Category Archives: Suffolk County Council

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

Woodbridge Town Council report Oct 2010

Suffolk County  Council’s New Strategic Direction – Update

At the September County Council meeting, the New Strategic Direction was adopted as Council policy – the conservative majority meaning that opposing Lib Dem votes had no effect.   The administration  aims to reduce the level of spending by the County Council within its administrative centre and on frontline services.  The Liberal Democrat group voted against this.

The Chief Executive’s plan which she calls the New Strategic Direction (NSD) is to expect the market and communities take over a number of services that are currently provided by the Council.  These services have been specified and the first tranche are due to be ‘divested’ in April.

The administration believes this will significantly reduce a predicted but not yet specified 30% funding gap expected to hit the County Council over the coming years. We Lib Dems believe it may more closely approximate to selling off the family silver!

  • As opposition, my party is concerned at the speed at which the council intend to carry out this policy – which is not supported by a business plan – and the way neither staff at the Council, nor other local councils nor the residents of Suffolk  have been consulted on the proposals, although we have all been told we have been!  We feel that before this policy goes ahead, the Council must gauge the view of the public, and communicate with the third sector, without which this policy would not survive.  We must ensure that by engaging with the public, Suffolk County Council will commit to a wider scale consultation with all organisations and groups across Suffolk.  I have been personally campaigning to raise awareness of this issue.

It is essential that the Council realises the level of risk associated with such a plan, as even if they are to outsource elements of the Council there is no guarantee that it will save council taxpayers money.  Each service has a required budget, whether it is inside the Council, or outside. In essence we feel that the council is moving far too quickly and without a realistic analysis of the risks involved to services.

Also the council currently has considerable overspends on those services already outsourced e.g. the Adult Care service which  has a £1m overspend this year, and almost a £1m overspend in Children’s services. In addition the contract with Customer Service Direct was meant to have saved the council £80m over 10 years. There is no evidence of any savings, and last year the annual cost of the CSD increased by 12%. So there is little evidence that the County Council is managing existing contracts within budget.

They have also failed to factor in the total cost of redundancies. If they are truly looking to downsize staff numbers by 4,000 that equates to around £110m in redundancy payments.

The council saysavings must be made at the centre of the organisation. In spite of various initiatives to reduce the size of the centre of the organisation, there was an actual increase of 100 in non frontline staff this year.

The decision on the 23rd of September means that the County Council will now go further forward in looking for pilot schemes and drawing up plans to implement this policy, which will officially begin in April 2011.  Within the paper itself, (a link can be found here http://apps2.suffolk.gov.uk/cgi-bin/committee_xml.cgi?p=detail&id=1_14720), there is a list of suggestions for the first services that could be outsourced, each of the services would be analysed to fit into a specific group; for example libraries as community initiatives, or transport planning/bus services being countywide outcome based contracts.

I

Cabinet on the 12th of October

As usual members of the public are able to put questions to the administration at Cabinet, with the next opportunity having been being today, 12th of October.

The deadline for questions is four working days prior to the meeting.  More information on this can be found here; http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/CouncilAndDemocracy/CommitteesAgendasReportsandMinutes/PublicQuestionTimeatMeetingsoftheCountyCouncilandCabinet.htm

The items that will be on the agenda for this meeting, that may be of interest include;

  • SCC taking over administration of the concessionary travel  passes
  • Options for the Council’s residential homes for older people in light of the current financial situatioh.
  • The impact of blanket rising four admissions to primary school  on nursery provision
  • |the proposed closure of the Ipswich Bury Rd Park and Ride
  • Street Lighting –proposals on Part night lighting and dimming of Suffolk street lights

I will give details of any of these at the WTC meeting if required

SCC Transport and Highway Budget cuts

This years’ Suffolk County Council Quality of Life budgets have been slashed by 12.5%. (QoL budgets are the individual budgets that Suffolk County Councillors have in order to provide for local transport issues that might get overlooked with priority funding, specifically:

  • Speed limit and speed reduction schemes/anxiety relief schemes
  • Cycling schemes
  • Pedestrian schemes
  • Public transport schemes
  • Rights of way schemes
  • Traffic management schemes )

The good news is, because of efficient accounting and planning by our local engineering team and the very useful nature of the projects we’d decided on, Woodbridge will not be greatly affected by this. Two of the three projects that were contemplated are going ahead:

  • an island for helping crossing at the top of Ipswich road to assist school students, mums with prams, bus users and cyclists to cross is still going ahead in October and
  • a solar powered ’30’ sign on the steep slope down on Ipswich Road, that will hopefully help slow drivers just before the blind bend at the Sandy lane junction is being put up this autumn
  • Additionally I funded bollards to prevent inconsiderate and dangerous parking (generally, sadly, by Farlingaye parents ) at near the  Hasketon Road/Ransome Road intersection. These have just been put up

