad bankers and the UK’s mountain of inherited debt.

Right?

Wrong!

The Lib Dems have discovered that Suffolk county council only needs to make cuts of 11% IN TOTAL over the next four years to balance out the reduction in central government grants. This means cuts of less than 3% a year.

Which means that the administration used their huge Tory majority to  plan cuts that were THREE TIMES  as savage as they needed to be!!!!

How have they managed to spin this? Simple. They expect us to be not very good at our sums and not to check the facts and their figures. Pretty much like someone trying to sell you dodgy double-glazing or an unnecessary insurance policy.

They have estimated that the amount of money they would get from the government will be reduced by 33.3% over 4 years (because of the Comprehensive Spending Review).  That is, they assumed that Suffolk would have to manage on two thirds of the current central government grant.

In point of fact the reduction in central government funding will be just over 26% over four years (not 33.3%) which is much less of a hit. But this is just the thin end of their mathematical shenanigans.

BECAUSE the government grant makes up much less than half of Suffolk County Council’s total income. And the rest of this  income is not going to reduce at all. In some cases it will rise.

When we did the sums, the reduction  in Suffolk’s total income over the next four years  was NOT a big noisy 30%, it was less than 11%. That’s a very big difference when you  are talking about closing and selling off care homes, cutting school crossing patrols and closing the park and ride!

Suffolk County Council consults after the event

Todays article on this 'consultation'EADT today – p13

Suffolk’s New Strategic direction: 
when is a consultation not a consultation?

When you consult the people of Suffolk
AFTER you’ve made your decision!

We Lib Dems are deeply concerned about the minimal – and cursory – nature of the consultation being offered to the people of Suffolk re the County Council’s  NSD New Strategic Direction. 

For a start, don’t you suspect that the bland jargonese of the phrase ‘New Strategic Direction’ is enough to put any listener to sleep. How convenient! If you called it ‘Selling the Family Silver’ they might wake up with a jerk.

So much for the terminology. Now the process. On the 23 September, the Tory administration promised

that there should be pro-active and wide-ranging engagement across Suffolk to establish whether the key NSD proposals find favour with communities we all represent before moving forward to implementation; and the findings from the engagement be reported back to Full Council at its meeting on the 2nd of December 2010

This consultation started at the ende of October. Now it turns out that we residents only had until the 15th of November to provide responses to the NSD in order for these responses to be considered in the Full Council report for December 2nd (We are told that comments and surveys completed after this date will be provided to Councillors before the meeting, but not included in the official report.)  

To add insult to injury, the Council has also recently announced a number of ‘road show’ events in 10 different towns across the County to spread news of the NSD.  ALL of these events occur after today’s deadline of the 15th, and one of these events is even planned for the 3rd of December, after the Council has made its decision!

You couldn’t make it up! 

Lehmann House: (NOT) having your say…

On Friday I went to the public meeting at the threatened  Lehmann House in Wickham Market. Here the portfolio holder for Adult and Community Services, Cllr Noble,  plus officers  gave a presentation  explaining why the council were making big changes  – including almost certain closure – to this valued local resource.

Need I mention that these changes form yet another wobbly plank in the Heath Robinson contraption that is Suffolk County Council’s  NSD (New Strategic Direction)?

Just to remind you , Lehmann House offers 38 places (28 for older people with special needs because of dementia, two of which are respite places to give carers a rest, plus 10 places for permanent care to frail older people).  It has a lovely kindly atmosphere, home cooking that the residents can’t praise highly enough and is deeply deeply valued by the residents and their relatives and carers. There are generally several people from Woodbridge in Lehmann House at any given time..

The public who filled the room  – mainly carers, residents and relatives – listened in disbelief as the administration urged them to ” have their say on the future of Suffolk County Council’s residential care homes.”

Hardly much of a say, as one person pointed out, when there are only three options and none of them is keeping things as they are.

“People can’t complete your online consultation unless they pick one of your three options. What if I  don’t want one of those options? I can only continue to the next page if  I agree with you,” said one.

In fact so many people made  so much fuss about this particular point that they extorted a promise from those in charge to change the online questions and allow people to disagree with the options SCC is offering.   Lehmann House – 1: SCC – 0.

