Tag Archives: care

What the LibDems want for Suffolk

Over the last eight years the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council have made massive increases to care charges, whilst cutting many services. Schools, care homes, public transport and libraries have all suffered.  Costs have still increased and efficiency has stagnated. 

At the same time they have built up the County’s reserves to a massive £150m – a THIRD of their annual budget –  stashing our cash despite historically low interest rates and falling confidence in the banking sector.

The Lib Dems say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH – Suffolk deserves better! We want to:

1.       Bring back Quality Education    Eight years ago, Suffolk had an enviable education system.  After eight years of Tory mismanagement the County is almost bottom of the English league table.

2.       Offer appropriate Care provision  for all who need it  ‘Care’ has been the Cinderella service of this Tory council

3.       Recognise transport  as a human right  Neither Labour nor Tory party has demonstrated  active support for the public transport network – particularly in rural areas.  Yet reliable travel  is essential for work, health, socialising and education.

4.       More and better-focused environmental action ‘Greenest County?  What a lot of Greenwash! The Tories have Talked the Talk – but don’t Walk the Walk. (And they are only seen near a cycle if its a photo-opportunity)

5.       Safety for all our Library service   Under the Tories the situation of Suffolk Libraries has been perilous.

6.       Create a thriving local economy More and more local businesses are feeling the crunch – or even closing.  Our high streets  are becoming less vibrant. The Tories have failed to drive economic development and oppose much of the green economy

7.       More streamlined services Under the Tories services have been “externalised” and service efficiency has stagnated – yet contract management has been woefully inadequate

So, not a big ask, surely? But the Tories haven’t managed it!

Details of what we intend are can be found on my Suffolk Liberal Democrat County Council policy page or on the Suffolk County Council Lib Dem site

Suffolk Circle – paying to be neighbourly!

As my neighbours will corroborate, if they need help, I am very happy to offer it – and if I need any, I go running to them. No money changes hands. Its about neighbourliness and a sense of community. This isn’t a purely Woodbridge characteristic – good neighbours can be found up and down the length and breadth of Suffolk and elsewhere.  Yet yesterday Suffolk County councillors   looked  at Suffolk Circle which is  a “Pay-for-good-neighbour” scheme funded two years ago by SCC to the tune of £680,000.

(I have blogged querying the basis of  this decision in both February and July 2011)

Suffolk Circle was based on a Good Neighbour scheme  that had recently started  in inner-city Southwark and had -apparently – been mentioned enthusiastically once by David Cameron.  The declared intention was to save money by building sustainable support for the increasing numbers of ‘frail elderly’ in Suffolk and thus saving money longterm.

In order to be part of the Suffolk Circle you must pay an annual membership fee (currently £30pa).  In order to use one of the helpers (for maintenance, TV, gardening etc.), or attend one of the priced events, members must buy half-hour tokens for £6 each.

This scrutiny gave everyone – that is, all non-Cabinet councillors as well as the public –  first sight of the confidential paper provided to Cabinet on the 25th of May 2010 on which Cabinet unilaterally made the controversial decision to fund the programme. This made interesting reading. (Full details here.)

Although the social enterprise could provide evidence of some satisfied users, the taxpayer would find almost all details disturbing:

