Category Archives: young people

WE can save Suffolk Services!

Libraries, crossing patrols, eXplore cards – many of Suffolk’s vital frontline services could be saved, if you just look at the budget figures with the right mindset.  Not that the Conservative administration admit this – they have told the people of Suffolk that there is ‘no alternative’ to cutting or divesting these – and many other  – valued services.  We Lib Dems say they are wrong!

Indeed, we have laid out in detail how the council’s upcoming budget could be reorganised to save these services at no extra cost, despite the cuts to central government grants!  Coverage in local news was incomplete so the full list is below. We propose to:

  • Keep all libraries open
  • Retain school crossing patrols
  • Retain funding for youth clubs
  • Maintain subsidised bus services to rural communities
  • Keep the eXplore student discount travel card
  • Reopen Ipswich Bury Road Park and Ride service
  • Keep open all Suffolk Household Waste Recycling Centres by reducing hours (on Mondays and Tuesdays)
  • Retain Fire Control within Suffolk
  • Keep Felixstowe Fire Station as full-time on weekdays and retained at weekends
  • Retain the Fire Service’s Ipswich Aerial Appliance
  • Retain checking overloaded lorries to protect roads and people

As my group leader Kathy Pollard puts it

“Unlike the Conservatives, we have been listening to Suffolk people. It has not been difficult to identify the savings we needed to retain these services. It is a question of priorities.  Clearly the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council are determined to close and privatise as many services as possible. This is ideologically driven and is not being imposed on them by central Government.

It is also very unfair to expect parish and town councils to pick up the extra cost  (for example) of running libraries. They would have to increase their parish rate considerably and people would effectively be paying twice for a service which under statute should be provided by the County Council.”

Lib Dems are suggesting  savings can be made by: Removing one Director and two Assistant Director posts; and  reducing business mileage by 10% (which would save more than £900,000 per year ); external room hire; the “Management of Change” budget; reserves; the Cabinet to 8 from its current 10 members; the road maintenance budget (this will not affect emergency repairs); and variousmanagement and other costs in the Fire Service

    Although we have confirmed these figures with council officers, Jane Storey, deputy leader disagrees with us.

    Of course she rather HAS to disagree. If she doesn’t, she has to address head-on the  peculiar priorities in funding that this council  proposes at this time of huge fiscal constraints. Why, for example, do the Tories stop at proposing libraries and school traffic patrols be run by volunteers?  A school crossing patrol person gets paid £35 a week.  Our Chief Executive ( the UK’s SEVENTH highest paid County/London borough Council CEO) gets £4192 a week – and that’s before the generous pension payments she gets added on top.  Indeed, why stop there? the county council has a number of high salaried posts that could be divested with huge ease (I suspect) to volunteers – people whose only interest is the good of the county, rather than their personal enrichment.

    We already know there are a lot of highly qualified and public-spirited people in Suffolk who are prepared to volunteer their services, Jane. You’re very  prepared to used them for less high-status, more practical,  replacements to modestly paid workers.  Why not think a bit more divergently and use them to replace senior executives if they have the background! THAT’s where you’d REALLY make the savings!

    But sadly,  if you suggest this to our Tory administration (and I have) you only get an incredulous laugh. Clearly, in some peoples’ minds, there are some SCC posts which are too highly-salaried to be divested.  Yet (I fain would ask) WHAT does a County Council Chief Executive actually DO?  I can tell you pretty simply what a lollipop person does, or a librarian or a bus driver. But a Chief Executive?

    Cynically I suspect that only administrators truly value administration. People like me, long-time housewives and carers, balancing a budget  with too many mouths and not enough cash, feel that any sensible housekeeper can learn to cut their coat to the cloth available, without losing the services they need for those they care for!

    Maybe the difference is in the words ‘care for’?

    Woodbridge Town Council report Feb 2011

    This month’s report is largely about various – very worrying –  cuts and ‘divestments’ that the forthcoming SCC 2010-11 budget intends to legitimise. Specific reference to Libraries, Road Crossing Patrols, Bus Services (especially the 62a/b evening, Sunday and bank holiday service) and the young persons’ eXplore card, together with links to petitions to try and help save these.

