After an excellent campaign by feminist activist Caroline Criado Perez and active support from Sadiq Khan, we finally see the first statue of a woman in Parliament Square – one among eleven men, and a bare century after women first gained (limited) suffrage.
And – one might say -about time too.
The unveiling yesterday was an interesting and entertaining ceremony – my personal highlights being Theresa Lola’s excellently understated poem, and a raw rocking preview song from the forthcoming musical ‘Sylvia’ which has me booking tickets already. (And in our current state of terror alert it might be ungracious to query the necessity for the ‘moat’ and bars that separated out the great and good invited attendees – so many of whom were men – from the rest of us .)
Aldeburgh sisters Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Agnes Garrett (who – baulked by the patriarchy – in her desire to become an architect founded the first interior design company run by women ) were all strong supporters and advocates of women’s suffrage. Suffolk, not London, is the birthplace of women’s suffrage.
Which brings me to here and now. Birthplace of Womens suffrage it may be, but 150 years after Millicent started her first suffrage petition I’m one of 29% women councillors (22/75) elected to Suffolk County Council – significantly below the appalling 33% UK average. At the current rate of progress it’ll take 48 years for the UK to reach gender equality – and nearer 80 in Suffolk. In Suffolk 2 out of 7 MPs are women, a pretty equivalent percentage to the county councillors. Suffolk may have been the birthplace of women’s suffrage, of women’s higher education, of women’s independence – but modern Suffolk has a high gender paygap, high levels of violence against women, specifically poor outcomes for girls (particularly in rural areas). Seems to me Suffolk is yet fully to engage in recognising the importance of its own women and what they have to offer.
We could start by acknowledging the past. Ipswich recognised this last year with blue plaques, butwhen I asked a (nameless) past mayor why all the blue plaques in my own town of Woodbridge memorialise men, he replied ‘Perhaps its because women have never done anything.’ Armed with a copy of the Dictionary of National Biography I found five in less than half an hour. The famous women of Suffolk are hiding in plain sight and while the gender balance ofdecision makers continue to remain so heavily tipped towards men this is likely to be where they will remain.
Now we have a statue of one Suffolk woman in Parliament square, we need to ensure that we have public statues and memorials to all the Suffolk women who have and do so much within Suffolk. We cannot expect young women to wait 100 years for their work to be acknowledged; we cannot expect young women in Suffolk to realise their work will be acknowledged, if it looks as if they will have to wait 100 years.
Caroline Page Suffolk LDGI Group Spokesperson for Women
Conservatives deny councillors the chance to debate final school transport proposals On 22 March, the Conservative majority at Suffolk County Council voted unanimously against a motion that would have allowed all councillors the chance to vote on the final school transport proposals, before the Cabinet makes a decision in June. These proposals have been causing considerable concern to the county at large.
They may also have a significant impact on Woodbridge – because it is a town containing 8 schools. Woodbridge Town Councillors will recall I raised this as a significant concern in previous reports (March, February and passim) and urged Woodbridge and Martlesham Councils to respond to the consultation, both individually and as a formal body. I also contacted Farlingaye High School, and gave up one Saturday morning to hold an awareness-raising stall in Woodbridge Thoroughfare where local people could respond directly.
The cross-party motion, proposed by Labour and seconded by the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group, called for an extraordinary Council meeting to debate and hold a non-binding vote on the final proposals. This would have given councillors representing the most affected areas, the chance to have their say and raise their concerns, whatever their political allegiance. I am deeply disappointed that this motion did not receive the support of the county council. It is very strange that Conservative councillors have denied themselves the opportunity to fully represent those who elected them.
From the very beginning, my group has fought against these proposals. We are extremely concerned that a change in school transport policy will not achieve any significant savings, whilst causing untold harm to thousands of rural families – and local roads. In my roles as groiup spokesperson for Transport, for Women and my many years on Suffolk’s Educational Transport Panel I have been particularly concerned (see various of my blog entries, my letters to the EADT, my speeches at council, cabinet etc).
Many other councillors share our concerns. They, and their constituents, deserve the right to have a say. It is a shame they did not have the courage to speak up and support this motion.
