Tag Archives: NSD

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?

Suffolk Libraries : Suffolk Lib Dem Library policy

In the relatively calm waters of 2013, we are in danger of forgetting quite what threat Suffolk’s libraries were under back in 2010, when Tory-appointed CEO Andrea Hill was endeavouring to institute a ‘virtual council’ and divest itself of most services in the name of her New Strategic Direction. The Conservative councillors who were happy to vote this in are still in power – until May 2nd.

Suffolk libraries at risk from SCC's New Strategic Directive!
Suffolk libraries at risk from SCC’s New Strategic Directive!

Yet 29 of our 44 libraries were under very real threat of closure (don’t take my word for it – hear it from the mouth of Cllr Terry  -Conservative Cabinet member for libraries . Her actual words are unambiguous : “the fallback position is that if we don’t get those responses, then 29 libraries do have to close.” Naysayers and amnesiacs please note)

Luckily the people of Suffolk (kickstarted by the people of Woodbridge who were signing the first petition within 2 days of the first announcement of trouble)  saw off that threat, and the IPS which is now in place is definitely the lesser of two evils. What more it might be we have yet to discover.

A while back, Suffolk Lib Dems issued the  following  policy regarding libraries. In case it is hard to find in its current position, I’m taking the opportunity to repost it :

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Suffolk Lib Dem Group Library policy

Suffolk Lib Dem Group recognises the immense value of libraries to the Suffolk community. Most particularly because libraries :

  • Provide materials for study to help both young and mature students – and especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds;
  • Provide materials for leisure helping people relax, thus enhancing or maintaining their mental health;
  • Provide a centre for social interaction – which enhances community cohesion;
  • Provide a place for quiet study for those who don’t enjoy such facilities at home;
  • Provide a source of reference material in both physical and on-line formats;
  • Provide internet access for people who can’t afford such equipment, don’t have the space to accommodate it, have occasional need or just need help with the processes.

It is essential that

  • the above facilities should be provided
  • the provision must meet current needs and satisfy foreseeable trends
  • the business structure should be stable and finance should be certain
  • accommodation should be conveniently located for existing population centres, thinking particularly of those that are disadvantaged
  • adequate public transport and car parking facilities should be available.
  • accommodation should attract users, being clean, comfortable and accessible
  • mobile libraries should be provided and used effectively to ensure a service in low population density rural areas
  • staff should be friendly, welcoming and willing to help new users of any age, not just the long established library buffs.

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Caring or care-less?

SCC has now decided to sell its care homes ‘as going concerns’ – or so we heard last month.

Very much  better than the original suggestion of choice which had an indefinable suggestion of  ‘prime building site in desirable location’ about it. Indeed – now that management buy-outs from existing staff are no longer  excluded – it could result in little noticeable chance for the people of Suffolk, and particularly the residents. This is to be welcomed.

But where does all SCC’s past rhetoric about the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the private sector sit with the downfall of Southern Cross, the UK’s largest private care provider?

Southern Cross is Britain’s biggest care homes operator, with 750 homes – eight of which are in Suffolk. It is currently teetering on the brink of financial collapse as it struggles to pay the rent for what the portfolio-holder for Adult Care Services would describe as its  ‘cost-effective care homes’.  But as Southern Cross strikes  a deal with its landlords in a last-ditch attempt to avoid bankruptcy, we haven’t heard too much from its creditors about its efficiency and cost-effectiveness .

Indeed, Age UK has been quoted as saying

“In future, we would like to see all home care providers having to demonstrate to regulators a solid business model. Without this they should not be able to run care homes. The sector would benefit from greater transparency.”

So it seems that all that past New Strategic Direction bombast  from Suffolk’s Tory Cabinet  about how the private sector was so much more  efficient in the care of the elderly was based on a system with no requirement for transparency or a solid business model.

Why doesn’t that surprise me?

Local Election results – a closer look

The Daily Telegraph rang me the other day to ask about the ‘poor showing’ of Suffolk Lib Dems in the recent local elections  –  and was disconcerted to hear that Woodbridge had actually doubled the number of Lib Dems on its Town Council.

Clearly this inconvenient fact  spoiled the reporter’s  story which appeared to want to go along the lines of Labour gains  and Lib Dem losses  –  rather than the unreflecting Conservatism which may be rather closer to the truth in Suffolk.  Indeed, I pointed out that in Suffolk there seems to be  little sense of electoral discrimination or political responsibility.

In the SCC Wilford district by-election, for example,  the  first-time Tory candidate romped home despite all the horrible actions and publicity linked to the SCC Conservative administration over the last months.

One might suppose that many people in Wilford had neither care for buses, libraries, care homes etc. or those that used them.  Or possibly were unable to see any link between these and their vote.

On the flip side I was glad to see that both Oxford and Cambridge  voted yes to AV. Maybe its true : they may be blue but maybe they actually ARE  centres of progressive thought and intellectual excellence!

‘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.