Tag Archives: budget

Suffolk in October/November: my report

Suffolk County Council’s budget forecast paints worrying picture  A Cabinet paper last week revealed that Suffolk County Council is forecasting an overspend of £10.2m on their 2017/18 revenue budget. The majority of this overspend is within Adult & Community Services (£2.3m) and Children’s Services (£6.4m). The narrative that ‘savings’ (eg ‘cuts’) can continue is increasingly unsustainable. “Leaner and fitter” has morphed to anorexia.

Opposition councillors are growing increasingly concerned: latest budget forecasts make it clear that, unless major changes occur, the Council’s finances are not sustainable in the long-term with the most vulnerable members of our county the most likely to suffer the consequences.

Suffolk County Council has had to make significant savings in response to  continuing cuts in funding from central government. Demand for services, however, has continued to grow. This is no surprise to anyone. However, while there is no denying the issue of chronic underfunding from central government, Suffolk County Council has plumed itself on capping council tax for years . (Leader Colin Noble memorably maintained: “the vast majority of those on fixed pensions do not look to council services to help them in their old age. So he majority of old people  are not reliant on libraries, buses, roads, care services, public health? News to me, and to them. And to Cllr Noble, clearly).

The administration called instead for for Suffolk to innovate  in income generation.

Suffolk County Council’s Leader on the needs of old people on fixed pensions. What world is he living in?

Disappointingly this income has failed to materialise.

This is tragic. Proper investment in Suffolk’s economy, combined with regular tiny increases in council tax over the years, could have done much to avert the current worrying situation.

Home to School Transport – workshops announced   In September, our LDGI Group successfully “called-in” the Cabinet’s decision to go to consultation on changes to the Home to School Transport policy, questioning the nature of the pre-consultation period, and arguing that more research needed to be done.

The Scrutiny Committee agreed with us, and voted to refer the decision back to Cabinet for further consideration. It has not yet been announced when Cabinet will reconsider the proposals.

Suffolk County Council has announced that two workshops will be taking place in November, to further discuss the challenge and help develop proposals for Cabinet to consider. However, invitations will only be sent to 80 randomly selected representatives. If you have not been invited, and feel that you should be a part of these workshops, you can contact either myself or schooltravel@suffolk.gov.uk.

Motion to improve early years funding rejected by Council   At the meeting of Council on Thursday 19th October, our LDGI group supported a Labour motion which called on the Council to (1) lobby central government for more funding in Suffolk and (2) pass the full amount of funding received on to providers. Unfortunately, the Conservative majority refused to back the motion.

Since September 2017, working families are entitled to 30 hours of free childcare, whilst all families are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare. Suffolk is one of only 37 local authorities which this year had a reduction in early years funding, receiving a total of £31 987 186. This equates to £4.41 per hour. However, childcare providers receive a base rate of only £3.87 per hour, and many are struggling to run their businesses on this low rate.

The motion highlighted the difficulty faced by childcare providers across the county, and questioned why the Council did not pass through a higher rate of funding to providers.

Councillor Gordon Jones (Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Education and Skills) stated that the Council only retains £2.1m, which is used to meet their statutory duties. He has yet to provide a full breakdown on how this money is spent

Bus timetable changes  and issues due to Woods Lane Closure  The closure seems to be proving as problematic as forecast.  First are using shuttle buses to extend the 800 Park and Ride journeys beyond Woodbridge due to delays on account of the Woods Lane works. I have already had one complaint that these are not integrated in ticketing terms with the P&R services.

It also seems that the notices on the suspended bus stops on Bredfield Road is leading a number of older residents to assume that bus services are completely suspended therefore entrapping them in this part of Woodbridge.

The temporary shuttle bus stops are not clearly signed and the shuttle bus does not adequately cover for the suspended bus stops.

Social Worker of the Year: former Kyson pupil nominated second year running   The Coastal and North East Ipswich Child in Care  social work team is a finalist in the Social Worker of the Year Awards 2017 as a result of their outstanding work with children and their families.

Members of the team have previously been recognised for their outstanding achievements, including  (I am very proud to say) former Kyson pupil Emily Tiplady-Ead  whose immense professionalism and skills  made herlast year’s  national ‘Children’s Social Worker of the Year ’. Hearty congratulations, Emily!

