Category Archives: Helping the community

April: What’s been happening in Suffolk

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

Potholes – funding boost & rise in insurance claims
Potholes continue to be a key issue for councillors and residents alike. There are two significant updates this month: Continue reading April: What’s been happening in Suffolk

Winter Pavement Gritting in Woodbridge – Volunteers needed!

It is now five years since the Woodbridge Volunteer Winter Pavement Gritting Scheme was first set up at my instigation in the winter of 2010  with a  locality grant  for grit bins. (Over the past 5 years I have  made grants of over £5000 to keep this scheme going).

Can I please reiterate what I’ve said in the past,  – slippery footways are an issue not for some imaginary ‘them’ but for all of us.  Lets face it, we can easily grit a local pavement or two when we see the need. When it is icy, the people who run the gritting lorries are out day and night trying to keep as much of the thousands of miles of Suffolk roads passable as possible.

However, on that basis for the last 5 years  I have been the only councillor in Woodbridge to be out on every icy day as a gritting volunteer. This is no light thing. Every icy day over the last five years I have shovelled and gritted the whole of California, and the Ipswich road path down to John Grose – sometimes down to the Notcutts roundabout – well over a mile of ice and grit every time.

Astonishingly  I have often been approached by residents – often much younger –  unwilling to help grit communal paths, but wanting to  use the grit for their own driveways!

I’m tough but I am middle-aged and my health is not what it was. Other long-term  volunteers are in the same boat.If the scheme is to continue we need more volunteers. There are many able bodied people in Woodbridge who should be able – and probably will be willing – to help.

Woodbridge is a town of vulnerable pedestrians, narrow paths and steep hills. Before I instituted the gritbin scheme, many people were housebound every time the weather was icy.  We must not return to this.

So what are we to do? I would suggest Woodbridge Town Council puts a well-worded notice on each bin asking for local volunteers.

The Highways department tells me today that ice is is not expected ‘before the end of October’. Not so cheering, considering it is the 27th today!

What’s been happening in Suffolk, October 2013

This month’s report has a lot to do with a number of different forms of transport: rail, road, bus AND cycle – and also has a sentence in Anglo-Saxon embedded in it:

Greater Anglia Cycle ‘consultation’  Greater Anglia’s draft cycle strategy consultation finished on 1 November. It worried a number of people – from intercity commuters, to public health officers, to those involved in tourism to your average working godger.  And me (needless to say).

Details were nebulous but  it seemed  (when you cut through seemingly deliberately unspecific verbiage) that the rail company was proposing to remove cycles from an unspecified number of their trains – up to and including all of them – preferring people to keep bicycles at each end of their daily journey or to use Greater Anglia’s own version of Boris bikes at an extra cost of £3.80 a day.

The impact of this would be felt by all cycle rail users, but most particularly those with fewer choices: those using the trains from stops in in rural areas, second-class passengers, those with complex journeys, and of course the young and less affluent.

Suffolk travellers would be particularly at risk because it seems as if decisions are being proposed on the basis of the status and usage of out of-county stations (London, Norwich, Cambridge) with little concern as to the situation of the passengers who have to join or leave the trains on the interim stops in Suffolk.

I have blogged elsewhere the response I made to this consultation as your County Councillor, LD spokesperson for transport and rail-travelling cyclist

Sexual Health: Ipswich clinic  Free and timely Sexual Health care was instituted  by act of parliament in 1917 because the powers that be  – even in that pre-NHS time – recognised how important this was to the health of the whole country. Apparently there were more soldiers out of action because of untreated sexually transmitted diseases than were  wounded in action!

At the end of October, the Sexual Health clinic at Ipswich Hospital, which was purpose-built in 1991, was to close. Public health is now a county council remit. Although a number of interim measures are being instituted to ensure some continuity of services. I asked Full Council:  Can you please tell me what  facilities for immediate STI diagnosis (eg microscopy), for immediate on-site free dispensing of drugs (as opposed to by prescription collected from a pharmacist) and for co-ordination of contact tracing  Public Health is ensuring are put in place in the immediate aftermath of closure?

I was assured that these will continue at the hospital for the immediate future.

Park & Ride Ipswich Buses have taken back the running of the Ipswich Park & Ride services  at Martlesham and Copdock. Passengers will even  have access to free wi-fi as they travel.  Park and ride tickets will also  be valid on other services run by the company in the town. I consider this to be excellent news. If they decide to reopen the Bury Road park and Ride – as I have been calling for, since its incomprehensible and foolish closure – it will be even better news.

However  I have been contacted by a local parish councillor who asks if it is still correct that the County Council underwrites these services by over  £600,000 pa, pointing out that if this is the case, the business rate payers of  the rest of Suffolk are ‘giving Ipswich businesses a handout’ . He further adds that every P & R  bus journey needs a minimum of 20 passengers to offset the equivalent environmental impact of cars etc.. I am inquiring about this.

