Category Archives: young people

Whats up in Suffolk June to July 2016

Caroline Page, Woodbridge County Councillor (Phot: Toby Gray Photography)
Caroline Page, Woodbridge County Councillor (Phot: Toby Gray Photography)

Though these last few weeks have been dominated by the national Referendum  and the Norfolk and Suffolk Devolution debates, other things have – of course – been happening on the domestic front.  The big issues in SCC have been a new plan for maintaining Suffolk’s Highways and the future of the Ipswich Park and Ride, not to mention  the political stability of the Conservative administration, while locally,there has been continuing work to secure the future of the Woodbridge Youth Centre

A new Highway Maintenance Operational Plan  SCC’s Cabinet  has just approved Suffolk’s new Highway Maintenance Operational Plan.

Basically they had little option because the past Highways Maintenance plans have been a disaster, criticised by everyone, regardless of party affiliation. (And anyway, this Plan has been running (‘trialled’) without Cabinet consent since early May.)

The good news is that it concedes that the previous way of Highways Maintenance working was unwieldy and inefficient, as county, town and district councillors across Suffolk can testify. There will now be a much more unified and strategic way of working between SCC and contractors Kier to try and make things work more efficiently than they have (with clear matrices for action for all eventualities). This may mean that the Highways small schemes backlog may clear at long, long last.

The bad news is that the mantra of ‘you’ve got to pay the market price for the work you get’ is very much to the fore, so there is no suggestion of many highways schemes being affordable any more.  (An example was given of how a simple Highways marking job where the paint cost £49 would be charged out at £1989.) Unfortunately this seems to be the inevitable result of a market driven solution. Small towns like Woodbridge will no longer be able to rely on their County Councillors’ Highways budgets. Currently these are half what they were at best (mine is £6660 this year).  Yet jobs will be many times more expensive.

At the Cabinet meeting I asked whether this was not a case of the ‘tail wagging the dog’? That this newly designed Highways Maintenance Operational Plan (the second one in a year!) had been constructed to fit the contractor because the contractor had been unable to stick to the agreed plan?(This was loudly rejected – but with little evidence).

In particular I  pointed out the anomaly of a private organisation uttering the ‘you’ve got to pay the market price for the work you get’ mantra whilst

  1. having no competition to ensure that they are offering good value for money
  2. charging for the time worked by SCC officers  on projects (when these officers  have already been paid by SCC) when billing councillors for these projects             and
  3. failing to recognise the principle of counter-charge that ought to apply when the contractor wastes the time of County Councillors – who they rely on heavily for advocacy and intermediary work.

Surely these charges must be reciprocal? I suggested. Surely a free market model will not be wholly accurate unless the councillors too have a market rate set against  the work they do? For equity,  a charge for councillors’  work ought to be introduced which could then be levied  against  excessive charges and the incompetence of the contractor. Why should local highways budgets suffer from inflated charges without any redress?

Naturally this is far too sensible and logical a suggestion to be accepted by the SCC administration, but  I am recording it to ensure you are aware that the suggestion was made by me, in defence of local councillors’ highways budgets.

For the rest, we will have to wait to see how this will pan out.

 

SCC’s Conservative majority on a knife-edge  After a Conservative Carlford win Suffolk County Council continues to be led by a technical minority administration, with the following political make-up:

Conservative 37 – Labour 15;  LibDem 7; UKIP 10; Green 2; Independent 4 (eg a technical opposition of 38)

However, one of the Independents remains the notorious Hadleigh councillor, ex-Conservative Brian Reilly, who will insist on holding onto his council seat although  disgracefully he has lived in North Carolina for a long time now. In Cllr Riley’s absence this makes the vote 37:37.  On the rare occasions he graces the chamber with his presence, he votes with the Conservatives (this  presumably being why they have been so reluctant to take constructive steps to get him removed).

Future of the Ipswich  Park & Ride  SCC’s administration’s plans to make the Park & Ride service self-supporting by getting the bus companies that operate alongside it to take over its services were looked at by the Suffolk CC’s Scrutiny committee who were not satisfied with what they saw and voted  to send the plans back to Cabinet. These were reassessed and once again passed.

In a slightly rewritten proposal the  ultimate future of the P&R will not hang immediately on the success of this scheme. If it fails, the plan will have to go back to Cabinet for reassessment before any thought of closure. However, Woodbridge and Martlesham residents will be concerned to discover there is as yet no clarity as to which First buses will be operating at the Martlesham end. This obviously makes a difference – both to the P&R service AND to the service it operates within.

(I had been told by officers very clearly that it would NOT be the Martlesham-terminating 66, but our less circuitous 63, 64, 65 will become Park and Ride buses. The Labour spokesperson has been equally clearly informed it will be the 66. I asked Cabinet Member James Finch for disambiguation at the previous Cabinet meeting. Unfortunately  he had no idea whatsoever.)

