This month’s report is largely about various – very worrying – cuts and ‘divestments’ that the forthcoming SCC 2010-11 budget intends to legitimise. Specific reference to Libraries, Road Crossing Patrols, Bus Services (especially the 62a/b evening, Sunday and bank holiday service) and the young persons’ eXplore card, together with links to petitions to try and help save these.
SCC Budget 2011-12 – Update
The County Council is finally setting the budget at Full Council on the 17th of February. The total level of cuts for next year will be approximately £43m from across the authority; this is combined – as SCC is keen to point out – with a 0% increase in Council tax .
SCC does not mention that by electing not to raise council tax the council is eligible for a government grant of £7,200,000 – equivalent to them imposing a 2.5% rise! SCC would therefore have to raise its council tax by more than 2.5% to get any benefit from doing so.
As you will have seen in the news, the County is wishing to cut back a wide number of frontline services, including Libraries, Buses, the eXplore card.and School crossing patrols, all of which which I will discuss later.
Other areas that the Council intends to make savings include;
- selling off Country Parks and recreation areas
- The closure of seven Household Waste recycling centres – which are supposedly as yet to be decided (although I have been told that already some redundancy notices have been issued)
- Divestment or closure of Youth Clubs
- Stopping the subsidy for community meals
- Divesting the Fire Control Function to another service
- Ending the Healthy Schools programme
- Cease checking lorries to see if they are overloaded, and cease enforcement of environmental weight restrictions on County’s roads and bridges.
- Ceasing offering advice to Suffolk residents on consumer disputes where the law is complex..
The interesting point about this is that there are plenty of neighbouring county councils with a Conservative majority who have not needed to do this, preferring to salami-slice cuts equally across the whole council and consulting their population as to their preferences . Norfolk is a good example.
For more information, and to view the papers which highlight the level of capital spending planned by the authority for the upcoming year, please head to: http://apps2.suffolk.gov.uk/cgi-bin/committee_xml.cgi?p=detail&id=1_15073
Suffolk Libraries ‘Consultation’
As you have probably heard, the County Council is intending to divest, or close a significant number of the 44 Libraries around the County. They have divided these into ‘County’ and ‘Community’ libraries.
Woodbridge library is ’safe’: that is, it will remain one of the 15 ‘County Libraries‘ free from divestment – that is, unless someone really really wants to take it over. In which case it will be ‘divested.’. It will not, however, close.
The other 29 (now designated Community) libraries -including Wickham Market, Framlingham, Debenham, Kesgrave, Leiston, Oulton Broad and Southwold – are up for divestment – that is, being taken over by community groups. However SCC says: “If the response to this consultation is disappointing, and the county council does not receive viable proposals and ideas from people, groups, businesses and other interested parties for ways to run community libraries, we propose that funding will stop from 2012”.
As is becoming standard in these SCC consultations, ‘having your say’ on the future of Suffolk’s libraries doesn’t mean the administration allows you any opportunity to say their idea is bad, and you want no part of it.
This consultation only gives you a chance to explain your idea for running your divested library. For example, Question 4 is: “How will your idea or interest generate changes or significant efficiencies in the way the library operates to reduce what the county council pays by a minimum of 30%”.
The ‘consultation’ which is titled ”Have your Say on the Future of Suffolk’s Libraries” began on the 18th of January, and finishes on the 30th of April. You can find it on the home page of Suffolk County Council under the Consultation heading. http://www.suffolk.gov.uk.
You may feel like filling in the consultation document. You may, on the other hand feel like filling in one of the e-petitions that are proliferating on the Council’s new petition site: http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/. There is a petition asking that Woodbridge library remains undivested, and another one requesting that the Library Staff remain salaried.
Cuts and threats to Woodbridge Bus Services
The County Council is making very significant reductions in the passenger transport which enables commercial services to operate in non-peak time slots.
We had a shock announcement on Wednesday that our 62a and 62b services will go on 27 February. The announcement was made a day after Cllr McGregor had assured Cabinet that no decisions on cutting services would be made until after 17 February’s full council.
I’ve been copied a letter by Melton’s Cllr Butterwick, as I believe the Town Clerk also has. He suspects that such a cut without a 56day notification period is not even legal and has written to the Traffic Commissioner to ask his advice about it.
Suffolk County Council says it plans to ‘remodel’ much of local rural transport, by replacing services with a ‘demand-responsive’ alternative, booked a day in advance. However the council transport team (when questioned by me) admits that “demand responsive transport operates between 0700 and 1900 Monday to Saturday and we are unable to offer any extension to these hours”.
