Just a reminder that my surgery is on this upcoming Saturday, 19 May: same place, same time as ever. If you have a problem, a concern – or even just wanat to chat about the way things are – do pop in!
More and more of the UK’s care problems are being picked up by family carers, but who cares for them? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
The government and the media and all the other movers and shakers may move shiftily and shake their heads despondently, but they come up with precious few answers. I can tell them exactly how to move forward. Government and the media and all the other movers and shakers – you just need to come and look at what’s happening in Wickham Market!
In this small Suffolk village the Wickham Market and District Family Carers group (a wonderful group of which I am proud to be a member) has created a trail-blazing solution to Britain’s growing care problem. In March, 13 volunteers from Wickham Market became the first people in the country to qualify in an innovative scheme to provide local free trained respite care to local family carers!
Why? When the villages ‘s parish council saw local services struggling to meet the care needs of an ever-increasing older population, they recognised that it would be most practical to support the people who look after this population – the family carers. They also recognised that the single most important way of supporting these people was by giving them worry-free respite from their caring role. Their unique scheme ‘Local Care for Local People’ provides a pool of trained, accredited, insured – and most importantly LOCAL – volunteer carers, to respond to the present and future needs of people looking after loved ones fulltime.
After qualification, the volunteers carry on receiving training, development and supervision. “The knock-on effect is an improvement to employment opportunities for local people in our rural area . The scheme is therefore not only helping our local family carers, its contributing to the economic health of the community,” says the dynamic and diminutive Pam Bell, too modest ever to admit she is the brains behind this idea (she is). “Each volunteer has undertaken 56 hours of training by accredited trainers, 10 hours of assessed placements in residential care homes, plus course work. It a huge investment of time and effort for them to make even before they start their volunteering role in the community. This is real commitment. From Easter 2012 we’ve been able to provide up to 100 hours per month of free support for family carers so they can take a break. Our Volunteers are qualified, insured, CRB checked and supervised and each individual Family Carer can contact the volunteer they choose directly, no agency, no waiting, no cost!”
“Family Carers are unsung heroes who, out of love, compassion, friendship, voluntarily care for another adult 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, with little or no support or opportunity to take a break. They find it hard to do all sorts of things non-carers take for granted – to go shopping, to go for a walk, to meet a friend for a coffee – even get to the doctors or cope with an unexpected injury. The idea of doing something really positive to help them – training local people to become Local Volunteer Carers – was born from their plight” says Sarah Owen Williams who is Wickham Market and District’s Carers Support Group leader.
“Almost all support groups for carers are centred on the illness of the person they are caring for. Yet the problems that all carers face are very similar. Once we’d set up a group in Wickham Market to help any local family carer, we realised that respite was the key issue for all of them. And that we could make a real difference to their lives by training a bank of local people to provide short term respite care when emergency strikes. Or just when somebody wants a little time off from it all. Why should their love and public-spiritedness give them no private time?” Pam adds.
When employed people talk about the stress of their long working weeks, they need to remember that a full-time family carer is working a 168 hour week without pay, overtime, sick leave, holiday pay or an occupational pension. You can be called on any time of the day or night. Indeed, I spent a terrifying and upsetting night in A&E ten days ago – unsure as to whether the relative I care for would survive the night (she did). It may be stressful running counties, countries or big companies – I wonder if it is any less stressful being on call for years as the permanent link between life and death for just one single other person. You certainly don’t get paid at the same rate.
And on top of everything carers are always worrying about what will happen to their loved one if they have an accident or became seriously ill. I was knocked off my bicycle three years back by a man driving on the wrong side of the road. He jumped out of the car to see if I was badly hurt.
And grazed and bruised I might be, but I had my priorities. I burst into tears and said “If you had killed me, there’d be no-one to look after my daughter!“
Nor was there. There are no carers for carers.
But now Wickham Market has made sure there are!
