Tag Archives: consultation

Social care: Suffolk Tories ‘riding roughshod over democracy’

Suffolk County Council Liberal Democrats are accusing the Conservative administration of once again running a ‘sham consultation’ – this time on the future of council-run care homes in the county. Its sham because the Tories have already made a unilateral decision either to close or to sell them all off.

On Thursday last  (13/01) representatives of Suffolks boroughs and district councils were invited to “Have Your Say on the Future of Suffolk County Council’s residential care homes” by Suffolk County Council’s Adult and Community Services portfolio-holder Colin Noble. The meeting took place at SCC’s Ipswich headquarters.

It became apparent at the start of the meeting that the decision had already been made, even though the issue was still officially out to consultation. The public had been asked to only comment on and prefer one of three preselected options for the future of the county’s care for the elderly:

  1. Gradually close the homes and use only independent care homes
  2. Sell all the homes as ‘going concerns’
  3. Close six homes and transfer the remaining homes to the independent sector.

There was no option to keep any of the homes within council control. There was also no option for individual management buy-outs.

Cllr Noble’s opening salvo was:    “We have made a decision at cabinet level that we will no longer pay for care homes. So if you have come here wanting us to continue running care homes, you’re wasting your time. The decision has already been made.”

This statement came as a surprise to elected members who were attending the meeting , including me.   

Cllr Noble seemed to be confusing a cabinet decision to ‘consult’ on options for divestment with a final decision taken by all councillors at a formal council meeting. Now,  Suffolk County Council consists of 75 members from a range of parties. The Cabinet consists of ten members of a single party: the Conservatives.

They are riding roughshod over democracy.

Whose council is this anyway? The Council’s care budget, and the care homes themselves are not in Cllr Noble’s gift  – nor in  that of any other official, elected or otherwise. The budget and the care homes belong to the people of Suffolk. The Council holds them in trust and should administer them wisely on our behalf.

My colleague,  Inga Lockington, Lib Dem Spokesperson for Older People, points out that:

“All councillors must  have a chance to vote on this important issue on behalf of their constituents.

Cllr Noble is pursuing a policy which will lead to many frail older people being evicted from their homes. When care homes close, the health of frail elderly people can be seriously affected and it can even hasten their deaths. Cllr Noble needs to acknowledge this when pursuing such a policy, in the face of so much concern within our community.

I am also concerned that taking nearly 200 care places out of the County’s care provision, in the face of the increasing incidence of dementia, will  create a waiting list and a “Market” which will result in the most needy finding themselves at the end of a lengthening queue.”

Many local residents in Suffolk continue to be alarmed at the SCC administration’s proposals to ‘divest’ themselves of their care homes – particularly in the fact that the decision came before the busniess case.    In fact we’re STILL WAITING for ANY business case. .

Bryan Hall, who is the district councillor for Wickham Market (where a specialist care-home for dementia patients is threatened with closure and sell-off for development) says:

“I am very concerned that Suffolk County Council have decided, without public mandate, to stop being social care providers. In particular, residential homes such as Wickham Market’s Lehmann House, which has a large number of residents suffering from dementia is, in my view – and that of my constituents –  irreplaceable. For a start, it is in the heart of our town – which is where we want our old people to stay. There may possibly be private homes somewhere in Suffolk able to provide a similar service, but there is no guarantee they are anywhere near the Wickham Market area. It is not right that old people who have served their community all their lives, should be excluded like this in their last years.”

Woodbridge Town Council Report Jan 2011

Suffolk becomes the only County in the east without its own Fire Control Room

Just before Christmas, Liberal Democrat councillors ‘called in’ the County Council’s decision to move its Fire Control Room to Cambridge from Colchester Road Ipswich, because the building it currently occupies is being sold. There were other options possible, such as negotiating sharing with the Suffolk police HQ.

This move was described as ‘an interim measure prior to the introduction of the nations Regional Fire Control rooms’ – planned to be in place by 2013.

