Tag Archives: New Strategic direction

Suffolk Tories: the Milquetoast Manifesto

Snapshot of Suffolk’s County Council  2009-13:

Threatened closure of 29 libraries.. the vanishing of the Road Crossing patrols..  loss of the rural evening and Sunday bus services.. closure of Youth Clubs.. divestment of Highway Services..  divestment of Country Parks..  vast sums spent on gagging clauses,  consultants and senior management salaries and perks.. abolition of the Explore youth travel card..  sale and potential closure of Care Homes..  the plummeting of Suffolk schools down the educational league tables to their current places as 148th out of 151 at Primary school level, 141 out of 151 at secondary level… (there’s plenty more, but that’s enough to be going on with)

It’s quite a spectacular grime sheet, isn’t it?

As the 2013 elections approach it may be worth  remembering that the Suffolk Conservatives made no mention of Suffolk’s  New Strategic Direction when they went to the polls in 2009. Yet it didn’t stop them doing their darnedest to implement it without any mandate once they had their majority. (And when they were stopped, many of the NSD proposals continued under a different guise..)

It might be well to ponder this before voting. The Suffolk County Conservatives’ 5-pledge election manifesto is as thin as a lo-calorie water biscuit – and about as nutritious. They promise to replace a youth travel card they cut two years back, the high-speed broadband they funded in this electoral cycle, plus an (unavoidable) expenditure on care , a Country-wide ‘No ColdCalling Zone’ (go figure) and that old Tory staple of no council-tax increase – which is always wheeled out as an alibi for their more spectacular episodes of financial mismanagement. And .. er.. that’s it.

So – as I say – milquetoast from start to finish.  

But who knows what may be on the secret agenda for the next four years?

Last year at SCC – a brief review

 The past year at Suffolk County Council has seen a further reduction in grants from Government and greater pressure on limited finances.  Last year, SCC had been pressing ahead with its new approach to budget cuts, which it called the ‘New Strategic Direction’  and which had intended to divest or outsource many of the Council’s services.  

 2011-12 saw some significant changes. The New Strategic Direction has officially been abandoned.  We now have a new Council Leader in the form of Cllr Mark Bee, as well as a new Chief Executive in Deborah Cadman, and whilst many services are still being divested, we do not have the instability around the Council that SCC had last year. However, divestment and outsourcing continue under different names 

New Strategic Direction – Abandoned or just renamed?   

As you may well remember, last year the Council (under its then Leader, Cllr Jeremy Pembroke and its then Chief Executive Officer, Andrea Hill) designed and adopted a policy it called the  ‘New Strategic Direction’. This  intended to divest or outsource many of the services that SCC currently provided – without much or anything in the way of consultation. At one point it was claimed that the NSD would result in the Council retaining a mere  500 members of staff left at its strategic core .

As a result of the changes at the top of the organisation: 2011-12 has seen the election of a new Leader and the appointment of a new Chief Executive, and the ‘New Strategic Direction’ has been – at least officially – abandoned. 

Despite this, many services continue to be outsourced.  Over the past year we have seen the following externalised or to be externalised from the Council –

  • Library service (to which I will refer later)
  • Archaeology and archives to a new Heritage Organisation  (on-going)
  • Highways ( these will be run by a private contractor set to start in April 2013)
  • In-house Bus and Coach Fleet (on-going)
  • Supporting Families Delivery Agency
  • Adult Employment Advice Guidance Learning and Skill Service (Realise) ( this was granted permission at the 20th March Cabinet meeting).
  • Eastern Facilities Management (set up as an external company last year)
  • Residential Care Homes (which will now be run by Care UK)
  • Country parks

So whilst the administration is performing an official step away from the New Strategic Direction, many of the council operations continue to be externalised.

The sheer volume of this outsourcing can be seen through the example of the Adult and Community Services:  in March 2012 Adult and Community Services are directly employing 3,557 members of staff; a year later (March 2013), the number of staff is estimated to be 895.

Decision-making and democracy

This year saw the continuation of an increasing trend whereby most of SCC decision-making  is being performed via the dozen councillors appointed from and by the controlling group and who form the Cabinet. Although the monthly Cabinet meeting at which decisions are finalised is open to the public – and other councillors and members of the public can make comments – only Cabinet members can vote. Cabinet takes place monthly, although full council meetings are now  generally scheduled only every two months and do little more rubber-stamp decisions being made.

This is clearly a serious problem  if the Cabinet makes decisions at odds with what the people of Suffolk want to happen.

