Tag Archives: cuts

School Transport: Cabinet decides on the option nobody wanted

Twitter and blogs get the news out that  journalists don’t cover  😉

On Tuesday, Suffolk County Council’s Conservative Cabinet passed an undemocratic proposal limiting access to free school transport.

I put it like this because the media narrative is that “Councillors voted unanimously.” Er… No. While any councillor could question, only the wholly Conservative Cabinet could vote. And while the Cabinet members opened their mouths, it was not to question. They spoke in turn uncritically, to offer support.

Undemocratic because – having gone to public consultation and the public having made their feelings abundantly clear – Cabinet voted on an option that was universally unpopular. It did not even consider the option supported by 90% of respondents.

If the public relied on the media to inform them, they would not have been aware of what happened at the meeting. The media  conscientiously reported the flavour of the many excellent tabled questions from the public. However, they totally ignored the literally hours of  forensic questioning from the opposition –  LibDem, Green and Labour councillors  – which teased out many problems and concerns with the favoured  proposal.

In other words the situation was framed as ‘councillors v public’ instead of ‘Conservative Cabinet fobbing off the questions of their opposition colleagues’. You might want to query this narrative and what purpose it serves.

In my own case, I travelled speedily on public transport to and from an emergency surgical appointment at Addenbrookes to be there in time to hold the Cabinet to account along with my Lib Dem, Green and Labour colleagues. We all asked many questions. (I must do new Leader Matthew Hicks justice and say he chaired the meeting with justice and impartiality, allowing the opposition all the questions they wished to ask and cutting short members of his own party who merely wished to make eyewateringly inappropriate declarations of loyalty, instead of questioning Cabinet. Another issue the media could have picked up on, ‘an if it would’.).

In my own questions I queried the administration’s terms of reference. Was Suffolk’s offer really “more generous” than the government minimum, when the government minimum covered urban and rural students  indiscriminately? City students do not have 3 mile walks to their catchment school: city schools are closer and public transport is plentiful and cheap.

We were told how expensive our spend was- over £100 a student head as opposed to Salford’s £2.

However, as I pointed out,  Salford has a total area of 8 sq miles. It would actually be well-nigh impossible for a child to live more than 3 miles from their local school in Salford! Suffolk, in comparison, has an area of 1466sq miles, used to grow the food and provide the electricity that places like Salford rely on. We are not comparing like with like.

I also asked, bearing in mind we were removing entitlement to bus travel, why there was no Traffic Impact Assessment for the county – and while the very limited (Thurston area only) TIA failed to consider issues such as pollution and air quality? (Answer: too expensive/work in progress. Hardly a scientific answer)

And, bearing in mind over 70% of respondents were women , and local government cuts disproportionally affect women,  l asked whether Cabinet  could be genuinely satisfied that the IA’s conclusion that “impact on women would be minimised by phasing in the changes”, fully addressed the  actual impact these changes would have on  women. Ominously  – but unsurprisingly -this question was not answered at all.

Suffolk in October/November: my report

Suffolk County Council’s budget forecast paints worrying picture  A Cabinet paper last week revealed that Suffolk County Council is forecasting an overspend of £10.2m on their 2017/18 revenue budget. The majority of this overspend is within Adult & Community Services (£2.3m) and Children’s Services (£6.4m). The narrative that ‘savings’ (eg ‘cuts’) can continue is increasingly unsustainable. “Leaner and fitter” has morphed to anorexia.

Opposition councillors are growing increasingly concerned: latest budget forecasts make it clear that, unless major changes occur, the Council’s finances are not sustainable in the long-term with the most vulnerable members of our county the most likely to suffer the consequences.

Suffolk County Council has had to make significant savings in response to  continuing cuts in funding from central government. Demand for services, however, has continued to grow. This is no surprise to anyone. However, while there is no denying the issue of chronic underfunding from central government, Suffolk County Council has plumed itself on capping council tax for years . (Leader Colin Noble memorably maintained: “the vast majority of those on fixed pensions do not look to council services to help them in their old age. So he majority of old people  are not reliant on libraries, buses, roads, care services, public health? News to me, and to them. And to Cllr Noble, clearly).

