Tag Archives: Caroline Page

Epilepsy – the Biter Bit!

Ok, now here is Irony.

It was only last Tuesday I was updating the Epilepsy in Suffolk page of this blog. I was waxing indignant about all those movers and shakers out there who can’t bring themselves to admit publicly to their epilepsy. Those who won’t act as role-models to others with the condition. Those, who by protecting what they see as their own ’employability’, damage the employment prospects of others with the same condition by helping build up public perceptions of what epilepsy might mean and can entail.

Disappointing, I called it.

And in my heart of hearts, cowardly.

How Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, the Fates, must have been rubbing their wrinkly old hands.

Because…

…the very next evening…

…having felt a little strange all day…

…I had my first-ever bona fide, all-the-trimmings, tonic-clonic seizure –  in the ketchup department of Tescos – and was blue-lighted off to Ipswich hospital, blood-boltered and incoherent.

That’ll teach me!

Now, I don’t know whether I am going to be lucky and one of the 1 in 20 who have a single seizure some time in their lives, or one of the less lucky 1 in 131 who have more complex epilepsy.

What I do know is that I was bright as a button and sharp as a needle before the seizure and am no different now. And let no-one dare suggest otherwise.

Stand up and be counted?

You bet!

Explore travel card – Resurgam?

Ok, so guess what. The Explore card cut DID make an appearance at yesterday’s SCC scrutiny of NEET (young people Not In Education, Employment  or Training ).

Not, you understand,  that the Explore card was officially scheduled in, nor indeed was any witness called who was thought to know of , or wished to talk about, the Explore card.  Although Explore card  petitioners had asked  for information about this scrutiny  meeting and I had contacted the committee officer offering to provide evidence, we’d been greeted with silence.

Less than 24 hours before the meeting, petitioner Patrick Gillard  finally heard back  from Mark Bee:

The discussion between Cllr McGregor and myself with you, outside the Chambers included an explanation of the situation we are in and issues that had been experienced by students with the Post 16 discretionary scheme process for the half term only.  As part of this discussion, it was agreed that the issue with the process would be looked into and that the other issues would be forwarded to the next Scrutiny meeting.

Suffolk County Council procedures in respect of petitions says that any petitions should be presented and formally received, there is no further detail given on what should happen however it is recognised that this is an area that needs further clarity and this will be reviewed for the future.

The Scrutiny meeting on Tuesday 14th June 2011 is a public meeting which you are welcome to attend, if you would like to opportunity to speak this will need to be approved by the Chairman…. There will be an opportunity for the Committee to consider scrutiny of the impact on young people of the removal of the Explore card as part of item 5 – Young People not in Education, Employment or Training (NEETs) (16-24yrs) in Suffolk.

Less than 24 hours notice – yet Mr Gillard, and the young members of Woodbridge’s Just 42 broke engagements, cancelled college  and turned up. What commitment!

And just as well Patrick Gillard had managed to get last-minute permission to speak (and that I  happened to be substituting on the Scrutiny committee)   – because that meeting had somehow been arranged to talk about every aspect of young people’s deprivation EXCEPT TRANSPORT, though the witness from Suffolk Young Carers  did dwell upon the effects of explore card cut.  Otherwise, a group of (largely) town dwellers and car owners talked as if  all the young Suffolk NEETs had no greater problems of transport than  they did themselves!

Fortunately we managed to make the point sufficiently forcibly for the excellent new  Committee Chairman (Colin Hart)  to direct a Scrutiny Tast and Finish group to look at the problem and report back.  This was helped by a surprisingly receptive response to the cuts from Guy McGregor.

This is wonderful! SCC made no equality impact assessment before embarking on this cut -which  is the reason they appeared to have  no idea of how badly it would affect young people. Neither did they engage in any form of consultation whatsoever – which  is why they have been stating that  there were no options between cutting and not cutting the card. This is far from the case. All it has ever needed as a bit  less silo mentality from the departments and some divergent thinking.

Cllr McGregor has suggested one way forward (funding drawn from the EMA replacement subsidy).  I feel there may well be several  others – for example reducing the Explore card from an age 5-19 card  to one for post-16 only, or suggesting an annual parental subscription.

One thing is certain – after this meeting I feel confident that, if SCC finally provides the will , they will be able to find a way.