Woodbridge Thoroughfare Consultation   This received over 600 replies. A presentation will be mounted in the Library shortly to unveil the overwhelmingly popular result and to signpost the next stage

 

Woodbridge County Councillor: Whats been happening 2016-17

This is the last year of the four year county council electoral cycle. Apart from the ultimately bathetic non-event of Suffolk’s devolution  – which managed to take up an extraordinary amount  of last year’s council administrative time  with absolutely no ultimate outcome – a lot of other things have happened in Suffolk over the last  12 months. Here are some of the most important to people in Woodbridge:

Agreed 20mph zone & calming in Woodbridge   Years of requests from Woodbridge Town Council, individual bodies and local residents came to fruition in February when I presented a report and a mass of supporting documentation to Suffolk’s Speed Panel – and  got through – ambitious proposals for speed calming in Woodbridge. I am grateful to the contribution of former Mayor Nigel Barrett to this and much cross-party support in managing to make this finally happen.

The overarching intentions will be:

  • to ensure that the ancient centre of Woodbridge is calmed
  • that heavy traffic is discouraged
  • that (often elderly) residents and visitors have easier access between the heart of the town and the riverside area
  • that children can walk and cycle safely to school
  • to help solve longstanding and persistent problems of heavy traffic in the Thoroughfare and surrounding streets
  • to assist in dealing with longstanding traffic related air quality problems at Melton Hill which is a designated Air Quality Management Area and an action for SCC to resolve
  • and by supporting the 20mph signage in the centre with a holistic scheme, to prevent unintended consequences of people ‘rat running’ elsewhere in the town
  • to support the Woodbridge ‘Walkers are Welcome’ initiative.

The approval of the panel, though vital, is only the first step.  All speed changes have to be put out to community consultation before current speedscan be changed and funding has to be found from a variety of sources. There will be 4 years’ Highways  funding from the County Councillor, and we will hope to draw from money for Air Quality and CIL money payable on account of local development.

Thoroughfare traffic improvement   I regrouped the Thoroughfare Working Party in November to try and tackle the continuing issues of traffic in the Thoroughfare – balancing the needs of  residents, visitors, traders, shoppers, pedestrians and (necessary) vehicle users.  Representation is from all 3 levels of council (cross-party), retailers, residents, police and highways engineers. The aim is to try and find consensus for a short, mid- and long-term plan to improve footfall and preserve the future of the Woodbridge Thoroughfare in all its aspects because it is the heart of Woodbridge and the lifeblood of the town.

There are two different issues with different enforcement needs (people driving through and people parking).

We look as if we are close to reaching a solution which can be put out to community consultation.

Woodbridge Youth Centre    Although some years ago I had been assured by Suffolk’s Chief Executive Deborah Cadman that no decision concerning the Woodbridge Youth Centre would be made without full disclosure to all Woodbridge councillors, I was called into a  meeting last summer to be told the centre  would close imminently.

The line was “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.”

The centre had been home to many community initiatives: Not only was it home for Just 42,  there had been a youth club there for decades, The Gateway social Club for people with learning disabilities met there for 30 years, Company of 4 used it for rehearsals, it housed classes for Pilates, baby massage,  country dancing, French,  Italian, English as a second language, tai chi, as well as having a very important role in young people’s social care, and as a ‘safe house’ for children to meet parents in difficult home situations.

Suffolk County has offered the site on a long lease  if a good business case can be made within a year for a new centre, and (once Just42  was rehoused in temporary accommodation), we have got a group together to ensure that we can rebuild the youth centre on its present site as soon as possible for all users!

New rural Community Transport  – new difficulties for Bus Pass holders After Suffolk’s Conservative  administration stopped supporting scheduled bus services in many parts of rural Suffolk back in the Andrea Hill era rural dwellers have relied on a patchwork of demand responsive services.

In June these were brought together under a new community franchise offer, with the aim of rebranding and savinf significant sums (the county no longer provide free vehicles – saving some £570k (which largely voluntary bodies would have to find) – but also SCC would HALVE the community subsidy from £1.4m to £700k over the next four years) Although Suffolk was told this would create parity across Suffolk, it has instead created a postcode lottery .

