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App-trap – why close the Woodbridge Tourist Information Centre?

What will really, really, really help tourism in Woodbridge? A Tourist Information Centre? Or  a planned app for people with mobile devices that will give them targeted information?

The latter, according to the latest mouthful of lowgrade technological codswallop used by the Suffolk Coastal District Council Cabinet to justify their unjustifiable proposed closure of the Woodbridge Tourist Information Centre, while retaining the ones at Aldeburgh and Felixstowe.

Wait (I hear you say). Aldeburgh has no rail station, a very limited bus service,  a large population of second-home occupancy – oh, and 1 in 5 households in Suffolk don’t have a car… Aha – but Aldeburgh is nearer to Waveney than Woodbridge– and SCDC is in partnership with Waveney. Simples.

The easy way to save money in a hurry is to slash and burn – and now the men with grey suits (and machetes) would like us to think that the number of users of its TICs  is declining. Or anyway TICs are not an essential service and can be cut without too much of a fuss.

To put it another way, they are undertaking a service review which is “focussed on making sure our services are as efficient as possible but also that they are still relevant and needed by our customers. The reality is that the use of our tourist services are changing, with more and more people going online for their information and fewer visiting our offices.” This is according to Cllr Geoff Holdcroft, SCDC Cabinet Member for Leisure and Economic Development, who has conveniently forgotten the 8 million people in the UK who have never ever used the internet.  And the number of people who come to Woodbridge by train and who couldn’t take that train to Aldeburgh.

Talking trains, apparently Woodbridge TIC has particular difficulties in not being done away with, just because of  the time it spends selling rail tickets and providing transport information.  That’s good – it generates income?  Far from it  according to Cllr Holdcroft. He told a packed Woodbridge Town Council meeting last night that every ticket sold by the TIC in Woodbridge costs the council taxpayer £1.  (Personally I would like to see the facts behind and details on this one – given the price of rail tickets these days, the continuing local need and the heavy competition and discounting between the companies ‘selling on’ it would seem an impossible feat without a high level of council incompetence in negotiation or some very sharp means of public accounting.)

Putting that aside we are then presented with another facer. The Council’s other two TICs at Aldeburgh and Felixstowe will continue to provide a full range of services including ticketing and booking facilities, and will offer us  a telephone support and a postal service.  So tickets won’t lose money in Aldeburgh then?

Luckily not all is lost for Woodbridge  “Our commitment to encouraging tourism remains as strong as possible and our modernised service would see us still providing information from a new service based at Woodbridge library, backed up with internet-based information” . This  glib optimism  is not gaining the csupport of those who run b&bs in Woodbridge, or those who rely on the rail ticketing services for travel and for information to get about along the East Suffolk Line and beyond, or those retailers, restaurateurs, publicans and hoteliers who rely on tourists for trade or those who run tourist sites: the huge number of people who use or rely on the Woodbridge Tourist Information centre every day and who would find it hard to do so if it were replaced by a telephone or a postal service from Aldeburgh.  The local economy, in other words.

It also leaves us with a couple of  problems.

For a start,  this proposal concerning the library is a bit like telling your children that you’re not buying them  food because it’s too expensive, but they can go next door for dinner. Has anyone in SCDC actually asked the library about this plan, or have they just assumed they are willing to provide space and staff time? The library has never been owned by SCDC.  And from the 1 August it isn’t even controlled by Suffolk County Council. It is controlled by an IPS. Might the library have its own views on becoming SCDC’s cheap tourist information centre and ticket provider because SCDC is too cheeseparing to run its own? (Especially now the library knows that the ticket sales will cost them £1 a ticket). What’s in it for the library?

Secondly, the TIC looks very nice in its ornate iron-frilled white building. As gateway to Woodbridge its  presence might well be adding to the good impression of our town given to visitors as they arrive by car, bus or rail. And its certainly much easier  for new arrivals to find than the library.

