Tag Archives: budget

Whats happening, Woodbridge, August/September 2018

SCC predicts financial shortfall  Last week, SCC admitted that it is not managing to control spending against the budget agreed by councillors in February 2018. Projections show the council will overspend by £8.6 million this financial year unless it is successful in reducing costs and making savings between now and 31 March 2019. This would mean that the council would have to dip into its reserves to balance the books.

We are told that rising demand for services and increased costs in Children and Young People’s Services account for almost £5 million of the projected overspend. This includes services for looked-after children, specialist social care for children and home-to-school transport. It is hard to see how any further savings can be made in statutory responsibilities.

There are also smaller, but significant, overspends in other council departments, including Adult Care and Corporate Services. Staff have been told by the new CEO that while SCC is committed to the pay and reward agreement agreed in April, it is currently at risk unless creative ways can be found to save money.

Woodbridge Cyclists were among hundreds cross county to support the motion

SCC agrees costed five-year cycling plan – but not ringfenced money!  At the Suffolk County Council full council meeting on 19 July, I seconded two motions asking for a commitment to investing in Suffolk’s cycling infrastructure.

The first motion asked the council to set up a cross-party group tasked with drawing up a costed five-year cycling plan, whilst the second motion asked the council to commit to ring-fencing at least 5% of its annual Integrated Transport Block for cycling infrastructure. In total 896 emails were sent from residents to councillors in support of this motion – which is apparently a phenomenal amount for a local authority area! (To put it in perspective, In Warwickshire, with a similar motion, 420 emails were sent). There were, unsurprisingly a significant number from Woodbridge.

Whilst there was unanimous support for motion 1, the administration would not support a commitment of funding for cycling infrastructure, and so unfortunately motion 2 was rejected.

Although the two motions were voted on separately, they are intrinsically linked: without a minor commitment of council funding, any future bids to the Department for Transport are likely to be unsuccessful. This has been the case for the past seven years, during which Suffolk has missed out on five opportunities to receive funding for cycling from the DfT. Currently, SCC spends approximately 10% of its Integrated Transport Block on cycling infrastructure, so the motion was not asking for additional money – just a firm commitment that a minimal level of funding would be available each year.

We are awaiting further information regarding the cross-party group that will draw up a cycling plan, and will keep you updated as this progresses.

Additional £6m borrowed to improve recycling centres  Suffolk’s administration has decided to borrow an additional £6m to fund improvement works for four of Suffolk’s recycling centres. The priority works are to:
• Deliver urgent improvements to the Foxhall (estimated cost £3 million) and Haverhill (estimated cost £1 million) recycling centres; and
• Secure sites for replacement recycling centres for Ipswich (estimated cost £1 million) and Stowmarket (estimated cost £1 million).

I have had contact from various residents unhappy with operations at the Foxhall site. My group has highlighted to the cabinet member responsible for waste services the importance of working with local councillors and residents when attempting to improve recycling centres.

Melton Hill ‘Cheesewedge’ development withdrawn, resubmitted  After my blog piece of 24 July articulating the benefit to the proposed erstwhile SCDC Melton Hill developer of replacing affordable housing with comparatively nugatory commutated payments – they withdrew their application to develop the site. It was swiftly replaced with another proposal , reducing affordable housing units from 33 to 15 on the spurious grounds of Vacant Building Credit. As you know, I spoke against this at the Woodbridge TC planning committee meeting of 4 Sept, and have written to the District articulating my concerns (attached). I would advise all interested individuals to do the same.

“Staying Close” scheme launched to support Suffolk care leavers  Suffolk County Council have been awarded funding by the Department of Education for a three-year pilot scheme to support young people leaving care in Suffolk. The “Staying Close” scheme intends to young people to start planning for independent living with the assistance and support of residential care workers from the age of 15.

Up till now, planning has often been left until close to the time a young person is due to move out, causing anxiety and distress. Early intervention and detailed planning from a younger age should help to alleviate this. Young people will then also continue to receive emotional and practical support from their children’s home and residential workers after they have moved out and started living independently.

The pilot scheme is being delivered in partnership with The Ryes Children’s Home in Sudbury, to test how this move-on care can be provided for young people who want to remain living close to their home.

Reduction in recycling rates harm “Greenest County” ambitions Recycling rates in Suffolk have dropped over the past 4 years, from 51% in 2013 to just 47% in 2017. Meanwhile, over 50% of waste in Suffolk is incinerated – much higher than the national average of 38%.

Although incineration may be a better option than landfill, it is still less environmentally-friendly than other methods of waste disposal. Furthermore, there are concerns that the level of harmful particles released by incinerators could pose a serious threat to public health.

The Suffolk Waste Partnership, as part of the Greenest County Partnership, set a target of recycling at least 60% of municipal waste by 2020. These latest figures suggest we are moving further away from this target. If Suffolk County Council truly wants Suffolk to be the “greenest county”, we need to start focusing on environmentally-friendly methods of waste disposal and ways to increase recycling levels in the county.

Jetty Lane Planning Application submitted The planning application for Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts Centre has been submitted successfully. Community consultation takes place until 17 September.

It is not listed as Jetty Lane, but as,
DC/18/3456/FUL | Ground, Mezzanine and First floor Community centre and carparking. (Including accommodation for Art Studios / Art Exhibition Hall (Kingston Hall), Scout facilities (scout hall- Deben Hall and ancillary accommodation, Co-working office

It is not listed as Jetty Lane, but as,
DC/18/3456/FUL | Ground, Mezzanine and First floor Community centre and carparking. (Including accommodation for Art Studios / Art Exhibition Hall (Kingston Hall), Scout facilities (scout hall- Deben Hall and ancillary accommodation, Co-working office accommodation on the upper floor to generate revenue to sustain the other facilities offered to the community. Carparking, Vehicle crossover (existing location) | Woodbridge Community Resource Youth Centre The Avenue Woodbridge Suffolk

Please support this application and encourage others to do the same before 17 September, either via the district planning portal https://publicaccess.eastsuffolk.gov.uk/online-applications/ (and search for DC/18/3456/FUL)
Or by emailing comments directly to d.c.admin@eastsuffolk.gov.uk making sure DC/18/3456/FUL is in the subject line

Appendix:   My Letter to Suffolk Coastal re latest Melton Hill Development Application

Continue reading Whats happening, Woodbridge, August/September 2018

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