Tag Archives: consultation

Vanished content! apology

Two blog posts I have made for October have mysteriously vanished from the blog. These are,

Not on our trains! Greater Anglia’s commitment to cycling?   which links to Greater Anglia’s draft Cycle strategy and  details Greater Anglia’s stated intentions to move from carrying cycles on Suffolk trains.  This has attracted a lot of attention from  cyclists who were not aware of Greater Anglia’s intentions.

What’s been happening in SCC: September 2013

I have no intention that any gremlin should prevent people from reaching information they need to know. I do not know whether these blog posts have gone for good – but in the meantime, you can reach reconstituted versions of the missing pages by clicking the titles above.

My apologies for this!

Ipswich Park & Ride consultation: a blink and you missed it!

In December the County Council launched a very brief consultation regarding the future commissioning of the Ipswich Park and Ride service.  Officers stressed that  “this consultation is not about cutting the service; the three questions were about how we deliver it in future.”

However, the questions were limited, leading and offered no opportunity to comment. The time given for people to respond to the survey was extremely short and included the Christmas holiday. There was very little publicity for the survey, apart from a notice in the buses themselves.

Given such circumstances, the actual point of this survey could be called into question!

The questions were :–

  1. Would it be acceptable to use buses that are not dedicated to the Park and Ride scheme to deliver the service so long as a high frequency service is still maintained?
  2. If the services were changed so as not to offer the cross town link would this seriously disadvantage you as a passenger? (Currently the Park and Ride services are linked to each other so that a bus leaving one site goes all the way through Ipswich to the other site. A proposal is that the Park and Ride scheme reverts to its original operation with buses from each site going to the town centre only and returning to the same site. This may have the effect of improving reliability but may require some passengers to change buses in the town centre).
  3. If staff were not present on site would this have an impact on your journey? (Currently the Park and Ride sites are manned whilst the service is operating. They assist passengers and ensure that the facilities are kept to a high standard. A proposal is that the buildings could be used in a different way that still provide basic facilities (rest rooms etc) to passengers but without staff being present at all times.)

As a Martlesham Parish Councillor pointed out, “it was an exceptionally primitive survey indeed.. I would argue very strongly that it is quite useless for the purpose implied in the email below. In particular the answer to the simple question which asked whether you would use the service if it relied on existing bus routes depends largely on the journey time and seat availability of the alternatives.  For example if it meant using the 66 through then the answer for many would be no as it takes too long.”

Recent events have highlighted SCC’s poor record on consultation over public transport matters – for example their unilateral decision-making on concessionary fares.

While it can only be good to see a recognition of this, however belated, I suspect it might also be a good idea to give training on how to actually create surveys. It seems to me that SurveyMonkey has a lot to answer for!

 

 

 

What’s been happening at SCC – October

Various exciting things have been happening this last month. On a county-wide stage we have managed to get Suffolk to recognise that its decisions about Concessionary bus passes (that is, those for the disabled and the elderly) were made without adequate consultation. On a local level, I have managed to turn around the current situation regarding the Just 42 youth club. From having been offered no lease whatsoever at the  Woodbridge Youth Club  since August last year – and well-grounded concerns as to its future, Just 42 have now been offered a ten-year lease on the whole building  (- and watch this space. More is to come)

Suffolk forced to look (yet) again at  its decisions on Elderly and Disabled Bus Passes Suffolk’s County Council Cabinet has been forced to look again at their decision to provide only the statutory minimum free travel  for the elderly and disabled (0930-2300 weekdays, all day weekends and bank holidays), after the Liberal Democrat Group called the decision into the Scrutiny Committee at the end of September.

I (as proposer) and CllrDavid Wood(as seconder) presented the case that Cabinet’s decision had failed to take account of a number of important principles, most particularly  a lack of consultation of those affected, the negative impact the decision had on many peoples’ lives, the openness of the decision-making, and the insufficient evidence provided to justify the decision. We also pointed out that SCC underspent on this part of their plans for public transport by the best part of a million pounds this year, yet had no problem in finding an extra £1.3 million for better broadband (see below).

The number of public speakers (largely representing a range of disability groups) at the meeting and the written submissions (from other disability groups) that arrived in the week before the meeting, highlighted the lack of proper consultation before the decision was made.  Cabinet only looked at one submission about impact when they made their decision, – and that was because that user group  had heard about the meeting and asked specifically to contribute.

The Committee voted by seven votes to three to send this decision back to the Cabinet to be reconsidered.

I will keep you updated of any news as to when this will be.  In the meantime if you would like more information about the Call-in, please head to my blog piece about it.