And if you don’t live in Wickham Market, or district? “This scheme is unique – but we would be delighted to help other communities to replicate it in other parts of the country“ says Pam.
So that’s all there is to it. Go thou and do likewise, why don’t you?
The past year at Suffolk County Council has seen a further reduction in grants from Government and greater pressure on limited finances. Last year, SCC had been pressing ahead with its new approach to budget cuts, which it called the ‘New Strategic Direction’ and which had intended to divest or outsource many of the Council’s services.
2011-12 saw some significant changes. The New Strategic Direction has officially been abandoned. We now have a new Council Leader in the form of Cllr Mark Bee, as well as a new Chief Executive in Deborah Cadman, and whilst many services are still being divested, we do not have the instability around the Council that SCC had last year. However, divestment and outsourcing continue under different names
New Strategic Direction – Abandoned or just renamed?
As you may well remember, last year the Council (under its then Leader, Cllr Jeremy Pembroke and its then Chief Executive Officer, Andrea Hill) designed and adopted a policy it called the ‘New Strategic Direction’. This intended to divest or outsource many of the services that SCC currently provided – without much or anything in the way of consultation. At one point it was claimed that the NSD would result in the Council retaining a mere 500 members of staff left at its strategic core .
As a result of the changes at the top of the organisation: 2011-12 has seen the election of a new Leader and the appointment of a new Chief Executive, and the ‘New Strategic Direction’ has been – at least officially – abandoned.
Despite this, many services continue to be outsourced. Over the past year we have seen the following externalised or to be externalised from the Council –
- Library service (to which I will refer later)
- Archaeology and archives to a new Heritage Organisation (on-going)
- Highways ( these will be run by a private contractor set to start in April 2013)
- In-house Bus and Coach Fleet (on-going)
- Supporting Families Delivery Agency
- Adult Employment Advice Guidance Learning and Skill Service (Realise) ( this was granted permission at the 20th March Cabinet meeting).
- Eastern Facilities Management (set up as an external company last year)
- Residential Care Homes (which will now be run by Care UK)
- Country parks
So whilst the administration is performing an official step away from the New Strategic Direction, many of the council operations continue to be externalised.
The sheer volume of this outsourcing can be seen through the example of the Adult and Community Services: in March 2012 Adult and Community Services are directly employing 3,557 members of staff; a year later (March 2013), the number of staff is estimated to be 895.
Decision-making and democracy
This year saw the continuation of an increasing trend whereby most of SCC decision-making is being performed via the dozen councillors appointed from and by the controlling group and who form the Cabinet. Although the monthly Cabinet meeting at which decisions are finalised is open to the public – and other councillors and members of the public can make comments – only Cabinet members can vote. Cabinet takes place monthly, although full council meetings are now generally scheduled only every two months and do little more rubber-stamp decisions being made.
This is clearly a serious problem if the Cabinet makes decisions at odds with what the people of Suffolk want to happen.
Towards the end of February every year, the County Council sets its budget. This year many of the savings present were due to service redesigns, and increasing efficiencies. However, due to the continuing reduction in Government grants it was stated that there still needed to be a £50m reduction in Council spending over the next two years.
Below are the main savings that the administration proposed, and were voted in at the Full Council meeting on the 9th of February –
- 1.5% efficiency savings across all directorates (in ACS this amounts to £4m budget reduction). The efficiency savings also include reducing the procurement spend by £1m by negotiating better deals, and reducing the budget of the CSD contract by £1.5m
- Reducing management costs across the organisation – £1.5m (12/13); £0.5m (13/14)
- Targeting resources in children’s services to reduce demand I am not actually sure what this means on the ground, but I imagine it means moving the goalposts at which services aredelivered – £1m (12/13) £2.5m (13/14)
- Re-letting the highways contract – a saving of £2m but not applicable until 2013/2014 budget.
- Service redesign in ACS – £8m.