The administration called instead for for Suffolk to innovate  in income generation.

Suffolk County Council’s Leader on the needs of old people on fixed pensions. What world is he living in?

Disappointingly this income has failed to materialise.

This is tragic. Proper investment in Suffolk’s economy, combined with regular tiny increases in council tax over the years, could have done much to avert the current worrying situation.

Home to School Transport – workshops announced   In September, our LDGI Group successfully “called-in” the Cabinet’s decision to go to consultation on changes to the Home to School Transport policy, questioning the nature of the pre-consultation period, and arguing that more research needed to be done.

The Scrutiny Committee agreed with us, and voted to refer the decision back to Cabinet for further consideration. It has not yet been announced when Cabinet will reconsider the proposals.

Suffolk County Council has announced that two workshops will be taking place in November, to further discuss the challenge and help develop proposals for Cabinet to consider. However, invitations will only be sent to 80 randomly selected representatives. If you have not been invited, and feel that you should be a part of these workshops, you can contact either myself or schooltravel@suffolk.gov.uk.

Motion to improve early years funding rejected by Council   At the meeting of Council on Thursday 19th October, our LDGI group supported a Labour motion which called on the Council to (1) lobby central government for more funding in Suffolk and (2) pass the full amount of funding received on to providers. Unfortunately, the Conservative majority refused to back the motion.

Since September 2017, working families are entitled to 30 hours of free childcare, whilst all families are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare. Suffolk is one of only 37 local authorities which this year had a reduction in early years funding, receiving a total of £31 987 186. This equates to £4.41 per hour. However, childcare providers receive a base rate of only £3.87 per hour, and many are struggling to run their businesses on this low rate.

The motion highlighted the difficulty faced by childcare providers across the county, and questioned why the Council did not pass through a higher rate of funding to providers.

Councillor Gordon Jones (Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Education and Skills) stated that the Council only retains £2.1m, which is used to meet their statutory duties. He has yet to provide a full breakdown on how this money is spent

Bus timetable changes  and issues due to Woods Lane Closure  The closure seems to be proving as problematic as forecast.  First are using shuttle buses to extend the 800 Park and Ride journeys beyond Woodbridge due to delays on account of the Woods Lane works. I have already had one complaint that these are not integrated in ticketing terms with the P&R services.

It also seems that the notices on the suspended bus stops on Bredfield Road is leading a number of older residents to assume that bus services are completely suspended therefore entrapping them in this part of Woodbridge.

The temporary shuttle bus stops are not clearly signed and the shuttle bus does not adequately cover for the suspended bus stops.

Social Worker of the Year: former Kyson pupil nominated second year running   The Coastal and North East Ipswich Child in Care  social work team is a finalist in the Social Worker of the Year Awards 2017 as a result of their outstanding work with children and their families.

Members of the team have previously been recognised for their outstanding achievements, including  (I am very proud to say) former Kyson pupil Emily Tiplady-Ead  whose immense professionalism and skills  made herlast year’s  national ‘Children’s Social Worker of the Year ’. Hearty congratulations, Emily!

Woodbridge Thoroughfare Consultation   This received over 600 replies. A presentation will be mounted in the Library shortly to unveil the overwhelmingly popular result and to signpost the next stage

 

App-trap – why close the Woodbridge Tourist Information Centre?

What will really, really, really help tourism in Woodbridge? A Tourist Information Centre? Or  a planned app for people with mobile devices that will give them targeted information?

The latter, according to the latest mouthful of lowgrade technological codswallop used by the Suffolk Coastal District Council Cabinet to justify their unjustifiable proposed closure of the Woodbridge Tourist Information Centre, while retaining the ones at Aldeburgh and Felixstowe.