Oh – let me remind you of the options on offer:

  1. Close the homes and commission alternative services from the independent sector
  2. Sell all of the homes as going concerns
  3. Close a number of homes  and transfer the remaining ones to the independent sector.
    In addition to Lehmann house, the other  homes tipped for closure are Ixworth Court in Ixworth,The Dell in Beccles, Wade House in Stowmarket, Davers Court in Bury St. Edmunds, and Paddock House in Eye

But why does Suffolk County Council provide no option to keep things as they are? The head of the council adult care department says “I haven’t the money to keep care homes running.”  End of story.  No figures are given – here or elsewhere – to back up this bold assertion. No acknowledgement that in fact it isn’t his money, but Suffolk residents’ money. No suggestion whatsoever that Suffolk residents  should be accorded the respect of being in on the decision-making rather than consulted after the event!

The administration added that Lehmann house will have to close anyway sooner or later because ‘not all the rooms have en suite facilities and the next generation of consumers will want them‘ . How this ties in with their other assertion that there will be so many old people in Suffolk  twenty years time that we won’t be able to look after them all I am not sure. (If they thought about it, maybe people might prefer a care home place without en suite rather than no care home place at all. And maybe people would prefer to live in the centre of a small town within easy reach of shops and sociability with easy access for relatives by foot, and bus as well as car.These questions are not included on the consultation questionnaire)

As one parent said “I am 91 years old. My daughter is 70. If she doesn’t have a place here, how can I look after her?”

Heartrending.

Besides which, as the entire room said loudly , what does twenty years on have to do with the price of fish? what  interest do these particular patients, carers and other family have in talk of alternatives to care,  putting more money into supporting people in their own homes, community initiatives?

“All the people here have no alternatives. They have been in their own homes. That time is now over. What does it matter to themwhat other people do in 20 years time? We want to know what’s happening to this home now…

Is there any chance we can keep it open?”

And thats where life gets interesting.

Whilst no-one would confirm that Lehmann House would close, the answers given suggested that the staff and residents of Lehmann House hadn’t a chance of taking over the premises at a peppercorn rent (as someone suggested) because  its not only that care homes are too expensive to run. They are also too valuable. SCC wants to close the six homes so they can sell them, leaving  the money (presumably) to be put into funding the transfer of the other homes to the independent sector. This would appear to give them two bites at the same cherry of  savings  – indeed, for all I know, might turn rather a neat profit on the closing of places such as Lehmann. A quick buck – but at what cost?

In which case the closure of this treasured home may depend less on intrinsic factors and more on its value to a speculator. After all, as I said, Lehmann House IS  in the centre of a small town within easy reach of shops and sociability by foot, and bus as well as by car..

So  the jury is technically out. Technically.

I’ll put my money on Option 3 being the one that mysteriously is the peoples’ choice at the end of this figleaf of a consultation.

Divestment in Suffolk: Cold Thoughts from a Broad

On Monday I was travelling by rail on the Lowestoft line – eg using a public service ‘divested’ into the efficient entrepreneurial private sector twenty-five years ago.

Standing in the freezing rain and howling winds of Darsham station, it was disconcerting to discover that the 15.38 had been cancelled. This left the ten or so passengers who expected to travel to Ipswich no option but to wait 2 hours in the cold on an unmanned station for the next train.

Luckily there is an intercom at Darsham (although installed on a windblown outer wall making conversation tricky) so I pressed the button and asked National Express East Anglia what plans they had to remedy their failure of service. At which point I discovered that this intercom went straight through to a call centre so far away from Suffolk (and, almost certainly from the UK) that the call-centre worker at the other end didn’t even know where ‘Darsham’, ‘the Lowestoft line’ or ‘Ipswich’ actually were. This limited his capacity to answer my questions or indeed explain what National Express East Anglia planned to do to reduce the four hour hole in their service provision.

Cynically, this seems to me to be an extraordinarily efficient and entrepreneurial solution to taking responsibility for manifest failures in a public service.

I was travelling from Darsham because I had been delivering party leaflets warning Suffolk residents about the likely consequences of Suffolk County Council’s divestment plans. As I sat, shivering, in the rain, I wondered whether a divested Council would turn out to be as singularly unresponsive, uncaring and absent as NEXEA’s service was on that day!