    SCC Budget 2011-12 – Update

    The County Council is finally setting the budget at Full Council on the 17th of February.  The total level of cuts for next year will be approximately £43m from across the authority; this is combined – as  SCC is keen to point out – with a 0% increase in Council tax .

    SCC does not mention that by electing not to raise council tax the council is eligible for a government grant of £7,200,000 – equivalent to them imposing a 2.5% rise!  SCC would therefore have to raise its council tax by more than 2.5% to get any benefit from doing so.

    As you will have seen in the news, the County is wishing to cut back a wide number of frontline services, including Libraries, Buses,  the eXplore card.and School crossing patrols, all of which which I will discuss later.

    Other areas that the Council intends to make savings include;

    • selling off Country Parks and recreation areas
    • The closure of seven Household Waste recycling centres – which are  supposedly as yet to be decided (although I have been told that already some redundancy notices have been issued)
    • Divestment or closure of Youth Clubs
    • Stopping the subsidy for community meals
    • Divesting the Fire Control Function to another service
    • Ending the Healthy Schools programme
    • Cease checking lorries to see if they are overloaded, and cease enforcement of environmental weight restrictions on County’s roads and bridges.
    • Ceasing offering advice to Suffolk residents on consumer disputes where the law is complex..

    The interesting point about this is that there are plenty of neighbouring county councils with a Conservative majority who have not needed to do this, preferring to salami-slice cuts equally across the whole council and consulting their population as to their preferences . Norfolk is a good example.

    For more information, and to view the papers which highlight the level of capital spending planned by the authority for the upcoming year, please head to: http://apps2.suffolk.gov.uk/cgi-bin/committee_xml.cgi?p=detail&id=1_15073

    Suffolk Libraries ‘Consultation’

    As you have probably heard, the County Council is intending to divest, or close a significant  number of the 44 Libraries around the County. They have divided these into ‘County’ and ‘Community’ libraries.

    Woodbridge library is ’safe’:  that is, it will remain one of the 15  ‘County Libraries‘  free from divestment – that is, unless someone really really wants to take it over.  In which case it will be ‘divested.’. It will not, however, close.

    The  other 29  (now designated Community) libraries  -including Wickham Market,  Framlingham, Debenham, Kesgrave, Leiston, Oulton Broad and Southwold – are up for divestment – that is, being taken over by community groups. However SCC says: “If the response to this consultation is disappointing, and the county council does not receive viable proposals and ideas from people, groups, businesses and other interested parties for ways to run community libraries, we propose that funding will stop from 2012”.

    As is becoming standard in these SCC consultations,  ‘having your say’ on the future of Suffolk’s libraries doesn’t mean the administration allows  you any opportunity to say their idea is bad, and you want no part of it.

    This consultation only gives you a chance  to explain your idea for running your divested library.   For example, Question 4 is:  “How will your idea  or interest generate changes or significant efficiencies in the way the library operates to reduce what the county council pays by a minimum of 30%”.

    The ‘consultation’ which is titled ”Have your Say on the Future of Suffolk’s Libraries”  began on the 18th of January, and finishes on the 30th of April.  You can find it on the home page of Suffolk County Council under the Consultation heading. http://www.suffolk.gov.uk.

    You may feel like filling in the consultation document. You may, on the other hand feel like filling in one of the e-petitions that are proliferating on the Council’s new petition site: http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/. There is a petition asking that Woodbridge library remains undivested, and another one requesting that the Library Staff remain salaried.

    Cuts and threats to Woodbridge Bus Services

    The County Council is making very significant reductions in the passenger transport  which enables commercial services to operate in non-peak time slots.

    We had a shock announcement on Wednesday that our 62a and 62b services will go on 27 February. The announcement was made a day after Cllr McGregor had assured Cabinet that no decisions on cutting services would be made until after 17 February’s full council.

    I’ve been copied a letter by Melton’s Cllr Butterwick, as I believe the Town Clerk also has. He suspects that such  a cut without a 56day notification period is not even legal and has written to the Traffic Commissioner to ask his advice about it.

    Suffolk County Council says it plans to ‘remodel’ much of local rural transport, by replacing services with a ‘demand-responsive’ alternative, booked a day in advance. However the council transport team (when questioned by me) admits that “demand responsive transport operates between 0700 and 1900 Monday to Saturday and we are unable to offer any extension to these hours”.

