Update: To ensure that the people of Suffolk have had every opportunity to give their views on the devolution of the county ahead of Suffolk County Council’s meeting at the start of November, you can continue to send comments and/or questions regarding devolution up to the beginning of November via
Letter addressed to : Suffolk County Council Endeavour House 8 Russell Road, Ipswich Suffolk IP1 2BX
Read my account of my, and other LibDem councillors’ reservations , here
Do you want a Mayor for Suffolk? or do you think a Mayor for Suffolk is a waste of money?
Is loosening links with goverment a good idea or will it just create a fourth tier of government and a lot of extra bureaucracy?
Will it provide more welcome development or is it just concreting over our beauty spots?
Whatever your views on the Suffolk/Norfolk DEVOLUTION deal, they won’t be taken into accountunless you respond to the consultation.
You can do this online or download and send in a paper version (here via a websit which gives you the positive points; my reservations can be found here), or email your views to: HaveYourSay@norfolk.gov.uk
At the SCC Devolution debate last week , councillors broke party lines to speak and vote their mind. I was one of the 20 county councillors who – after much thought -opposed the offered Devolution deal (despite my personal support for the concept of Devolution). This was in line with my party’s stance: we approve of giving local authorities more control over spending, but this proposal leaves much of the crucial decision-making with the government.
My concerns were: the clear democratic deficit this devolution deal will offer – an overarching authority will have one member from every council; the thorny question of an elected Mayor (and all the extra bureaucracy that would go with that post); the relative smallness of the sums offered to Suffolk; the fact that the Government will still oversee everything it wishes to oversee, but just without the responsibility, thus making the county the ‘fall guy’ for its more unpopular decisions – and possibly most of all – the government’s target for Norfolk and Suffolk to build an additional 240,000 houses in Suffolk and Norfolk by 2031. This is the equivalent of creating in Suffolk 4 extra towns the size of Ipswich, or increasing every town and village by 35%. This magnitude of growth is not needed to satisfy local demand, but is intended for people moving out of London.
Suffolk badly needs housing, but not to this extent. We specifically need starter homes, disability-specific housing and accommodation for older people wanting to downsize – all for a population already living in Suffolk. (And whose needs are not catered for). Our towns, roads and commuter rail are already congested. How will our county cope with growth of this magnitude? Why is it needed?
Such largescale development would only be viable if there were also appropriate local jobs on offer and a well designed transport infrastructure to match (unless the intention is to house Suffolk residents in new build and sell off the picturesque housing to second home owners).
Despite such reservations voiced by many, devolution was voted in by a resounding majority (40 for, 20 against, 3 abstentions, and a couple of hurried departures just before the vote…).
A public consultation including a MORI telephone poll and an online survey has opened and will remain open over the summer only. You can find it here . As ever, I suggest you should respond if you want your views to be counted.
(Whilst of course, we wait to see if Devolution still has legs. It was very much Cameron and Osborne’s baby. Will it survive a new leadership, especially a post-Brexit one where so much governmental time will have to be taken up negotiating the nation’s way out of the mess we got ourselves in to? )
I also asked the following question of the Cabinet Member for Transport Norfolk is conducting a review of its HGV routes because of high-profile tv coverage of HGVs taking inappropriate routes and causing damage. Suffolk County Council’s route hierarchy has not been reviewed in the round for 30 years. In light of Suffolk’s current and future expansion and development, and the continuing increase in the size of HGVs, will the Cabinet Member agree to conduct a similar review for Suffolk, with the purpose of ensuring that as many HGV movements as possible are made via main roads rather than using unsuitable routes through rural villages and small towns such as Woodbridge – which continue to struggle with such traffic movements I got a rather inconclusive response.
Devolution for East Anglia A devolution deal for East Anglia was announced by the Chancellor in midMarch and now needs to be ratified by all County and District and borough councils and the (unelected) LEP boards involved. ( This may not be plain sailing – Cambridge City and Cambridge County have already shown themselves to be against this).
Although it is very difficult to get the Suffolk person in the street interested in devolution, it is vital that we do so because it is about a fundamentally different relationship between Government and local public services and it affects all of us.
The East Anglia Deal would see decisions currently made by Government on things such as infrastructure, growth, employment and skills being made by the Board of a new Combined Authority, consisting of all the Leaders of County and District Councils – and a directly elected Mayor. In other words it would be pretty much like the Cabinet system that currently operates in Suffolk County Council – with such noticeable democratic deficit.
It is proposed that the first mayoral elections would be in May 2017 alongside county elections.
The directly elected Mayor would act as Chair to the East Anglia Combined Authority and would have:
Responsibility for a multi-year, consolidated and devolved local transport budget
Responsibility for a new Key Route Network of local authority roads, managed and maintained by the Combined Authority
Powers over strategic planning and housing, including £175m ring-fenced funding to deliver an ambitious target of new homes; the responsibility to create a non-statutory spatial framework for the East and to develop with Government a Land Commission and to chair the East Joint Assets Board for economic assets
The East Anglia Authority, working with the Mayor, would have:
Control of a new additional £30 m a year funding over 30 years (£900m), to be invested in the East Anglia Single Investment Fund, to boost growth
Responsibility for chairing an area-based review of 16+ skills provision, the outcomes of which will be taken forward in line with the principles of the devolved arrangements, and devolved 19+ adult skills funding from 2018/19
Joint responsibility with the Government to co-design the new National Work and Health Programme ‘designed to focus on those with a health condition or disability and the very long term unemployed.’ (I am concerned that the longterm unemployed and the disabled are seen in the same sentence – aren’t you? ) There is also a commitment to continue improvements to local health and social care services, including continuing to join up services and promote integration between NHS and local government
I don’t know about you, but I am deeply concerned that any future deal involving education or NHS trusts will NOT involve the people of East Anglia shouldering the burden of PFI debt incurred by central government on educational an health sites (not only the local debts such as the PFI debt on Elizabeth Garrett Anderson building, but also the mountainous ones on the Addenbrookes site). I have asked for further information on this.