This was also published as a letter in EADT 11 November 2010

Woodbridge Town Council report Nov 2010

New Strategic Direction: When is a Consultation NOT a Consultation?

SCC has finally embarked on a consultation on the administration’s  New Strategic Direction proposals (proposals that were that were announced seven weeks ago on the 23rd of September) with an online survey for members of the public to respond to, on the Suffolk County Council website. I believe this survey closes on November 18th . Seven weeks to anticipate (and indeed according to the Leader, this was over a YEAR in the planning) and  just three weeks to make a comment. And then only if you are computer literate. This shows the  respect our administration have for the views of the people who elected them.

I am not sure what the administration plans to do to reach the many Suffolk residents who do not easily use or access computers.

We are told the responses from this consultation will be used to provide a report for the Full Council meeting on the 2nd of December.

http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/CouncilAndDemocracy/AboutSCC/NewStrategicDirection.htm

Update: only responses recieved before November 15th will be used in the report to Full Council. So a considerably LESS than three week consultation for those who find the link.

You can’t OBJECT to the NSD on this survey, mind.

Ipswich Road made safer for pedestrians

The refuge island at the top of Ipswich road which I have been pressing for for a couple of years, and which I have funded from QoL  is finally being built.  Sorry for the inconvenience – but it will be worth it! The solar-powered flashing ‘30 ‘sign for halfway down  Ipswich Road (just before the blind bend) which I have also been fighting for has been ordered and should be installed shortly.

When these are in place we might consider looking at what else needs to be done to slow traffic  – and particularly traffic entering Woodbridge from the A12.

Martlesham Creek footpath revamp

I’mvery very pleased to be able to announce the temporary closure of Footpath 6 Woodbridge (Martlesham Creek) from Kyson Point westwards to Footpath 11/12 Martlesham for resurfacing! This stretch of the path is a nighmare in all but the driest weather,  and I have ben pestering the relevant  officer for a while now to see what she could do. Hopefully its closure until Februaryfor proper building up and resurfacing of the quagmire it has become  will result  in many happy years walking for both residents and visitors

SCC Care Homes ‘Consultation’ (as long as you give one of the pre-selected answers, that is!)

At the October Cabinet meeting the Cabinet announced they were looking at the future of SCC Care homes in the county, that is,  looking to divest the services that the Council provides.  They say this is ‘due to the cost of running care homes and ensuring that the care homes are of the highest quality for residents’. They have considered this solely in terms of money rather than the needs of the increasingly ageing population of Suffolk. This is of concern to us because of Lehmann House in Wickham Market, which is one of the homes for which complete closure is postulated

The  options on offer are:

Close the homes and commission alternative services from the independent sector. The council would close all of the homes and sell the sites, and re-commission the required places from the independent sector, as they state that places bought in independent homes are cheaper compared to the cost of providing in house. This relies on there being places  to buy and also brings up issues of who is  ensuring these places are of a suitable standard

Sell all of the homes as going concerns The council would sell the homes as going concerns to one or more new providers who would take over the care of residents, the employment of the staff and the maintenance of the buildings.  Residents could continue to live in the homes and the staff would transfer to the new provider or providers. It was pointed out at Cabinet that many homes could not be sold as going concerns because they were too expensive

Close a number of homes and transfer the remaining homes to the independent sector. This option would involve the closure of a number of homes and transfer of the remaining homes with an agreement to develop new services and facilities to replace the existing homes, which could include new residential homes or very sheltered housing.

Within the papers there is a list of six houses that ‘might be’ (read ‘are being’) considered for early closure

Lehmann House in Wickham Market

Ixworth Court in Ixworth

The Dell in Beccles

Wade House in Stowmarket

Davers Court in Bury St. Edmunds

Paddock House in Eye

An initial  12 week consultation  – that is, 9 weeks longer than the administration has allowed for the NSD – starts 1st November 2010 (consultation ending  24th January 2011) will ‘seek stakeholders’ views’ with a plan for divestment of the homes in March 2011.

You will notice that although there has been no costings attached to this  – beyond the assurance that some council-run Care Homes are ‘too expensive’ (right up there with the ‘feel’ that Bury Road P&R users will just switch to London Road) there is NO OPTION  to maintain the status quo in the  consultation. So much for the democratic process, eh

I am visiting Lehmann House this Friday. You can respond to the consultation, and read the report that went to Cabinet at this address;

http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/CouncilAndDemocracy/Consultations/carehomesconsultation2010.htm

Bury Road Park and Ride to close despite its popularity. Sums don’t count!