The Public Protection Scrutiny Committee met on the 21st of December to examine the decision, and to listen to our reasons against this decision. These included

  • The total lack of information regarding the certainty of the proposed national Regional Fire Control Rooms
  • No evidence within the original paper of consultation with those many and varied organisations who work with the Fire Control Room such as  Suffolk Family Carers, Trading Standards etc.
  • The lack of contingency plans put in place in case there was a national delay, or indeed an update in policy on the proposed national regional control rooms.
  • The distance of the Suffolk  retained staff travelling to the Cambridgeshire site
  • The diminution of local knowledge and expertise inevitably caused by siting this control room  so far away from the area it controls

Unfortunately the opportunity to look at this decision once again was turned down by the scrutiny committee’s majority Conservative membership.

Embarrassingly for them, immediately after this decision was rubber-stamped the Government revealed that the proposed  Regional Control Rooms are going to be abolished.  This ‘interim measure’ is therefore interim sine die

This leaves Suffolk as the only county in East Anglia without its own regional control room, thereby losing the county the benefits of local knowledge, speedy response, and county control as well as many of its dedicated staff.

Loss of Woodbridge’s only ‘Lollypop person’

Amongst the proposals being considered in the continuing issues of the New Strategic Direction  is one to cease funding the school crossing patrol service which looks after 98 schools in Suffolk, including one in Woodbridge: ie. the crossing at St Mary’s in Burkitt Road. If this decision is approved at the  next Full Council on 17th February  then the service will end, probably during the summer term.

The view of the Service Director, Economy, Skills and Environment  is that:  “We recognise that it is primarily the responsibility of parents and carers to ensure that their children arrive at school safely.”

However, at the Resource, Finance and Performance pre-Budget scrutiny just before Christmas I asked him :  What risk assessment has been done on the effect this cut might have on child pedestrian safety?”

His answer was:We will be carrying out audits at all the school crossing patrol sites in January and February 2011.  The safety engineers carrying out the audits will examine all available data related to mode of travel to school, casualty data, school catchments and crossing patterns. The engineers will identify alternative crossing points, such as light controlled crossings if they exist close to the patrol sites. In some instances, minor alterations will be made to sites and any inappropriate signs will be removed. Road safety officers will advise parents, carers and children to use alternative sites and routes and provide road safety education and training in the affected schools.

This seem to be is a different way of saying “We recognise that it is primarily the responsibility of parents and carers to ensure that their children arrive at school safely.”

Cuts in concessions for young persons’ travel

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: available free to students 16-19, 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!.

The NSD’s proposed cuts means that the EXPLORE card is not just under threat –  sadly, the decision has already  been made to cut it completely. I have always been right behind it because it helps young people with transport to work, to education and to social activities, and liberates teens from dependence on others. It should also get teens out of cars and onto buses in the evenings thus creating a significant saving in  life and limb  (tho the recent appalling reduction in local buses and the planned cutting of so many of the SCC funded remainder – see below – makes this very much more difficult). The loss of the Explore card WILL have an adverse impact on both educational choice and work for the young people of Suffolk.

In addition to being your County Councillor, and opposition spokesperson on Transport, I am also Vice-chair of Educational Transport Appeals.  With all these hats on I have already raised the issue of these threats to young people’s travel  through direct questioning and minuted statements –with Educational transport AND the portfolio holder AND at the pre-Budget Scrutiny.

At this last, I asked: Have any calculations been carried out to ascertain what increase is anticipated in the increased use of cars to take older pupils/sixth-form students to school as a result of stopping the Explore card?

They answered: There has been no attempt to calculate a potential increase in car journeys.  Any impact of the Explore proposal is closely linked to the policy on discretionary transport for post 16 students.  Therefore, discussions with stakeholders will take place around the wider issue of post 16 education transport as a whole, and the impact which current budget proposals may have.

I have no idea what this actually means.

