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What a waste of public money?

Amongst our new coalition government’s £6.2bn of announced savings last week was an immediate freeze on new work with management consultants.

Yet in Suffolk, hard-pressed tax payers, people who see the pot-holes daily increasing outside their doors,  are being asked by the Conservative administration to shell out  as much as £122,000 just to help our highly paid senior managers to save money. At least we assume thats what its for. As they were asking that this spend didn’t have to go out to public tender we really dont have much idea WHAT its going to be  spent on!

Now, £122000 may not seem a lot to some people, but from my view – where our local Family Centre closed for want of £50,000  – it’s a fortune.

We are told that the company Scintillate will be paid around £50,000 – £55,000 and Bedfordshire-based Fields of Learning will get up to £42,000 for two months’ work; and DNA will be paid around £30,000 for one month’s work.  The sums are pretty specific but nobodywill tell us what these companies will do or why we should pay them.

Go figure.

Don’t you think it is deeply worrying that the Conservative-run Suffolk County Council Cabinet has actually voted to put aside standing orders and allow this money to be spent without the taxpayers, or indeed other county councillors having  any idea what these companies do or how it will benefit anyone other than the companies themselves? How can they justify it?  I guess the answer is, that with their huge majority they just don’t need to!

Who are these companies? Who runs them? What are their qualifications? Google their personnel and their practice and you come up with very little. No sense of educational background, or any concrete measurable achievement. No peer reviews – apart from one practitioner recommending another practitioner’s book. On Amazon!  The websites of all these consultants are filled with nebulous, positive-sounding content-free platitudes. Forgive me for saying this, but its hard to understand why any sensible person with a genuine feeling of responsibility for a public budget would fall for this  for one moment.

Fields of learning for example offers range of very mixed services  –  and I do n’t mean this admiringly: personal trainers, acupuncture, neuro-linguistic programming. I don’t know how useful acupuncture and personal training might be in saving us money but if you check up on NLP you you will discover it is one of the 10 most discredited forms of intervention in published research: on a par, apparently, with  “equine treatment for eating disorders” and “dolphin assisted therapy.

Now my view is, it is ok for the practitioners of NLP to take money from the credulous if the credulous are happy to part with it. But is it ok  for them to take other peoples money? Most importantly of all is it ok for them to take OUR money?

This is a time of belt-tightening, painful desperate belt-tightening, belt-tightening so desperate, so painful that our waistbands will be cutting us in half. So why at this time are we loosening our waistbands and dropping the public trousers for these vacuous, worthless pointless puffs of hot air

(Note: This first appeared as a speech I made at full Council, 27 May 2010)

Bollards in Hasketon Road – at long last!

For years the residents of Hasketon Road – happy neighbours of Farlingaye HS, by and large – have been plagued by  inconsiderate parking. Sadly this is generally by a few thoughtless parents at school drop-off and pick-up times. Their cars churn up the verges  into a sea of mud and have posed a safety risk to the hundreds of students who cycle and walk to the school every day.

If you look at the photographs on my parking page, you will see examples.

I have been talking to the  highway authorities for eighteen months trying to  get this solved. Although I have been able to agree double yellow lines around the corners of Eansom Road, we then needed some other solution for the adjacent verges. And  there was some reluctance (to put it mildly) to see bollards as the answer.

Other options  were recommended and explored – notably the officers’ preferred option of building up and reseeding the verge. This was attempted last May after a a wait of  seven months and lasted precisely as long as until the contractors left the site.

The residents were – rightly – incandescent.

A year later we have seen no further progress, and there was some suggestion that reseeding and building up should be attempted again.  My view is that to even consider rebuilding the verges once more is a waste of everyone’s energy and a trial of their patience.  For a start, it will involve another wait of a year  as  we were told 18 month ago that spring is the only time for building and reseeding.  And for the likelihood of no better outcome than last time. I feel that the residents of Hasketon Road deserve better than this continuing putting-off.

The other non-bollard option recomme nded was preventative planting – but local town  councillors have told me of other places in Woodbridge where planting to discourage parking has been ineffective.

At this point – luckily – our wonderful  community police came to the rescure and put down traffic cones along the Hasketon Road with immediate success.  parking stiopped just like that. The cones were placed exactly where we intend to place bollards. The success is not surprising – it  mirrors the success of the bollards that are installed a couple of hundred yards further down where the Hasketon Road becomes the Burkitt Road, and which has discouraged dangerous parking by parents at St Marys.

As well as talking to the police, I have talked to residents and to both town and district councillors and the issue was raised at the last SNT tasking meeting  by Woodbridge Town Councillor Miles. Bollards were agreed by all as the best solution.

The Highways engineer  tells me we can install a nice set of concrete bollards for around £3000 – a sum that I am more than happy to contribute from my locality budget to improve the safety of Woodbridge residents, students of Farlingaye, and the much tried inhabitants of Hasketon Road.

On Friday I did the paperwork! They  are – I trust – now coming!