I have been promised that once the scheme has been passed we will get confirmation as to which of these two options  will be in operation.

I remain unsure how successfully this  service will work. It seemed to me that the best way to make the P&R more income-generating would be to make it more responsive to unmet demand  – and that would be to provide a good service for London commuters. This our local buses does not do.

Indeed at the moment I cannot see any very compelling reason why people should now drive to the P&R from Woodbridge rather than getting on the same bus in Woodbridge – especially as they will be able to use their bus passes in Woodbridge but will pay to sit on the same bus if they board it at the Park & Ride! We will wait and see as more details emerge.

 

Woodbridge’s Youth Club homeless? Help Just42!

Just42close (2)On Tuesday I was called to a meeting at Endeavour House to be told baldly that Suffolk County Council has decided that Woodbridge’s  Youth Centre (which hosts the popular  youth and children’s work charity, Just42 amongst many other groups and SCC units) will close imminently.

Everyone  who knows Woodbridge knows there has been some form of youth club held at the Woodbridge site ever since it was first built! (And the site has been threatened for some years  – see here for details)

This is a call from me to everyone in Woodbridge to help! After years of cuts to core services, Just 42 remains the only such group left  in our part of Suffolk,  its irreplaceable work  funded entirely by grants and donations. We cannot allow this valuable asset to be lost to Woodbridge !

As a longtime supporter of Just 42 I’m very concerned that we manage to re-house Just42  immediately in temporary accommodation so that there is no break in their valuable services. It’s also important that we start fund-raising at once so that we can rebuild the youth centre on its present site as soon as possible for all users!”

According to Just 42 Manager Caroline Rutherford, landlords SCC “told us that the building is well beyond its design life and  they say they’re concerned over potential health & safety risks in the future.” Although Caroline was not “entirely surprised” that the building will eventually have to close, bearing in mind its very poor state of repair, she was “terribly shocked to be told that we have to vacate the building by the end of August or indeed -in the worst case- in the next 5 days!!”

Basically SCC seem to be saying “we’re afraid something significant over the next year might force closure at short notice’..so  we thought we’d force closure at short notice now…

Extensive research by the parties most interested in the future of the Youth Centre suggests that it is  ideally sited in terms of (public transport/vehicular/pedestrian) access, privacy and recreation for the wide range of groups who use it . We are very short of space in Woodbridge these days, when even gardens are being infilled. There is nowhere else that offers this perfect combination.

Worryingly,  SCC sent out a  Press Release (during their meeting with me!) that was inaccurately headed ‘closure of former community building  – implying to the Suffolk media that the Woodbridge Youth Centre is no longer in use. However this  building is  a very current community building, hosting 11 community groups, hot-desking SCC’s integrated services, the Inclusion team, specialist service, the adoption team and workforce development and the offices of Just 42 as well as one-off bookings which run to the middle of next year.

Amazingly the release made no mention  even of Woodbridge Youth Centre’s most high profile  occupant – Just 42 even though it  supports over 2000 children and young people in the Woodbridge area through itsrange of clubs, projects and a mentoring scheme.

As you know, I celebrated my last election by walking from Felixstowe to Lowestoft to raise funds for Just 42 because it is exceptional! From the hub in the Youth Centre,   Just 42 gives support, advice and help  over a wide area to encourage local young people 10-18 to succeed and fulfil their potential. And Just 42 is not only doing this well and effectively – it is doing it on a shoestring! (Details here http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2013/05/23/just-42-weve-raised-nearly-2500/ )

The precipitate sending out of SCC’s press release without informing the many groups and individuals using the building  has caused and is causing extreme  anxiety. Some of the stakeholders  first heard the news via the radio yesterday and the learning disabled members of the Gateway Club were only alerted as they arrived today!  They have used the centre for 35 years. This was an incredibly cruel and uncaring way to break the news to stakeholders!

The Queen’s 90th Birthday – and a badge for all Woodbridge children

In the past,  Britain’s schoolchildren have always been given something to commemorate special occasions and this year it seemed  – particularly in this time of austerity –  a good idea to revive this custom. So I offered to fund a commemorative badge for every child in every Woodbridge school to celebrate and commemorate the Queen’s 90th birthday.

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Queen’s 90th Birthday badge for the children of Woodbridge

Woodbridge Town Council agreed  that this would be an excellent idea; we agreed a design, and it was full steam ahead.

Monday saw Woodbridge Deputy Mayor Clare Perkins and me sorting, counting and bagging 2975 badges – one for every school-child in Woodbridge (allowing a few over at each school for emergencies)!

On Wednesday, Clare and I gave out 2,000 badges to the pupils of Farlingaye , Woodbridge, the Abbey and Queen’s House schools.

QueensBirthday giving out badges
County Councillor Caroline Page and Woodbridge Deputy Mayor Clare Perkins give out the badges at Woodbridge Primary’s Birthday Lunch
Queens Birthday Woodbridge Primary blogsize
Each school was also given a certificate – at Woodbridge Primary it was collected by Royalty!