NB Just to remind you, I  originally raised this issue back in July 2011, when I was able to persuade the entire Council to put aside party political differences and ask  Cabinet to look again at what it had decided to provide for Concessionary Bus Passes  and provide 24/7 travel for those eligible due to disability and allow those elderly pass holders to travel from 09.00. It took from July 11 to July 12 for Cabinet to get around to acceding to this.

Just 42 and the Woodbridge Youth Club   Excellent news! After some firm negotiation, SCC is now offering significantly differing terms to Just 42 than those which SCC has been proposing for the last 18 months. As follows:

  •  A new 10 year lease (excluded from security of tenure but see below) to be granted to Just 42;
  • Mutual annual break clauses (see 3) after three years;
  • Just 42’s position will be protected in that SCC’s right to bring the lease to an end will be conditional upon SCC providing adequate alternative facilities for Just 42 (the term ‘adequate’ to include external as well as internal facilities!);
  • The extent the area to be exclusively used by Just 42 to be agreed, together with rest of the buildings that may be available to other parties;
  • Just 42 will make the building available to other Community users when not in use by Just 42: such details to be agreed in due course;
  • SCC currently use an area of the building as an office on occasions & it is envisaged that this will continue

These proposals – although they look  very suitable – haven’t yet been accepted. We are busy checking the small-print to ensure that Just 42  – and other groups – are in no way disadvantaged!

I am immensely grateful to Charles Notcutt, the Mayor of Woodbridge,  for his presence at the last meeting. It has seemed in the past that many decisions were being made by officers at SCC and SCDC without  recognising the needs and requirements of Woodbridge and the Woodbridge young people. I therefore insisted on tsuitable respresentation from Woodbridge Town, and Mr Notcutt was kind enough to make time for this.

(Incidentally, this is by no means the end of the matter – but will give those who are providing  for  the young people of Woodbridge some much-needed security  and relief from anxiety while concrete plans for the long-term future. I now suggest that  I and the other members of the  group set up at July’s council meeting should now meet with my new Locality Officer to discuss an overarching plan that would meet the needs of Woodbridge youth over the longer term and within the plans for the town.)

 September County Council Meeting and 20mph The County Council meeting in September had quite a light agenda, but proved remarkably eventful.

As there was only one motion (about improving localism to support towns that wished to adopt 20mph speed limits in towns) it could be assumed that the meeting would have passed without any significant issues. As you know this is an issue which is hotly debated in Woodbridge.

However, an amendment proposed by Conservative administration to the 20mph motion changed every word  -and the meaning and intention – of the original text, leaving council to discuss things which SCC was already doing! The opposition parties pointed this out – but when the Council Chariman and officers refused to accept that this changed motion left us debating the status quo, the opposition parties – apart from the proposer and seconder of the motion, had no option but to leave the Council chamber. Full details  here.

This is another example of the stifling of democracy at Suffolk County Council, which is also so apparent in the way in which the Cabinet makes decisions without reference to the other members of its own party, let alone those of the opposition parties!

Grit bins (again!) Now is the time to be looking towards the winter cold. I know we only had a couple of days of real ice last winter – but we can certainly not rely on it!  If anyone knows of areas where bins would be useful – and here I am thinking specifically of Peterhouse and the Warwick Avenue area, I can fund them and the Town Clerk will be happy to buy them on my – and your – behalf!

Remembrance Day  After listening to the Rev McCormack’s wonderfully inclusive words at last Remembrance Day, I have been asking if it would be possible to have a non-religious presence on the Shire Hall steps for Remembrance Day. This would represent the 1 in 5 people in Woodbridge (as in Suffolk as a whole, and the UK in general) who see themselves as ‘Good without God’  and to recognise how many of such people have served and died in the name of  their country without any religious beliefs to sustain them – and who are doing so to this day. I am glad to say that this has now been accepted as  a valid point. After talking to the new Rock Barracks padre yesterday, it looks like he may be able to find a suitable acting soldier to undertake such a role for Woodbridge on this important and highly significant day.

Grand Driver Scheme  The Grand Driver scheme has just been launched: to help assist the continuation of safe driving as people get older. Older drivers are the fastest growing driving population in Suffolk.  Although there’s evidence to suggest that the likelihood of crashes increases with age, older adults are also renowned as safety-conscious and law-abiding drivers.

The scheme comprises  3 main elements: Insight and awareness of attitudes to driving and self-regulatory behaviour, An opportunity to update and refresh knowledge and discuss driving matters at workshops arranged throughoutSuffolkand a driving assessment and feedback in your own vehicle focusing on safe driving and coping strategies.