While Suffolk Coastal Community Transport -operated by  previous  operators CATS  and FACTS (in Felixstowe)-  will be operating the same services as before:  a mix of Demand Responsive Transport (on which bus passes will be accepted), and door-to-door and community car services on which passes won’t be accepted (exactly as before.) in mid-Suffolk, the  franchisees no longer operate Demand Responsive Transport in their Community Transport offer – eg   Bus Passes will NO LONGER  be accepted, under-16 fares will only apply if are accompanied by an adult, and the under 18 reduction is derisory with no provision for young people to use SCC’s Endeavour card.

This leaves all people eligible for concessionary passes in mid Suffolk with the choice of accepting £100 in vouchers and no pass (for travel outside midSuffolk) or a pass that cannot be used where they live. And of course Suffolk bus pass holders from other districts cannot use them to  travel into mid-Suffolk either.

Queen’s 90th Birthday Commemorative Badges for Woodbridge Children     In the past Britain’s schoolchildren were always given a souvenir to commemorate special occasions and this year it seemed  – particularly in this time of austerity –  a good idea to revive this custom. So I funded a commemorative badge for every child in every Woodbridge school to celebrate and commemorate the Queen’s 90th birthday (2975 badges). Over the birthday week deputy Mayor Clare Perkins and I personally handed out about 2000 badges.

Suffolk Highways Maintenance  Controversy:  A new Highway Maintenance Operational Plan, and Contract extension   In the summer Suffolk’s administration agreed a new Highway Maintenance Operational Plan with contractors,  Kier,  and towards the end of 2016 extended their contract – despite their record of appalling performance.

Basically Suffolk’s administration had little option for the former  because the past Highways Maintenance plans have been a disaster, criticised by everyone, regardless of party affiliation. (And anyway, the new Plan had 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 could testify. There should 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, meaning that the Highways small schemes backlog – created solely by this administration’s ideologically driven decision to outsource the contract in the name of efficiency savings – 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.  (I have recently been quoted £5,000 to ‘design’ the siting of a single bollard!) 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 county  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 utter  absurdity of a private organisation mouthing the ‘you’ve got to pay the market price for the work you get’ mantra whilst providing no competition to ensure that they are offering good value for money. I was talked down, of course.

As for Kier’s  contract extension, this appeared to be for no more cogent reason than Macbeth’s “I am in blood so stepped that should I go no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.” Again, I spoke and urged the council to return to cheap, efficient, knowledgeable in-house provision as we had in the past. Again, the quiet voice of reason was overlooked. Cassandra could take my correspondence course.

Political Make-Up of Suffolk County Council A lot of these unpopular decisions have been forced through by a wafer-thin majority: the Conservative run council has spent the last year balancing (and occasionally tipping over the edge )  of a minority administration. As we come up to the council elections the current balance is technically hung 37:37 with one vacancy . The make up is

  • Conservative: 37
  • Labour: 15
  • Liberal Democrat: 8
  • UKIP: 9
  • Green: 2
  • Independent: 3

So, if you don’t like the state of the roads, of social care, of the libraries – remember to register your dissatisfaction through your vote.  (The Suffolk LibDems county manifesto can be found here )

Another Cuts budget for Suffolk, 2017-8   Suffolk County Council’s County Budget 2017-18 was set at the beginning of February. The  Conservatives emphasised keeping spend down and how they have amassed large reserves over the past seven years of zero council tax rises.  Labour wanted to spend to preserve services and give the residents of Suffolk what they need. Lib Dems felt the Conservatives were cutting too hard but Labour were spending at the top limit of what would be possible. The Conservative’s slender majority carried the day and a further £30million will be cut from services.

Woodbridge Library petition gains 1200 signatures in 10 days  Amongst the many cuts to this forthcoming  year’s budget,  Suffolk County Council is inflicting a further £230,000 cut to the library service.  (£280,000 if we include the archives) on top of the significant cut made in this last year.

In ten days in February I got 1200 signatures in Woodbridge to amypetition which read  “We oppose any further reductions to the funding of Suffolk’s invaluable and irreplaceable library services, and urge Suffolk County Council not to make this cut. “ The people who signed were of all ages, backgrounds  and political affiliations – the eldest was 101.  The one thing they agreed on was that these cuts were unacceptable. Over and over again the signatories’  comments repeated the fact that our libraries are ‘essential’, ‘vital’, and that users want “No more cuts!”. At the budget meeting I asked  the administration, on behalf of the people I represent, to withdraw this cut. Once again, they did not listen.