Tourism remains a key part of our local economy and we are confident that potential visitors to our district will continue to get the information they need to help them choose to come here and enjoy all our district has to offer. We will continue to offer fresh innovations to attract tourists such as our joint working with Waveney’s tourism service and with local tourism businesses and partnerships to offer a better service, our Suffolk Coast website and a planned app for people with mobile devices that will give them targeted information” says Cllr Holdcroft.

So that’s all right then.

But  I’d like to know who  are the confident we? We in Woodbridge are not confident!

If you wish to contact SCDC to give your views before their Cabinet makes its final decision on November 6th, contact the portfolio-holder via this link

Whats new at SCC – September 2012

This month a lot of my news seems to be about transport or highways

 Woodbridge Buses – marginal improvements: I’m happy to report that after all my lobbying over the last years, the situation for bus-users in Woodbridge has seen a marginal improvement. I’m telling you about them and reiterating my mantra use them or lose them.

Back in August we actually  saw the unheralded addition of one later Monday-Saturday Ipswich/Woodbridge bus service in each direction:  the new 64a – an evening service that passes the Ipswich Hospital. Woodbridge residents haven’t had this luxury since the evening 64 buses were renamed 62a and b and diverted. Unfortunately the new later bus for people in Woodbridge – the 64a – only extends travel times to mid- evening,  Even more unfortunately the direction of the 64a is not ideal for Woodbridge users, because it goes to and from Woodbridge instead of the other way round. This means that the last 64a bus from the Ipswich hospital to Woodbridge is at 19.17, yet the last bus from Woodbridge to the hospital andIpswich is at 19.58).  As usual we inWoodbridge are easier to reach than to leave. And of course the 64a does nothing whatsoever to solve the problem of Sunday and bank holiday travel.

Similarly, I am pleased to notice that after the representations of Suffolk young people – and most particularly those of Woodbridge- the 165 bus is now offering a young person’s fare 16-19 (no proof of ID needed), pegged at between the child and adult fare. Sadly, First buses still don’t  offer a young persons fare for south east Suffolk students –although they’re happy to do so for Lowestoft ,Yarmouth and Norwich young people. Why should we suffer this discrimination? Time to lobby!

 Scrutiny of CC’s decision regarding SCC’s Elderly and Disability Passes : After Cabinet reconsidered the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme and rejected the plea for change in July,  I and my colleagues ‘called in’ their decision on the following grounds:

a) proportionality (The action taken to control expenditure exceeded that required to achieve a balanced budget.)

b) due consultation and the taking of professional advice from officers; (In reconsidering the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme, the County Council did not consult the relevant groups who are affected.  The one submission from the Suffolk Consortium of User Led Organisations & Individual Disabled People was received because they had asked to contribute. Other groups were not given an opportunity to do so.)

c) consideration for human rights (The changes implemented to the travel scheme impacted negativelyon disabled pass holders, and therefore maintaining this decision continues that impact.  Also there was no full Equality Impact Assessment when the original decision was made by the Cabinet)

d) openness; (There was a lack of consultation with relevant user groups including disabled people.)

g) There was insufficient data on costs of scheme enhancements, particularly with regard to other neighbouring authorities who have more than a year’s experience of the costs of operating the enhancements.

Cabinet’s cheeseparing and undemocratic  decision will therefore be discussed at Scrutiny on 27th September.

Five bidders for SCC Highways  Responsibility for gritting, maintenance and repairing potholes on Suffolk roads is scheduled for outsourcing by the Tory administration.  We have now been given the shortlist, to be decided by Cabinet on 11th December.

These are: Amey, Balfour Beatty Workplace, Carillion/Mott Macdonald, EnterpriseMouchel and MGWSP (May Gurney/WSP)

The rationale for this outsourcing is cost-cutting. My party is concerned however that the same ineffective scrutiny and poor contract management that has dogged Suffolk’s CSD will turn this project into another CSD, and result in the the people of this County paying significantly more for poorer roads.