  • Suffolk Circle was presented to the people of Suffolk as long-term assistance to the council’s social care budget by helping support the vulnerable elderly. However, the social enterprise assumes ‘the elderly’ start at 50 – thus including over a third of Suffolk’s population (and the vast majority of SCC councillors)!  If Suffolk Circle wait for every 50 year old to become frail and elderly they are likely to be waiting 35 years. This is a ludicrously long-term solution!
  • Suffolk Circle missed its first year membership target by over 10% – only getting 362 of 404 target members. This was itself an unbelievable modest target  for £350,000 : 363 people make up 0.16% of Suffolk’s over-50s.
  • Suffolk Circle’s target membership for next year is to achieve 1630 members, and 3500 at the end of the funded three years. This will have cost the Suffolk taxpayer just under £700,000 and ‘reached’ 1.6 % of Suffolk’s over-50s – with no guarantee that many of these would be ‘frail elderly’! And this is assuming that nobody who has joined has ever left.
  • Suffolk Circle now charges £30 per year for membership, although the original financial plan was to charge between £30 and £75 per quarter. Despite this radical shift, we could glean no information as to how this might alter the financial viability of the project.
  • At £6 per half-hour, the tokens are twice the cost of employing someone at minimum wage and the ‘helper’ is given one token for an hour’s work. The rest goes to Suffolk Circle. Outing/ social events cost a lot more than  one token (the last one in April was a cookery course costing £36 a hed) – and instead of offering a discount for theatre outings etc, we were told Suffolk Circle members actually seem to pay a premium. That is, it costs the member more than it would cost the man or woman in the street
    How could this price structure meld with the vulnerable elderly with £107 pw pension? Suffolk Circle told us they hoped to ‘get in’ on ‘Personal Budgets’. I must tell them, it didn’t have a good sound.
  • No account seems to have been taken  (either by the Cabinet who agreed this expenditure, or Suffolk Circle, who proposed it ) of the huge number of existing interest groups and services for the Over-50s AND for the ‘frail elderly’  that were already available in Suffolk.  Locally this includes: Church groups, Suffolk Carers, Royal British Legion, WI, English Country Markets, Library groups, amateur dramatics and plat readings, Good Neighbour Groups, Tea dances, Ramblers, Age UK (including their telephone befriending scheme), Wickham Market Family Carers Support Group, political parties, WRVS, lunch groups, charity work, NADFAS, WAMRAG, and groups for those interested in art, photography, music, opera, ballet, the theatre – to name but a few
  • When questioned about this, spokespeople ( I would hate to call them apologists) for Suffolk Circle, told the committee that Suffolk Circle was still “learning.”  You’d think this was part of the research and scoping SCC paid them £100,000 for  in the year before the enterprise started!

It would seem to me that this dubiously useful project is a prime example of how Suffolk County Council’s undemocratic Cabinet system is failing the taxpayer.  It allowed a few – seemingly mathematically challenged councillors –  to make an effectively unilateral decision that is costing council tax-payers of Suffolk the best part of a million pounds. And without providing any demonstrable benefit to the vulnerable elderly of Suffolk  it was supposedly set up to help. Yet in these straitened times,  the frail elderly need and will increasingly need all the help they can get.

When money is so tight this is a disgraceful example of putting the ideology of private enterprise above the common-sense of making limited resources stretch as far as possible.

And what could possibly have been the rationale? The Conservatives have been heard to say that £680,000  is “really not very much money”. They need to remember that it is is a fortune to people living unsupported and friendless on £107 a week!

Whats happening in SCC – March

This last month at the county council   Cabinet decide to ‘remodel’ Adult and Community services – and seem once again to be relying on that good old standby – the volunteer – to sort out the inevitable gap in provision. Truly extraordinary that a mindset  that blandly declares that  ‘ you have to pay to get the best,’  and  ‘there is no such thing as society’ is also the one that is so keen to rely on others’ free labour and ‘the community’  for the really important things in life (like caring for the elderly and running public libraries).
This month too SCC started looking at the  proposed Suffolk Heritage organisation, which is set be run by the Museum of East Anglian Life  for the compelling reason that ‘they were the only organisation to tender for it’. Thank goodness it was a museum, eh? 

Remodelling of Adult and Community Services    At their last meeting,  SCC’s Cabinet decided to remodel Adult and Community Services in Suffolk.  They propose  that ‘the community’ will increase its dealings with  ’smaller’ care-related issues, while the County picks up cases needing ‘ more permanent care solutions’.  The proposals will now go out to consultation. There is as yet  little information as to how this  shakeup will affect communities, carers and those in care.