    Therefore, when the 62a and 62b services close later this month, they will not be replaced with demand-responsive transport: they will be replaced with nothing at all. Residents in Woodbridge will have NO sustainable transport in the evenings, on Sundays and on Bank Holidays. Those residents who do not have, cannot afford to, or are unable to drive a car, will be stuck! This will have an impact on people from Ipswich to Wickham Market and Rendlesham.

    I am deeply saddened about this cut because it represents a very retrogressive step in the history of our local bus service. It leaves those Woodbridge residents without a car with NO options for bus travel over, say, a bank holiday from about 6pm Saturday till about 7am the following Tuesday.   This is a cut that will affect car drivers not a whit but will impact very heavily on those who don’t have a car, those who can’t afford a car, and those who are prevented by age or health from driving a car..

    Other threatened services are

    70, 70a. 118: Ipswich – Bealings – Woodbridge – Grundisburgh – Ipswich

    71, 163, 173,  IP179, IP512: Orford/Felixstowe – Woodbridge – Ipswich

    We have not yet heard a word about their fate.

    Luckily  we were sufficiently anxious about the possibility of cuts to have  set up an epetition to save Woodbridge buses a few days before the shock announcement about 62a/b… Can I continue to urge Town and District Councillors – who were so very helpful when we joined together to press for better bus services last spring –  to join together again to try and overturn this cut?   It will have huge implications for the people of Woodbridge.

    http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/Save-Woodbridge-Buses

    Abolition of the SCC Explore card

    SCC has also made another  £1,700,000 cut to sustainable transport usage by abolishing the eXplore Card. Although the bus services in Suffolk have become extraordinarily expensive as well as patchy, up till now young people have had  to help with their travelling to post-16 education, to work and to find work, and for socialising.

    Explore cards were available free to students 16-19, and have  enabled them to pay only half adult fares on buses and many off peak rail journeys. Poorer students have also had EMA.

    As regards post-16 transport, the SCC post-16 transport policy relies on the fact that all post-16 students can have an Explore card to help with fares, and if their parents are poor, EMA too. This means that up to now transport to work and educational opportunities should be in the reach of all young people in Suffolk – and a very good thing that is too! This abolition means that there will be more cars on the road many, many more young people will be driven, or drive  to school, college, employment etc ,  and will put more, less confident cyclists on busier roads,  because they  are forced into cycling before they are ready. It will lead to less  take-up of  FE education because of difficulties of access (especially to colleges and Suffolk ONE ) and less chance of going for job interviews and training.

    SCC says they hope that individual bus companies might take a paid-for version of this card up for the future, but I believe First have rejected the idea. It will, anyway be of limited use unless all buses take it on the same terms. And one of the things SCC Transport has been constantly telling us in the past is that the bus companies have no desire to work together – this is the reason we never managed to get an integrated ticketing service.

    Again, there will be a petition about this on the SCC site http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/Save-the-eXplore-card-

    The End of SCC School Crossing Patrols

    You will be aware of the huge amount of anger that has been generated in Suffolk  by the Council’s decision to close all 98 School Crossing patrols to save £174,000. (In fact more like £125,000 as a number of vacancies exist which can’t be filled because of the current hiring freeze).. This includes the St Mary’s School crossing patrol.

    School crossing patrols were formally recognised in Britain by the Schools Crossing Patrols Act of 1953.  Lollipop people are one of only four agents entitled to stop traffic by law and are established at sites where children are in danger from road traffic when walking to and from school as assessed  by national guidelines (established by the Local Authority Road Safety Officer’s Association and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents). Ten years ago  the (then)  Woodbridge Lollipop man, was knocked to the ground by an impatient driver while on patrol on Birkett Road, directly outside St Mary’s School.  More recently, I had two near misses when cycling past the school at playgroup collection time last week.

    I think it is fair to say that road has not got any safer in recent years.

    The school, parents, PTA, and many others, including myself  are anxious that this cut  could have  dreadful repercussions. I have asked SCC if they know what the council’s legal position would be if – heaven forbid – anyone was knocked down after the patrol has been withdrawn. I have, as yet, had no reply.