Tour of Britain through Woodbridge This went very pleasantly and uneventfully on a beautiful clear day. I had a last-minute discussion with the road engineers last week  – as a result of which the potholes in the Market Square(and most especially the deep one by the Kings Head) were fixed, and no catastrophic crash occurred in Woodbridge. I wish to thank the East Area Highways Team for this prompt response.

Looking at the larger picture, I hope that the route of the peleton along Sandy Lane will support the need for calming this rat run which so many residents in both Woodbridge and Martlesham  have been arguing for  and for which I have offered the money from my QoL budget.

Autism Survey There seem to be an increasing number of people diagnosed with autism these days and so  Suffolk County Council is launching a survey in an endeavour to help both people with autism, and their family and carers.

There are two surveys available – one for people living with an autistic spectrum condition  and another for their carer or family member. 

It would be useful of you could publicise this

County councillor’s surgery: this takes place on 15 September this month. Everyone welcome!

Tuition Fees and Maintenance Loans – 10 Myths debunked

“It is more from carelessness about truth than from intentional lying, that there is so much falsehood in the world.”  Dr Johnson

Lots of  people are being frightened by scary estimations of student debt and their impact on the future life of graduates. 

Many of these claims are simply not true.The people who promulgate these myths seem to be doing so either from genuine ignorance – or deliberately, to serve party-political aims.  The full picture is much more complex and less frightening.

There is much to argue that the current system is an equitable way of ensuring that the larger proportion of UK young people are able to get to  university  on merit rather than parental wealth. This will be for the first time!

I was a university graduate under the old system where 10% of the population were given a pretty easy ride through a university system funded by the other  90% of the population.

Since then, I have just seen one family member through a university education under the ‘old system’ of tuition fees and loans and parental support  that the last Labour government introduced. I am just about to see another through the ‘new’ (Coalition) system of tuition fees and loans.

Although I was deeply sceptical as to this new system having any merits – I’ve discovered there are many positive benefits for the students and their families. These are being overlooked in a lot of party-political in-fighting between pople who are neither students nor families of students.

MYTH 1: ‘Upfront’ payments mean that only the rich can afford to think of university

Untrue. No upfront money is required from anyone. As long as you register for a loan, the Student Loan Company automatically pays the tuition fees and gives you a maintenance loan to help with living costs.

MYTH 2: Tuition fees leave all students with a debt of £50,000

Untrue.  Firstly, these estimations always conflate tuition fee loans and  maintenance loans. Maintenance loans are optional but a very good way of preventing this cost falling in the shoulders of poorer parents –  as in the past. It also stops poorer students having to take on casual jobs to support themselves while in education, as again was often the case.  Secondly, these estimations are based n the highest possible tuition fees charged.

MYTH 3 : .An inevitable debt  of  £50,000 and more is a terrifying burden and disincentive for poorer students and leaves education in the hands of the rich.

Untrue. For a start, that estimation of a £50,000  debt are based on 3x the highest amount borrowed – All students with a family income below £46,000 are entitled to unrepayable grants for some part of the loans, plus additional bursaries etc depending on how much less than £46,000 the family income is.   Grants and bursaries, unlike loans, do not get repaid, so the poorer the student/student’s family are, the less of a loan they will have to repay. The most generous grants, bursaries and other incentives are directed at students from families with incomes of £26,000 and under – particularly helpful to the students who come from the UK’s 2m single parent families (more likely to be earning the £24,000 median income for a single person)

MYTH 4 : Tuition fees supported by longterm loans are a completely retrograde  way of providing higher education

Untrue.   Firstly, the new system opens up financial support to part-time students for the first time. These, often forgotten in political grandstanding, make up 40% of all undergraduates and had to pay fees upfront, being not entitled to student loans. Many were unable to study or had to give up their studies midway.  These will now be eligible for tuition fee loans on exactly the same basis as full-time students.

Secondly, Courses will need to be worth the cost – and lets be honest this has not always been the case in recent years.  This system will encourage universities to be  responsible to the students for the quality of education provided.