SCC announces new Chief Executive Suffolk County Council has appointed a new chief executive, Nicola Beach, following a unanimous recommendation by the authority’s Staff Appointments. Nicola, who is currently executive director of infrastructure and environment at Essex County Council, will join SCC this summer. Sue Cook will continue in her role as Interim Chief Executive until this time, when she will return to her role as corporate director of health, wellbeing and children’s services.
Colin Noble commissions Respublica to examine options for public sector change in Suffolk The Leader of Suffolk County Council, Cllr Noble, recently announced that he has – apparently unilaterally -commissioned think-tank Respublica to look at public sector reform in Suffolk. It will examine the current arrangements for public service delivery in Suffolk and will report back on the merits of making a bid to the government for a reformed system.
The review will look once again at the possibility of a unitary county council in Suffolk. However, Cllr Noble has also insisted that other options will be considered, such as East and West Suffolk unitaries, an option including a Greater Ipswich unitary council, or enhancing the existing two-tier system. This review is costed at around £70,000.
Suffolk county councillor were not consulted as to the commissioning and neither were Suffolk district/borough councillors. The announcement has not been well-received by the leaders of the seven district and borough councils in Suffolk. In fact, leaders Mark Bee (Waveney, David Ellesmere (Ipswich), Nick Gowrley (Mid Suffolk), John Griffiths (St Edmundsbury), Ray Herring (Suffolk Coastal), John Ward (Babergh), and James Waters (Forest Heath) published an open letter criticising the this commissioning without previous discussion as” totally contrary to the spirit of joint working, collaboration and partnership that together we have worked hard to develop and implement for Suffolk.”
“We cannot subscribe to, or support, your commission of the ResPublica review,” the leaders conclude.
Suffolk County Council’s gender pay gap remains significant Suffolk County Council’s pay report revealed that, although the Council employs nearly three times as many women as men, there is still a significant gender pay gap in favour of men.
The County Council’s mean gender pay gap is 14.8%, whilst the median pay gap is 18.6%. In other words, although Suffolk County Council employs relatively few men, they are overrepresented in the better paid sectors and underrepresented in the less well-paid sectors. (All the statistics refer to the average hourly pay rates of employees.)
When discussing the report during Council on 22 March, the Conservative Deputy Leader commented “we employ women [in low paid roles] because that is probably better suited to their characteristics… Most women are naturally caring”.
This response is concerning. Reverting to “nature” and so-called essential differences between men and women as an explanation for the gender pay gap obscures the real problem and makes it much more difficult to resolve: the council needs to be recognising and confronting these gender stereotypes, not reinforcing them.
Jetty Lane Public Consultation Having been awarded a 125 year lease by Suffolk County Council in December, fundraising has started in earnest for the Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts Centre in Woodbridge.
This will – as you know – provide facilities for the many local groups left homeless when the youth centre was pulled down last year.
Apart from Just42 who currently are living in 2 shipping containers onsite, all other past users have failed to find suitable permanent accommodation in Woodbridge, because there is a clear lack of appropriate alternative facilities.
The Jetty Lane directors (of whom I am one) have just given up an entire week of half-term to staff a public consultation at Woodbridge library. This showed once again the strength of support this project has from the people of the town.
The Jetty Lane launch will take place this month and the first bids for this exciting and sustainable heritage project are due to go out this month.
Swallows hopefully to return to Woodbridge Station Wonderful news! After I put our residents’ concerns about the destruction of swallow nesting at Woodbridge station to Greater Anglia (see March report). The issue was taken up by BBC Radio Suffolk, the EADT and social media. And the company listened and took the matter seriously.
On March 19 Greater Anglia installed two RSPB clay swallow boxes at the very places where the swallows have traditionally nested. Thank you, Greater Anglia! Let us hope our soaring summer friends will be back with us by next month!
Social Prescribing I have recently funded a leaflet on behalf of the PPGs of both Woodbridge GP surgeries which has gone out to 7000 homes in the vicinity. This describes the benefits of social prescribing and how to achieve them. It has been received with great approval by the NHS who is planning on putting it out in other areas.
