Category Archives: Your councillor

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

Social prescribing: walking the walk

Having just entered another decade, I’m looking back through times past. To long ago, when I was a lone parent, sole earner, and fulltime carer of a seriously ill child.

Dark days.

I worried all the time about everything. And I mean everything. About shoes, electricity bills, packed lunches, hospital emergencies, school trips and…  In fact there was so much to worry about all the time, I didn’t know where or when to stop.

Life could easily have become too much.
In this sea of troubles, one thing kept me afloat: the world outside.

Suffolk is simply so beautiful that there isn’t a season when there isn’t something to look at and love and cause your heart to soar. From snowy days and the murmuration of starlings, to spring flowers and swallows nesting.  Faint echoing cuckoos along the Deben – and then elderflowers with promises of cordial and champagne and days lengthening… followed by all the flowers and fruit and fun of summer, sea-swimming and late nights watching for meteor showers. The rich joy of autumn next, as you trek alongside fresh-cropped fields – revelling in golden tints and harvest moons and hints of frost. Then back to winter, with Orion ramping overhead, broadshouldered and brilliant in icy black night skies.

These things were – are – wonderfully there, all day every day; however lonely, or desolate or desperate I was feeling. A cycle of support and happiness on my doorstep. And all for free.

I walked weekly with kind friends and poured my heart out. In turn they too poured out their hearts to me. If my child was well enough to get to school, I might rush into the weather of outside, whatever it was, and walk alone as fast and far as possible, or get on my bicycle and make for the sea. If school sent her home as ‘too ill’, I took her with me and we shared joys together, bluebell woods, and blackberries and (one memorable rainy May) several nightingales singing in woodland down by the Deben.

She never once was the worse for it. More, these delights held us up when we might have fallen.

And, of course, in time life became much better.

There are many conditions for which medicines and medical intervention are – necessary, crucial, critical. But for many more, they may not always  be the best answer. The difficulties I faced could have been addressed with pills, but for me the best prescription was – is – walking and being outside. To this day, I do my GP’s Health Walk (every Friday, Ufford Park, 9am. Open to all).

Others find their stress is diminished, or joy of life renewed by learning a new skill or language. Helping others. Dancing. Joining a group to campaign or raise funds. Singing their heart out. Gardening… (the list is endless).

‘Social prescribing’ is a matter of realising that while our NHS doctors are invaluable, the answer to some of our problems lies elsewhere. And often in our own hands.

Suffolk CC’s Gender Paygap is significant

Suffolk County Council revealed its Gender Pay gap last week, days before the legally required deadline of  30 March. It  showed that although the Council employs nearly three times as many women as men, there’s still a significant Gender Paygap in favour of men.

The County Council’s mean Paygap is  14.8% (2.6% below the national average) , the median, at 18.6%,  above the national average. In other words SuffolkCC  employs very few men but they are overrepresented in the better paid sectors and underrepresented in the less well paid sectors.  (All the statistics refer to the hourly pay rates of full-pay employees so part-time status does not explain the gap).

As LDGI Spokesperson for Women, I asked  Suffolk County Council’s Deputy Leader Jane Storey  in full council last week whether this gap may be because Suffolk also  has a gender data gap? My questions may sound illogical coming from a Spokesperson for Women, because they concerned the rights of men.

We say we have an occupational maternity scheme. Do we have an occupational paternity scheme? Do we actively promote paternity leave? We say we encourage flexible working – is that for men as well as women? What are the outcomes? We say we run positive recruitment campaigns to encourage women into roles in traditionally male areas. Are there campaigns to encourage men into traditionally female areas? “ I asked.

The bottom line is, “Unless we take a gender-neutral attitude and support everyone at work equally, women tend to be the ones who generally sacrifice fulltime work, career and salary and end up paid less – and the gender paygap will continue. Men will also lose out – but in other ways. They too need support to prevent this happening. “

I  also queried the comments of the SCC spokesperson who attributed our Gender Paygap to women working part-time. This comment shows a complete misunderstanding of the figures we had been given. “Does SCC understand its own stats?” I asked.

The Deputy Leader’s response was confused and also suggested a profound misunderstanding of the subject. “I struggle to point out how good an employer we are in terms of women,” she told us – with uncanny prescience – adding “The only way to reduce the gender paygap is to not employ women and to employ men.

(Can anyone see the fault in this logic?)

According to Cllr Storey, the issue was not – as one might suspect – that SuffolkCC employs too many women on too low a wage, but that “we employ women because that is probably better suited to their characteristics…. Most women are naturally caring,” she claimed. (And therefore don’t want to be paid or promoted to their capacities?  Stands to reason! Of course).

Such a  response is very concerning. Resorting to talk of “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: we need to be confronting these gender stereotypes, not reinforcing them.

Digging herself ever further into a slough of sexist stereotypes, Cllr Storey then gave the chamber the example of Virgin Atlantic Airline where “figures are very much skewed towards men because they tend to employ male pilots, male engineers…”

All this shows (apart from suggesting  interesting employment practices on the part of Virgin Atlantic Airlines) is that Suffolk county council’s  administration does not understand the Suffolk Gender Paygap problem – they  therefore cannot be the best people to put it right.

Continue reading Suffolk CC’s Gender Paygap is significant

Swallows 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, the company listened and took the matter seriously.

And on March 19 they 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 next month!

http://www.eadt.co.uk/news/woodbridge-train-station-ready-to-host-swallows-as-new-nest-boxes-are-installed-1-5442060

March: what has been happening in Suffolk

Suffolk’s School Transport Consultation   This finished at the end of February. I hope that Woodbridge Town council put in a response, as I aAsuggested in my report last month, bearing in mind the impact these proposals will have on everybody in the town.

I obviously responded with my own concerns, and held an awareness-raising stall in the Woodbridge Thoroughfare the Saturday before the consultation finished. This resulted in 25-30 new submissions. Additionally, Suffolk County’s LibDem Green & Independent Group put in a group response, which I attach (below).

Concerns raised over accountability and transparency of Suffolk Public Sector Leaders Board   The Suffolk Public Sector Leaders Board (SPSLB) is made up of council leaders and chief executives from across Suffolk, as well as the PCC, chief fire officer and representatives from Suffolk’s Clinical Commissioning Groups. Some of these are elected and some, as you can see, are not. The SPSLB controls a large pot of money, made up of £7.447m from the Suffolk business rates pool and £3.23m of central government funding received as part of the Transformation Challenge Award.  Continue reading March: what has been happening in Suffolk