A petition that won’t lie down: democracy and post-16 travel cards

Last week Suffolk’s  ‘Save the  eXplore Card’ petition earned the right to be discussed at full Council – having received over 6,000 signatures.   (To remind you: this  young person’s travel card, a brainchild of SCC’s last Lib-Lab Coalition, has been cut halfway through this academic year without any form of consultation or risk assessment by Suffolk County Council.)

Unfortunately, it turned out that SCC – having set up their e-petition site as a legal requirement – had not thought at all about what should happen after an e-petition had reached 3675 signatures  and was discussed at full council – as is required by the SCC constitution .

From the first there was great confusion.

The originator (Patrick Gillard)  found that his petition had not been acknowledged:  it still registers as ‘failed to achieve the requisite number of signatures’ on the epetition site.  SCC had not invited him to speak as he asked (and was his constitutional right). When he insisted on speaking, another speaker (Greer Hill, Otley College) was un-invited by SCC. After pressure from myself and Kathy Pollard, both speakers were finally allowed their 5 minutes  – but this left only 10 minutes for discussion.  SCC offered no explanation for this.  This was a grave discourtesy to the speakers and to all those thousands of petitioners  they represented.

Although this  petition was heard in the middle of GCSE, A.A/S and college exams, it was handed to Transport Portfolioholder Guy McGregor by a very large group of  Just 42 youth club members, other young people,  MYPs, councillors, and representatives of schools and colleges. These were eager to  explain their anxieties. Cllr McGregor’s  response was his old traditional theme “you can only spend a pound once.” He did not explain why he had failed to consult on this cut or explored alternative options. No explanation of this has ever been forthcoming!

At this point it turned out that two teenage members of Woodbridge’s Just 42  youth club , who had scheduled a public question, had not had this question acknowledged at all by SCC. I had to  go to great pains to get their  right to speak agreed  and it was only very few minutes before the debate that it was confirmed. This was another grave discourtesy – in this case,  to the youngest public questioners ever to address the council!

During the meeting, SCC’s new Leader Mark Bee spoke about a new era based on the principles of  Listening; Openness/ transparency; and Practical, common sense solutions to problems.  Although he mentioned other cuts,  he never directly mentioned the Explore card. The resounding silence of SCC’s administration re this cut and the lack of any consultation is one of the great mysteries of this year.

After the petitioners had spoken, Councillors from all parties had the opportunity to speak briefly before  the portfolio holder replied.  (my speech below). Cllr McGregor did not repoond to these concerns raised but merely re- asserted that  the cut was necessary.

At this point it became clear that no-one had any idea as to what was to happen nextClearly ending the process undemocratically, without a vote,  by means of a response from the very person who had organised, agreed and implemented the cut made the whole epetition process completely futile. After a heated exchange in the chamber, a  short recess was announced. During this  Mark Bee and Guy McGregor spoke directly to the young people from Just 42 and  promised that the problems of their particular cut would go  before scrutiny. This was however, outside the chamber, and remains unminuted.

The strength of the young people’s clear, polite and determined  objections made it clear to the administration at this point – if not before – quite how much people care about  this cut . These young people were not coming here to observe democracy: they were coming to take part!

Three  things are clear –

  • the Explore card may be dead but it ain’t lying down;
  • SCC MUST tell the petitioners officially  now, exactly what is to happen next
    – and finally;
  • SCC’s procedure for dealing with e-petitions MUST be defined before the next council meeting in order to prevent this a repeat of Thursday’s shambles and to ensure these petitions to perform the constitutional function for which they were created.

My speech on the Explore card 26 May 2011

We’ve heard first hand – from the thousands of responses to the petition, from those  addressed us – most of all from individual young people in our divisions – that this cut was a bad idea – a short term fix  that didn’t consider the future.

There was no impact assessment for this cut –made  halfway through the educational year. Instead SCC boxticker noted  blandly that

There may be an adverse impact to the 15-19 age group – but there was  no need for an impact assessment  as it is a discretionary activity and has been identified as a budget saving proposal

In other words – it will have an impact but we don’t care!

Rather like saying I’ll  pay my council tax because I have to  but  I won’t pay into a pension because I’m feeling poor. The explore card expenditure is not just money paid out – it is money invested in the future  it  IS our pension plan – The young people of Suffolk – future builders, magistrates, nurses, shopkeepers, entrepreneurs, firemen, soldiers, carers, taxpayers – are our future and we will be relying on them in the years to come. It is in our interests to support them now so we can get the best out of them when we need them later on.