In brief social prescribing is the notion that, while recognising that medication helps clinical need eg clinical depression; also recognises there are other needs that might be helped by activities such as walking, exercise, music, writing, language learning, gardening, volunteering etc
Suffolk County Council revealed its Gender Pay gap last week, days before the legally required deadline of 30 March. It showed that although the Council employs nearly three times as many women as men, there’s still a significant Gender Paygap in favour of men.
The County Council’s mean Paygap is 14.8% (2.6% below the national average) , the median, at 18.6%, above the national average. In other words SuffolkCC employs very few men but they are overrepresented in the better paid sectors and underrepresented in the less well paid sectors. (All the statistics refer to the hourly pay rates of full-pay employees so part-time status does not explain the gap).
As LDGI Spokesperson for Women, I asked Suffolk County Council’s Deputy Leader Jane Storey in full council last week whether this gap may be because Suffolk also has a gender data gap? My questions may sound illogical coming from a Spokesperson for Women, because they concerned the rights of men.
“We say we have an occupational maternity scheme. Do we have an occupational paternity scheme? Do we actively promote paternity leave? We say we encourage flexible working – is that for men as well as women? What are the outcomes? We say we run positive recruitment campaigns to encourage women into roles in traditionally male areas. Are there campaigns to encourage men into traditionally female areas? “ I asked.
The bottom line is, “Unless we take a gender-neutral attitude and support everyone at work equally, women tend to be the ones who generally sacrifice fulltime work, career and salary and end up paid less – and the gender paygap will continue. Men will also lose out – but in other ways. They too need support to prevent this happening. “
The Deputy Leader’s response was confused and also suggested a profound misunderstanding of the subject. “I struggle to point out how good an employer we are in terms of women,” she told us – with uncanny prescience – adding “The only way to reduce the gender paygap is to not employ women and to employ men.”
(Can anyone see the fault in this logic?)
According to Cllr Storey, the issue was not – as one might suspect – that SuffolkCC employs too many women on too low a wage, but that “we employ women because that is probably better suited to their characteristics…. Most women are naturally caring,” she claimed. (And therefore don’t want to be paid or promoted to their capacities? Stands to reason! Of course).
Such a response is very concerning. Resorting to talk of “nature” and so-called essential differences between men and women as an explanation for the gender pay gap obscures the real problem and makes it much more difficult to resolve: we need to be confronting these gender stereotypes, not reinforcing them.
Digging herself ever further into a slough of sexist stereotypes, Cllr Storey then gave the chamber the example of Virgin Atlantic Airline where “figures are very much skewed towards men because they tend to employ male pilots, male engineers…”
All this shows (apart from suggesting interesting employment practices on the part of Virgin Atlantic Airlines) is that Suffolk county council’s administration does not understand the Suffolk Gender Paygap problem – they therefore cannot be the best people to put it right.
February 6th 1918 saw (some) modern British women get the vote. 100 years on, I’m one of 22 women out of 75 councillors elected to Suffolk County Council. 22 -that’s 29% – significantly below the appalling 33% average women in UK councils – itself a flatline, increasing only 5% since 1997. At the current rate of progress it’ll take 48 years for the UK to reach gender equality – and nearer 80 in Suffolk.
We’re behind so many countries: Italy, Germany, Norway. The Rwandan parliament is 64% female – in Suffolk, there are 2 women out of 7 MPs, a pretty equivalent percentage to the county councillors. And this is Suffolk! – Birthplace of women’s higher education, home of Women’s Suffrage.
Clearly something’s adrift.
In 1860 3 young women in a house in Aldeburgh planned to change women’s futures: Elizabeth Garrett became first woman to qualify in Britain (both physician and surgeon), co-founder of the first hospital staffed by women, first woman dean of a British medical school, first female doctor of medicine in France, first woman in Britain to be elected to a school board, and (as Mayor of Aldeburgh), first female British mayor and magistrate – a lot of firsts in a lot of fields. Her friend Emily Davies opened university education to women: she founded Girton College, Cambridge. Elizabeth’s 13-year-old sister Millicent became Millicent Fawcett, pioneer of women’s suffrage.
