Category Archives: Suffolk County Council

My October Report: Woodbridge Town Council

Probably the most interesting thing to be happening in Suffolk County Council this month is the appointment of a new Chief Executive. Details were announced too late to go into this report,but merely announced that the final interviews would take place whis upcoming week.  A shortlist has been published in the EADT, but it is speculative, so I’m not passing it on.

Petitions and how they are handled

At the last Full Council meeting (22nd of September) a number of constitution amendments, SCC looked at  how the Council was to deal with petitions from members of the public , following disgraceful debacles over Libraries, Explore Cards, etc. The Lib Dems are still pushing for far more clearcut and SMART targeted amendments to the petitions process,  to improve democratic accountability and allow the people who sign petitions to have their concerns adequately examined and addressed at long last.  

Young People’s travel 

The group is examining the difficulties of transport for young people in Suffolk, particularly as a result of the removal of the eXplore card.  I  am a member of this group, and have asked that the evidence-gathering should be extended to half-term because people were initially asked during the school/college holidays. This means there is still time to give evidence.  The on-line survey can be found using the following link: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/transport4yp

Alternatively, individuals and organisations can send their comments for the attention of the Task and Finish Group on Transport Issues for Young People to Democratic Services, Suffolk County Council, Endeavour House, Russell Road, Ipswich, Suffolk; or by Email to: committee.services@suffolk.gov.uk.

If you feel strongly, please do remember to respond.

Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation

This month  Cabinet discussedSuffolk’s Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation strategy to reduce off-street prostitution and sexual exploitation across Suffolk. In the briefing I was told that worrying evidence of exploitation was emerging all over Suffolk. I have therefore asked for details of issues and concerns local to Woodbridge and will pass on what information I receive.

Stars of Suffolk

 You can now nominate for  the Stars of Suffolk Awards 2011. These are a joint venture between the Evening Star and Suffolk County Council, with sponsorship from local businesses and organisations. Categories are:

  • Carer of the year
  • Courageous Young Person of the Year
  • Community Group or Champion of the Year
  • Fire Service Person of the Year
  • Healthy Lifestyle Champion of the Year
  • Hospital/Ambulance Hero/Heroine of the Year
  • Outstanding Bravery
  • Police Person of the Year
  • School Team of the Year
  • Search and Rescue Person of the Year
  • Social Worker of the Year
  • Unsung Hero/Heroine of the Year
  • Volunteer of the Year

Nominations for the awards will close on the 28th of October at 5pm, and can be made via http://www.onesuffolk.co.uk/starsofsuffolk

Last Stages of Mobile Library consultation

 The deadline for  SCC’s  Mobile Library Consultation is the 16th of October. The council is consulting on the plans to move from fortnightly to monthly or four-weekly Mobile Library stops and  to remove stops in communities that are served by a static library. SCC argues that this would save an estimated £225,000 a year, while maintaining the mobile library service to communities that do not have a static library.http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/CouncilAndDemocracy/Consultations/MobileLibraryConsultation.htm

The results of this consultation will be published the Cabinet meeting,  8th of November , where the administration will decide the future structure of Suffolk’s Library Service.  This will then be put to Full Council in December. With the current majority, don’t expect an overwhelming vote against.  Changes approved will be put in place in April 2012.

SCC’s  Budget consultation

 This is to remind you again of SCC’s ongoing budget consultation. The Council has announced that it needs to reduce the size of its budget by £50m over the next two years, and wants to know the County’s view before decision are made. ( However, they have already cut £43m from its budget last year, without any sort of consultation.)

The consultation will allow everyone in Suffolk  to submit their views on what they feel are the most important parts of the County Council’s budget, as well as make comments about potential future savings that the Council may not have considered yet http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/CouncilAndDemocracy/Consultations/WeAreListening.htm

 

September’s report to Woodbridge Town Council

This month my report is principally to do with bus passes and  libraries. SCC’s county-wide consultation on further cuts is also covered

Interim Chief Executive
Lucy Robinson, Director for Economy, Skills and Environment has been appointed interim chief executive at Suffolk County Council. She had been covering the role of Chief Executive since the previous Chief Executive was put on “gardening leave”. The role is initially for six months, during which time the recruitment of a permanent Chief Executive will take place.  Mrs Robinson has been appointed on a salary of £150,000 pro rata which is apparently the kind of figure Suffolk might expect to be paying for our new Chief Executive’s salary.