The Budget  

 Towards the end of February every year, the County Council sets its budget.  This year many of the savings present were due to service redesigns, and increasing efficiencies.  However, due to the continuing reduction in Government grants it was stated that there still needed to be a £50m reduction in Council spending over the next two years.

Below are the main savings that the administration proposed, and were voted in at the Full Council meeting on the 9th of February –

  • 1.5% efficiency savings across all directorates  (in ACS this amounts to £4m budget reduction).  The efficiency savings also include reducing the procurement spend by £1m by negotiating better deals, and reducing the budget of the CSD contract by £1.5m
  • Reducing management costs across the organisation – £1.5m (12/13); £0.5m (13/14)
  • Targeting resources in children’s services to reduce demand I am not actually sure what this means on the ground, but I imagine it means moving the goalposts at which services aredelivered – £1m (12/13) £2.5m (13/14)
  • Re-letting the highways contract – a saving of £2m but not applicable until 2013/2014 budget.
  • Service redesign in ACS – £8m.

I will keep you updated to whether this has been achieved, but it is worth noting that each quarter the Cabinet will receive an update each quarter on how the Council is doing for this financial year, and currently the Council is £5.443m underspent so far.

At the meeting the Liberal Democrats submitted an amendment to the  proposed budget in which we proposed alternative cuts to support those services that we feel SCC should be supporting at all costs: 

  • Re-instate the Bury Road Park and Ride
  • Bring back an equivalent to the Young Persons eXplore card (based on a £25 admin fee)
  • Implement unlimited travel for those 7,000 people in Suffolk  eligible for Concessionary Passes due to disability
  • Re-instate  bus routes cut at last years budget
  • Top-up the Learning and Improvement Service – to provide greater support to a wider range of schools
  • Fund the Looked after Children service – to develop alternatives to out of County placements
  • Create a NEETS Apprenticeship Scheme 

In order to pay for the measures above we proposed that savings could come from;

  • 30% reduction in External Room Hire
  • 10% Reduction in Business Miles
  • Reduce Cabinet Posts by 1
  • Reduce the Road maintenance Budget
  • Cut the cost of the CSD Contract.

Unfortunately the amendment was dismissed out of hand.  We are concerned about the continuing loss of vital services; we are also concerned at the sheer amount of money coming out of Adult and Community Service comes at a time when we are being constantly warned about the growing elderly demographic.

Street Lighting:  

over the last few months Suffolk County Council has been moving to an Intelligent Street Lighting System, allowing the council to switch off some street lights, dim others, and leave some on – all by remote control. This takes us back to how things were, before the wasteful days when it became cheaper to leave lights on than switch them off. This – as we all know –  is no longer the case.  The Intelligent Light System came into use  in Woodbridge on 26 March 2012.

Concessionary Bus Passes   

Earlier in the year (July 2011) , I and Cllr John Field submitted a motion to Full Council calling for a change in the time limits currently placed on concessionary bus pass holders.

Ever since the Concessionary Bus Passes responsibility moved to the County Council, those eligible for bus passes have been limited to travel between 9:30am and 11pm – a  statutory minimum set up by urban-decisionamakers who have no concept of the difficulties in ther countryside. but places strict limits on those eligible due to both age and disability to be able to travel freely and independently, and to make doctors appointments and socialise.

Our motion suggested that we should remove all time limits to those bus pass holders due to disability, and extend the current arrangements for those over 60 to enable them to travel a half-hour earlier –  from 9 in the morning and not 9:30am Reversing these  concessionary pass decisions would support full, affordable participation in society to two valuable groups of Suffolk residents: those who do not want to let their disability stand in the way of their achievements and those who do not want to let their age confine them to home. Whilst the motion was amended slightly at Full Council, it was fully supported by all parties in recommending that the Cabinet looks once again at the decision and analyses the possibility of changing the current arrangement.

Having got this far – the subject stalled and Cabinet has decided nothing  to date. We have just heard that the subject will not be discussed until the 10th of July that Cabinet looks  at the issue again, which is outside the scope of this AGM report! 

Similarly, a great deal of fuss has – rightly – been made about SCCs cutting of the youth travel card, which has had a bad impact on young people’s chances and choices – in terms of education, training, apprenticeships, work and socialisation. We vwere able to bring the cut into SCC’s scrutiny of Young People Not in Employment Education and Training, and again, this decision has been returned to Cabinet.

Libraries      

Over the past year the stance from the Council administration on Libraries has changed considerably.  Last year it was stated that if local Libraries were not supported by local groups then a number of the smaller sites would have funding removed from them, which would ultimately mean closure.

