Tag Archives: lollipop

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.

Pretzel Maths 2: a joke

Ok – so here we have Suffolk County Council’s Chief Executive, a Suffolk Council Tax Payer, and a Lollipop Lady,  all sitting around a table sharing 12 biscuits for tea.

The Chief Executive takes 11 biscuits, and says to the Council Tax Payer…


“...Look out! – that Lollipop Lady is after your biscuit!

 

For a more serious take on this, Andrew Grant-Adamson has neatly summarized  the dysfunctional connection between Suffolk’s Chief Executive and Suffolk’s spending priorities

Why MY mailbox is full while YOUR councillor’s mailbox is empty

One  peculiar side-effect of the disgraceful democratic deficit that’s occurring in Suffolk is that we 11 solitary Lib Dems – the official opposition – are daily being asked for support, information, and advice  from residents from all over Suffolk.    That is, not only from our constituents, and from people who are affected by affairs within our districts, but from people who are supposedly being represented by the 54 Conservative councillors in other Suffolk council districts.

Why? Well, we are getting a lot of mails and phone calls  from people who have despaired of getting any contentful explanation from their own elected councillor  about these cuts to frontline services by the SCC Tory leadership. A leadership that is insisting on making 30% cuts over three years although even they are finally admitting  that national cuts amount to  no more 19.5% over the same time.  (And we Lib Dems think it is actually less.).

In other words these are mails and phone calls from people suffering from the effects of seemingly  unnecessary cuts of over 10% without any reasonable explanation (except for those three fateful letters N S D). Cuts aimed at libraries, school crossing patrols, eXplore cards, local buses, yet not at the pay of senior executives or the cost of contracts or consultants nor in gagging clause payments to senior staff who have been ‘let go’ (£500,000 last year alone).

These are mails and phone calls from people who have discovered that if they write to their own Tory councillors to express their despair and disbelief , they will get no help, or any adequate representation for their plight. And its a serious plight for most of us – the loss of vital services for which we not only pay, but which we pay SCC executives to run, and for which we elect our local councillor to represent us. Instead, we only get variations of that same old theme:

I hope that my response has gone some way to re-assuring you that we share your passion for the county and the most vulnerable within communities, and that our New Strategic Direction is designed to help precisely these people.
(I hope the writer of this can recognise his style!)

Don’t get me wrong – I am very happy to help anyone who asks me. But there are 54 Tory Councillors who should be asking themselves: Why is it that our electors do not trust us  to support, inform, and advise them?”

And contrariwise there are many people in Suffolk who should be asking themselves: Why are we electing people that we cannot trust to to support, inform, and advise us?”

My Chinese  chengyu for this post is:

东风吹马耳 dōngfēng chuī mǎ’ěr: (literally – the east wind blows the horse’s ear)  eg: information falling on deaf ears

SCC humanitarians? EPIC Fail!

Ok, I’ll admit it.  I’m depressed.

I know that the  SCC Tory administration are supposed to have hearts as hard and slippery as greasy bullets,  consciences as elastic as support stockings and moral principles as indefensible as the Maginot line (I also know – because they have confessed it  -that they read my blog,  AVIDLY, I hope!).

But it takes a very hard-hearted, very conscienceless and very very unprincipled representative of the people  to support the cutting of all our Suffolk  School Crossing Patrols for the sake of  an annual £174,000.

But they did – speaking their votes  aloud – 40 to our 26.

Because  (I quote) ‘we have to face it – in this country we have simply been living beyond our means – and we can no longer do so!

Living beyond our means? I should coco  – in the last year alone, these very same prudent guardians have  spent

  • HALF A MILLION POUNDS on gagging orders for departed staff
  • £122,000 for the Chief Executive to spend (at her discretion) on unspecified consultancy with three extraordinarily retiring, unadvertised and otherwise  little-known firms
  • over 3p in every one of our council tax pounds on the salaries of their  senior management  and
  • THREE QUARTERS  OF A MILLION POUNDS on something called Suffolk Circle – which they brought  in to show Suffolk over-50s how to pay to keep themselves busy and be good neighbours to each other.
    (It makes you wonder what kind of neighbours our Tory councillors can be  themselves. Most of us in Suffolk know that neighbourliness comes free in our kindly county. )

I admit to being ill-tempered when posting this.

And with due cause.

I have just spent six interminable hours in the council chamber listening to an almost unbelievable degree of smug complacency from our Tory majority as they justified  their horrible choices.  Complacency  that dismissed such issues as cutting (oh no, suddenly its ‘divesting’ ) the road crossing patrols, abandoning the eXplore card, removing inconvenient buses because the countryside is so big and they’re all right Jack they have CARS, as (again I quote) ‘tosh.’

Woodbridge should be proud of itself. It punched well above its weight:   the deputy head, PTA chair and ex- PTA chair of St. Mary’s plus various parents and councillors  present a petition to Guy Mc Gregor on cutting the School Crossing patrol. Afterwards, no less than three brave Woodbridge souls asked excellent public questions  – again of Guy McGregor  -on cutting the St Mary’s School Crossing patrol, on cutting the eXplore card and on the cancelled buses. They got what could only be described as unhelpful answers.