I will keep you updated to whether this has been achieved, but it is worth noting that each quarter the Cabinet will receive an update each quarter on how the Council is doing for this financial year, and currently the Council is £5.443m underspent so far.
At the meeting the Liberal Democrats submitted an amendment to the proposed budget in which we proposed alternative cuts to support those services that we feel SCC should be supporting at all costs:
- Re-instate the Bury Road Park and Ride
- Bring back an equivalent to the Young Persons eXplore card (based on a £25 admin fee)
- Implement unlimited travel for those 7,000 people in Suffolk eligible for Concessionary Passes due to disability
- Re-instate bus routes cut at last years budget
- Top-up the Learning and Improvement Service – to provide greater support to a wider range of schools
- Fund the Looked after Children service – to develop alternatives to out of County placements
- Create a NEETS Apprenticeship Scheme
In order to pay for the measures above we proposed that savings could come from;
- 30% reduction in External Room Hire
- 10% Reduction in Business Miles
- Reduce Cabinet Posts by 1
- Reduce the Road maintenance Budget
- Cut the cost of the CSD Contract.
Unfortunately the amendment was dismissed out of hand. We are concerned about the continuing loss of vital services; we are also concerned at the sheer amount of money coming out of Adult and Community Service comes at a time when we are being constantly warned about the growing elderly demographic.
over the last few months Suffolk County Council has been moving to an Intelligent Street Lighting System, allowing the council to switch off some street lights, dim others, and leave some on – all by remote control. This takes us back to how things were, before the wasteful days when it became cheaper to leave lights on than switch them off. This – as we all know – is no longer the case. The Intelligent Light System came into use in Woodbridge on 26 March 2012.
Concessionary Bus Passes
Earlier in the year (July 2011) , I and Cllr John Field submitted a motion to Full Council calling for a change in the time limits currently placed on concessionary bus pass holders.
Ever since the Concessionary Bus Passes responsibility moved to the County Council, those eligible for bus passes have been limited to travel between 9:30am and 11pm – a statutory minimum set up by urban-decisionamakers who have no concept of the difficulties in ther countryside. but places strict limits on those eligible due to both age and disability to be able to travel freely and independently, and to make doctors appointments and socialise.
Our motion suggested that we should remove all time limits to those bus pass holders due to disability, and extend the current arrangements for those over 60 to enable them to travel a half-hour earlier – from 9 in the morning and not 9:30am Reversing these concessionary pass decisions would support full, affordable participation in society to two valuable groups of Suffolk residents: those who do not want to let their disability stand in the way of their achievements and those who do not want to let their age confine them to home. Whilst the motion was amended slightly at Full Council, it was fully supported by all parties in recommending that the Cabinet looks once again at the decision and analyses the possibility of changing the current arrangement.
Having got this far – the subject stalled and Cabinet has decided nothing to date. We have just heard that the subject will not be discussed until the 10th of July that Cabinet looks at the issue again, which is outside the scope of this AGM report!
Similarly, a great deal of fuss has – rightly – been made about SCCs cutting of the youth travel card, which has had a bad impact on young people’s chances and choices – in terms of education, training, apprenticeships, work and socialisation. We vwere able to bring the cut into SCC’s scrutiny of Young People Not in Employment Education and Training, and again, this decision has been returned to Cabinet.
Over the past year the stance from the Council administration on Libraries has changed considerably. Last year it was stated that if local Libraries were not supported by local groups then a number of the smaller sites would have funding removed from them, which would ultimately mean closure.
However, towards the end of last year the council changed their mind and opted to outsource the Library organisation into an Industrial and Provident Society for the benefit of the community. This means that the Library system will become a member-based organisation where local libraries will become members of the IPS and be able to vote on policy decisions, and what the organisation will do with the funding that it receives from the Council.