Proposals for Ipswich Northern Bypass – and how each impacts on Woodbridge  Woodbridge residents may think that a Northern bypass for Ipswich has little to do with them – but the plans will bring it close. With Ipswich coming to a standstill every rush hour and every closure of the Orwell bridge, a progress report into the need for additional road capacity to the north of Ipswich, has been published (the long-proposed Ipswich Northern bypass). Initial broad route corridors have been considered for a potential link between the A12 and A14; and are:

  • an inner corridor from Martlesham to Claydon
  • an middle corridor from Woodbridge to Claydon
  • and an outer corridor from Melton to Needham Market.

All of these will impact on residents of Woodbridge. Obviously each potential corridor would have different impacts on the environment, and on the potential to support future growth. We now have to wait the next stage of study will examine route options in more detail, including traffic, economic and environmental impacts. It will also consider the extent to which the options might support potential future scenarios for housing and employment growth beyond 2031.

The very splendid cake with which the No Cald Calling zone in Morley Avenue was celebrated

First “No Cold Calling Zone” for Woodbridge  Suffolk Trading Standards and I visited every home in Morley Avenue to talk to residents about their experiences with cold callers,  to set up a ‘No Cold-Calling zone’ in the Avenue  and to supply “No Cold Calling” door stickers advertising this.

Woodbridge Library Reading challenge  400 children registered this year, 60% of whom finished  the challenge. This meant Woodbridge Library volunteers spent 250 hours helping with the scheme over the summer, and I presented 240 certificates at the award ceremony in September!!!This year I augmented the scheme by funding story-reading sessions for the children over the summer, a Dream Jar competition and a magic show to finish the afternoon off in style, once the certificates had been presented.

Planning Developments  I have, as  ever, made representations both to planners and to Highways  officers regarding proposed developments in my division where I have been concerned that the impact on county council  infrastructure and services would be unsustainable. The Gladwells and Queen’s House developments were cases in point.

County Councillor’s Surgery  My regular  monthly open access County Councillor’s  surgery in the library, now in its 7th year, continues to bring in more and more people from across an ever-wider sector of Suffolk Coastal. It is clear that  many Suffolk residents would be grateful if their own county councillors held open-access monthly surgeries. Currently I am the only one. Just saying!

Overwhelming issues are parking, speeding, road surfaces, and pedestrian problems. However I deal with problems as diverse as  deportations, youth issues,  special educational needs, disability concwens, social care crises, homelessness, charitable organisation support – and benches!

Locality Spending My Locality budget spending this year has covered such diverse grants as: new sessions for the New Horizons Lunch Club, a contribution to the Rural Coffee Caravan (which has volunteered to do sessions in parts of Woodbridge);  rent for Woodbridge premises for the head injury charity Headway; badges for all schoolchildren 16 and under in Woodbridge to commemorate the Queen’s 90th birthday; promotion and publicity materials for Woodbridge Community Circle;  support for Woodbridge Library’s reading scheme; support for the first Woodbridge Ambient Music Event; reading materials for Got to Read’s adult literacy scheme in Woodbridge; sessional funding for Suffolk Rape Crisis; in addition to a large £7000 grant to kickstart the rebuilding of the Woodbridge Youth Centre

 

More Conservative cuts for Suffolk’s JAMs

1200 people signed Caroline Page’s Woodbridge petition against budget cuts to Suffolk Library services in 10 days!

Suffolk  County Council have just voted in a further budget of cuts  – in which various Conservative councillors (the sixth age of Man  “In fair round belly with good capon lined“) stood up and explained portentously how these cuts were due  to their prudence,  and concern for the welfare of the people of Suffolk, hem hem.

So no mention at all  that these cuts could have been mitigated if
the very same Conservative councillors hadn’t foolishly boasted that they could run  the country as efficiently as ever without raising the council tax  over the last seven years (or as Leader Colin Noble gleefully puts in his blog of 25 -03-2013 And even better news we have promised that if elected we will freeze the Council Tax for the whole of the next term. So that[‘s] 0%, 0%, 0%, 0%, 0%, 0%, 0%! ”  -a  simple explanation for the truly appalling state of Suffolk roads, social care, and community transport services etc. over the last few years!