    Again, there is a petition against this cut: http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/

    Your Councillor’s Quality of Life and Locality budgets

    On a more positive note, we heard at Cabinet that the County Councillors’  Quality of Life budget will be retained – though with less money. This is good news for Woodbridge. I hope this will allow me to undertake the Sandy Lane road traffic calming I had to postpone last year .

    Of the three projects I have funded so far

    • The Duke of York (ex-Seal) Crossing is proving immensely successful
    • the (separate) 30mph LED sign for further down Ipswich Road is ordered and being constructed
    • The final consultation for the TRO finished last month. From various communications from constituents, it would seem to be the first they had heard of it!

    I do not yet know the fate of the Councillor’s Locality budget, but I hope that this will also be retained. I have recently made grants to establish a Graffiti wall up in Kyson, to buy a seat for people in Kingston Fields, to provide  two bicycles for the Town pastors and  a lawn mower for the Scouts to use to raise income and to buy Olympic-branded jute bags to advertise the Wood-Olympics  next year.

    Let’s try rescue Suffolk’s Explore Card PLEASE!

    I ‘m hoping that as many people as possible – cardholders, past cardholders, friends and family of cardholders – will sign the SCC e-petition asking them to overturn SCCs latest shocking proposal – to abolish the young person’s eXplore Card (click here).

    Up till now young people in Suffolk  have had the eXplore card to help with travel costs to post-16 education, to work and to find work, and for socialising. EXplore cards were available free to students 16-19, and have enabled them to pay only half adult fares on buses and on many off-peak rail journeys.  Considering the scandalous cost of the average bus fare around here this is a huge advantage for them, and must have encouraged the continuance of various bus routes.   Additionally, the SCC post-16 transport policy relies on the fact that all post-16 students can have an Explore card to help with fares – and a very good thing  it has been too!

     SCC’s abolition of the eXplore card has happened simultaneously with  SCC’s evisceration of the rural bus services. This  is creating a double whammy for the young and poor – particularly the rural young and poor – that our SCC administration would do well to back away from with shame and embarrassment!

    The proposed abolition of the card will mean there will be more cars on the road because many more young people will be driven or drive to school, college, employment etc. Worse, it will put more young drivers on the road before they are safe and ready often in cars that are chosen for cheapness rather than any more reliable quality. On top of this, it will put more, less confident cyclists on busier roads – where – as we’ve all heard – Jeremy Clarkson is advocating they should be knocked down for getting in his way  (No, I didn’t make that up, sad to say, click here: relevant section is at 21:44 and please don’t get me started on the appalling waste of public money HE represents. An expense of spirit in a waste of shame, that’s Jeremy Clarkson – but I digress). It will lead to less take-up of FE education because of difficulties of access. It will harm young people’s chances of going for job interviews and training.

    SCC apologists – the ones I call the “Shh – be quiet, and it will all be ok“ brigade  (those who don’t want the victim to wriggle as the blade is shoved in),  say “shh – be quiet, and it will all be ok”.  These people speak loudly of their hope that individual bus companies might take up the idea of a paid-for version of the eXplore card for the future.  (Actually, I believe First have already rejected the idea.)

    Such a scheme would, anyway, be of limited use unless all buses take it on the same terms. And one of the things SCC Transport has been constantly telling us in the past is that the bus companies have no desire to work together – this is the reason we were told that us poor bus users in Suffolk  never managed to get an integrated ticketing service as exists in most other places.

    The  “Shh – be quiet, and it will all be ok“ brigade will also be out there telling you these cuts are sad but necessary. (By the way, the prerequisite of being a member of this brigade is never actually using a bus themselves.)

    No, these cuts are not ‘necessary’ – Suffolk could well afford to keep the eXplore card, if Cllr Guy McGregor weren’t so determined to  stay in the good books of the car lobby. There is an extra £2m going to the roads budget this year. Explore card users, Park and Ride users, School Crossing patrols etc are all paying dearly for his partiality!

    So, another epetition to sign. It is as urgent and vital as all the others!

    Cuts in Suffolk – don’t ever forget who’s holding that knife!

    As your county councillor I am horribly anxious about so many different  things simultaneously.  

    This week  its been the almost certain loss of Suffolk’s libraries, school crossing patrols, care homes, bus services, the eXplore card, and services for families  that has  been most worrying me.  That, and the impact of these losses on the people of Suffolk.