Further serious reductions to Woodbridge bus services

I have also been given details of those bus services likely to be affected by the reductions in SCC’s public transport subsidies (as set out in the proposals for next year’s budget).  Again, these are victims of the NSD ideology – and have little concern for the consumer.

The budget proposals envisage “a remodelling of public transport services that have been piloted in parts of Suffolk over the last couple of years and  based on the premise that the best way of enabling people in rural areas to access learning opportunities, employment and services will be to use demand-responsive services to access a core of scheduled bus and rail services running on fixed routes.

This allows for rural people without cars having transport needs that can be predicted a day in advance – so, remember,  no getting ill or crises at short notice!

SCC are  looking to roll this approach out across rural Suffolk. Interestingly enough, the administration  made a large capital allocation to fund the operation of demand-responsive transport a full year before these new cuts were deemed necessary under the NSD. I leave you to draw your own conclusions as to why this might have been.

The list of services described as ones “which would not be a priority for continued subsidy under the new model” includes a number which impact on Woodbridge. Andrew Gutteridge, Strategic Commissioner (Sustainable Transport) –sic – the officer in charge – writes “In drawing up this list we have prioritised core daytime services and those services that maximise accessibility and connections with rail.  The aim is to provide a core network with which demand responsive services can interconnect. “

Sadly  what this really means  in real English is that all evening and weekend services and the more rural routes are for the chop.

The Woodbridge related routes that are ‘threatened’ (if this isn’t an understatement) are:

  • 62a and 62b Ipswich – Wickham Market/ Rendlesham (that is, every evening and all the Sunday bus services through Woodbridge!)
  • 70, 70a, 118 – the rural route from Ipswich  to Woodbridge through Grundisburgh and Bealings
  • 70, II8, 119 – the Ipswich to Framlingham routes
  • 71, 163, 173, IP179,  IP512: Orford, Felixstowe, Woodbridge, Ipswich routes. The ONLY easy way for non-car owners to get to Felixstowe

At the pre-budget scrutiny, I asked the following questions:

1.  Has an impact assessment been done, for example, on the effects on people who use these buses to get to and from employment and for young people accessing education and social activities?

Answer: The equality impact screening process has begun.  There is no intention that people will be deprived of the opportunity to travel to learning, employment and essential services, but this is expected to be by more flexible and demand-responsive solution in some cases.  Where there are specific education placements on affected services, there may be specific provision for those journeys, and the draft budget contains an adjustment to the home to school transport budget to reflect this.

NB: I know many bus passengers. I have yet to meet a single one who has had an impact assessment undertaken on the loss of these buses to their lifestyle

2 Could sponsorship or cost-sharing be investigated for this instead of reducing the services?

Answer: Every effort will be made to reduce the impact of the cuts by sharing resources and materials with Eastern Region authorities and Suffolk Roadsafe partners. (CP: ?)

We will continue to seek support from the Government (and the Highways Agency) and the private sector.(CP: ?)

The Government produces free publicity materials (under the Think campaign banner) and has indicated that it will support cyclist training through the Bikeability scheme in 2011/12.

Well, that’s a relief!

I have had a lot of people writing to me about this –  both anxious individuals and organisations  -and am hoping to get a local group together to raise awareness and protest efficiently about these bus changes  – and the cutting of the Explore cards – and I hope you may wish to join me in this. Please contact me, if so.   In the interim, have a look at this, as a kind of briefing document:

http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/public-transport/suffolk-the-death-of-the-rural-bus/

What will be happening to Suffolk Libraries?

In the Resource, Finance and Performance pre-Budget scrutiny just before Christmas, one of the 16 proposed savings was “Divesting libraries to communities”.  This was estimated to create a very modest saving (£350,000) and would have a “Medium to High impact” on the public.This divestment-for-the-purpose-of-saving  was, we were told,  in addition to an already proposed saving of £710,000 on this years’ library services that ACS has decided on to compensate for an overspend in the care budget 2010 -11. What a choice, eh?

