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

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Greater Anglia: banning Martins and Swallows from Woodbridge station

Substance of my letter to Jamie Burles,  Managing Director, Greater Anglia, 20 Feb

I’m writing to you in great concern in your role as Greater Anglia’s Managing Director, having been forwarded worrying  correspondence from a constituent.

As you will see, he wrote to Greater Anglia about your recent installation of anti-bird wires at the station, and reminded Greater Anglia of the damage this would do to the families of hirondelles (swallows/swifts/martins) who nest at the Woodbridge station. These are not a huge number, but the birds return to their nesting sites year after year.

My constituent offered to point out the places where the wires could be removed in order that these wonderful, and increasingly endangered birds could continue their blameless existence

Disappointingly, his offer was met  with  a response from customer services at  Greater Anglia, that was terse, not to say rude and extraordinarily authoritarian in tone. It was also extremely ignorant of the habits of the birds in question:

The anti-bird wires have been placed at the station to prevent damage to the station and will not be removed.
I do hope that house martins find more suitable nesting sites and I am sorry that you will not get to see them with their chicks this year.

Mr Burles – perhaps Greater Anglia might bear in mind that Woodbridge Station has been in place since 1859!  I would imagine that hirondelles have been nesting here all this time (they return to the same nesting places year after year). They have done no damage in the 160 years the station has been opened. Why on earth should Greater Anglia claim they do so now? And why should Greater Anglia claim other sites as being ‘more suitable’?  For whom?

As all long-term residents of the town are aware, these birds are one of the delights of Woodbridge station.  They make us heart-soaringly happy  every spring and summer whatever the weather. Their arrival is a long-anticipated tradition.

Very unfortunately Greater Anglia repainted the station ceiling in 2017 at seemingly the moment the swallows/martins were about to nest. In consequence last season’s hirondelle nests vanished and the regular commuters of Woodbridge (of whom I am one) lost the joy of watching the little families appear.  This would seem to be in contravention to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

When GA  wrote “I am sorry that you will not get to see them with their chicks this year” you seem unaware that Greater Anglia was instrumental in this happening last year too!

Because the swift-flying, joyous swallows and martins were displaced, pigeons moved in to Woodbridge station last summer – and they do cause damage. This is presumably why Greater Anglia has suddenly installed bird wires. Talk about unintended consequences.

If the swallows and martins were allowed to nest again in their traditional sites I would imagine the pigeons would vanish. They never nested at the station before.

Can I just add that this matter is time-sensitive. Hirondelles are summer visitors.These amazing – and increasingly endangered – little birds are likely to be already on the wing, making their long journey back from Africa to nest at our station sometime in March.

Bearing this in mind, and knowing that Greater Anglia  did not have the full details when you first wrote to my constituent, I am writing to you, as Managing Director,  in the hope that Greater Anglia will change its mind and remove the bird wires, if only from around the hirondelle nesting sites in the corners of Woodbridge station. Not that they seem effective in stopping the pigeons from nesting.

Doing so would  not only immeasurably improve quality of life (for both the hirondelles and the commuters who watch them), it would also place Greater Anglia in a very good light, as a company that is suitably responsive to issues that are very important to local people.

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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!

 

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Suffolk’s School Transport Consultation – it affects YOU

Confused about the Suffolk School Travel Consultation? I’m hearing people saying things like “why don’t kids go to their local school?” and “why don’t they cycle like we did?”

THIS IS MISSING THE POINT.

Be clear, Suffolk is already only providing free transport to those children who meet strict criteria:  children must be over-8 and living OVER 3 miles from their catchment or transport priority school; or under 8 and living OVER 2 miles from ditto.

Parental choice plays no part.

If you want to send your child to a non-catchment or non-tp school, it’s your lookout! Your car Continue reading Suffolk’s School Transport Consultation – it affects YOU

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Reduction to free school transport entitlement: respond, or have no say

Proposals to reduce eligibility for free school transport in Suffolk will adversely affect students 5-18 -and their families. The changes have the potential to bring hardship -especially in rural areas: loss of choice; a postcode lottery for places and courses; potentially the splitting of siblings between schools. It will also put a lot more cars on the roads round our schools -with preductable effects on speed, safety, airquality, and quality of life. Continue reading Reduction to free school transport entitlement: respond, or have no say

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Caroline Page, LibDem County Councillor for Woodbridge