The current situation could also have been mitigated IF the same Conservative administration had actually spent their entire committed budget every year, instead of squirrelling away an annual seemingly planned  spending shortfall of £10m, on top of their reserves. Some cuts they have made therefore – the cuts to library budget, for example – seem to be cuts that they made by choice. Because – again, I quote Colin Noble’s blog *:

I do not know what planet Councillor Noble is living on – or who the people are he thinks he represents! Clearly not library users.

Amongst the many cuts to this year’s budget,  Suffolk Conservatives proposed a further £230,000 cut to the library service budget . Concerning because since they became IPSs,  our libraries have been well used – and used  for so many purposes –  by readers, reading groups, writing groups, clubs; for old, for young, for retired, employed, unemployed and first job seekers; for AGMs, poetry readings, play performances,  and the ever-popular  reading challenge. I hold my monthly surgery  in Woodbridge Library because it is such a community hub.

As Woodbridge  county councillor I vehemently oppose these cuts to library services. My party opposes these cuts. The residents I have spoken to locally, regardless of age, background, or political affiliation, have opposed these  cuts. Investing in the immense range of things our libraries do so well and  so cheaply is building social capital that benefits Suffolk in a huge range of ways.

In my view it is simple madness to damage it or throw it away.

Yesterday the Labour party presented an amendment to the Conservatives’ budget, overturning the cuts and suggesting over £15m of expenditure from reserves to replace some of the damage Cllr Noble’s administration has done over the last years.

As the meeting , I presented a petition of 1200 local residents’ signatures gathered over the last week in  Woodbridge   and spoke as follows:

I am supporting the Labour amendment, not because I agree with all of it, but because we need to make a stand for the communities we represent against what has clearly become a culture of cuts in the name of ideology, covered thinly with the cloak of Austerity.

A few years ago the administration opposite were trumpeting the virtues of the New Strategic Direction ‘s ‘virtual council’  – now in our Chief Finance Officer’s report , “the county is committed to being a smaller and ever-more-effective Council with a much greater emphasis on commissioning and much lower levels of direct service provision. “

Because it has worked so well – in  the case of Highways Procurement, for example?

Isn’t it time to replace ideology with some practical common sense?

The oldest signatory to the Woodbridge Save Suffolk Library Services petition

I am very  concerned on behalf of the people of Suffolk that the administration wants to be “a smaller council” “with a much greater emphasis on  commissioning”  because then they need not take responsibility for being less effective.  
The proposed Library budget cuts are comparatively small. And our libraries are an irreplaceable resource: they lend books, support study, provide a knowledge base, host clubs and hobby groups and foster new writing and literature and that’s just for starters. In the last ten days  on the streets of Woodbridge,  I managed to get 1200 signatures for this petition which says “We oppose any further reductions to the funding of Suffolk’s invaluable and irreplaceable library services, and urge Suffolk County Council not to make this cut. “ The people who signed were of all ages, backgrounds  and political affiliations – the eldest was 101.  The one thing they agreed on was that these cuts were unacceptable. Comments range from asking “Are you mad?” to “A brilliant community service”,”Shame on you!”Libraries are an integral part of our future and our history – knowledge is power”. Over and over again is repeated the fact that our libraries are ‘essential’ and that users want “No more cuts!”

So why cut? If  Suffolk has underspent by millions year on year (as both LibDems and Labour disclosed) we didn’t need to cut the library budget last year on the grounds of affordability – and we certainly should not have the brass neck  to cut it by a further quarter of a million this year . Suffolk Libraries are scooping up people failed by the employment, education, social care services, all on top of their – statutory, may I remind you –  remit to lend us books. Funding is cut to the bone –and STILL Suffolk’s administration proposes cuts.   And will no doubt wash their hands of the consequences,  like jesting Pilate.

I agree with many things in the Labour amendment – in an absolute requirement  for Suffolk to support public transport and education transport and to support those of all ages in  need of  help and care,  but if it were only to ensure that our wonderful libraries remain the admiration of the rest of the country – which they currently areI can have no option but to support this amendment!

Such eloquence, eh?  But still the prevailing Conservative vote was against common sense and common interest. I’m sorry, folks. We tried.