More information can be obtained from Michelle Haward: 01473 265256  Michelle.haward@suffolk.gov.uk

Better Broadband SCC’s Cabinet has decided to take Better Broadband for Suffolk to the next stage, increasing the level of money invested by Suffolk County Council by another £1.3 million , and delegating the contract agreement.

Scampaign – Lottery Scams   Suffolk Trading Standards are warning us about lottery scams, which often claim people have won a significant amount of money on an overseas or online lottery and ask for personal information including bank account details.  Please could councillors make people aware that they should protect themselves against lottery fraud in the following ways:

Protecting yourself against lottery fraud:

  • Be realistic: if you haven’t entered a lottery then you can’t have won it
  • Never respond to any communication –  as above, if  you haven’t entered a lottery then, really and truly  you can’t have won it
  • If they’ve provided an email address to respond to, be particularly suspicious of addresses such as @hotmail.com or @yahoo.com or numbers beginning with 07, because these are free to get hold of
  • Any request for a fee payment is a good indication that someone is trying to defraud you – there are no official lottery operators who ask for fees to collect winnings!
  • Never, ever disclose your bank details or pay fees in advance
  • Genuine lotteries thrive on publicity. If they ask you to keep your win a secret it’s likely to be a fraud
  • Many fraudulent lotteries have bad spelling and grammar – see this as a warning that fraudsters are at work

What to do if you are a victim of lottery fraud:

  • Report to Action Fraud specialists by calling 0300 123 2040
  • If you have responded to the email/letter/call, break off all contact with the fraudsters at once
  • If you have given over your bank account details, alert your bank immediately
  • Be aware that you’re now likely to be a target for other frauds. Fraudsters often share details about people they have successfully targeted or approached, using different identities to commit further frauds

My next County Councillor’s Surgery This will be in Woodbridge Library on Saturday, 20th October 10-12 noon as ever. All welcome!

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.

SCC’s new Leader – where do we go from here?

Most of Suffolk must be as relieved as I was at Monday’s election of  Mark Bee as future Leader of Suffolk County Council.  Mark, who replaces Jeremy Pembroke, was elected in the first round of the Suffolk County Tories’  AV style election process, by a significant majority.

The first signs are  in many ways encouraging: Mark was not in the Cabinet , not  tainted with creating any of the lunacies of the New Strategic Direction,  not on the committee that appointed the Chief Executive. Indeed he has shown every sign of being Suffolk County Tories’ quiet voice of reason.

However, we cannot forget that all Conservatives , backbench as well as front bench,  voted  for every single New Strategic Direction proposal at full council.   It is hopeful that Mark Bee should say

” if we are to expect others to help, we have a duty to listen to them in return, to hear their concerns, and to build solutions together, at a speed that we can all follow… That is why I’d like the time between now and the council meeting on May 26, to be a time for reflection and review.”

That any member of the current administration – let alone the Leader elect  – should be officially sanctioning the listening and hearing of Suffolk  people’s concerns is refreshing!   Personally I do hope the portfolio-holder in charge of libraries will take heed.

But at the moment  Mark Bee continues to maintain  that “the direction in which we are heading is the right one“.  He hasn’t yet – despite the Evening Star’s headlines – actually gone so far as to ‘save ‘ the school crossing patrols.   All he has said is  that “in the areas where the patrols are most needed, we will look to continue to fund these, unless or until a suitable alternative arrangement has been found.”

This is far from being the same thing.

Mark says he wants to spend the next few weeks in reflection and review – hopefully about many of the most contentious of recent cuts forced on us by Suffolk County Council’s NSD  (all of which we Lib Dems provided alternative costings to retain back in February)

  • Will school crossing patrols be reprieved? Suffolk received more petition signatures about this than any other petition in the history of the council!
  • What hope is there for the libraries? The so-called ‘consultation has – so far – been a thinly veiled arm-twisting of local communities to take over these, or lose out.
  • And how about transport? The cutting of the Explore card, halfway through the school/college year has already caused extreme hardship amongst the young  and poor – particularly the young and rural poor who are seeing additional barriers in the path of  aspiration and education.  Not only to them, but to their parents. Similarly the ‘working hours only ‘ demand-responsive solution to cutting scheduled service, and the new conditions being placed on concessionary travel card holders are causing huge hardship for people without other choices in the countryside.
  • Will Mark Bee reflect on problems such as these, and having reflected, have a Damascene conversion?

Now, wouldn’t that be lovely!