Tag Archives: budget

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.

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*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