——————————————————————————–

*I have provided a screengrab for Cllr Noble’s blog because astonishingly enough one is unable to access it via a County Council computer. Should you try, you get the message

“Oops, it looks like this site isn’t categorised!
Uncategorised websites aren’t available as they may be unsafe.”

Strange but true !

What’s been happening in Suffolk – Feb 2014

This month we’ve heard that that Sizewell will be swapping waste with Dungeness – and that it will travel along the East Suffolk line; that Suffolk is at the bottom of the league for vulnerable adult abuse; that we have been automatically opted in to the sharing of our medical records – and that the council tax will once again be frozen (courtesy of the government’s Council Tax Freeze deal) but that – despite the deal –  we will be making cuts of more than £38million .

 

Sizewell Waste Disposal  Magnox  has published its preferred option for managing Intermediate Level Radioactive Waste (ILW) and Fuel Element Debris (FED) at its sites in England (including Sizewell A). Sizewells FED will be transferred to Dungeness, and the ILW from Dungeness will arrive for storage at Sizewell.

SCC Cabinet agrees that this is a ” sensible and pragmatic solution for disposing of Sizewell’s FED given the relatively small amount of FED arising at Sizewell and the fact that such materials are capable of being transported by rail.” The rail in question includes the East Suffolk line.

Cabinet also recommends that if Magnox and EDF can’t achieve a joint approach to storage of ILW, Magnox should consider options for managing ILW from Sizewell A that do not involve building a store at the site, most particularly as any proposal for the construction of an ILW store at Sizewell which provides for the importation of ILW from elsewhere would be contrary to P the Council’s adopted Waste Core Strategy

Ultimate disposal of this waste remains open-ended. Cabinet will insist on a package of Community Benefits “to reflect the fact that interim storage of waste at Sizewell is dependent on the provision of the national Geological Disposal Facility. “

Creation of a national disposal facility  continues to be as nebulous in form placing and timescale as it has always been – potentially further off than the 2040 planning assumption date used.Cabinet  sees the interim store as “ fulfilling a nationally important role in radioactive waste management over a long period.”

I do not know if I am the only person to be concerned by this? It seems to smack of Sir Humphrey’s IBD YBD.

GP data – opt out Everyone in Woodbridge will have received  about how the government is wishing to share   personal health data with a variety of ‘approved’ (but unspecified) organisations and researchers.

The leaflet says “If you are happy for your information to be shared “(or if you have thrown away the leaflet unread) “you do not need to do anything. There is no form to fill in and nothing to sign.”

In other words – you will have automatically opted into having your full medical history shared with whoever the government decides appropriate.

This being the case, it is very important that everybody should be made aware  that unless they opt out, they are sharing their entire health history linked – not to name –  but to their date of birth, full postcode, NHS number, and gender.

Suffolk at bottom of national rankings for adult abuse  Suffolk  has the second highest number of substantiated reports of vulnerable adult abuse in the country with 645 fully-substantiated and 315 partially-substantiated cases out of over 3,000 reports. Statistics from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, which were published last week, show a total of 3,015 referrals were made to Suffolk adult social care safeguarding teams in the 2012/13 financial year.

Suffolk ranked behind only Kent out of 152 local authorities.

The referrals cover such areas as the neglect of people’s health and well-being and physical or mental abuse. In Suffolk, 2,005 of the referrals were for women and 1,010 for men while nearly half related to adults with a physical disability.

Suffolk Healthwatch has described  the data  as “alarming’.

SCC Budget 2014-5  The 2014-5 budget was formally approved by Cabinet at the end of January and will now go to full council. It  will see £38.6m of spending cuts across most services. I will provide full details once these have been finally agreed.

Suffolk County council is once again taking advantage of central government’s council tax freeze deal – which provides central funding for all those councils NOT raising council tax this year. The same deal is/has been on offer for each of the five years of this government, and Suffolk has always taken advantage of it. When the SCC administration mention their  pledge to freeze council tax at its present level  – which they repeat with a great deal of empressement  every year –  no-one ever remembers to mention the tax freeze initiative . Which effectively pays them to freeze our council tax.  Just saying.

County Councillor’s Locality Budget I have funded a free skating rink to encourage local shopping in Woodbridge in mid -February.