It is fair to say, the rest is – half-remembered – history.
On the way back from Ipswich Hospital Garret Anderson centre the other day, a taxi driver asked “who the chap was” that it was named after? And who in Suffolk links women’s suffrage and Fawcett Society with that 13yo in Aldeburgh?
A crying shame when you consider that half of our county’s population are women – about 370,000 of us all occupying Suffolk’s 3800 square kilometres. If we were spread across the county we might all be within shouting distance of each other – if we shouted very loud. And we’ve a lot of reasons to shout. The gender pay gap in Suffolk is 22.2% – above the national average. We have a higher than average level of violence against women. Last year, I established that Suffolk was not a good place to be a girl.
Women need all the help we can get – in Suffolk, as elsewhere. So why so few women representing us?
First and foremost I’d say a lot of women simply don’t think of themselves as elected representatives. A shame, because so many women’s lives have required them to develop the skills sets, the energy, the drive, the determination, the ability to multitask and the fire in our bellies to be very good representatives indeed. A lot of women just don’t realise they have the skills, or that they have value.
Then, people in general have a very low awareness of government in general. They are often unclear as to which services are delivered by central government, and which by local. In Suffolk, people are often unclear as to which council of three they may mean when talking about ‘the council’. Who’d be elected to something you don’t understand?
What people do know about councils, they know in terms of dissatisfaction – transport, potholes, social care – all gone wrong. They know that some officers are paid large salaries. They often conflate these with councillors who are paid (small) ‘allowances’. Generally this means that ‘the council’ has an undeserved bad reputation: people see it as ‘them’ instead of ‘us’ and profligate with ‘our money.’
Most curious of all, when it comes to ‘our money’ people seem to make very little connection between local politics, voting and outcome. They will see local elections as unimportant and ‘not bother’ to vote – though the effects of the county council budget will affect their roads, their schools their social care, their transport.
They will vote for a party that fails to raise council tax year after year – and then be astonished at the effect this has on their roads, their schools their social care, their transport.
Within this mindset very few women might want to be councillors – seeing it as a male environment and a negative one at that. And yet of course, it a council is a place where we the people can put many things right – and gender equality in councillors can make this happen.
No, this isn’t pie in the sky – its common sense! Councils have budgets and allocate huge amounts of local funding – and they decide where it goes. If most councillors are middle-aged middle-class white men who have never had “the worry of how to put shoes on the children’s feet because you are paid so little as a carer”, or “worry if you can manage to hang on to your job while getting two children to schools in different directions”, they will not understand the issues of paying carers too little, or splitting siblings between schools, or failing to provide rural families with sufficient transport options. They may well have different funding priorities to women when it come to refuges, or rape crisis lines or supporting family carers. Not because they mean harm – but because it has never had to enter their head as personal priorities.
My own background as a councillor is, maybe, unusual – but I would suggest that the background of many women councillors IS unusual. Many experiences played a part, but I’d say, most importantly, was that I was a lone parent and full-time carer fighting for the needs for my disabled child – and very angry indeed about various things in society that I wanted to try and change. In the end my friends told me to put up or shut up so I joined the party that was closest to my beliefs and put my name forward to stand as county councillor.
I stood against a respected, longstanding local politician – he was a past town, district, county councillor and past mayor too. And, against any expectation I won. Was it because I wasn’t a “normal politician”?
I’ve been re-elected three times since. Because of that I have had the chance to raise more issues, fight for more causes, and gain more successes than I had ever thought possible as a private individual. And that is immensely satisfying.
But still as a woman you find you can speak to a silence and five minutes later a male councillor repeats what you say to rapturous applause – clearly you had a cloak of invisibility on.You speak with passion about an injustice and a political journalist tweets something dismissive about your manner of speech. Like Ginger Rogers you do everything Fred Astaire does but backwards and in high heels, and still get second billing. There are endless microaggressions. Why? It’s a numbers game.