This month’s main issues have been devolution, government proposals to close most of Suffolk’s courts, the poor deal for Suffolk rail travellers in the new rail franchised invitation to tender, and a couple of pieces of good news(Woodbridge Youth club and the Drummer Boy)
Potential devolution of Suffolk The devolution agenda continues. It now seems that the government will welcome a combined bid from Norfolk and Suffolk but neither severally. Currently very little emphasis has been placed on transport – which is something that might really benefit from the increased per capita funding and re-regulatory approach we might go for with devolution. On 22nd September leaders from all Suffolk and Norfolk councils, and representatives of the New Anglia LEP agreed a ‘framework document’ highlighting the key areas to be devolved. They will meet again on 14 October to continue discussions.
20mph, other traffic calming – and Woodbridge After the year of work by myself and colleagues on the Transport policy development panel last year, creating speed limits frameworks and criteria, Suffolk County Council have trained up a panel and have starting looking at individual speed limits cases. The Speed Limits Panel is a panel of four councillors – one from each main party. Cases are looked at by officers and if the case cannot be decided simply, it is brought in front of the panel. There are no witnesses – but the local County Councillor represents the case.
Woodbridge has expressed a longstanding desire to lower speed limits since first I became County Councillor, but has not yet articulated to me or to the Highways team the exact areas it would like to have calmed. It is useful if this evidence comes from a wide variety of sources – as this suggests that the desire is widespread.
I therefore have asked various groups who have contacted me on this matter to start collecting evidence, including the Transport strand of the Neighbourhood plan. I hope Woodbridge Town Council Highways Committee will take part in this exercise
Woodbridge Youth Centre now Asset of Community Value The application by Just 42, and supported by me, for the Woodbridge Youth Centre to be registered as an Asset of Community Value was approved on 30th of September, after the statutory 8 week consultation process. While this does not protect it completely, it does give us some time to marshal a defence, should there be any unexpected move to sell it off.
East Anglian Rail Franchise – Invitation to Tender The invitation to tender for the next Rail Franchise came out on 17 September, and the detail is disappointing. Sadly the DfT has taken no notice of the various voices (including my own) calling loudly and clearly for better rail services East to West and to Peterborough. As the DfT have refused to act – suggesting that the pressure was for better and faster Norwich to London services (which it certainly wasn’t from SCC, or myself, let alone from local pressure groups) it looks as if passengers will have to endure the same poor service for years to come unless our local MPs can exert some pressure on the DfT. This is a shame as there is not only a lot of potential on these routes, but developing them would actually take much-needed pressure off the London line and provide easy means of transport to work to eg Cambridge with its ever-increasing housing prices.
MoJ’s Consultation on closing Suffolk Law Courts The Ministry of Justice has just concluded a consultation on proposals to close all law courts in Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft leaving the whole of Suffolk with just the courts in Ipswich.
This is an issue that will obviously concern everyone – as even residents in places like Woodbridge (which might deem themselves to be ‘unaffected’) will be badly affected by the inevitable queues and waiting that will occur when two thirds of the current provision for family courts, small claims courts, magistrates courts, trading standards etc etc disappears. All of us who know Suffolk magistrates will know how much of a bottle-neck has occurred in the judicial process already since the last round of closures in the 90s.
In brief, the Ministry of Justice proposes that Lowestoft Magistrates’ Court, County Court and Family Court and Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court and Family Court and Bury St Edmunds Crown Court are closed (full details) All this to save £600,000 a year.
Putting aside anxieties about ‘trial by video , it would seem particularly ironic that Suffolk’s legal representation is in danger of being reduced to one single court with all the difficulties of access from the west, mid-Suffolk, and the north of the county, in this iconic Magna Carta anniversary year.
With rural public transport as it is, there are also human rights issues for anyone having to attend courts as witness, defendant or appellant, or as a juror or any number of other situations. The Ministry of Justice are talking about trial by video links. That will not be a substitute for face to face justice!
The County Council debated the issue last month and reached cross-party unanimity that this was a bad idea, and replied accordingly.
I have also responded as your councillor and as Suffolk County’s LibDem spokesman on Transport . My personal view is that transport issues are key to why these proposals are flawed and need to be rejected.
I copied all links and information to both Martlesham Parish and Woodbridge Town clerks in case you wished to reply, because Martlesham Parish councillors (to whom I reported last week) specifically asked how they could respond to these proposals and intended to do so.
The ‘Drummer Boy’ statue As a delighted reader of Kipling’s short stories, I’ve long been pleased that Woodbridge houses the only statue seemingly ever made of Jakin and Lew, “a brace of the most finished little fiends that ever banged drum or tootled fife in the Band of The Fore and Fit Princess Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen-Anspach’s Merther-Tydfilshire Own Royal Loyal Light Infantry, Regimental District 329A” – which, today, we in Woodbridge are pleased to call for short, The Drummer Boy or The Drums of the Fore and Aft.
When I heard of the possible move of the Drummer Boy from Woodbridge to Girdlestones, I immediately offered £1,500 from my locality budget towards relocating the statue within town. I am glad that it seems as if the Woodbridge Heritage Group’s arguments have prevailed, and we will keep Kipling’s ‘bold bad’ brave Drummer Boys in the town.