Also on Oct 12th the Lib Dems ‘called-in’ Cabinet’s decision to close the close the Bury Road Park and Ride site in January, just after Christmas in the belief  that this would save significant amounts of money. We continue to believe that the three Park and Ride sites are valuable for Suffolk and Suffolk residents alike, and, in addition to contributing to our ‘greenest county’ aspirations could contribute significantly to the Suffolk exchequer is managed sensibly.

The rationale for the closure was based on things like ‘a feel’ for the situation (I kid you not), and without business analysis to explain a sudden drop in profits that coincided with transferring the new contract from  Ipswich Buses to First. Additionally, there was no mention of the cost of changing the contract, and the information they chose to provide  about the level of use was not per site sites. This was particularly interesting because, when we tracked it down, it durned out that the usage at Bury Road is much higher than at Martlesham – nearly double!   We also discovered that the County has just  received £830,000 in European funding to promote sustainable transport around the town of Ipswich, while only recently the Government has committed to spending £25m in Ipswich on sustainable transport including new bus stops and real time information.

None of this was accounted for in the SCC decision, no was there any consideration of introducing a charge for concessionary fares. (This is extraordinary because charging for concessionary fares was due to be introduced in all three Park and Rides three months later and the figures for projected increase in income MUST therefore be available. It is unbelievable that they were not considered as part of this decision-making process – or indeed part of the scrutiny).

We estimate that if each concessionary user paid £1.50 for the service, then the Park and Ride would actually bring around £644,000 worth of income into the County, rather than the current apparent deficit of £800,000.  Our survey of nearly 500 regular users suggests that 10% or less would refuse to pay this modest charge: the decision was based on the administration’s ‘feel’ that 50% would refuse. Again, were there hard facts? No way!!!

Unfortunately the scrutiny committee refused to refer the decision back to Cabinet, with the voting split on political lines rather than those of scientific financial planning. There were 13 out of 14 Conservatives voting for the decision to be upheld, the two Liberal Democrats on the committee voting for the decision to be referred back with support from the one Labour member.

For more information including the original papers, please head to;

http://apps2.suffolk.gov.uk/cgi-bin/committee_xml.cgi?p=detail&id=1_14828

Lose CONNEXIONS – Upcoming Cabinet Items

November’s cabinet meeting has a significantly reduced agenda compared to many meetings in the past. Two issues have specific interest for  people in Woodbridge:

Development of a New Integrated Youth Support Service. Alas, like so very many of the SCC administration’s  ‘positive title’ initiatives this is  misleading. This  is not looking at yer actual ‘development’ at all but  the possible divestment of open access youth clubs (destruction rather than development in other words), and to approve the establishment of a ‘Divestment Fund’ to enable communities to take over the running of existing SCC provision or start up a new type of provision.  The Youth and Connexions service will no longer exist in their current form. Although this is supposed to be up for consultation, we are told in advance that ‘the new service will have fewer features, but have more investment in targeted support for vulnerable people.’

I have already been approached by the heads of two separate youth services worried about the impact of this on their community

http://apps2.suffolk.gov.uk/cgi-bin/committee_xml.cgi?p=doc&id=1_14859&format=doc

The Cabinet is also being asked to agree SCC’s future role in effective management of Suffolk’s natural environment, and to support a bid for the County to be a pioneer authority in delivering the Government’s Total Environment agenda.  The report describes how within the New Strategic Direction it is possible for the County Council to contribute to delivering the Government’s green agenda.

How this links in with the Park and Ride closure , for example, or the fact that the Council’s carbon footprint for private vehicle use went UP this last year while its usage of sustainable transport went DOWN remains to be seen.

http://apps2.suffolk.gov.uk/cgi-bin/committee_xml.cgi?p=doc&id=1_14860&format=doc

Please don’t forget that members of the public are able to ask questions of the administration at each Cabinet meeting.  Please head here to find out more:

http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/CouncilAndDemocracy/CommitteesAgendasReportsandMinutes/PublicQuestionTimeatMeetingsoftheCountyCouncilandCabinet.htm