 Concessionary Travel: Explore, over-60 and disabled persons passes
After the success of the recent petition, the Explore card cut (together with other obstacles to young persons travel  is currently being investigated by a SCC scrutiny task and finish group. I am a member of this three-person group, and urge anyone who wishes  to give evidence to do so. The committee is taking evidence till half term; the contact is Teresa Harden at SCC.

At  the last Full Council meeting the Liberal Democrat Group submitted a motion recommending that concessionary bus pass holders should be allowed to travel from 9am instead of 9:30am whilethose who hold concessionary bus passes due to a disability should have all time restrictions removed. The motion was passed with a single amendment , so this decision will be now referred to Cabinet.  In the meantime I have set up a petition to highlight  public support.  You can find the epetition on the SCC epetition website http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/Bus-Passes—we-need-to-travel-before-9-30- , while a paper  version of the petition can be downloaded from: http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2011/07/15/bus-passes-new-hope-for-the-elderly-and-disabled-of-suffolk/

Libraries update

Future: the administration has put forward a number of different options for the future structure of the service, and the options below will go through a ‘best value’ evaluation. I asked  for the parameters of ‘best value’ to be made very explicit;

  • A Council Business Unit
  • A Council owned company/enterprise
  • Independent Company/Enterprise

This will be reported back to Cabinet on the 8th of November. The Council has also moved to set up pilots for community run libraries at:

  • Aldeburgh
  • Bungay
  • Eye, Debenham and Stradbroke
  • Sudbury
  • Thurston
  • Wickham Market
  • Gainsborough, Chantry, Ipswich, Stoke, Rosehill and Westbourne – working together.

These projects will begin in April 2012, and will look to increase the amount of local decision making, fundraising and activities and look to include more public services under one roof.

Local news: I am funding the children’s writer and illustrator Jonathan Allen to come and cartoon at the Woodbridge Library on Sunday – the day of the Reading Scheme presentation awards.

Mobile libraries: theres  a consultation  running until 14 October on plans to move from fortnightly to monthly or four-weekly stops and  to remove all stops in communities that are served by a static library. We are told this would would save an estimated £225,000 a year, while maintaining the mobile library service to those communities that do not have a static library.

SCC Consultation  on further budget cuts 
As suggested by the Lib Dems last October,  SCC has decided to undertake a major budget consultation exercise with Suffolk residents, businesses, partners, the voluntary sector and other stakeholders. The idea is to get  people to tell us which  services matter most to them and to share their ideas and suggestions on how the Council could save money or improve services.  I urge everyone to make their opinions known. This is the only democratic way to arrive at necessary cuts   www.suffolk.gov.uk/WeAreListening

Public Questions at Full Council & Cabinet
As usual members of the public can ask questions to the administration at both Full Council and at Cabinet. Your question must be submitted by 12 midday, four days prior to the meeting.  This means that questions to Full Council, which takes place on the 22nd of September, have to be submitted by the 16th http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/CouncilAndDemocracy/DecisionMaking/PublicQuestionTimeatMeetingsoftheCountyCouncilandCabinet.htm

Locality budget
I am wanting to  fund  more bike racks in the Market Square, outside the Community Hall, and down by Cafe Nero. Hoefully this will encourage greater bike use – essential in a town where parking is so short

Bus passes: new hope for the elderly and disabled of Suffolk

I proposed a motion as opposition Transport spokesman at yesterday’s full council meeting. It was very simple. It asked the Council to revisit  their decision to provide little more than the bare statutory minimum for travel passes. This is because the current situation – so much less generous than the situation when  the money was channelled through District councils – is causing genuine hardship to many people, who often have few if any alternatives,

i)   recommending that those pass holders eligible due to age, shall be able to travel using their passes from 9 o’clock throughout the week,
ii)   and removing all time limitations on buses for those pass holders eligible due to disability.