Wait (I hear you say). Aldeburgh has no rail station, a very limited bus service,  a large population of second-home occupancy – oh, and 1 in 5 households in Suffolk don’t have a car… Aha – but Aldeburgh is nearer to Waveney than Woodbridge– and SCDC is in partnership with Waveney. Simples.

The easy way to save money in a hurry is to slash and burn – and now the men with grey suits (and machetes) would like us to think that the number of users of its TICs  is declining. Or anyway TICs are not an essential service and can be cut without too much of a fuss.

To put it another way, they are undertaking a service review which is “focussed on making sure our services are as efficient as possible but also that they are still relevant and needed by our customers. The reality is that the use of our tourist services are changing, with more and more people going online for their information and fewer visiting our offices.” This is according to Cllr Geoff Holdcroft, SCDC Cabinet Member for Leisure and Economic Development, who has conveniently forgotten the 8 million people in the UK who have never ever used the internet.  And the number of people who come to Woodbridge by train and who couldn’t take that train to Aldeburgh.

Talking trains, apparently Woodbridge TIC has particular difficulties in not being done away with, just because of  the time it spends selling rail tickets and providing transport information.  That’s good – it generates income?  Far from it  according to Cllr Holdcroft. He told a packed Woodbridge Town Council meeting last night that every ticket sold by the TIC in Woodbridge costs the council taxpayer £1.  (Personally I would like to see the facts behind and details on this one – given the price of rail tickets these days, the continuing local need and the heavy competition and discounting between the companies ‘selling on’ it would seem an impossible feat without a high level of council incompetence in negotiation or some very sharp means of public accounting.)

Putting that aside we are then presented with another facer. The Council’s other two TICs at Aldeburgh and Felixstowe will continue to provide a full range of services including ticketing and booking facilities, and will offer us  a telephone support and a postal service.  So tickets won’t lose money in Aldeburgh then?

Luckily not all is lost for Woodbridge  “Our commitment to encouraging tourism remains as strong as possible and our modernised service would see us still providing information from a new service based at Woodbridge library, backed up with internet-based information” . This  glib optimism  is not gaining the csupport of those who run b&bs in Woodbridge, or those who rely on the rail ticketing services for travel and for information to get about along the East Suffolk Line and beyond, or those retailers, restaurateurs, publicans and hoteliers who rely on tourists for trade or those who run tourist sites: the huge number of people who use or rely on the Woodbridge Tourist Information centre every day and who would find it hard to do so if it were replaced by a telephone or a postal service from Aldeburgh.  The local economy, in other words.

It also leaves us with a couple of  problems.

For a start,  this proposal concerning the library is a bit like telling your children that you’re not buying them  food because it’s too expensive, but they can go next door for dinner. Has anyone in SCDC actually asked the library about this plan, or have they just assumed they are willing to provide space and staff time? The library has never been owned by SCDC.  And from the 1 August it isn’t even controlled by Suffolk County Council. It is controlled by an IPS. Might the library have its own views on becoming SCDC’s cheap tourist information centre and ticket provider because SCDC is too cheeseparing to run its own? (Especially now the library knows that the ticket sales will cost them £1 a ticket). What’s in it for the library?

Secondly, the TIC looks very nice in its ornate iron-frilled white building. As gateway to Woodbridge its  presence might well be adding to the good impression of our town given to visitors as they arrive by car, bus or rail. And its certainly much easier  for new arrivals to find than the library.

Tourism remains a key part of our local economy and we are confident that potential visitors to our district will continue to get the information they need to help them choose to come here and enjoy all our district has to offer. We will continue to offer fresh innovations to attract tourists such as our joint working with Waveney’s tourism service and with local tourism businesses and partnerships to offer a better service, our Suffolk Coast website and a planned app for people with mobile devices that will give them targeted information” says Cllr Holdcroft.

So that’s all right then.

But  I’d like to know who  are the confident we? We in Woodbridge are not confident!

If you wish to contact SCDC to give your views before their Cabinet makes its final decision on November 6th, contact the portfolio-holder via this link