Under these new proposals there are no planned closures for Libraries in the County. Instead those libraries that do not have existing community groups will be run by the IPS. Each of the Libraries will be tasked to make 5% savings on top the savings that are already embedded in the proposals. This may mean an increase in volunteers, more fund-raising events, or changing suppliers for maintenance contracts.
We are told that one of the main benefits of using this system over that of an in-house Library service is that with an IPS, the Council can bid for charitable status. This means that there would be a significant reduction in the amount of business rates that the organisation will pay – potentially 80%.
Recently the Council has been making a number of appointments to the IPS board, the body that will manage the grant allocations to libraries. The appointments will exist whilst the IPS is being set up and will by 2013 be replaced by a board elected by IPS members.
New Chief Executive and New Council Leader
As I have mentioned above, last April, Cllr Mark Bee the Conservative representative for Beccles became the new leader of both the Conservative Group and the County Council. .
In another change at the top, SCC’s Chief Executive Andrea Hill left the organisation in July 2012. For a total of six months the Director for Economy, Skills and Environment Lucy Robinson stepped in as interim Chief Executive. In December Deborah Cadman, was officially appointed as the new Suffolk County Council chief executive. She had previous roles as the Chief Executive of EEDA, St Edmundsbury Council, and the Leader Inspector of the Audit Committee.
Council Pay scales
Suffolk County Council recently published details of its Pay Policy (as now required by law). Amongst the facts and figures that you may find interesting :
- In 2011 SCC agreed a (downward) revised salary level of £155k for the Chief Executive post. It is a spot salary meaning there will be no increments ; there are no additional bonus, performance, honoraria or ex gratia payments.
- Salary structure for Directors ranges from £98,393 to £126,733. New appointments to this level are on a “spot salary” basis and will not attract incremental progression. There are no: overtime, flexi-time, bank holiday working, stand-by paymentsetc. paid to these senior staff: they are expected to undertake duties outside their contractual hours and working patterns without additional payment.
- The salary ranges for Assistant Directors and Senior Managers are as follows: Assistant Director (higher) – £85,795 – £96,824 Assistant Director – £ 68,096 – £83,829 Senior Manager – £55,287 – £64,399
- Rest of the workforce: eight grades ranging from £12,145 to £55,239. The lowest paid full time equivalent basic pay of £12,145 is used to determine the local definition of ‘low paid’. There are 100 workers currently on this grade
- The current pay ratio is 1:8. This means that the Chief Executive (top earner) earns eight times more than the Council’s median earner (for which the rate is £19,621). When measured against the mean average, this ratio is 1:7; and when measured against the lowest paid it is 1:13.
Public Questions and Participation Sessions
The County Council has revamped its public participation guidelines so that members of the public may speak at nearly all committee meetings as well as asking questions at Council and Cabinet meetings. I am proud to say that Woodbridge residents have had a very strong presence at such meetings – indeed, young people from Just 42 were the youngest people ever to question full Council and hold their own in Scrutiny. Long may this continue.
Please head to the link below for more information, and click on the meeting you wish to speak at http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/your-council/decision-making/public-speaking-at-meetings/
Locality and Quality of Life Budgets
I made grants last year from my locality budget to the following:
- Tide Mill Trust £1000
- Repairs of St Mary’s Church Tower: £1000
- Town grit bins (including one outside the Shire Hall more in keeping with the ‘look’ of the square) £830
- Solar Panels for the Community Hall £3,000
- Woodbridge Library for children’s Reading Challenge £300
- Woodbridge Town Pastors: £1000
Quality of life budget: Little expenditure this year as the 2 schemes mooted are still being assessed and designed:
- improvements to the safety of walkers and cyclists on Sandy Lane (National Cycle route 51)
- solar powered speed sign in Pyches Road
However a small grant has been made for road signs to flag up the Warwick Ave PO to motorists
My County Councillor surgeries
Since October I have been running regular monthly surgeries: every third Saturday of the month at Woodbridge library 10-12. No bookings are needed.