Category Archives: Your councillor

Vote for (Suffolk) Women!

Caroline Page seconding the #WASPI motion, asking for fair transitional state pension arrangements for 50’s born women

February 6th 1918 saw  (some) modern British women get the vote.  100 years on,  I’m one of 22 women out of 75 councillors elected to Suffolk County Council.  22 -that’s 29% – significantly below the appalling  33% average women in UK councils – itself a flatline, increasing only 5% since 1997. At the current rate of progress it’ll take 48 years for the UK to reach gender equality – and nearer 80 in Suffolk.

We’re behind so many countries: Italy, Germany, Norway.  The Rwandan parliament is 64% female – in Suffolk,  there are 2 women out of 7 MPs, a pretty equivalent percentage to the county councillors.  And this is Suffolk! – Birthplace of women’s higher education, home of Women’s Suffrage.

Clearly something’s adrift.

In 1860 3 young women in a house in Aldeburgh planned to change women’s futures: Elizabeth Garrett became first woman to qualify in Britain (both physician and surgeon), co-founder of the first hospital staffed by women, first woman dean  of a British medical school, first female doctor of medicine in France, first woman in Britain to be elected to a school board, and (as Mayor of Aldeburgh), first female British mayor and magistrate – a lot of firsts in a lot of fields. Her friend Emily Davies opened university education to women: she founded Girton College, Cambridge.  Elizabeth’s 13-year-old sister Millicent became Millicent Fawcett, pioneer of women’s suffrage.

It is fair to say, the rest is – half-remembered – history.

On the way back from Ipswich Hospital Garret Anderson centre the other day, a taxi driver asked  “who the chap was” that it was named after? And who in Suffolk links women’s suffrage and Fawcett Society with that 13yo  in Aldeburgh?

A crying shame when you consider that half of our county’s  population are women – about 370,000 of us all occupying Suffolk’s 3800 square kilometres. If we were spread across the county we might all be within shouting distance of each other – if we shouted very loud. And we’ve a lot of reasons to shout. The gender pay gap in Suffolk is 22.2% – above the national average. We have a higher than average level of violence against women. Last year, I established that Suffolk was not a good place to be a girl.

Women need all the help we can get – in Suffolk, as elsewhere.  So why so few women representing us?

First and foremost I’d say a lot of women simply don’t think of themselves as elected representatives. A shame, because so many women’s lives have required them to develop the skills sets, the energy, the drive, the determination, the ability to multitask and the fire in our bellies to be very good representatives indeed. A lot of women just don’t realise they have the skills, or that they have value.

Then, people in general have a very low awareness of government in general. They are often unclear as to which services are delivered by central government, and which by local. In Suffolk, people are often unclear as to which council of three they may mean when talking about ‘the council’. Who’d be elected to something you don’t understand?

What people do know about councils, they know in terms of dissatisfaction – transport, potholes, social care – all gone wrong. They know that some officers are paid large salaries. They often conflate these with councillors who are paid (small) ‘allowances’. Generally this means that ‘the council’ has an undeserved bad reputation: people see it as ‘them’ instead of ‘us’ and profligate with ‘our money.’

Most curious of all, when it comes to ‘our money’ people seem to make very little connection between local politics, voting and outcome. They  will see local elections as unimportant and ‘not bother’ to vote – though the effects of the county council budget will affect their roads, their schools their social care, their transport.

They will vote for a party that fails to raise council tax year after year – and then be astonished at the effect this has on their roads, their schools their social care, their transport.

Within this mindset very few women might want to be councillors – seeing it as a male environment and a negative one at that. And yet of course, it a council is a place where we the people can put many things right – and gender equality in  councillors can make this happen.

No, this isn’t pie in the sky – its common sense! Councils have budgets and allocate huge amounts of local funding – and they decide where it goes. If most councillors are middle-aged middle-class white men who have never had “the worry of how to put shoes on the children’s feet because you are paid so little as a carer”, or “worry if you can manage to hang on to your job while getting two children to schools in different directions”, they will not understand the issues of paying carers too little, or splitting siblings between schools, or failing to provide rural families with sufficient transport options. They may well have different funding priorities to women when it come to refuges, or rape crisis lines or supporting family carers. Not because they mean harm – but because it has never had to enter their head as personal priorities.