County Councillor’s Surgery My surgery dates for the next few months are:  Saturday 15 February, and Saturday 19 April. There will be no surgery in March as I will be in China. Surgeries are at Woodbridge Library 10-12 as ever. All welcome

 

What’s happening in Suffolk March 2013

The last few weeks before the upcoming electoral moratorium – and a lot of things have been happening:  at home, underground cables are coming close to Woodbridge and destroying all the trees in its 55m wide path, Woodbridge Youth Centre has been saved and my Locality and Quality of Life budgets  have been spent.At county level  – the SCC 2013-14 budget is finalised and various cabinet decisions have been made. Scc has a new  candidate to take over Highways maintenance. 

 And finally – and most satisfactorily – the meat served in Suffolk schools has been found to be free of equine DNA .
In detail:

Next year’s SCC Budget   Suffolk County’s Full Council budget meeting took place on the 14th of February. As I mentioned last month, the administration’s budget aimed to cut £24.9m this financial year.  This included £7m from Adult and Community Services, and £2.5m from remodelling Children’s services.  The council’s reserves currently stand at £152m –  just under one third of the total budget.

The Liberal Democrat Group submitted an amendment to the budget aiming to improve services in a number of different areas. This would have been funded from the contingency reserve.

  • £650,000 to School Improvement Services – to employ additional advisors that go into schools to provide guidance to help schools improve their level of attainment, which drastically needs improving in Suffolk.
  • £475,000 for providing an additional 1900 days of supply work providing it is matched by school funds. This would allow time for teachers from well performing schools to partner with those who are not doing as well. This approach has been very successful in Hackney.
  • £300,000 to help Suffolk County Council commit to a pilot scheme that would increase the number of foster carers for the most vulnerable children in Suffolk.
  • £300,000 to respond to local community requests for 20mph zones in Suffolk towns and villages.

We believe would have helped to improve attainment in Suffolk, care for those vulnerable children and to improve the response to new speed limits, following the Cabinet Member’s disbanding of the speed management team at the County Council.

The school improvement budget has been cut substantially over the last few years and this has coincided with a dramatic fall in the performance of Suffolk schools, so we were very disappointed that our amendment was defeated.

School Meals in Suffolk   The catering provider to schools in Suffolk, EATS, has provided assurance that the meat provided in its schools does not contain any horsemeat.

The vast majority of meals provided for children in Suffolk schools, are created inhouse, and beef used by EATS is Red Tractor accredited.   The red tractor logo is a guarantee of both quality and origin.

Woodbridge Youth Centre  As you know I have been very anxious about  an unconfirmed threat of development of Woodbridge Youth Centre premises for a couple of years. 

Refer to my blog for full details but in short it turned out that this threat was genuine – and had extended as far as officers secretly deciding not to process our local youth club Just 42’s licence to occupy the premises – possibly in case it was necessary to give them speedy notice to quit!   This decision was not declared by officers.  This culture of secrecy also meant that plans and proposals were being discussed and taken forward as far as actual  physical paper plans for the development in question ( I have copies ) without any reference to the occupants, the users, the elected councillors at all levels and the people of Woodbridge as a whole.

I took my concerns to the most senior officer in SCC – Chief Executive Deborah Cadman, who investigated the matter. She assures me that officers will never in the future make decisions without involving local elected representatives to the full. We have been told that Woodbridge Youth Centre is now safe and that any discussion about its long-term future will involve all stakeholders, which jolly well includes our elected councillors.

My Woodbridge locality officer – in collaboration with Emma Smith of SCC – arranged the first  WYC stakeholders meeting last week – and I was delighted to see both Town and District council represented.

Speed restrictions  in Woodbridge   I  asked the following question at March 14th Full Council:

A 20-year longitudinal study of 20mph limits found that an extra 10mph off the current road limit reduced casualties by 42 percent, as well as reducing pollution, and promoting cycling, walking and local shopping. This is because only one in 40 pedestrians hit by a vehicle at 20mph die, compared to the figure of one in five when hit at 30mph

New guidance, issued by the Department of Transport, sets out the criteria for a reduction in speed limits which safety campaigns believe could reduce child pedestrian ksi  by as much as 70 per cent. The Government is urging councils to cut speed limits to 20mph in residential and  urban areas and built-up village streets. The guidance is expected to result in a significant national increase in the number of 20mph zones – as well as more rural 40mph zones. More than half of local councils are keeping up with the times in this respect:  reversing decades of policy which prioritised motor vehicles over the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.  Islington Council which has limited all of its managed roads to 20mph,  claims a 65 per cent fall in accidents in its 20mph areas.