This was passed, hoorah! My speech (below) proposing the motion was supported by  members of all the other parties, with very little demurring, (although Cllr Noble had considerable difficulty recognising his own Cabinet’s proposed figures on the subject),

An extraordinarily funny moment came when Cllr Newman, portfolio-holder  for Children, Schools and Young People’s Services put forward the  argument that poor college-going teenagers (here he instanced a young relative of his own) might have problems getting on a bus to college  if  OAPs crowded it at 9am. This was terrible, said Cllr Newman,  considering how much the young person in question was having to pay to get to college by bus . And he seemed genuinely surprised by the response – loud cries of “You should bring back the Explore card!” which immediately came from the opposition benches.

My speech:

Colleagues, since April, those people in Suffolk entitle to use concessionary travel passes by virtue of their age or disability have suffered a reduction in the terms and conditions of these passes. They can now no longer use them before 9.30 on weekdays.

This impacts on 140,000 people – just under 7,000 of whom require the pass on the grounds of disability.

Suffolk County Council are keen to say that they are actually providing enhancements  to the basic statutory national minimum.  That is, we provide the option of getting an ungenerous annual £50 in travel vouchers for those unable to use the bus, and allow cardholders to use a pre-9.30 bus if there IS only a single bus in the morning and it leaves pre-9.30. So much for the enhancements.

The County Council say  that ‘to extend the scheme would involve extra costs and would have been at the expense of other council services’.

So what exactly are these costs?

The national minimum scheme is currently costing  about £8 million for Suffolk.

The council tells us that the cost of including free travel between 9.00 and 9.30 would be an additional £180,000 a year.

They do not itemize the cost of providing 24/7 free travel for disabled people but we can easily extrapolate it from their figures. Do you know how much it will cost? An additional  £23,000 a year.  £23,000.

This is a tiny figure set against the harm that this cut has caused – the additional difficulty and expense of getting to work/school/training/social enterprise on time.

The additional difficulty to living a life that you and I take for granted.

We counld make a real difference for £23,000. Instead we are adding another hurdle for disabled people to overcome.

I must remind Cllr MacGregor that he, like I, answered live questions from disabled people at an ACE conference only last month and this change to their travel conditions was the subject generated the most concern. Can I repeat that the cost of solving it is £23,000 a year. Come on!

Let us turn now to the elderly people of this county. It is very easy, particularly if you have a car and your transport is paid for out of the public purse, to see no difficulty in this reduction of transport rights. It is, after all, the government’s statutory minimum. And what do old people do all day, anyway?

Well, let’s look around the room – what do you do? Plenty of people in this room are over 60. But you have active lives, you have things that you need to do, you are clearly continuing to contribute to society.  You would be irritated to think you could be put into a special category of people who don’t need to be there on time, whose priorities can always wait for the rush hour to finish, who are just not quite as important as other people. After a lifetime of paying taxes and possibly fighting wars for us.

£180,000 is not a large sum of money to ensure the full participation in society and in daily life of our senior generation.

Which brings us to the lack of a full ‘Equality Impact Assessment’. Again. What is it with these EIAs and Suffolk County Council transport? Again, a pre-assessment  judged that an EIA was “not necessary as long as specific measure were considered to meet the needs of people disadvantaged by remoteness or disability”. Well, Duh!

However even that is in debate. West Sussex council concluded, for example – with the same assessment – that implementing the statutory scheme may lead to “the council not fulfilling its duty under the Equality Act, 2010” and concluded that “to be genuinely useful, free travel would have to be all day for people with disabilities due to start-times offered by care-providers”. Were Sussex lawyers trained at different schools from Suffolk’s lawyers? Or is the council just a bit more caring and responsive in Sussex than we are?

Oh, and by the way West Sussex actually provide ‘companion passes’ too.

For this motion to be supported would cost the county council an annual £200,000, which is around 25p per year from every resident.

At a time of cuts I would hate to say “this is peanuts”. But it compares very favourably with the £750,000 we were happy to put into Suffolk Circle to support older people. With the £10 million which we are putting aside for rural broadband.   And we mustn’t forget that so far this year SCC has managed to underspend on our budget by £3.5 million, by prioritising spending cuts over frontline services and social exclusion.

Our proposals will allow full, affordable participation in society to these two valuable groups of people: those who do not want to let their disability stand in the way of their achievements and those who do not want to let their age confine them to home.

For all these reasons, I urge councillors to support this cheap and deeply effective motion.


STOP PRESS:

Owing to demand from various organisations and advocacy groups we have set up a petition to urge the Cabinet to agree these recommendations . You can find the details and a downloadable paper form here