Over the last month everyone was concerned with the Queen’s Jubilee. However I single out for special notice Suffolk County Council – who, for reasons best known to themselves, held a party on the evening of 4th June to celebrate the SCC Jubilee beacon being lit. They were clearly oblivious to the notion that any County Councillor worth their salt would be on their own home patch enjoying local celebrations, and their local beacon. At least I was.
Other things of importance:
Suffolk Circle If you remember, a couple of years back SCC committed £680,000 over 3 years to fund a ‘good neighbours ‘scheme in Suffolk. This was, to put it mildly, a controversial decision. Last month I told you that Suffolk Circle’s first year of operation was looked at in critical detail by the Scrutiny Committee to assess whether it was an effective/cost-effective means of providing support to the over 50s. The main recommendations of the Committee were:
- Any proposed future partnerships between the County Council and third party organisations should be looked at by Scrutiny before any final decisions are taken by Cabinet;
- the Committee be provided with details of the outcomes from the Business Review of the Suffolk Circle ;
- the Business Review should take account of different mixes of income from tokens and subscriptions and developing closer working with the voluntary sector, in the context of planning for Years 2 and 3;
- the County Council and the Suffolk Circle should give consideration to how marketing could be used:
i. to encourage members from rural communities to join;
ii. to proactively reach out to the most vulnerable people in Suffolk;
iii. to clearly demonstrate in plain English the benefits of membership to potential members;
- the County Council and Suffolk Circle take steps to improve communication with voluntary sector organisations, including a proactive approach to signposting services; and
- the Committee be provided with data regarding the number of membership renewals and the demographic make up of the membership, using Acorn data.
I will keep you up to date when I hear more from the County about the Circle.
New Chairman, New Travel Card The Annual General Meeting of Suffolk County Council took place on the 24th of May, where Cllr Jeremy Pembroke, the former leader and Conservative councillor for Cosford was appointed Chairman for the next year. Anne Whybrow, Conservative member for Stowmarket was also elected as the Vice-Chair. At the same time the Lib Dem party announced that our Leader, Kathy Pollard, has stepped down, after a prolonged brush with very ill-health, and is replaced by Cllr David Wood.
Cllr Mark Bee then gave a State of Suffolk Address, in which he highlighted the main aims for the year and reviewed the past year. Interestingly, in this he heralded the return on an Oyster-type young persons travel card because issues of transport are causing such harm to the education and employment prospects of the young people of Suffolk. Equally interestingly, he failed to mention that this was required to replace the Explore young person’s travel card which his own administration (under previous leader Jeremy Pembroke) decided to cut halfway through the last academic year and which has already caused significant harm to the education and employment prospects of young people in Suffolk.
Any sign of a restoration is obviously a successful outcome for me, my party and the members of Just 42, amongst others: we have been lobbying for the restoration of this card since it was withdrawn. However the proposal is currrently limited to the young people of Ipswich, who Scrutiny discovered have suffered least from the withdrawal. It must be extended as soon as possible if the Leader’s words are to mean anything at all. I have blogged, written and spoken publicly on how necessary this is if we are to support the badly-affected young people of rural Suffolk to support themselves.
We also welcomed Cllr Bee’s announcement of a one-post Cabinet post reduction for the next year. My party has been calling for such a reduction for two years.
Textiles Recycling Scheme Launched The Suffolk Waste Partnership has recently launched a scheme where residents across the entire County will be able to recycle clothes. I do have some concerns about the effect of this scheme on charities, although the Council says that the aim is not to take away the clothes that would be donated, but to try to redirect some of the 7,000 tonnes of clothing that goes to landfill each year. Having said this, they then supply a list of those items that are deemed acceptable and unacceptable – many of which would be acceptable at a charity shop.
Acceptable items: all clean clothing, socks and shoes, boots, wellies, slippers, hats, scarves, gloves, bed linen, blankets, sheets, pillowcases, handbags, belts, clean underwear, curtains, towels, tea towels and stuffed toys
No thanks – dirty or oily items, duvets, quilts, sleeping bags, pillows, cushions and carpets.
All I say is, please remember to give to charities anything you would have given before – and only hand clearly unsaleable items to the recycling scheme. Re-use is better than recycling any day of the week.
County Councillor surgery My next surgery is this upcoming Saturday, 16th June, in the Woodbridge library. As ever, everyone is welcome
Hurrah – direct action and real democracy has finally paid off.
Yesterday – fifteen months after their short-sighted, mean-minded and pennypinching abolition of Suffolk’s Explore young person’s travelcard (halfway through the academic year, let me remind you!) – the Conservatives on Suffolk County Council have announced a U-turn. SCC will now be developing an Oyster-type card “to help provide reduced travel costs for education, training and work-related travel” for young people, because – as Leader Mark Bee acknowledged -travel is such a problem for young people in our rural county.
As my son would say, no shit, Sherlock!
What Cllr Bee says is perfectly true. But it is hardly news. It’s now exactly a year since the County Council received that 6,000 signature petition and the personal representations from a huge range of people (including some very vocal, determined – and polite – members of Woodbridge’s Just 42) telling them just this!
When the Conservatives originally argued the necessity of the Explore cut on the grounds of cost, they were too shortsighted to recognise the costly damage it would cause to the educational, work and training prospects of a whole cohort of young people. This harm was clear to anyone who looked at the facts rather than the ideology of the New Strategic Direction. Indeed, in the middle of last year the Conservatives heard this information directly from me and other Lib Dem councillors, from schools and colleges, from parents and – most of all – from the young people affected.
We all told the Conservatives that scrapping the Explore card would – and did – cause huge problems to those who wanted to get an education and a job. But -as the Cabinet member for Roads and Transport so memorably said -“you can’t spend a pound more than once.” In such circumstances, the wise idea is to choose carefully what you do spend your pounds on in the first place. This was the same Cabinet that agreed the expenditure of really quite a lot of pounds on Suffolk Circle.
Thursday’s announcement is welcome news – but sadly it is too late for some. And the current announcement – despite the fanfare – is currently limited to Ipswich.Yet Scrutiny established at the end of last year that the young people living in Ipswich remained best supported by bus services after the Explore cut. It was those in the rural parts of Suffolk – those with large distances to travel and no access to cars or petrol -who were most badly affected.
Now that this decision has been made, I urge the council to go beyond spin on this occasion and to roll out this new Oyster-type scheme as quickly as possible. We we need to reverse, wherever possible, the harm they have caused and are continuing to cause to the next generation of Suffolk!