But the winds of change are blowing here -as in the film industry, as everywhere. The atmosphere is suddenly getting markedly less aggressive
I love what I do because it has so much variety- and you can have so much direct effect. One day you are fighting to stop someone (it often seems to be a woman, low-hanging fruit) getting deported, the next, putting the spotlight on a controversial transport consultation, the next convincing the council about the injustice of WASPI pensions. There’s never a dull moment and it makes a real difference to real lives.
To my mind, politics isn’t a game of “them” and “us” – its about how ‘we’ want to get ‘our’ country, county, town to work – and where women are concerned it’s a numbers game.
Our numbers and our expertise will ensure that we can make it better for all of us in towns, in counties, in our country if we step up to the plate and have belief in our own capacities.
Happy New Year! My January 2018 report to Woodbridge & Martlesham councils covered a range of things: school transport, tree preservation, plastic bottles, WASPI women’s pensions, as well as updates on the Thoroughfare and the success of the Jetty Lane proposals
School Travel Consultation launched Although Suffolk parents, governors and councillors have voiced serious concerns over a consultation on proposed changes to the Suffolk School Transport policy, it was agreed by Suffolk’s Cabinet in December after significant controversy toward the end of last year. As you may remember, I spoke against this for a number of different reasons: perhaps most pertinently that the paper offered Cabinet three options of which the third was an unviable “Do nothing”. I suggested that a viable third option was to lobby central government for more funding to cover the shortfall caused by central government funding decisions – such as the de facto raising of statutory school leaving age from 16 to 18 without additional funding. However, despite our strongly-voiced concerns, nobody but Cabinet members has a vote at Cabinet and the consultation was therefore voted through unanimously. This public consultation was launched on Tuesday 12 December and will run until 28 February 2018. The consultation survey, along with more information on the proposals, can be found at www.suffolk.gov.uk/schooltravel. I would be grateful if this information was disseminated as widely as possible.
A number of workshops have been organised, where the proposals will be discussed and questions answered. The only close one to Martlesham/Woodbridge is:
Kesgrave Conference Centre
Twelve Acre Approach, Ipswich IP5 1JF
16 Jan 2018
In addition to the workshops, there will also be a Have Your Say event. This is an opportunity for members of the public to present alternative options to a panel.
I would strongly urge you to respond to the consultation survey and encourage all parents to do the same – and attend one of the events if possible. If you would like any further information or clarification on the potential impacts of changing the policy, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Suffolk County Council signs the Woodland Trust’s Tree CharterThe Lib Dem, Green and Independent Group proposed a motion to Suffolk County Council on 7 December, asking them to sign the Woodland Trust’s Charter for Trees, Woods and People. I am pleased to report that this received unanimous support.
The Charter was launched on 6 November to mark the 800 year anniversary of the influential 1217 Charter of the Forest. The Woodland Trust is leading a call with more than 70 organisations from across multiple sectors, and hopes the Charter will bring the discussion of the importance of forests and trees back into public consciousness. There are ten principles which underpin the charter:
Thriving habitats for diverse species
Planting for the future
Celebrating the cultural impact of trees
A thriving forestry sector that delivers for the UK
Better protection for important trees and woods
Enhancing new developments with trees
Understanding and using the natural health benefits of trees
Access to trees for everyone
Addressing threats to woods and trees through good management
Strengthening landscapes with woods and trees
Unanimous support for LDGI Group’s motion on plastic recycling Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for the Environment, announced in October that he would be examining the possibility of introducing a plastic bottle Deposit Return Scheme in the UK to improve recycling rates.
At the meeting of Suffolk County Council on 7 December, Cllr Penny Otton (Lib Dem) and Cllr Robert Lindsay (Green) proposed a motion calling on the Council to pledge support for the introduction of such a scheme, and to offer Suffolk as a pilot area should one be needed. This was met with unanimous support. Both the Cabinet Member for the Environment and the Lib Dem, Green and Independent Group will be writing to the Secretary of State, urging him to implement this new recycling scheme in the UK.
Deposit Return Schemes work by adding a small deposit charge to the cost of plastic bottles, which is refunded to the consumer when the bottle is returned for recycling. These “reward and return schemes” are already in place across Europe, including in Germany and Denmark, and evidence suggests they are an effective recycling method. The recycling rate for countries with a Deposit Return Scheme stands at over 90%, whilst Britain currently recycles just 57% of plastic bottles.