I would like to point out that in a recent UK-wide survey, Suffolk’s library service was revealed as the second most cost-effective (ie. cheapest) public library service in the country!

We (the SCC Lib Dems) asked the following pertinent questions:

  • Will all libraries be divested?
  • What will happen to the mobile library service?
  • How will the current integrated service be protected?

We were told:

In line with the New Strategic Direction, we do not expect that the council will be a direct provider of library services in the future.

We are already making efficiency savings for 2011/12 by reducing the numbers of management and support posts, and working together with Cambridgeshire, Essex, Southend and Thurrock councils to share the provision of stock services and thus reduce cost.

We expect to publish a consultation paper in the new year to consult the people of Suffolk about how to provide library services, at significantly lower cost, over the coming three years.  This will cover the mobile and branch libraries and how the integrated service might continue.  Following the outcomes of the three month consultation, we will put final proposals for an affordable library service to Cabinet, and begin to implement them during the second quarter of 2011/12 and in subsequent years.  The action plan is likely to include the procurement and selection of providers from communities and interested organisations.  It is likely to result in some library closures.

So watch that space! It might replace a library or two.

Suffolk’s NSD: overarching concerns; SCC Consultations & Online Petitioning

a ) At the pre-budget scrutiny which looked at next year’s proposed cuts I asked one single overarching question about the cuts proposed by the SCC adminisistration in support of their NSD:

These proposed savings are in service delivery – many of them frontline – yet there is scope for substantial savings in executive pay via downsizing and divestment of executive roles. Why is this option not being explored?

Answer: All services have proposals relating to restructures and reductions in staff costs. These are designed to reduce management costs more than frontline staff costs. Restructures are already underway in directorates and this process will accelerate as we make changes to implement the New Strategic Direction for the council.

This doesn’t exactly explain why the highest echelons of SCC’s senior management seem to be so immune from the cuts that will hit all the rest of us.

b) Suffolk County Council are currently engaging in a number of consultations and ‘engagement exercises’, including:

  • New Strategic Direction ‘Engagement’ – ongoing
  • Future of Suffolk Country Parks and Recreation sites – ends 14th Jan 2011
  • Suffolk Care Homes consultation – ends 24th Jan 2011
  • Schools admissions Consultation – ends 28th Feb 2011

I urge you to respond and make sure that you have given your views.

http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/CouncilAndDemocracy/Consultations/Listing.htm

c) Possibly in response to adverse publicity about a lack of democracy in cabinet-style decision-making (for example the Fire Control Room move was decided without a general councillor vote  at Cabinet level) Suffolk County Council has launched an online petitioning system, so that members of the public can bring an issue to the attention of the council, or publicly approve or disapprove of a council decision.

PLEASE USE IT

http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/News/EPetitions.htm

When’s a majority NOT a majority? Suffolk Coastal!

Oh dear.  I AM a sap!

Only a month ago I wrote the following (click to open the link)

Just to remind you all that if you want to have your say on Suffolk Coastal District Council’s future leadership, you need to act fast.  SCDC  is choosing whether the district council is run in future by a Leader, appointed from amongst the district councillors, or by a  Mayor, elected by us and wants to hear from you by 3 December 2010 – eg next Friday.

I shouldn’t be allowed out on my own, should I, poor innocent that I am!

In my defence,  as a resident of Suffolk Coastal, I might hope to think the best of my local council.  I was, I admit, a little mystified (not to say disturbed)  at the extreme lack of prominence Suffolk Coastal District council were giving to this supposedly very important excercise of the democratic process.  As Geof Butterwick, a local parish councillor, put it:

The website item was not exactly highlighted. The Coastline article wasn’t headlined ( it took me several scans to spot the postage stamp sized article on page 3).  I’m not sure to what extent the EADT picked up on the press release issued on 15th October, but it certainly wasn’t enough to promote much of a public debate.

To put it mildly.

