Another busy year has passed. Not only has the recession continued to hit, but it is expected that the situation will worsen considerably over the next few years, putting further pressure on future budgets.
The other main story is that SCC will continue to exist after the Government announced no change in the structure. What a waste of time, energy and money, eh!
Locally, I was delighted to be re-elected as your County Councillor in June.
This year I have been interested in Woodbridge transport in the widest sense: roads, buses, trains, parking, cycling, walking…
County Budget for 2010-11
One of the most important jobs for the Council is to set the budget for the upcoming year. The strain on the public sector is starting to bite, and this budget will probably be the last before the 15-20% cuts, which have been suggested, will start to hit.
This year the council increased the level of Council tax by 2.4%. This – as well as a slight increase in the level of Government Grant – means that there will be some areas in the Council eligible for additional spending, these include:
- £1.5m as a one-off payment for roads maintenance to help deal with the effects of the particularly harsh winter (eg potholes)
- £1.7m to investt in social workers to help support vulnerable children and their families
- £1.6m to pay for the additional numbers and more complex placements of young people coming into the care system
- £4m to help care for older people who most need specialist support
- £1.6m to pay for extra landfill tax
However, there are still areas within the budget that are overspent, including Children and Young Persons by £2m, mainly due to the increasing cost for Home to School Transport and for Adult and Community Services by £1.7m due to the increasing number of elderly residents in our county. In addition to this within the capital budget, Schools Organisation Review will be costing over £100m
At the Full Council debate the Liberal Democrats focused on the discovery that 500 additional employees now worked at the Council compared to the previous year. Some of these positions were entirely Government funded forming some of the staff for the newly created Children’s centre. However many of these aren’t funded from Government grant, and come at a time when the public service is under pressure as the recession bites.
Local Government Review
Throughout the year almost every Parish report has included updates on the Local Government Review. The process which promised so much at the beginning has been regularly stalled, by court cases not only from Suffolk, but the other affected counties as well. It was eventually reignited when the court cases were thrown out last December, after the Boundary Committee appealed.
After this decision, the announcement from the Boundary Committee about which form of local Government they would prefer was announced, with a recommendation to the secretary of state, of either a one Suffolk Unitary Authority or a North Haven Unitary Authority and a Rural Suffolk Authority. This was then followed by a short six week consultation in which the public could react to the announcement from the Boundary Commission.
Onthe 10th of February the Minister of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government announced that there would be no change for the County of Suffolk. Instead there would be a County Constitutional Convention which would provide a new form of unitary government for the council hhas remained completely schtumm about how this could possibly be implemented or even a timescale to when it should begin.
Indeed, as I write this there is not even a government…
County Councillor’s Quality of Life budget
Last year I allocated Quality of Life transport money to three projects:
- The Seal Crossing;
- Cross Corner project and
- bridging the muddy ditch from Houchells Meadow to the back of Farlingaye High School.
Of these, the only one to have been completed last year was the smallest: the muddy ditch. At the same time as this was done, (and at my request) SCC workmen altered the bars at the entrance to the footpath round the school grounds so that students cycling from Melton could access the school more easily. ) I have just been sent the plans for the Cross Corner scheme, which hopes to open out the area round the crossroads to provide greater accessibility for pedestrians and cycles.
The Seal Crossing
Although I allocated money for this last year, progress has been slow. I’ve therefore added an additional £5,000 from this years funding to the money I allocated last year for the island crossing at the top of Ipswich Road. The aim is to get something that will allow people to cross in two stages, that will also encourage drivers to slow down by alerting them to the fact people (school students, mothers with buggies, elderly bus users and cyclists)ISurveyors have now been out to identify the best place and that plans are being drawn up.
Calming Ipswich Road
I’m allocating £3000 hopefully for a speed activated sign – – a solar-powered LED maybe? for further along Ipswich Road, where it slopes steeply down to the John Grose garage. Because the banks are steep and there are no pavements, no-one can safely do speed checks and there is subsequently a new entrance to the new housing coming out onto the road after a blind bend. I and the police and the town council are all really – and legitimately -worried about the danger of this.
The remaining £4000 is to go to traffic calming/cyclist and pedestrian protection in Sandy Lane. The difficulty with Sandy Lane is that not only are issues about pedestrians etc going along from adjacent houses, but it is a National Cycle route AND at every high tide and a couple of hours on each side, the other footpath from Woodbridge to Martlesham is impassable (three feet depth of water across two or three hundred yards at the creek) meaning all sorts of walkers ramblers dogwalkers twitchers etc have to divert onto the road which is very windy and with steep banks and high hedges on the Woodbridge side of the railway bridge. I have walked this with three Martlesham parish councillors to get their ideas.
County Councillor’s Locality budget
The year’s Locality Budget covered a range of things:
- An awning for Woodbridge Bowls Club
- Funding a feasibility study for the Whisstocks Development scheme
- Contribution to the Woodbridge Shop link Radio Scheme
- A new laptop for Homestart
- Funding for Walking Maps of Woodbridge
- A canopy for Farlingaye High School
Money has been carried over
- to pay for measures to prevent poor parking in Hasketon Road (bollards!), and
- grit bins for various Woodbridge locations so that future bad weather can be quickly and efficiently dealt with..
In March Suffolk County Council mwas asked to respond officially to the forthcoming Greater Anglia rail franchise tender . This was important, because it defines what we want from a new rail franchise provider for the next ten to twenty years. The response, which rested on the findings of the Rail Policy Group (of which I am a member) saw much support from across the political spectrum to improve the quality and quantity of train services across the region. Important areas that were stressed included:
- The need for an hourly service to Peterborough;
- the hourly service to Lowestoft (this should be up and running as far as Saxmundham by December); this further depends on the building of the Beccles loop;
- adjusting the timings of interconnecting trains to correspond better;
- greater parity of equivalent fares across the franchise area – currently the cheapest day return fare to London from Ipswich is twice what it is from Cambridge to London
- more advance notice of replacement bus services and ensuring they carry luggage and bikes that were carried on the train
- more provision for bikes on trains
- better links with bus services
We have had a much less satisfactory response to our councerns about buses. Although Woodbridge Town Councillors joined with me and members of the Seckford Almshouses to complain about poor bus services these complaints have been met with the usual resounding silence from the authorities approached – that is, the bus company and the county council officers – and indeed our then MP John Gummer and the then Labour junior transport minister, Ipswich MP Chris Mole. Indeed, neither MP even acknowledged the letter.
Woodbridge Parking review
It seemed to have been going on forever, but the complicated and long-drawn-out process that is the new parking review for Woodbridge was nearly finished by the end of the year. In the last few months Suffolk County council sent out all finalised proposed changes to consultees (Fire, Ambulance, HGV etc) and the legal orders for changes to restrictions were written out. All that now remains to be done is for the changes to be formally advertised on site / newspaper before the lining / signing changes to roads are made.