On Friday 10th June the Deputy Mayor and I had a wonderfully full fun day in Woodbridge’s primary schools. We attended assembly at St Mary’s School, the Queen’s Birthday Celebration lunch at Woodbridge County Primary and the Queen’s Birthday Party at Kyson Primary School – and handed out 1,000 special  souvenir badges to 1,000 excited children throughout the day!

I was SO impressed with the lovely way the children behaved towards each other and the calm and pleasant manner in which all the schools are run. They are a credit to the town!

It would be nice to think that when these children are my age, some of them may pick up that badge from the back of the drawer and remember a sunny day, back near the beginning of the century  when they were young…

Specialist Education Provision in Suffolk – help shape the future

Suffolk County Council are currently consulting widely and with a completely open mind about the future of specialist education provision in Suffolk.

Opposition councillors were naturally sceptical that this was cover for money-saving, but  very clear and open answers to our questions from  officers have reassured us that this is not a cost-cutting exercise (the money is ring-fenced) but about spending it to best advantage and with better outcomes.

At the moment, Suffolk has 256 young people sent out of county at the cost of £11m a year for educational provision that Suffolk has not been able or willing to provide in county; some of our PRUs ‘require improvement’ (one is in special measures) and are more expensive and produce worse outcomes than Norfolk’s (which are rated outstanding), and all the SSCs (specialist support centres)  are located in one quadrant of the county because historically they were only sited in schools that declared themselves willing to house them. This means there is no provision in the north and west of the county and some children are making two 75-minute journeys a day to reach them.

Suffolk is is now wanting your input to find the best way to address these issues and others.

From  11 January – 7 February 2016  people have the opportunity to give your views on a range of options Suffolk are looking at, and you can also suggest other ideas for Suffolk to consider. (We have been assured that nothing has been predetermined or decided. This is genuinely a consultation )

After this, 14 March – 24 April 2016 there will be a formal consultation on the proposed changes:  a 6 week formal consultation period where you can make representations to the Council – both expressions of support or objections to the proposals.

So, whether you are concerned or worried, or simply want to add your voice to the debate –  please respond and add your views! They will be valued  You can find the documents here

What happened in Suffolk December 2015

Happy New Year!
Lets hope that 2016 is a pleasant and prosperous one

I must apologise for a break in blog entries  – my elderly mother became  ill and was hospitalised in early December  – and this had an impact on the time I was able to spend blogging.
Below is the report I gave to Woodbridge town council in early December, but updated in some particulars to the beginning of 2016

Political balance on SCC  Following the resignation of  former deputy leader Cllr Lisa Chambers from Suffolk County Council  at the end of the November, the ruling Conservatives no longer had an overall majority. (This was compounded by the sad death of former St Edmondsbury Mayor, Tim Marks, Councillor for Haverhill Cangle  on 5 January.)

The current County Council balance is Conservatives 36, Other parties 37 (Labour 15, UKIP 9, Liberal Democrat 7, Independent 4, Green 2) plus 2 vacancies .

Woodbridge Thoroughfare TRO Enforcement  After years of complaints and problems about parking, pedestrian safety,  and  damage to the fabric and character of the Thoroughfare, the trial full enforcement  (of restrictions that have been law since 1995) will be going ahead in the New Year. The aims are:

  •   To Improve things for retailers and shoppers by producing a pleasant and attractive environment, while at the same time supporting the Thoroughfare’s residents;
  • To ensure the Thoroughfare  is safer and pleasanter  for the thousands of pedestrians who delight to shop and visit each week, ( whether families with children, older people, disabled people or the town’s many tourists)
  • To  prevent unauthorised traffic using the Thoroughfare;
  • To limit  the damage being done to the fabric  by heavy vehicles
  • To help the police by reducing the number of vehicles parking illegally in the Thoroughfare;
  • To collect  hard evidence of the requirements of all users of the Thoroughfare

Outcome: The scheme is planned to run for three months. It will provide solid information on traffic flow and footfall  patterns for the first time.  This will allow Woodbridge  to find a permanent solution that everyone in Woodbridge can agree .

New Ipswich Road Bus Stop. After months of delay the new Ipswich road bus stops were finally been put in –  above the Notcutts roundabout -so that people wanting to get to Framfield surgery and Clarkson Court will find it easier to use  the bus services. These are additional to, and do not replace, other bus stops.

County Councillor’s Surgeries  My surgeries at Woodbridge Library) have been held by tradition from  10-12 on the 3rd Saturday of every month.December’s will be the last at this time.

Devolution Cambridgeshire has now been included to the Norfolk/Suffolk bid- making an overarching East Anglia partnership

From January my surgeries will move to the new time of 9-11 am, same place. 

The first surgery dates for 2016 will be 16 January,  20 February and 19 March.