    For clearly, Suffolk residents are  likely to be losing all of these, losing them irrevocably, sacrificed to the ideological insanity of an ‘enabling’ council, run by affluent, untroubled  people who say:  “Do as I say, not as I do!”   It is  a Topsy Turvey world where those who run it can demand  pay moderation, job cuts, and employment freezes for everyone else but themselves;  can parrot the mantra of “Greenest County” and drive everywhere in a 4×4; can declare themselves determined to protect ‘the most vulnerable’  but do not include in this category the elderly, the very young, the disabled , or the disadvantaged.  

    Pah!  

    However,  I would urge you not to confuse national policies with our current disgraceful  local vandalism. For a start, such confusion could – no, WILL –  let those responsible off the hook! The New Strategic Direction has been a long time in the planning. It is making cuts greater than required in services the administration doesn’t value. A cynic would suggest that it is using the national situation as a cover for doing so.

    Remember, in Suffolk the Liberal Democrats are not in any kind of coalition – they are very strongly the opposition party.  And as you know, both I and my colleagues have been fighting these cuts from the day they were first heralded, back in last September. Let us be clear here – although we are in opposition,  Suffolk Lib Dems are fighting this New Strategic Direction as a matter of common sense rather than party-political politicking.  We are fighting it because the effects will hit people of all ages, and backgrounds and political hue.

    We – like any sane, sensible people – think there IS such a thing as society, and that  actually in Suffolk we had – till recently – a society that ran quite well. One that looked after its old and its sick and disabled, that tempered the wind to the shorn lamb. We think a  County Council should respond to its residents and their needs:  that the council is there to represent  and protect them and serve them. We are not so arrogant that  we forget that SCC  is paid for by the people of Suffolk, out of their own money! We feel that those who pay the piper should be allowed to call the tune!

     The council’s current bizarre ‘New Strategic Direction’ (which seems to combine ‘selling off of the family silver’ with dumping some of it in a skip) does not seem to think  this way. Far from intending to deliver ‘the best’ for the people of Suffolk,  the NSD  does not intend to deliver anything at all!

     Care homes, libraries, bus services and school crossing patrols:  all of these are not just ‘optional extras’ to be dispensed with and disposed of  by those who do not use them (and seemingly fail to remember they do not own them).  Yet there is such a thing as society in Suffolk, and all these services are ones that make you proud that it still exists.

    Suffolk County Council is cynically using the cuts in central government grants to justify what it plans to do, but central actions (whatever we think of them) do not in any sense explain what is being done here in Suffolk.  The Coalition government is not going to win any popularity contests while trying to recoup the eye-watering deficit bequeathed by Gordon Brown and the last thirteen years.   However it should not be expected to carry the can for the ‘scorched earth’ decisions being made – without reference to the public or even a business plan – by those who have created the ‘New Strategic Direction’.

    But the CEO and the Tory administration at Suffolk County Council are not the only people to blame for this mess. There’s also the sheer apathy of all too many of the people of Suffolk to factor in!    

    In late October/November last year I  – together with many other colleagues – trudged around a large area of Suffolk Coastal delivering 23,000 copies of an emergency leaflet which tried to alert the people of Suffolk to what lay ahead. 

    The administration accused us of ‘scaremongering’ – yet our direst predictions were less terrible than the truth.

    We did our best and gained a huge amount of support from those prepared to listen – but it was not enough. Far too few people took notice. Some hoped it wouldn’t  really happen under a Tory watch, others hoped to regain popularity for the Labour party by standing on the sidelines and letting our society crumble, others  just hoped that the problem would go away if they shut their eyes and buried their heads in the sand.   

    So, once again I urge you to put aside party-political differences and take action!  After months of refusing to listen to the people it represents, Suffolk County Council has finally  put up an e-petition site. Register on it and add your name  to an existing petition or  start a new one. Or best – do both!

    http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/

    You can sign any petition – the only qualification is that you need to live, work or study in Suffolk (for example, I have signed all the Library petitions as I believe in an integrated service for the county) but current petitions that particularly affect you are :

    Save our School Crossing Patrols – the St Mary’s School Woodbridge lollipop man is going to be cut along with the other 97 lollipop posts across Suffolk, to save a sum of money that equates to to less that 80% of the Chief Executive’s annual salary!