The administration tell us that we can’t afford it and that home-to-school transport cuts are  ameliorated by help with post-16 discretionary passes, and tempering the Catholic transport decision.

This is a red herring.

The Explore card is the most important home-to-school pass we had because it was such excellent value for money – giving halfprice travel at all times to all places to all young people at a total cost to the council of less than £30 a year for each of its 55,000 users!

Where a discretionary pass  gives one school day, school hour  journey each way at the cost of £150 a term to the parent and a lot more to the council, the explore card  was much more flexible- used by those studying in the evening or  multi-site, by those  wanting to attend a distant college because the local school didn’t run the course,, those on training courses outside the scope of Suffolk’s transport policy, starting a first time job or going to job interviews to find one. Those who want to go out safely in the evening, without worry about road conditions and ability to drive. Those who we don’t want to hang about the bus stop because they can’t afford to get on a bus. All  this for £30 a head.

Colleagues, we can afford this investment in our future. I won’t remind you of some of the recent headlines on SCC expenditure  but  we all know that it is not as simple as “can’t pay wont pay” . Even in a time of cuts there’s a large element of what we choose to pay for. Suffolk is poor but resilient – we’ve enough in the reserves to pay to reverse  this decision and continue investing this  £30 a head in the future of these young people and our county.

Post-16 Explore card back in front of council – 26 May

Good  news:  we have got Suffolk County Council to accept the Save the Explore Card petition and agree to debate the Explore card cut again at their annual meeting starting at 2pm on 26 May at Endeavour House in Ipswich.

THIS IS A PUBLIC MEETING. Any member of the public can attend. This means YOU.

This news doesn’t mean the card has been saved but it does give us another chance to tell the council how badly this cut is affecting so many young people in Suffolk.  

When people stand up and make a fuss there is a much better chance of them listening.
If they listen, there is a chance they may vote to restore the card.

Shortly before the meeting,  the petition will be presented officially to the Suffolk County Cabinet members responsible.

• Can YOU be there too? The more people who are there in person, the more it will show what the impact has been

In the meantime, can you please email statements, saying simply how the cut is affecting you and your family. Basically it is harder for councillors to ignore a statement saying “I cannot do … (whatever) …. because of you cutting the Explore card.”  

If you give the name of the town you live in, we can pass on your comment to your own councillor, before they vote!”

There is a facebook link to this event:

Town Council Report April 2011

This is my last council report before the Woodbridge Town elections – and there are a number of very contentious issues to tell you about as Suffolk County Council suffers some form of melt-down with the departure of very senior executives and mixed messages regarding their initiatives abounding.

Changes

The County Council has recently seen several high profile changes. Firstly the County’s Monitoring Officer, Eric Whitfield, left the organisation suddenly and at 24 hours notice for personal reasons.  SCC’s Interim Head of Legal Services, David White was appointed Interim Monitoring officer. Tragically David died a few days later. I am sure all our sympathies are with his poor family  at this time.

Secondly, Graham Dixon, the Director of Resource Management also left the organisation to pursue other interests. He left on the same day and at the same notice as Eric Whitfield.  Andrea Hill has indicated she will now take up the role of Director of Resource Management.

Finally, Cllr Jeremy Pembroke has decided to retire as County Council leader and will also step down at a Councillor at the next election.  Cllr Pembroke has been a Councillor for a total of 8 years, and leader of the authority for 6.  The next leader will be chosen at the Conservative Group meeting on the 18th of April. Currently the contenders are Cllrs Colin Noble, Mark Bee and Guy McGregor.

March Full Council

Suffolk County Council held a Full Council meeting on the 17th March. The most notable item was an update to the New Strategic Direction (NSD) which recommended that the County should seek to have wider ‘conversations’ with communities across Suffolk.  The paper suggested that rather than focusing on individual services to be provided in the community, the Council should look to see what group of services local areas would ‘like’ to take on.  I spoke on the unintelligibility of this entire paper, quoting George Orwell to suggest that: “what looks like an unclear expression of a clear thought might actually be a perfectly clear expression of an unclear thought.”  Despite considerable opposition from the opposition, the report was voted through by the administration.