Thirdly, these solid systems of financial support for poorer students constitutes a reasoned attempt to reverse literally generations of educational inequality. Quality higher education needs to be available for all who will benefit! The UK has had a very poor record in educating  our poor and smart young people.

 MYTH 5: Repayment, particularly of the largest sums will be a millstone of debt around the necks of the newly qualified

Untrue. If two friends graduate and earn £23,000 they will both have to pay back the same amount each month, even if one friend has a bigger student loan. And You don’t repay it until you’re actually earning.  The maths of this makes very good sense. If you are doing a degree ‘for love’ and don’t expect to earn much you’llrepay little or nothing.

 MYTH 6:  Everyone always had free higher education in  Britain

Untrue.  For 50 years we were relying on paying for an ‘upper 10%’ who got a university education via the taxpayer,  90% of whom didn’t get a university education. This was deeply divisive. But if we, the people of Britain, want more people to go to university (and we want 50%),  we need to find some way of paying for this. This is why the last Labour government first instituted tuition fees and then tripled them, at a time when the country was supposedly prosperous. It is preposterous that they now forget this.

We need also to look at our priorities. How about pitting the cost of tuition fees against, for example, the cheapest cost for a car, petrol, tax, insurance for a student-aged young person?

 MYTH 7 : People never forget a party who breaks a pledge over tuition fees.

Untrue.  How many readers remember how often Labour broke pledges on tuition fees during the last government? 

Personally I think any breaking of pledges is disgraceful, but it’s not something where other parties have any right to be sanctimonious. Tuition fees were introduced by Labour after pledging they wouldn’t – and at a time of supposed economic prosperity. These fees were more than tripled by Labour during the course of the administration, even though they pledged they wouldn’t.

When the financial situation got bad and Labour realised current levels of support for university education were unsustainable they commissioned  the Browne report  but cynically put off making its findings public and so having to act on it  till after last (2010) election so as not to get their electoral chances tarnished by: the need to raise tuition fees.

MYTH 8 :  Increased tuition fees will result in higher monthly repayments of loans for graduates

Untrue.The repayments  don’t start until the graduate earns over £21,000 (as opposed to £15,000 under Labour), and will at that point be £515 a year lower than they were under Labour:

Monthly payment for graduate from salary after they get work

Graduate Salary

Graduate annual repayment

up to 2012

Graduate monthly pay packet reduction it’s equivalent to

Graduate annual repayment

2012 on

Graduate monthly pay packet reduction it’s equivalent to

£15,000

Nothing

Nothing

Nothing

Nothing

£16,000

£18

£1.50

Nothing

Nothing

£21,000

£470

£39

Nothing

Nothing

£22,000

£560

£46.50

£90

£7.50

£30,000

£1,280

£106.50

£810

£67.50

£40,000

£2,180

£181.50

£1,710

£142.50

£50,000

£3,080

£256.50

£2,610

£217.50

MYTH 9 : Tuition fees will leave the poorer student jugglimng jobs to survive

Untrue – The new tuition fee/student loan system comes with automatic large grants for poorer students which are non-repayable.  All full time students from families with an income (this year at) under £42,600  get maintenance GRANTS which never need repaying. As the total cost of student loans includes the full living expenses for the student for all but those from very affluent families. This means that students can devote all their time to study rather than having to work to support themselves, and that their parents do not have to  worry and scrape together money they cannot really afford  to contribute to their children’s support.Universities also offer bursaries and fee waivers to poorer students

MYTH 10:  Student loans for tuition fees/maintenance will leave this generation of students with unmanageable debt

Untrue. The independent Money Saving Expert says “No, student finance is like a graduate tax, not a loan”

  • It’s repaid through the income tax system
  • You only repay it if you earn over a certain amount
  • The amount repaid increases with earnings
  • It does not go on credit files
  • Debt collectors will not chase for it
  • Bigger borrowing doesn’t increase repayments
  • Many people will continue to repay  in small amounts for the majority of their working life.

This is in return for getting an education which will fit you for a more highly paid future.

You can get more interesting unbiased info without spin from the Money Saving Expert