    Save Woodbridge Library: it will not be closed –  but it is still in danger of ‘divestment’.

    Save Woodbridge Buses  Cuts – confirmed yesterday – to SCC subsidised services will leave Woodbridge without any evening, sunday or bank holiday bus services, plus cut easy links to other towns and villages. This will cause huge problems to those who can’t, don’t, or can’t afford to drive 

    Save the Explore Card  Up till now young people have had this card to help with travel costs to post-16 education, to work and to find work, and for socialising. Explore cards were available free to students 16-19, and have enabled them to pay only half adult fares on buses and on many off-peak rail journeys. Additionally, the SCC post-16 transport policy relies on the fact that all post-16 students can have an Explore card to help with fares – and a very good thing too!. The proposed abolition of the card would mean there will be more cars on the road because many more young people will be driven or drive to school, college, employment etc. It will put more, less confident cyclists on busier roads. It will lead to less take-up of FE education because of difficulties of access. It will harm young people’s chances of going for job interviews and training. The proposed abolition is a retrograde step that threatens the very education and employment opportunities that our young people need in order to help us out of our current economic crisis. It also makes a mockery of our ‘Greenest county’ aspirations 

    (NB: A word of warning sometimes the e-petition links work poorly. If so , go to the site and navigate from there! And if it doesn’t work, keep trying until it does.)

    Suffolk’s transport cuts hit the young, the poor, and the rural!

    For those (few) of us who recognise quite how much Suffolk needs to rely on other forms of transport than the car, the view from behind the Chief Executive’s steering wheel is a particularly narrow one.

    If her view of Suffolk transport has been formed by her daily commute down the A14 from Cambridgeshire, she is probably unaware that here, on Planet Real Life – sustainable transport isn’t just a phrase – its a lifeline!

    Here are some of the REAL impacts of CUTs created by her ideologically driven New Strategic Direction, which she may not see from her expensive car:

    *   £1,700,000 CUT by abolishing the eXplore Card – means that many, many more young people will be driven to school,  and putting more, less confident cyclists on busier roads,  because they  are forced into cycling before they are ready; less  take-up of  FE education because of difficulties of access (especially to colleges and Suffolk ONE ) and less chance of going for job interviews and training. All this will be a particular tragedy for the rural young poor!

    *   £150,000 CUT by closing the Bury Road Park & Ride – adds to rush-hour congestion, and preventing parental drop-off of rural schoolchildren at P&R. (This decision, incidentally was made without a business case).  An excess of people trying to use the London Road P&R may have tragic implications for young cyclists to SuffolkOnein particular

    *   £2,260,000 CUT from – a 53% cut in – subsidised bus services – more cars (for those that can – and can afford to – drive! Transportational disenfranchisement for everyone else)
    >  *   £100,000 CUT from road safety education – a cut of 24% – just at the time when so many more cars are on the roads and there are likely to be  so many new  and unpractised road users;

    *   £523,000 CUT from Extended Schools (which will make it much more difficult to hold eg cycle-training classes );

    *   £706,000 CUT from Home-to-school transport provision (so there will be more cars rushing to get to school gates and then on to work; while many more – specifically rural – parents without cars, living within 3 miles of the nearest school and with children of statutory education age will be between the devil and the deep blue sea. Would you like to walk 11 miles a day on rural roads come rain, come snow, come flu -maybe pushing a buggy – to ensure you are not breaking the law and your 8 year old child gets safely to their nearest school? Would Andrea Hill like to? I wouldn’t!)

    *   £174,000 CUT by scrapping all 98 School Crossing Patrols across the County, including our very own Woodbbridge Lollipop man, Terry King! (Yes, this is a truly tiny sum because they are paid so little – but what a big impact on the safety and independence of young schoolchildren!);

    *   £350,000 – a 27% CUT – reduction in maintenance of footways. Again, its those not in a car who will suffer;

    *   and finally a £1,179,000 CUT made by abolishing the Safety Camera Partnership. So there will not only more cars, but they will be going faster too!

    NB: I stole specific  figures from a summary by Cllr Sandy Martin. Thanks!