A motion put forward by the Greens recommended a referendum to gauge the public’s viewpoint on the New Strategic Direction.  It  was defeated due to the cost of holding such a referendum. An amendment which would have seen the referendum become internet-only,was also defeated as it would have provided accessibility issues for all those without a computer.

This NSD update being voted through affects all of the following issues:

Trying to restore the Explore card

Because the SCC administration accepted the NSD update, the Suffolk Explore card was abolished on the 1 April – halfway through the school and college year – causing considerable distress to a large number of young people. The Explore card gave half price bus and rail travel to  young people beyond the age of statutory education (eg 16-19). The long-term implications of this are immense.

Monday’s Evening Star covered the subject in a high profile article

The Save the Explore card e-petition on the Suffolk CC site needs only another 900 signatures before the decision can go back to full Council. Please please sign this and get everyone you know to sign it –  the long-term impact of this decision will be likely to affect everyone in Suffolk. http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/Save-the-eXplore-card-

‘Your Place’ and Woodbridge

Because the SCC administration accepted the NSD update,  the “Your Place” initiative is in place.  We are lucky have the two SCC officers who have volunteered to assist me in the SCC ‘Your Place’ initiative: David Chenery and Jo Cowell.

For those who don’t know, ‘Your Place’ is the New Strategic Direction’s Localism concept seen as returning decision-making to individual areas rather than the council as a whole.

In actuality it appears to mean that huge savings can be made at County Council level by ensuring that elected county councillors involve themselves in a lot of ‘business development’ work that was previously done by paid employees of the Council, on top of their not inconsiderable work-load.

The flaw in this plan is that if your county councillor doesn’t try to do, fails to do, or is not up to doing  the work, the impact will be felt by the locality.  And if your councillor does try to do what ‘Your place’ is requiring, they are in serious danger of working themselves to death.

‘Your plac’ in fact is suspiciously close to “Do what we say, or your district gets it!

It is also a gross exploitation of the willingness of elected representatives to work long barely remunerated hours for the public good, while reducing the responsibility and work-load of senior SCC executives whose pay has not decreased with their reduced responsibilities!

Woodbridge library

Following directly on from the last point, the “Your Place” officers alerted me to the fact that Woodbridge has yet to provide any business plan for taking over the library and that SCC sees this as being a matter of huge concern for us residents of Woodbridge.

The SCC “ consultation” states that it “aims to encourage community and voluntary groups, businesses, local councils and individuals across Suffolk to have their say about ways to run their local library differently and at reduced cost.” This is amplified by the Portfolio-holder who says

“I have made it very clear from the launch of the consultation, and it is very clear in the consultation document, that the council is looking for new providers for all the libraries, not just those proposed as community libraries…

“When the consultation has finished, the responses, including people’s views on the categorisation, will be analysed and recommendations will be put to Cabinet in July. I do not know at this point what those recommendations will be.”

However, this does not seem to reflect SCC’s expectations of this ‘consultation’ : indeed from what the “Your Place” officers told me, what appears to be required are hard business proposals by 30th April for running our local library with 30% cuts.  I have just been warned verbally by my officers that there have been no expressions of interest at all from Woodbridge, warning me that “unless proposals are put forward by the community, the community will have decisions made for them”. Worryingly the officers say:

“In addition to the 30% cut, the other issue about libraries is that of ownership – there is an issue about who will own the libraries and the options in the consultation include the following:

Following the Cabinet’s decision, we will start the process of arranging for other organisations to take over the running of libraries. (CP points out : In other words: the cabinet’s decision is already made before the consultation is over. This is in direct contradiction to Judy Terry’s comment above.) There are a number of ways in which we may select organisations to do this.

  • We can delegate the running of the service to another council – this could be town or parish, borough or district, or even to a council outside Suffolk.
  • We may invite Suffolk community groups to bid to take on the running of a library, and this is more likely for community libraries.
  • We may open up the opportunity more widely to all potential providers, and this is more likely for county libraries.
  • We may, if appropriate, negotiate directly with a suitable organisation to take over the running of a library.”

“So” say the “Your Place” Officers” it might be worth checking whether the Town Council have picked up on this aspect of the consultation as well as the 30% reduction in costs. I understand that the Seckford Foundation have had discussions with relevant people about the libraries, but I am unaware of any proposals from them. This may be a link that the Town Council would want to explore further – possibly to develop a partnership approach?”