WOODBRIDGE RESIDENTS REALLY MISS THE BUS


Woodbridge residents are really missing the bus! On Friday they met to protest about the slow and deliberate death of Woodbridge bus services.

Bus users and would-be bus users and people representing bus-users met at Woodbridge’s ancient Seckford Almshouses to protest. The Almshouse residents have been left without any service at all since their regular bus was re-routed, to follow all other services on a single route round the edge of Woodbridge. Everyone signed a letter inviting key personnel from First Eastern Counties Bus Company and Suffolk County Council as well as the Traffic Commissioner to a meeting to discuss this and other issues.

We are asking them to meet us to work out how to improve local services. The situation is completely unacceptable,” says Woodbridge County Councillor, Caroline Page. “Do you realise that Woodbridge residents don’t have a bus service to the hospital in the evening, or on Sundays any more? So many of my constituents have complained about these yawning gaps in provision that I thought we needed to take some joint action to fix this problem. Its great that so many colleagues at Town and District Council level were prepared put aside their political differences to support residents.” Among those expressing concern were Woodbridge’s Mayor, Deputy Mayor, and eight District and Town councillors.

We are told that many local bus services are not ‘commercially viable’, yet it seems that commercial viability is not being considered when bus services are planned or provided.,” says Caroline – who uses local services regularly. “ Competition has brought no benefits, and county council subsidisation is being undertaken without regard for the services being provided. How can we aspire to be the Greenest County unless we sort this out?”

Almshouse residents now face a steep climb uphill to an unsheltered stop if they want to use the bus. This is particularly difficult for the frailer residents. Their only alternative is to take taxis, which is very expensive,” say Almshouse residents, Sue Ramsey and Gaye Bowers. “It’s simply not good enough!”

Contacting my landline: apologies!

Who else has had major problems with spam faxes? I’ve been having a horrible time with them.  When you link this nuisance with  a line which only accepts incoming calls (so you can’t ring back and find who was calling)  and these TWO factors with an answerphone  that gets filled up with beeping noises and so can’t accept peoples’ messages you get total chaos and a major democratic deficit. Your constituents just can’t reach you…

Sincere apologies for any one who has tried and  failed to contact me via my council landline over the last few months. An extract of an email I had to write to the officers at Suffolk County Council might help explain:

This is in back-up to a call I made to your office last Friday, asking your urgent assistance in eliminating the problems with my council line – eg the stream of unwanted spam fax calls that arrive at all hours and block up my answer phone and which have not abated in 18 months.

My issue is:

  • First and foremost – it must be stopped! I may be a publicly elected individual but I deserve my sleep and my constituents deserve to be able to leave messages. At the moment, I generally have my answerphone switched off because it gets filled up with fax calls and it is hard to identify the one genuine caller that might be on it. My suggestion is that BT change my number. In a business context I have done this with total success with personal phones which received fax spam in the past
  • CSD (to whom I was pointed) tell me that they cannot do much about it because changing the number may involve the council in potential expense (because they might be charged for two lines!!!!!)  I am puzzled by this as a response
  • Instead they suggested that the unwanted calls can be dealt with by ringing 1471. This fails to recognise 2 simple facts:

a          Its impossible to phone up 1471 – or indeed any number – on a phone that is blocked for outside calls as mine is.

b          If I were to contct all the nuisance callers who ring I may have to ring 1471 several times a night.

  • CSD  has very cleverly identified that my number was previously associated with a local company . As they say it would be removed from their website in future weeks CSD felt that this would resolve the problem.
  • However if you google this (my) number you will see it is also listed on a range of other websites – and who knows in what other offline reference manuals, cold calling and contact lists it is in! I have lived in my house for ten years and I am still getting junk mail for the residents who lived there as much as 20 years ago.
  • CSD  also pointed out that after a fax failed the faxer would be unlikelty to call again. In which case there will be an extraordinarily large number of places where this number must be listed, because people have not stopped using it over 18 months
  • Additionally, I’m finding that having a number that can only accept incoming calls causes an additional nuisance because my home is in a mobile black spot, As with all councillors, I can’t call out on my council line,  only on my blackberry, but when doing so I have to roam the house finding a place where the signal works (hanging out of my bedroom window is best – it is difficult to refer to paperwork in such a situation!) In effect this means I often use my home line for convenience, or ask callers to phone me back on it. This means I have no protection for my private versus public life!

I recognise CSD has to consider expense, but my view is that my constituents are paying their council tax for these services; they elected me to represent them and deserve to be able to contact me efficiently.

I’ll keep you all informed

Woodbridge train services

The trains ( timetable http://www.carlberry.co.uk/rfnshowr.asp?RN=BR011J)

have been fairly reliable in recent years but suffers from there being a two hour wait between trains whether travelling north to Lowestoft or South to Saxmundham. From December 2010 there should be an hourly service between Ipswich and Saxmundham, but we are likely to pay for this with the discomfort of no longer having direct London trains.

I am on the Rail Travel policy group and am pressing to have a couple of these through trains retained if possible at peak times.