However, the bad news is on the wider highways budget.  We have just heard from Portfolio Holder Guy McGregor that all the Parking Reviews in Suffolk have been cut. This includes the one in Woodbridge on which so much time and energy has been spent. I’m sure that you will find this as irritating and upsetting as I do. However, here too all is not lost – I have been offered a choice. The third QoL scheme planned for Woodbridge  was traffic calming in Sandy Lane. I have received the following from the engineer:

“I have been looking at the details of the spending on the QoL budget. At present, you are fully committed. However, I am aware that we have not spent much on the Sandy Lane scheme (current allocation of £4500). The cycling officer has come up with a plan involving signs and lines that could slow traffic and  increase awareness of cyclists and pedestrians.

However, if you wanted to continue with the review, there may be a way forward. We estimate that the cost of completing the review will be approximately £8000. Approximately a third of the sign and line changes in the review on site works are due to maintenance. I could ask our maintenance people to pay or contribute towards this, which would see income to the scheme of up to £2000. If we removed the planned work within the review of removing all the unnecessary no waiting at any time plates and posts, we would save approximately £1500. This would then bring the total cost of completing the review down to about £4500 – the amount allocated to Sandy Lane.

In addition, we have a separate allocation to look at changing the parking along Thoroughfare, paid for the Air Quality budget. If we were able to add the advertising of the review to the advertising of this, we could  save a further £1000.”

Given

a) the stress and strife that the Parking review has generated to date

b) the need for calming in Sandy Lane

c) the relative impact of each of these options on the population of Woodbridge

I felt this was a matter for full consultation, I put the matter to the Woodbridge Highways committee, who were in favour of prioritising finishing the parking scheme which I believe will be finally agreed this evening?

NB: Woodbridge Town Council voted unanimously to finish the TRO

Suffolk Libraries under threat

Coverage from the EADT today, 13/10/10

Suffolk libraries at risk from SCC's New Strategic Directive!
Suffolk libraries at risk from SCC's New Strategic Directive!

“Masterly Inactivity”: don’t bury your head in the sand!

Although most people I have talked to about Suffolk County Council’s  undemocratic, incoherent, and – worst of all – unbudgeted plans  have been very  keen to express an opinion, a few timid souls feel it safer to stick their heads firmly in the sand and hope everything will just go away.

“Its not happening,” they say. “They’ve not told us what they’re going to do. How can I do anything, when they haven’t told us what they are doing?

This reminds me of that Foreign Office strategy of masterly inactivity described by the great Sir Humphrey:

Stage 1:  There is nothing happening.

Stage 2:  There may be something happening, but we should do nothing about it.

Stage 3:  Maybe we should do something about it, but there’s nothing that we can do.

Stage 4:  Maybe there is something that we could have done, but it’s too late now.

You can see the massive flaw in this, can’t you?

Unless we press our point firmly enough – it WILL be happening. And the tragedy is, they HAVEN’T told us what they plan to do, In fact it is clear they haven’t the foggiest.

DESPITE THIS, the first tranche of ‘divestments’ are planned to happen in April:  in SIX months time! That is, the planned ‘divestment’ of:

  • Libraries
  • Independent Living Centres (these provide advice and information on equipment which can be used by disabled people)
  • Highway Services
  • Youth clubs, and Integrated Youth Support and Outdoor Education
  • Early Years & Childcare, including Children’s Centres
  • Home First (this is a social care service)
  • Country Parks
  • Transactional property
  • Registrars
  • Suffolk traded services
  • Employment enterprises, learning and careers advice
  • A record office
  • Economic Development
  • Home Shield Plus
  • Hate Crime Service

And what happens if this unplanned, uncosted, unbudgeted, unhinged piece of ideological claptrap fails, and we lose (for example) our highway service? Thats right, the one people love to moan about – the one that (unheralded and unsung) trains all its staff to man gritting lorries so we can have a 24 hour service over the winter?

We suffer, that’s what happens. And we lose people , teams and services that took a long time to train and which will be impossible to replace.. We are, in short, a lot worse off!

Though, come to think of it, thats everybody except for the Chief Executive herself. She doesn’t live in Suffolk!


‘Divestment’ of Suffolk council services: Woodbridge library-users protest

Save Woodbridge Library - and all the others in Suffolk. We love them and use them

Saturday morning in Woodbridge – and people of all ages are using their much-loved library.

Please, Suffolk County Council, will you  make clear what your plans for ‘divestment’ by April 2011 will actually mean to the library-user in the street? We know what we are fighting for – but we need to know what we are fighting against!