Therefore, when the 62a and 62b services close later this month, they will not be replaced with demand-responsive transport: they will be replaced with nothing at all. Residents in Woodbridge will have NO sustainable transport in the evenings, on Sundays and on Bank Holidays. Those residents who do not have, cannot afford to, or are unable to drive a car, will be stuck! This will have an impact on people from Ipswich to Wickham Market and Rendlesham.
I am deeply saddened about this cut because it represents a very retrogressive step in the history of our local bus service. It leaves those Woodbridge residents without a car with NO options for bus travel over, say, a bank holiday from about 6pm Saturday till about 7am the following Tuesday. This is a cut that will affect car drivers not a whit but will impact very heavily on those who don’t have a car, those who can’t afford a car, and those who are prevented by age or health from driving a car..
Other threatened services are
70, 70a. 118: Ipswich – Bealings – Woodbridge – Grundisburgh – Ipswich
71, 163, 173, IP179, IP512: Orford/Felixstowe – Woodbridge – Ipswich
We have not yet heard a word about their fate.
Luckily we were sufficiently anxious about the possibility of cuts to have set up an epetition to save Woodbridge buses a few days before the shock announcement about 62a/b… Can I continue to urge Town and District Councillors – who were so very helpful when we joined together to press for better bus services last spring – to join together again to try and overturn this cut? It will have huge implications for the people of Woodbridge.
Abolition of the SCC Explore card
SCC has also made another £1,700,000 cut to sustainable transport usage by abolishing the eXplore Card. Although the bus services in Suffolk have become extraordinarily expensive as well as patchy, up till now young people have had to help with their travelling to post-16 education, to work and to find work, and for socialising.
Explore cards were available free to students 16-19, and have enabled them to pay only half adult fares on buses and many off peak rail journeys. Poorer students have also had EMA.
As regards post-16 transport, the SCC post-16 transport policy relies on the fact that all post-16 students can have an Explore card to help with fares, and if their parents are poor, EMA too. This means that up to now transport to work and educational opportunities should be in the reach of all young people in Suffolk – and a very good thing that is too! This abolition means that there will be more cars on the road many, many more young people will be driven, or drive to school, college, employment etc , and will put more, less confident cyclists on busier roads, because they are forced into cycling before they are ready. It will lead to less take-up of FE education because of difficulties of access (especially to colleges and Suffolk ONE ) and less chance of going for job interviews and training.
SCC says they hope that individual bus companies might take a paid-for version of this card up for the future, but I believe First have rejected the idea. It will, anyway be of limited use unless all buses take it on the same terms. And one of the things SCC Transport has been constantly telling us in the past is that the bus companies have no desire to work together – this is the reason we never managed to get an integrated ticketing service.
Again, there will be a petition about this on the SCC site http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/Save-the-eXplore-card-
The End of SCC School Crossing Patrols
You will be aware of the huge amount of anger that has been generated in Suffolk by the Council’s decision to close all 98 School Crossing patrols to save £174,000. (In fact more like £125,000 as a number of vacancies exist which can’t be filled because of the current hiring freeze).. This includes the St Mary’s School crossing patrol.
School crossing patrols were formally recognised in Britain by the Schools Crossing Patrols Act of 1953. Lollipop people are one of only four agents entitled to stop traffic by law and are established at sites where children are in danger from road traffic when walking to and from school as assessed by national guidelines (established by the Local Authority Road Safety Officer’s Association and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents). Ten years ago the (then) Woodbridge Lollipop man, was knocked to the ground by an impatient driver while on patrol on Birkett Road, directly outside St Mary’s School. More recently, I had two near misses when cycling past the school at playgroup collection time last week.
I think it is fair to say that road has not got any safer in recent years.
The school, parents, PTA, and many others, including myself are anxious that this cut could have dreadful repercussions. I have asked SCC if they know what the council’s legal position would be if – heaven forbid – anyone was knocked down after the patrol has been withdrawn. I have, as yet, had no reply.
Again, there is a petition against this cut: http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/
Your Councillor’s Quality of Life and Locality budgets
On a more positive note, we heard at Cabinet that the County Councillors’ Quality of Life budget will be retained – though with less money. This is good news for Woodbridge. I hope this will allow me to undertake the Sandy Lane road traffic calming I had to postpone last year .
Of the three projects I have funded so far
- The Duke of York (ex-Seal) Crossing is proving immensely successful
- the (separate) 30mph LED sign for further down Ipswich Road is ordered and being constructed
- The final consultation for the TRO finished last month. From various communications from constituents, it would seem to be the first they had heard of it!
I do not yet know the fate of the Councillor’s Locality budget, but I hope that this will also be retained. I have recently made grants to establish a Graffiti wall up in Kyson, to buy a seat for people in Kingston Fields, to provide two bicycles for the Town pastors and a lawn mower for the Scouts to use to raise income and to buy Olympic-branded jute bags to advertise the Wood-Olympics next year.