However, towards the end of last year the council changed their mind and opted to outsource the Library organisation into an Industrial and Provident Society for the benefit of the community.  This means that the Library system will become a member-based organisation where local libraries will become members of the IPS and be able to vote on policy decisions, and what the organisation will do with the funding that it receives from the Council.

Under these new proposals there are no planned closures for Libraries in the County. Instead those libraries that do not have existing community groups will be run by the IPS.  Each of the Libraries will be tasked to make 5% savings on top the savings that are already embedded in the proposals.  This may mean an increase in volunteers, more fund-raising events, or changing suppliers for maintenance contracts.

We are told that one of the main benefits of using this system over that of an in-house Library service is that with an IPS, the Council can bid for charitable status.  This means that there would be a significant reduction in the amount of business rates that the organisation will pay – potentially 80%.

Recently the Council has been making a number of appointments to the IPS board, the body that will manage the grant allocations to libraries.  The appointments will exist whilst the IPS is being set up and will by 2013 be replaced by a board elected by IPS members.

New Chief Executive and New Council Leader  

As I have mentioned above, last April, Cllr Mark Bee the Conservative representative for Beccles became the new leader of both the Conservative Group and the County Council.  . 

 In another change at the top, SCC’s Chief Executive Andrea Hill left the organisation in July 2012.  For a total of six months the Director for Economy, Skills and Environment Lucy Robinson stepped in as interim Chief Executive.  In December Deborah Cadman, was officially appointed as the new Suffolk County Council chief executive.  She had previous roles as the Chief Executive of EEDA, St Edmundsbury Council, and the Leader Inspector of the Audit Committee.

Council Pay scales

Suffolk County Council recently published details of its Pay Policy (as now required by law). Amongst the facts and figures that you may find interesting :

  • In 2011 SCC agreed a (downward) revised salary level of £155k for the Chief Executive post. It is a spot salary meaning there will be no increments ; there are no additional bonus, performance, honoraria or ex gratia payments.
  • Salary structure for Directors ranges from £98,393 to £126,733. New appointments to this level are on a “spot salary” basis and will not attract incremental progression. There are no: overtime, flexi-time, bank holiday working, stand-by paymentsetc. paid to these senior staff:  they are expected to undertake duties outside their contractual hours and working patterns without additional payment.
  • The salary ranges for Assistant Directors and Senior Managers are as follows: Assistant Director (higher) – £85,795 – £96,824 Assistant Director – £ 68,096 – £83,829 Senior Manager – £55,287 – £64,399
  • Rest of the workforce: eight grades ranging from £12,145 to £55,239.  The lowest paid full time equivalent basic pay of £12,145 is used to determine the local definition of ‘low paid’.  There are 100 workers currently on this grade
  • The current pay ratio is 1:8.  This means that the Chief Executive (top earner) earns eight times more than the Council’s median earner (for which the rate is £19,621). When measured against the mean average, this ratio is 1:7; and when measured against the lowest paid it is 1:13.

Public Questions and Participation Sessions  

 The County Council has revamped its public participation guidelines so that members of the public may speak at nearly all committee meetings as well as asking questions at Council and Cabinet meetings. I am proud to say that Woodbridge residents have had a very strong presence at such meetings – indeed, young people from Just 42 were the youngest people ever to question full Council and hold their own in Scrutiny. Long may this continue.

 Please head to the link below for more information, and click on the meeting you wish to speak at   http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/your-council/decision-making/public-speaking-at-meetings/

Locality and Quality of Life Budgets   

I made grants last year  from my locality budget to the following:

  • Tide Mill Trust £1000
  • Repairs of St Mary’s Church Tower: £1000
  • Town grit bins (including one outside the Shire Hall more in keeping with the ‘look’ of the square) £830
  • Solar Panels for the Community Hall £3,000
  • Woodbridge Library for children’s Reading Challenge £300
  • Woodbridge Town Pastors: £1000

Quality of life budget: Little expenditure this year as the 2 schemes mooted are still being assessed and designed:

  •  improvements to the safety of walkers and cyclists on Sandy Lane (National Cycle route 51)
  • solar powered speed sign in Pyches Road

However a small grant has been made for road signs  to flag up the Warwick Ave PO  to motorists

 My County Councillor surgeries   

Since  October I have been running regular monthly surgeries: every third Saturday of the month at Woodbridge library 10-12. No bookings are needed.

‘Explore Card’ petition reaches vital target

We’ve DONE it – we’re over the first hurdle and can challenge the Explore card cut!

Thanks to the hard work of huge numbers of people, our Explore card petition click here has achieved its first goal, with nearly 4,000 signatures and rising. Do keep on signing.   The online petition finishes 1 May! Support has included a recent article in the Evening Star , a poster campaign by members of Woodbridge’s Just 42 OTS club, and a last minute surge of paper signatures from Bungay, led by a superbly public spirited Bungay High School student, Hannah Alred.