Which is why I aired the subject in my blog. It was almost as if – impossible though this may sound – Suffolk Coastal didn’t WANT people to know this consultation was taking place!

OK, the truth was, Suffolk Coastal District Council’s ‘consultation’ over an elected Mayor was pretty much like Suffolk County Council’s ‘engagement’over their New Strategic Direction: an exercise in Harry Potter-like invisibility masquerading as ‘giving the people a say.

However, putting that to one side, I DID (o why?) genuinely believe that  this was a public consultation, one where the council were interested in finding out the public’s opinion.   Like I say, I’m an innocent sap…

So what happened?

For a start, only 118 people responded (one of whom was me).  This low response rate can be attributed to two causes: invisibility and apathy. Many Suffolk residents seem to have given up actually directing the fate of their county – possibly because they are less than wholly convinced that their opinion counts for anything.  Leave it to someone else, and whinge about the outcome, is the watchword of all too many! However there are plenty who are interested…

Did they KNOW this consultation was going on?

Well – unless you’d read my blog – would YOU?

Of the 118 responses,  there were 70 votes for a Directly Elected Mayor & Cabinet,  and 47 for the current Leader & Cabinet mode. (There was also 1 ‘don’t know’.)

GREAT! So there was a clear mandate, then.  I mean, if a district council election brings out only a tiny percentage of the electorate, does that disqualify the elected councillor from his win, Mr Herring? fellow councillors? Well – does it?

On the 30 December, I got an email from SCDC saying

Thank you for taking the time to submit the questionnaire regarding the consultation on Suffolk Coastal District Council’s future leadership arrangements.  Your comments have been noted

A nice choice of words.  ‘Noted and ignored’ would be more accurate..

The vote was 60% in favour of a  change to a directly elected mayor, with  a mere 40% against it. So what did SCDC decide to do? To continue with the current system.

Or as the minutes point out:

The Monitoring Officer advised that the new-style Leader and Cabinet model was almost identical to the Council’s current arrangements; the main difference being that the Leader would be elected by the Council for a period of four years rather than each year (although he or she could be removed at any time by Council). It was also suggested that while there might be some limited support for a democratically elected Mayor as suggested by the relatively small number of responses to the consultation, there was not any compelling evidence to indicate that there was any stronger form of governance than the Leader model. Conversely, the adoption of the Mayoral model would have extra financial implications as it would require the Council to run separate elections for the appointment of the Mayor at least every four years; it could also be extremely confusing for the electorate who would already have had to deal in May 2011 with district council elections, parish elections and an anticipated alternative vote referendum. Additionally the Government had already indicated that the leadership models would undergo further changes in the near future.

So that’s all right then! You’ll all be pleased to know that the minutes also show that Leader of the Council Ray Herring, commented

that in carrying out a “light touch” consultation the Council had done at least what was required, and perhaps more. There had been a press release, the details had been advertised on the Council’s website and in Coastline; additionally the East Anglian Daily Times had published at least one article on the subject. The response had been disappointing, which seemed to indicate that there was not a groundswell of opinion within the District in favour of the Mayoral model.

Yet what must have really disappointed Mr Herring was that, despite this ‘light touch’ non-consultation ( of which very few were aware other than other SCDC councillors)  his administration had managed to elicit approval for the status quo from fewer respondents than there are actual members of his council! Quite a remarkable feat. I’m not sure theis particular Leader would recognise a ground swell of opinion unless it jumped up and hit him in the face!

So anyway, folks, that’s Suffolk  democracy, for you.   Of course, you could say its pretty much the same as if Labour had decided it would form the next administration with its 29% of the vote .  Or that the whole of Suffolk were in favour of the iniquitous New Strategic Direction instead of ten members of an inner – and undemocratic – cabinet…

I find it amazing that we send so many British soldiers to fight overseas – supposedly to establish democracy  in other people’s  countries –  when we’re not exactly ‘good at it’ back home!