Apparently the SCC is running a trial in Felixstowe from 1st of April. 

Points of concern:

  • In the risk implications it states that “ACS has to deliver budget savings of £24m over 2012/13 and 2013/14, of  which £3.7m has to be delivered by 13/14 by reducing demand” Is this actually achievable?  The new plan is to to be fully rolled out across the County over the course of this year – yet SCC have only just started to consult. Is this possible?
  • An impact assessment  has already been undertaken –  yet it is too early to assess the impact of the model.
  • Is this another case where the administration intends to rely on volunteers to solve all the problems of  ‘smaller’ care-related issues? SCC seems to forget that the bulk of care is already undertaken by voluntary carers – the family carers (such as myself) who underpin the whole of social care by working upaid for 168 hours a week out of love. Working 24/7 as it is,  SCC needs to recognise that will not be possible to get them to work any more.

Consultation on the proposed Suffolk Heritage organisation. Many of the responses of the consultation concerning  the new heritage organisation were from members of the public,  however, a number of organisations also took the opportunity to respond. Many of  these had a number of concerns.

In particular, English Heritage stated that the proposals are not developed enough to enable a proper response, plus they raised many questions about how it might operate. They add  ‘It is worth noting that other authorities in the East of England have considered outsourcing archaeological services into a variety of trusts, and have not done so after further due diligence’.

Suffolk Institute of Archaeology provided a four page letter summarising their main points of concern about the proposal (finishing, rather glumly, by saying that ‘SCC is almost certainly going to proceed with the creation of the Suffolk Heritage Trust, so that, whatever individual views might be, outright opposition is likely to be futile and counter-productive’).  Their main concerns were:

  • SCC has not yet explored all the available options
  • In view of the number of serious questions that had been raised, the Suffolk Institute had serious doubts that a comprehensive and convincing full business case could be put together in time for approval in Spring 2012.  The process should not be rushed or avoidable mistakes will certainly be made.
  • SCC should not proceed with the Trust proposal unless it is prepared to ensure that the new organisation has adequate funding.

Suffolk Local History Council were very concerned about the viability of these proposals – ‘Suffolk is almost alone in seeking to cope with Government cuts by divesting itself of vital services (an approach rejected by Norfolk County Council and others)”.  

It is also far from clear as to what will happen if the  heritage lottery grant which SCC seems to be relying on doesn’t materialise. The people of Suffolk have not been given a plan B.

New CareAware Service in Suffolk Suffolk County Council have recently launched CareAware, a service which looks to help those people seeking financial information about how to fund long term care.  This service is not run by Suffolk County Council but a national not-for-profit organisation which offers free and impartial information and advice about later life planning and how to pay for longer term care.

 CareAware can be contacted on 08009540091 or emailed at suffolk@careaware.co.uk

One month left to sign up for better broadband   There is only one month left for both residents and businesses to show their need for better broadband across the County before the deadline passes. The Council aims to get 10,000 residents or businesses to sign up, and you can sign up by heading to http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/broadband 

Mobility vehicles  As there is some confusion in Woodbridge and other local areas as to what rules govern mobility vehicles, where they are allowed and under what (if any restrictions) I have covered the subject very thoroughly on my blog -link here 

Just 42 I’m sure everyone in Woodbridge will be as pleased as I was to discover that our superb local  youth group was shortlisted for the High Sheriff’s Community Group of the Year award, and went on to receive a High Sheriff’s charity  grant at a ceremony in Bury St Edmunds cathedral last week. It is good so see their good work being recognised!

County Councillor surgery  My monthly surgery will take place on  Saturday 17th March, 10-12pm at Woodbridge Library

Street lighting: Just to remind everyone, the dimming/switching off of night lighting in Woodbridge will take place in the week beginning 26th March. Further finetuning can be then done on a light by light basis, so do please contact with any difficulties and report problem areas – if there are any!