My own background as a councillor is, maybe, unusual – but I would suggest that the background of many women councillors IS unusual. Many experiences played a part, but I’d say, most importantly, was that I was a lone parent and full-time carer fighting for the needs for my disabled child – and very angry indeed about various things in society that I wanted to try and change. In the end my friends told me to put up or shut up  so I joined the party that was closest to my beliefs and put my name forward to stand as county councillor.

I stood against a respected, longstanding local politician – he was a past town, district, county councillor and past mayor too. And, against any  expectation I won. Was it because I wasn’t a “normal politician”?

I’ve been re-elected three times since. Because of that I have had the chance to raise more issues, fight for more causes, and gain more successes than I had ever thought possible as a private individual. And that is immensely satisfying.

But still as a woman you find you can speak to a silence and five minutes later a male councillor repeats what you say to rapturous applause – clearly you had a cloak of invisibility on.You speak with passion about an injustice and a political journalist tweets something dismissive about your manner of speech. Like Ginger Rogers you do everything Fred Astaire does but backwards and in high heels, and still get second billing. There are endless microaggressions. Why? It’s a numbers game.

But the winds of change are blowing here -as in the film industry, as everywhere. The atmosphere is suddenly getting markedly less aggressive

I love what I do because it has so much variety- and you can have so much direct effect. One day you are fighting to stop someone (it often seems to be a woman, low-hanging fruit) getting deported, the next, putting the spotlight on a controversial transport consultation, the next convincing the council about the injustice of WASPI pensions. There’s never a dull moment and it makes a real difference to real lives.

To my mind, politics isn’t a game of “them” and “us” – its about how ‘we’ want to get ‘our’ country, county, town to work   – and where women are concerned it’s a numbers game.

Our numbers and our expertise will ensure  that we can make it better for all of us in towns, in counties, in our country if we step up to the plate and have belief in our own capacities.

It is really as simple as that!

Women of Suffolk,  come and join in!

 

#WASPI success at Suffolk County Council

Caroline Page seconding the #WASPI motion, asking for fair transitional state pension arrangements for 50’s born women

As LibDem Green and Independent Spokesperson for Women, I was proud to second the important cross-party motion at Suffolk County Council last week which asked government to support fair transitional pension arrangements for 1950’s born women (the so-called #WASPI* women) See speech on YouTube here:

Women born in the 50s have lived throughout a period when the Equality Act didn’t result in equality of pay, opportunity, or expectation. They have been expected to make career breaks, and work part-time to bring up children and care for dependent relatives with all the subsequent difficulties of returning to equivalent work.

In 2017 a woman’s retirement income is on average 45% less than a man’s.

For years successive governments failed to warn women so they could better plan for their futures. But in the circumstances many women would have needed to have made a lifetime of different choices to make adequate preparation for this pension change.

The perfect storm is that WASPI women are now also 3 times more likely than their younger peers to be divorced and suffer financial pressure.

The motion, proposed by Labour stated: “This Council believes the Government should make fair and transitional state pension arrangements for the 34,000 Suffolk women born in the 1950’s, who have unfairly borne the burden of the increase to the State Pension Age with lack of appropriate notification. This Council requests the Interim Chief Executive write to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions calling on the government to reconsider transitional arrangements for women.”  It was passed unanimously by Suffolk County Council with no abstentions. 

  *WASPI = Women Against State Pension Inequality

My speech:         I’m proud to support the efforts of the WASPI campaign, and applaud them on their resilience and determination to make their case heard. As a State Pension Age affected woman  myself born in the 1950s, as LibDem Green and Independent Spokesperson for Women,  and as a full-time carer, I’m all too aware of the problems.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Retirement age changes take place in the name of equality – and everyone should want that!

But the devil’s in the detail. Women born in the 50s have lived throughout a period when the Equality Act didn’t result in equality of pay, opportunity, or expectation. Women have been expected to make career breaks, and work part-time to bring up children and care for dependent relatives with all subsequent difficulties of returning to equivalent work.