During the afternoon I spoke four times, forcefully and increasingly desperately.  But the forces of reason (I would say the quiet voice of reason – but I was far from quiet) lost every single point and the conservative budget goes ahead in all its tarnished glory.

So that’s it for SCC’s cheap and effective school crossing patrols, the eXplore card, many of our scheduled buses…  I hope every single councillor who voted for it will feel proud of themselves! And I hope every resident of Suffolk will remember which people  voted for it.

It occurs to me that to some people present this was all just a game, where winning was all (“No, no, they do but jest. Poison in jest“). In case they have got to believing their own rhetoric I will just pass on the words of a Woodbridge constituent who was present :

I stayed for the vote on the first amendment but was so angry I had to leave after that. I was totally appalled at  their attitude and a complete lack of any decent argument for scrapping crossing patrols. I can honestly say I have never been so angry in my life. I had a rant on radio Suffolk when I left the building.

I think the fact that you can keep up your amazing enthusiasm whilst surrounded by a set of people who ( in my 12 year old sons words) would climb over a glass wall to see what’s on the other side, is incredible.

They are arrogant, unyielding and most definitely not representing the people they serve. Unlike you.

Because I believe in the principle that injustice – like justice – should not just be done, but SEEN to be done, I will, when the voting records appear, post a link to the names  of everyone who voted.

Whether with their consciences or not.

Chengyu for the day:

Chengyu for the day:

风 雨 如 晦 (feng yu ru hui)

wind and rain sweeping across a gloomy sky eg: a grim situation

WE can save Suffolk Services!

Libraries, crossing patrols, eXplore cards – many of Suffolk’s vital frontline services could be saved, if you just look at the budget figures with the right mindset.  Not that the Conservative administration admit this – they have told the people of Suffolk that there is ‘no alternative’ to cutting or divesting these – and many other  – valued services.  We Lib Dems say they are wrong!

Indeed, we have laid out in detail how the council’s upcoming budget could be reorganised to save these services at no extra cost, despite the cuts to central government grants!  Coverage in local news was incomplete so the full list is below. We propose to:

  • Keep all libraries open
  • Retain school crossing patrols
  • Retain funding for youth clubs
  • Maintain subsidised bus services to rural communities
  • Keep the eXplore student discount travel card
  • Reopen Ipswich Bury Road Park and Ride service
  • Keep open all Suffolk Household Waste Recycling Centres by reducing hours (on Mondays and Tuesdays)
  • Retain Fire Control within Suffolk
  • Keep Felixstowe Fire Station as full-time on weekdays and retained at weekends
  • Retain the Fire Service’s Ipswich Aerial Appliance
  • Retain checking overloaded lorries to protect roads and people

As my group leader Kathy Pollard puts it

“Unlike the Conservatives, we have been listening to Suffolk people. It has not been difficult to identify the savings we needed to retain these services. It is a question of priorities.  Clearly the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council are determined to close and privatise as many services as possible. This is ideologically driven and is not being imposed on them by central Government.

It is also very unfair to expect parish and town councils to pick up the extra cost  (for example) of running libraries. They would have to increase their parish rate considerably and people would effectively be paying twice for a service which under statute should be provided by the County Council.”

Lib Dems are suggesting  savings can be made by: Removing one Director and two Assistant Director posts; and  reducing business mileage by 10% (which would save more than £900,000 per year ); external room hire; the “Management of Change” budget; reserves; the Cabinet to 8 from its current 10 members; the road maintenance budget (this will not affect emergency repairs); and variousmanagement and other costs in the Fire Service

    Although we have confirmed these figures with council officers, Jane Storey, deputy leader disagrees with us.

    Of course she rather HAS to disagree. If she doesn’t, she has to address head-on the  peculiar priorities in funding that this council  proposes at this time of huge fiscal constraints. Why, for example, do the Tories stop at proposing libraries and school traffic patrols be run by volunteers?  A school crossing patrol person gets paid £35 a week.  Our Chief Executive ( the UK’s SEVENTH highest paid County/London borough Council CEO) gets £4192 a week – and that’s before the generous pension payments she gets added on top.  Indeed, why stop there? the county council has a number of high salaried posts that could be divested with huge ease (I suspect) to volunteers – people whose only interest is the good of the county, rather than their personal enrichment.

    We already know there are a lot of highly qualified and public-spirited people in Suffolk who are prepared to volunteer their services, Jane. You’re very  prepared to used them for less high-status, more practical,  replacements to modestly paid workers.  Why not think a bit more divergently and use them to replace senior executives if they have the background! THAT’s where you’d REALLY make the savings!

    But sadly,  if you suggest this to our Tory administration (and I have) you only get an incredulous laugh. Clearly, in some peoples’ minds, there are some SCC posts which are too highly-salaried to be divested.  Yet (I fain would ask) WHAT does a County Council Chief Executive actually DO?  I can tell you pretty simply what a lollipop person does, or a librarian or a bus driver. But a Chief Executive?

    Cynically I suspect that only administrators truly value administration. People like me, long-time housewives and carers, balancing a budget  with too many mouths and not enough cash, feel that any sensible housekeeper can learn to cut their coat to the cloth available, without losing the services they need for those they care for!

    Maybe the difference is in the words ‘care for’?