SInce we passed this motion the Government seems finallyto have taken the idea on board.
Suffolk County Council votes unanimously to support WASPI women As the Lib Dem, Green and Independent Group Spokesperson for Women (indeed the only spokesperson for Women at Suffolk County Council), I seconded a cross-party motion asking the Council to offer support to the 35,000 WASPI women in Suffolk who are suffering from changes in state pension age. Once again, this received unanimous support, and the Interim Chief Executive will be writing to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions calling on the government to reconsider transitional arrangements for these women.
Women Against State Pension Inequalities (WASPI) is a national campaign, which highlights the unfair impact that state pension age changes have had on women born in the 1950s. Many women expected to receive a state pension at 60 and were not properly informed by the government of the age increase, leaving them stranded without income or forced to delay retirement plans. WASPI agrees with the equalisation of state pension age, but does not agree with the unfair way the changes were implemented – with little or no personal notice, faster than promised, and leaving no time to make alternative plans.
Success for Jetty Lane CIC Directors of the recently formed Jetty Lane CiC took its business plan and designs for a new youth centre to a panel of Suffolk County Council Corporate Property just before Christmas. It was accompanied by a letter telling them it
“is a project that is designed to address sustainably the currently unmet needs of many disparate groups in Woodbridge (and its environs), with particular emphasis on young people and the arts.
In order for Jetty Lane first to fund-raise and then to function most effectively, it will require the certainty of a long lease. We are therefore here today to ask you to give the CiC a lease of 125 years on the site at IP12 4BA.
We are also asking for the lease to be at a peppercorn rent: two youth charities will be permanently housed at the centre, while many of the other users are charities or community groups. The CiC itself is a not-for-profit organisation which is working purely for the benefit of the community.”
The panel expressed themselves very satisfied with the design and plans, which they described as ‘inspiring and ambitious.’ We were very flatteringly told we had “made their day”
The directors had expected to have to wait 2 weeks for a decision but Suffolk County Council offered us the 125 year lease at a peppercorn rent (subject to terms & conditions) on the spot!
What a wonderful Christmas present to the young people and community of Woodbridge!
Council requests extension of Adult Social Care Levy Cllr Beccy Hopfensperger, Cabinet Member for Adult Care, called on the Council to lobby government to extend the National Adult Social Care Levy and explore other mechanisms to support social care because it is increasingly unaffordable.
Although my LibDem, Green and Independent Group supported this motion, and agree that social care requires an urgent funding review, we questioned why the Cabinet Member had not already been lobbying the government. The challenges facing social care are not new.
Suffolk chosen as pilot scheme for 100% Business Rates Retention In the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement, released on 19 December, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced that Suffolk had been chosen as a pilot scheme for 100% business rates retention for the 2018-19 financial year.
Suffolk is one of only 10 pilot areas announced. Both the county council and the district/borough councils will be part of the scheme. However, until more information is released from the Department for communities and Local Government, it is not possible to say exactly how much additional income this could generate into the Suffolk system.
Woodbridge Thoroughfare Consultation -responses to results The results of the initial consultation were presented for 3 weeks at the Library – (end of November to mid December) to ensure that plenty of visibility and transparency was given. It was also covered in the EADT and the resuts can be seen on my blog
Eight email responses were received as a result . Of those
2 were supportive
2 were simple questions of fact to which factual answers could be given.
1 was a suggestion
3 were strong objections. All 3 of these were from – or obo – elderly & infirm people who felt they could not get from carparks to the Thoroughfare. All 3 criticised the process and suggested we should have had more thought of disabled people. In each answer I pointed out the scope and extent of the consultation, the views of the Suffolk Coastal Disability Forum, and then mentioned the potential mitigation via the passes with the taxi firm, pointing out taxi access was something that was not possible currently, and that people too infirm/disabled to use a concessionary bus pass when entitled to one are able claim £150 taxi vouchers annually from SCC in lieu.