Earlier this year, Suffolk County Council cabinet member for roads and transport disbanded the team that dealt with routine requests for speed limit extensions in the county and put a freeze on implementing new speed restriction zones on the grounds that  Suffolk already had enough speed restrictions in place, and following a review of A and B class roads, he was confident speed limits complied with the “most up to date guidance” from the Department for Transport.

As this is clearly no longer the case can he inform us what he is doing urgently to reverse this decision and give many Suffolk communities the opportunity they have asked for in vain – in Woodbridge’s case, since 2010

Locality Budget/Quality of Life budgets for Woodbridge  All my Locality budget money has been spent on a nice broad spread of local projects. To prevent any claw-back to SCC – which is what happens to any money uncommitted or returned  at the end of the electoral cycle – I have asked  the Locality Budget Officer to add any such into the Elmhurst Park funding.

And at least four of the QoL road schemes I have been working on over the last couple of years are all finally coming to fruition within this electoral cycle.These are,

  • new signage to prevent HGVs trying to get to the town centre via Angel Lane;
  • sighns and lines slowing traffic on Cemetery Lane;
  • calming Sandy Lane  with pedestrian and cyclist warning signs  at each end and at the railway bridge, and white edge markings throughout for pedestrians to walk behind. These would also give warning of the road edge at night which will be very useful, particularly to cyclists
  • more cycle racks – removing the three at Cafe Nero (which are expensive to match) up to Shire Hall, and putting five new matching ones down at Cafe Nero.

The only one that will not be at least started before the upcoming electoral moratorium is the new sign at the entrance to Cumberland Street from cross corner, forbidding all vehicles except bicycles.

February Cabinet decisions   The February Cabinet on the 26th, contained a number of significant issues for residents across the County.   Some of the issues that were discussed and agreed were;

  • East Anglia ONE Offshore windfarm – SCC’s  response to the consultation of this application which will see a significant section of the power cables from the windfarm come ashore and be buried underground travelling from Felixstowe to Bramford.  I have blogged on this http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2013/02/28/ea-one-offshore-windfarm-implications-for-deben-estuary-countryside/ and submitted a response suggesting amelioration, and querying why this plan has abandoned the original notion of putting the cabling UP the estuary.
  • Procurement of Highways Services –  after the debacle of their previous procurement of a preferred bidder, the Cabinet agreed to negotiate extensions to the current highways contract up to the 30th September, and proceed with awarding a new highways contract to the joint venture between May Gurney & WSP UK Ltd which will commence on the 1st of October.
    I asked them what would happen should this preferred bidder fall through, and they said this was ‘very unlikely’ – which is what they said when I asked them last time bout the first ‘preferred bidder’, Balfour Beattie.
  • bringing the Councils customer service function back into the Council (from CSD) as of May 2014.  This includes public access and Customer First functions.

Stowmarket and Stowupland SOR  SCC Cabinet made the decision on 26th of February to abolish the middle schools in Stowmarket and Stowupland. The Liberal Democrats attempted to get the decision called into the Scrutiny Committee as we felt the justification for making this decision was flawed.  We were particularly concerned about the lack of funding to provide top class schools in this area, as the plans will see a split site school created in Stowmarket.   We also highlighted the contrasting statistics provided by the Council and the campaign group to support opposing cases, as well as issues over safety.

The call in was rejected on the grounds that the Cabinet had all the required information to hand, which means the decision has now been approved.   The Lib Dem group are disappointed that an opportunity to look again at such a large issue to which so many parents and pupils feel passionately about has been refused.

This is particularly so when national governmental policy appears now to be turning in favour of a three-tier system again

What happens to your recycled items?   The Suffolk Waste Partnership has produced a very interesting document, which highlights what happens to the waste that we recycle here in Suffolk.   This PDF includes information about how many tonnes of waste are recycled in each category, where the waste ends up, and the fact that as a County we recycle 53.2% of our waste.  http://www.greensuffolk.org/assets/Recycling/Where-It-Goes/2011-12-End-Destination-Register-v5.pdf