And lack of occupational pension, and breaks in state pension contributions has inevitable consequences. No surprise that  in 2017 a woman’s retirement income is on average 45% less than a man’s – the differential £1000 GREATER than it was a year before. Shocking.

For years successive governments failed to warn women  so they could better plan  for their futures.

But -lets be honest – many women would need to have made a lifetime of different choices to make adequate preparation for this

By the time women are my age, 50% are already unpaid family carers: odds men don’t achieve until they are 75. And with life expectancy rising, the numbers needing care have snowballed. You don’t start out in life expecting to be a family carer.  It comes up behind you and blackjacks you and conflicts with your capacity to earn..

So,  change in retirement age impacts particularly on a whole generation of women that state and family have relied on to give up careers and occupational pensions to care unpaid for others.

And you can see how families, women, everyone might decide it better for family finances that the woman gave up work to care because she’d get the earlier state pension.

The perfect storm is that WASPI women are now also more likely than their younger peers to be divorced and suffer financial pressure. One in 3 are divorced – three times as many as those born 25 years later.

Says a 62 year old constituent ,“Make preparations? Many of my lifechoices were out of my hands but I still have to face the consequences “.  Her husband didn’t want her to work after they married, but then left her – with minimal support and young children. She’d lost her place in the job market she trained in and the only work she could do was cleaning. Ill paid, laborious – but she could fit it around childcare. She’s been a cleaner for 17 years now,  and expected to retire 2 years ago.

But she now has another 4 years to go.

She says “I’m worn out. You can’t manage such physical work till you’re 66. I have no choice.”

There are many such women facing years without a fair level of support, purely because the government failed in its duty to keep them fully informed – and failed to consider the constraints which an entire generation’s practices imposed upon so-called “life choices”.

I call upon all councillors of all parties to stand behind these women and support this motion

What happened in Suffolk in September – my report

Library Reading Scheme presentations  On 17 September I presented awards to all those children who successfully completed the Woodbridge Library Reading Challenge 2017. This year 212 children completed, to gain certificates and medals. I also funded  a poster competition and a magic show from my locality budget.

Suffolk’s Cabinet decision on controversial school transport policy changes called-in by LDGI Group A decision made by Cabinet on 12 September, to go to public consultation on proposed changes to SCC’s school transport policy, was ‘called-in’ to scrutiny by opposition councillors from the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group (of whom I was one).

The call-in cited several problems with the report that informed Cabinet’s decision, and argued that to go to public consultation without a comprehensive impact assessment would be premature. The councillors questioned the expected savings and stressed the need to fully research how changes might impact on educational attainment, increased car use, and school viability.

The call-in was examined by the Scrutiny Committee on 28 September, who determined determined that the subject should be referred  back to Cabinet again. Watch this space!

Consultation on Woodbridge Thoroughfare  September 25- 1October saw the Thoroughfare Working Group’s public consultation in Woodbridge Library on changing the Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) in the Thoroughfare. A stall was staffed in Woodbridge Library for a full 7 days (I personally worked 44 hours staffing it).

The consultation is to ensure it more accurately reflects current usage and to make the provisions more enforceable. Three options were provided. Approximately 600 questionnaires have been received, and the information will now analysed and used to establish the basis of a new TRO.

Impact of Woods Lane development on A1438  The astonishing and unacceptable closure of Woods Lane for a prolonged period ( 3 weeks shortly and then three months in early 2017) to install utilities for the 180 house Bloor Homes development will divert heavy traffic between the A12 and Wilford to the B1438 (Ipswich Road) in the south and the Old Yarmouth Road through Melton to the north. I am one of many lobbying to ameliorate this situation, not least because of the number of schools and sheltered housing along the route. When I recently was able to secure permission for 20mph zoning in Woodbridge, a significant rationale was the impact of heavy traffic on our medieval town , the number of pedestrians and cyclists inconvenienced or endangered, ­­­­and to discourage rat-running on the B1438 instead of A12/Woods Lane usage.