Tolling the A14? Suffolk County councillors are more or less united in criticism  of  government proposals to toll the A14. At full council,  the SCC administration accepted my party’s view that years of underinvestment in Suffolk railways has left us with rail services from Ipswich to Cambridge and Peterborough which fall well short of what is required for effective day-to-day operation and amended their motion on A14 tolls accordingly. Although there are government plans for a number of enhancements to the UK road network,  the A14 improvement scheme is the only one with an inbuilt plan for tolling. A s – in its current state – the rail system is unable to provide a viable  alternative to a tolled A14, it makes any decision to toll doubly unfair, because there isn’t the capacity for a reliable public transport alternative .

Anglo-Saxon Attitude  Suffolk County Councillors received an impromptu lesson in Anglo Saxon from Lib Dem group leader Dave Woods, when they agreed to name the Council Chamber ‘King Edmund’s Chamber’. (King Edmund ruled  East Anglia from about 855 until he was killed by the Danish Great Heathen Army in 869AD. He was initially patron saint of Suffolk,  but then went on to become patron saint of England, before being deposed by St George.)

While the other group leaders described Suffolk’s  Anglo Saxon patron saint in terms of his geographical location, origin and community spirit,  Cllr Wood quoted the maxim by which King Edmund lived:  Gif þu eart to heafodmen geset, ne ahefe þu ðe, ac beo betwux mannum swa swa an man of him (which, roughly translated means:  If you become a ruler, don’t be puffed up, but  be amongst people as one of them.) This, said Cllr Wood, was an excellent maxim for all elected officials to live by. And after he had translated it, the other parties agreed

Continuing Complaints: Ticket Machine at Woodbridge Station I continue to have complaints from people regarding the unreliability of the ticket machine at Woodbridge station. The latest complaint (today, 6 November)  was from a constituent who told me that “this time it said it was printing the tickets and then didn’t deliver. I now have to buy some more and collect them on the train. Now there is over a £100 out of my bank account awaiting a refund for two lots of tickets. I blasted Greater Anglia but they say the machine is not theirs.”  I am raising the issue with Greater Anglia.

Locality budget: Grit bins, Benches – and possibly an Ice Rink  The latest applications from my locality budget are for grit bins, benches and potentially an ice rink to support shopping in Woodbridge at Christmas. I very much hope the latter comes to fruition as it seems an excellent idea for generating Christmas footfall.

Having started the trend for funding local gritbins from the county councillor’s locality budget,  I suspect we are the market  town in Suffolk with the most (something like 37). This is excellent . However, the system relies on the public spirit of local volunteers, who remain thin on the ground. Having myself cleared miles of snow and ice along Ipswich Road and California over the last three years I would urge all our younger and most ablebodied councillors to put their shoulder to the broom too.  Many hands make light work.

My next County Councillor’s Surgery is on Saturday 16th November  10am to midday, in Woodbridge Library. No appointment necessary, but you may have to wait at busier times

Icy weather: love thy neighbour

Its very icy this week and the pavements and footpaths are horribly slippery – particularly in the shadows. Over the last 3 winters I’ve funded about 25 grit-bins around Woodbridge from my locality budget. They have been placed  in areas where volunteers have offered to help keep pavements safe. This means there ought to be one near YOU.

Gritting  Ipswich Road Woodbridge   (And if there isn’t you know why!)

Please think of your elderly neighbours and those more vulnerable than yourself, who may be housebound because of fear of falling.  Winter is not only the time for colds and flu, its also a peak time for broken bones. If – as happens in other countries – each of us made ourselves responsible for clearing the  pavement outside our house, many problems would be solved just like that!

 

Leaders of the Pack? 1st Woodbridge Scouts

Young people today they dress the same as each other… they’re always hanging around in groups… climbing all over the place..

1st Woodbridge Scouts make a workable 'A' frame bridge

There really couldn’t be a better description of the 1st Woodbridge Scouts.

I’ve known the 1st Woodbridge Group for a long time – indeed am immensely grateful to them. My daughter was one of the first female scouts to join the Group and they were amazingly supportive in allowing her the same opportunities for outings and camps and cycling and water sports as the others in the group, when many other organisations saw her epilepsy rather than the person underneath.

So she fell into rivers, she camped in the snow, she cooked hideous messes over fires – and she learned to be self-reliant, and hardy, and how not to come to harm. And she bloomed.

Of course, it was not just my daughter 1st Woodbridge supported to achieve her best, but every single member of the group, whatever their age or background.

And that’s what scouting is about. They support ‘learning by doing’ – giving the scouts responsibility, encouraging them to work in teams, to take acceptable risks and think for themselves.

Scouting is cheap – for the scouts, and their parents – because the basis of the movement is that everyone should be able to join and benefit. And so the scouting movement relies heavily on adult volunteers – people who are generous enough to give up one evening a week to help young people to hang around in groups productively, rather than on street corners. It is generous of them, it is public spirited – but let’s be honest, it is also extraordinarily good fun.

So much fun that maybe you should try it for yourself.

At the moment 1st Woodbridge has 25 scouts. There is a waiting list. The group  can’t take any more, because they would need more leaders. And if one of the leaders becomes ill, they have to cancel activities.. So, if you’re enthusiastic, practical and good with people, and – say – your day job involves too much sitting and not enough excitement, why not contact 1st Woodbridge?  https://www.facebook.com/groups/1stwoodbridge/