The business of  ‘ownership’ is very important, as it raises all sorts of issues about our wonderful expensive, purpose-built town hub: which houses the Library but is not ‘the library’.   These are not issues that are going to go away if we refuse to address them.

The “Your Place” officers also asked whether Woodbridge Town Council had considered raising their precept to cover the library (and were frankly amazed when I told them how little the total precept amounts to and thus how truly unlikely this is. )

It seems to me that, far from consultation, this is arm-twisting!

Bearing in mind

  • that nowhere has SCC articulated that this ‘consultation’ was actually a disguised bidding process;
  • that SCC has produced frankly inappropriate and indigestible financial figures for Woodbridge Library to be used to support this consultation/bidding process (I have just yesterday received useful figures on the running of the library after having complained at what is available online) ;
  • that small towns like Woodbridge with a potential ‘county’ library are at a huge disadvantage against a private company in producing a business plan at short notice,
  • that also, Woodbridge Town Council, and Suffolk Coastal District Council are both going into elections a week after the ‘consultation’/bidding process is proposed  to have finished. It would seem extremely unreasonable to expect a) the councillors currently in post to be making long term decisions for other councillors to honour b) the new council members to be dreprived of a chance of making proposals on such a momentous issue

In light of these points, I have written to the portfolio holder and the senior SCC officer to request that the consultation process should be extended in the interests of the libraries, and the residents of Woodbridge – and other towns like it .

I hope this meets with your approval. If so, it would be helpful if Woodbridge Town Council also wrote to this effect.

Trying to restore lost bus services

Because the SCC administration accepted the NSD update, a programme of cuts and reductions took place across SCC’s subsidised bus services.Following the cancellation of the 62a and b evening and Sunday services I joined with John Forbes, Councillor, Martlesham P.C., Julie Clarke, Councillor, Rushmere P.C., James Wright, Rushmere P.C. Public Transport Liaison Officer, Martin Grimwood, Councillor, Woodbridge T.C. and Suffolk Coastal District Councillor for Kesgrave West, Geof Butterwick, Councillor, Melton P.C. and Sue Hall, Kesgrave T.C. Public Transport Liaison Officer last week to articulate residents’ problems and  to see if we could come up with any solution. Geoff Butterwick has come up with an idea that may salvage at least a Friday and Saturday evening service for a truly tiny payment spread out between all the parishes and town councils. This is still embryonic. As I am away, I am hoping Cllr Grimwood will be able to elaborate

Woodbridge lollipop patrol

The SCC administration has rejected the Chair of St. Mary’s School PTA’s attempt to get the abolition of the School Crossings brought back to Council. Although there had been many petition signatures, officers decided they had been presented before the council meeting in question and that adequate discussion had been allowed.

I discussed the situation with the relevant SCC officer , who suggests various options for replacing the school crossing patrol from other purses, including the Town Council’s. I asked him about the situation of St Mary’s, which, being a church school, has no catchment area and calls in pupils from a wide area outside the Woodbridge district.

Why therefore, I asked should Woodbridge Town Council foot the bill for such a crossing patrol?

What would happen if everyone refused to fund it? would the Council be responsible?

Apparently all SCC school crossing patrol sites are going to be scored 1-3 for safety (3 being the least safe)  by SCC engineers. The officer confirms there will be distinct potential problems for SCC  if a school like St Mary’s is scored as a 2 or 3 but nobody is prepared to take over responsibility for the school crossing.

Roads and footpaths miscellaneous

  • After intervention from the SCC Highways people the Duke of York’s large Car Parking sign that greeted people as they drove into Woodbridge has been removed.
  • Work continues at on the traffic calming project at Cross Corner
  • I’m also personally  very grateful for the repainting of the white lines on Naunton Road which can only  encourage drivers to stay on the correct side of the road! This will significantly add to the safety of this particular little piece of highway – where I was knocked over on my bike last year by a driver taking the corner on the wrong side of the road who hit me head on.
  • After some pressure from myself, the footpath along the estuary from Kyson Point to the Sewage works at Sandy lane (which runs along the southern boundary of Woodbridge district) is in the process of being built up and strengthened as it had  worn so far into the embankment as to be often totally impassable in the wet seasons.