This diversion now underlines why the scheme is necessary. I am very concerned on the impact this will have on Woodbridge’s traders, students, and residents

Search for a new SCC Chief Executive continues  A full day of interviews and assessments took place on Monday 11 September in the search for a new Chief Executive for Suffolk County Council to succeed Deborah Cadman. The interview panel included five councillors from across the three main Groups. (3 Conservative, 1 Labour, 1 LDGI)

Although the field of candidates was strong it was decided that there was no clear candidate that met the expectations for the role. Therefore no appointment was made, and the recruitment process will begin again in the coming months. In the mean time Sue Cook will contine as interim Chief Executive, supported by other members of the corporate management team.

PCC ‘not pursuing’ plans to take control of Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service   Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore, has announced that he will not be pursuing plans to take control of Suffolk Fire and Rescue Services.

Earlier this year the PCC commissioned PA Consulting to undertake an options appraisal to consider the future governance of the Fire and Rescue Service and a potential shift of governance from the County Council to the PCC. This review concluded that there is insufficient evidence to suggest that a governance change would be clearly in the interests of economy, efficiency, and effectiveness; or public safety.

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service launches ‘escape plan’ campaign The Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service has launched a new safety campaign and website highlighting the importance of fire escape plans. The campaign addresses the fact that every year there are 40,000 accidental house fires in the UK. Having an escape plan will allow Suffolk residents to escape the fire quickly and safely. Please

Visitors to the campaign website will be able to:

  • Take a quiz to test how prepared they are to escape a fire
  • Create their own escape plan for everyone in their household

The ‘escape plan’ fire campaign will run until 31 October 2017. More information can be found at fire.suffolk.gov.uk.

October Surgery Cancellation  I will be cancelling my monthly surgery this month (21 October) because of family commitments on the other side of the world. The remaining surgeries for 2017 are:

  • 18 November 2017
  • 16 December 2017

 

 

Open Letter: Bloor Development diversion at Woods Lane -a solution

Bloor Homes – the start of the Woods Lane works

Sent to: Therese Coffey MP, Suffolk Coastal District Council Planning Chair and Officer, Suffolk County Council Member for Highways, Woodbridge Town Council, Choose Woodbridge, EADT

I’m writing to express my surprise and alarm at the series of unfortunate events relating to the Bloor Homes development at the western (A12) end of Woods Lane, Melton. This has led to Bloor’s requirement to close a section of Woods Lane for a prolongued period of time. I would also like to offer a solution.

The (unacceptable) proposal is to reroute the heavy traffic that travels along Woods Lane between the A12 and Wilford  – north via Melton and south via Woodbridge for the duration of the works. These are estimated to be a matter of months.

Woodbridge-Melton, as well as being a bustling retail centre, houses eight infant/primary/secondary schools with a large catchment area, plus a significant number of nursing and sheltered homes whose care staff cannot afford to live locally and have to commute. The local firestation is staffed by retained firefighters  who need immediate access. My list goes on….

Although this diversion will impact heavily on Woodbridge residents, this development is not within my division. I was therefore not made aware of the proposed lengthy road closures with their inevitable impact on the local economy and local residents until a couple of weeks ago – the same time as it was made public.

It is almost as if this unacceptable decision to divert was to be a fait accompli.

I challenge this.

We seem to be living in a world without joined-up thinking and where the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing. Suffolk Coastal District Council is responsible for planning. The district council has been fully aware of the Bloor development for a long time. It cannot be news to a single person in the planning department that drainage etc will need to be put in place for a development of that size – or that, located as it is – in a greenfield site on the other side of a busy road from a busy town, that the chances are that there will be problems in linking up utilities.

The location makes it clear that there would inevitably be major issues – yet the district council now seems unduly surprised when these issues arise and obscurely feels that somehow the County Council Highways department (who have a statutory responsibility to facilitate this development) should be held responsible.

We need to ask the SCDC planning Committee, did the planning department have a different strategy for getting the Bloor drains put in? And what was it?

Bloor is a private company. Its primary aim is to make money for its shareholders. Why has Suffolk Coastal’s District Council planning department not looked at the propriety of Bloor disadvantaging our entire community in its endeavour to make the greatest possible private profit? It is not our problem, that of the residents of Woodbridge and Melton. It is Bloor’s. The company should shoulder the lion’s share of the solution

Surely it should have been possible  – should still be possible – for SCDC to require Bloor to make a temporary roadway through their development land to take the Woods Lane traffic,  while utilities are placed under Woods Lane?