In addition, I have just heard that FE students at Otley College, University College Suffolk and West Suffolk College have collected over two thousand further signatures, which the council are happy to include. This means the Save the Explore Card petition has six thousand signatories and rising!

Under its constitution, the council CAN respond to a petition by taking the action requested in the petition – in other words,deciding to retain the card . This would be wonderful because it would cause minimum damage. The Explore card became invalid only four weeks ago – on 1 April – and already we are hearing stories of the hardship caused to young people by cutting it halfway through a school/college year.

However, the County Council may require more persuasion.

If a petition contains more than 3675 signatures it can be debated by the full council, if the petitioner requests it.  This means that it gets discussed and voted on  at a council meeting at which all county councillors attend. The council “will endeavour to consider the petition at its next meeting, although on some occasions this may not be possible and consideration will then take place at the following meeting.

This weekend, the petitioner, Patrick Gillard, will be writing to the Council to ask it to change its mind and restore the Explore card. If – for any reason – the Council cannot immediately take this action, he will ask for a time to deliver the petition in person and request that the immediate restoration of the Explore card should be debated at next full council – May 26.

What YOU can do:

  • Please keep signing. The e-petition is now closed but  I can send you a printable version .
  •  Please keep telling people that they can sign and that we are past the first target. It is important for everyone to realise that people can have an effect on decision-making. The county council is funded by the people of Suffolk for the people of Suffolk. Everyone has a stake in it and should make their voice heard!
  • In addition, please keep on emailing me (or posting on my blog) with your individual stories of how the loss of the card affects you personally. It would be useful to know what town/postcode you are in so that individual county councillors can see how it is affecting the people they represent!

The petition in full:   I am petitioning to overturn SCCs proposal to abolish the young person’s eXplore Card. Up till now young people have had this card to help with travel costs to post-16 education, to work and to find work, and for socialising. Explore cards were available free to students 16-19, and have enabled them to pay only half adult fares on buses and on many off-peak rail journeys. Additionally, 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 a very good thing too!. The proposed abolition of the card would mean there will be more cars on the road because many more young people will be driven or drive to school, college, employment etc. It will put more, less confident cyclists on busier roads. It will lead to less take-up of FE education because of difficulties of access. It will harm young people’s chances of going for job interviews and training. The proposed abolition is a retrograde step that threatens the very education and employment opportunities that our young people need in order to help us out of our current economic crisis. It also makes a mockery of our ‘Greenest county’ aspirations. Please sign this petition to keep SCC’s eXplore card.

SAVE the EXPLORE CARD!

I am petitioning to overturn SCCs proposal to abolish the young person’s eXplore Card. Up till now young people have had this card to help with travel costs to post-16 education, to work and to find work, and for socialising. Explore cards were available free to students 16-19, and have enabled them to pay only half adult fares on buses and on many off-peak rail journeys. Additionally, 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 a very good thing too!. The proposed abolition of the card would mean there will be more cars on the road because many more young people will be driven or drive to school, college, employment etc. It will put more, less confident cyclists on busier roads. It will lead to less take-up of FE education because of difficulties of access. It will harm young people’s chances of going for job interviews and training. The proposed abolition is a retrograde step that threatens the very education and employment opportunities that our young people need in order to help us out of our current economic crisis. It also makes a mockery of our ‘Greenest county’ aspirations. Please sign this petition to keep SCC’s eXplore card.

I need to remind Labour party members what socialists actually THOUGHT before the last election…

and who is actually responsible for all these cuts.  Since the election there has been the most remarkable degree of amnesia on the subject.

Yes,  the vindictively targeted cuts of Suffolk’s New Strategic Direction are the responsibility of the Suffolk Tories and the administration they head.  But at national level? – only a political simpleton or  a dissimulator would lay Britain’s cuts  at the door of the Coalition.

Certainly, before the elecction the left knew exactly who was responsible. You just have to read Mick Brooks on Brown and Light Touch regulation

If you can’t bring yourself to remember, here ‘s a quote:

Clearly the present crisis is international in scope (contrary to Brown’s tommyrot that he could immunise Britain from boom and bust), but the neoliberal policies pursued have exposed the British economy to global economic forces and left if unprotected to a dangerous degree.