An additional point. Woodbridge has recently agreed a 20mph zone and additional calming for the entire town. One of the principle rationales was the impact of heavy traffic on our medieval town and to discourage rat-running on the B1438 which separates the town from the riverside. This diversion only underlines why the scheme is needed. The scheme however needs funding.  I would therefore urge SCDC and SCC Highways to work together, using development money earnarked for community benefit, to benefit that community most harmed by these works – ie Woodbridge itself

Sincerely

Caroline Page
County Councillor for Woodbridge

 

Update: I have heard it argued  over the last weeks that because the Secretary of State overturned SCDC’s decision regarding the Bloor development, SCDC can somehow wash their hands of this development. We can only succeed in  persuading  everyone of the value of my argument if all local bodies join forces 

Melton Hill – Woodbridge should plan for its future!

Melton Hill – the current plan. Delusions of cityscape: Giant single slope roofed towers – suitable for an urban setting but totally out of place in tiny Woodbridge dwarf the town and overlook all neighbouring housing.

Over a hundred people have so far made a  submission to the District Council about the “cheese wedges” that are the Melton Hill development. I will be writing one too –  in which I’ll cover issues I’ve mentioned elsewhere.

But here I want to speak  as  your County Councillor,  turning from the subject of design to purpose – and  the propriety of the District wanting to monetise this site instead of looking at the legacy benefits of providing for local people.

Remember, Melton Hill isn’t owned by the district– it is held in trust for us by our elected and appointed servants. How on earth have we got into the situation where these servants are doing a deal with themselves to hock it off for the biggest possible profit? And how can this be the best outcome for the rest of us?

Every week, I talk to families who’ve lived in Woodbridge for generations but whose children and grandchildren are excluded from their hometown. Disabled people who have to leave their support network. Old people who can’t even afford to downsize in the town in which they’ve spent their lives. Yet our medieval streets are increasingly full of – not even second homes – but holiday lets, serving no residential purpose whatsoever.

Everyone who lives in Woodbridge needs the services of those who have been displaced – and who have to come in by car, adding to already-chronic traffic and air quality problems.

Woodbridge doesn’t need more high end housing. It absolutely does need housing at social rent (that’s 65% of market rental value)  and lots of it, to help house all those people we rely on. Retained firefighters, low-paid care workers, young families and teachers who cant afford to live near our schools. Nurses, police, paramedics… I could go on.  Since ‘right-to-buy’ , Woodbridge has lost more and more of the key rental sector stock needed to support these key workers in the town

The sale of Melton Hill can’t go through until and unless planning permission is granted by the very council that profits from the sale. How can this not be a conflict of interest? The current development should not go ahead on these grounds alone!

And the District Council must be persuaded to think differently. That current promise of 33 affordable units (80% of market rental price – which may, as in other cases diminish or disappear during development) – that isn’t the answer. For a start, it isnt enough. Local people -people who have paid their council tax to fund Melton Hill – have significant unmet needs. Why don’t we start from there?.

The District Council must be persuaded to recognise the legacy benefits of making the Melton Hill site into, say, a Community Land Trust to provide housing at social, not affordable, rent to ensure that Woodbridge remains  the living, breathing town it currently is.

I’m therefore  asking Woodbridge Town Council to reject this application and to urge the District council to re-evaluate their priorities and move in the direction I have suggested to develop the site.

Schedule of trees we suddenly discover are to be felled for the Melton Hill development. I note with extreme sadness they include two black mulberries

This is the speech I made to Woodbridge Town Council’s Planning Committee this evening.
The meeting was attended by sixty or seventy residents, of whom ten  or so spoke . Their concerns about the site covered appearance, accessibility, loss of the trees, loss of amenity, change to the appearance of the town and impact transport and on air quality . The Committee rejected the plan unanimously.
However – Woodbridge Town Council is just a statutory consultee. The final decision is made by the Councillors on Suffolk Coastal’s Planning Committee.

Keep those letters coming in, folks