Here is a sample of Brown’s saucer-eyed adoration for financial whizzkids from his Mansion House speech in 2007. “I congratulate you on these remarkable achievements, an era that history will record as the beginning of a new golden age for the City of London … I believe it will be said of this age, the first decades of the 21st century, that out of the greatest restructuring of the global economy, perhaps even greater than the industrial revolution, a new world order was created.” Readers seeing this for the first time after the crash must be wondering what planet this bloke beamed down from.

Completely suckered by the arrogance and pushiness of the City elite, Brown was determined as Chancellor to let them have their head. He seemed to harbor the insane delusion that an island of 60 million souls could all make a living in the world on the backs of the mysterious activities of a few tens of thousands of people in the City and Canary Wharf.

He therefore called for ‘light touch regulation,’ in other words less regulation on the City and finance capital. Before his Mansion House audience in 2007, he called for, “a risk-based regulatory approach”. It was an old theme. In the same hall three years before, he pledged that “in budget after budget I want us to do even more to encourage the risk takers” (2004). This is the approach that got us in the present pickle.

Right?     Right!

Thank you

Oh, and PS, TUITION FEES:

In 1997 you said Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education. You then introduced tuition fees … In 2001 you said: ‘we will not introduce top-up fees and have legislated to prevent them’. You then introduced top-up fees.” Michael Howard to Tony Blair, Prime Minister’s Questions, 6 April 2005

Will tuition fees return to haunt the Labour Party?
Unlike the last general election when university tuition fees figured large, higher education is likely to have a lower profile this time round. That’s because the two biggest parties, Labour and the Conservatives, have done a deal to kick the fees issue into the long grass. They have set up a review, chaired by the former BP boss Lord Browne, which is looking at the options for student funding, including charging students more by lifting the cap on fees that stand at just over £3,000 a year. That review will not be completed until the autumn, well after the election is over. Lucy Hodges, The Independent Thursday, 15 April 2010

Tuition fees dog Labour
Since tuition fees were launched in 1997, student funding has been a thorn in Labour’s side. When Education Secretary Charles Clarke speaks at the Labour party conference in Bournemouth on Tuesday, tuition fees will remain the cloud anchored over his seafront horizon.  Dividing the party, putting off young people, threatening the middle classes, appearing as the party that pushes students into debt – the issue of student finance has continued to be bad news for the Labour leadership.
But what is it that has set the backbenchers grumbling?
And how will the government manage to sell the message that tuition fees is about opening doors to higher education, rather than slamming down the shutters? Sean Coughlan  BBC News Online education staff Tuesday, 30 September, 2003

Like I said, just so you remember, eh? I wouldn’t like to think you were accidentally spreading disinformation, just because you’d forgotten  who was actually responsible.

Demand Responsive Transport – the ‘Limousine’ that lets us down!

Today I’m venting huge rage on behalf of myself and every other person who is finding it hard to get  emergency healthcare or go  hospital visiting for six of the next  eleven days.

This is because of  the recent cuts imposed to scheduled bus services by the Suffolk County Council’s discredited New Strategic Direction. (One of several  ‘difficult decisions’ endorsed  by all Conservative Suffolk County Councillors, whether front- or back-bench  at full council. Cynically, one wonders whether, never personally having had to rely on such services, they voted in the happy confidence that  they would never personally suffer from the impact ).

Thank you Cllr McGregor – the man behind these cuts.

Thank you, Suffolk’s Conservative county councillors  for voting them through without a murmur.

What does this imply:

Clearly only patients who know car drivers deserve to be visited!

Clearly only people who are car drivers  deserve to access emergency care at the Ipswich Riverside clinic.

And very clearly you’re expecting only people who are car drivers  to vote for you and your party!

Cllr McGregor has told us that his ‘demand responsive’  (DRT) alternative to scheduled buses is the ‘limousine  of services’ and a fitting and adequate replacement for the  scheduled services he’s cut.

Not on a bank holiday it isn’t. On a bank-holiday, as on a Sunday, or any evening, it is a non-existent service. This is because it is  impossible to get volunteers – even paid volunteers like those who operate the CATS service – to work on Sundays and evenings and Bank Holidays.

Good news for all the other services Suffolk County Council plans to divest to volunteers.

I hope that everybody who has been involved in this shoddy piece of  decision-making will be forced some time to experience for themselves  the difficulties that I and my daughter have been in today.  That is, the experience of being  an emergency hospital in-patient or relative with no option but to travel on foot or cycle or public transport.

And for that public transport to have been cut on an ideological whim without thought for the poor, the sick and the vulnerable.

Let them experience first hand one of their so-called  ‘difficult choices’ ! Maybe with personal experience of the trouble and harm they have caused to others,  they might then consider abandoning their discredited ideology the NSD,  that has turned its back on other  – less damaging ways – to make the required  savings.