As your county councillor I am horribly anxious about so many different things simultaneously.
This week its been the almost certain loss of Suffolk’s libraries, school crossing patrols, care homes, bus services, the eXplore card, and services for families that has been most worrying me. That, and the impact of these losses on the people of Suffolk.
For clearly, Suffolk residents are likely to be losing all of these, losing them irrevocably, sacrificed to the ideological insanity of an ‘enabling’ council, run by affluent, untroubled people who say: “Do as I say, not as I do!” It is a Topsy Turvey world where those who run it can demand pay moderation, job cuts, and employment freezes for everyone else but themselves; can parrot the mantra of “Greenest County” and drive everywhere in a 4×4; can declare themselves determined to protect ‘the most vulnerable’ but do not include in this category the elderly, the very young, the disabled , or the disadvantaged.
However, I would urge you not to confuse national policies with our current disgraceful local vandalism. For a start, such confusion could – no, WILL – let those responsible off the hook! The New Strategic Direction has been a long time in the planning. It is making cuts greater than required in services the administration doesn’t value. A cynic would suggest that it is using the national situation as a cover for doing so.
Remember, in Suffolk the Liberal Democrats are not in any kind of coalition – they are very strongly the opposition party. And as you know, both I and my colleagues have been fighting these cuts from the day they were first heralded, back in last September. Let us be clear here – although we are in opposition, Suffolk Lib Dems are fighting this New Strategic Direction as a matter of common sense rather than party-political politicking. We are fighting it because the effects will hit people of all ages, and backgrounds and political hue.
We – like any sane, sensible people – think there IS such a thing as society, and that actually in Suffolk we had – till recently – a society that ran quite well. One that looked after its old and its sick and disabled, that tempered the wind to the shorn lamb. We think a County Council should respond to its residents and their needs: that the council is there to represent and protect them and serve them. We are not so arrogant that we forget that SCC is paid for by the people of Suffolk, out of their own money! We feel that those who pay the piper should be allowed to call the tune!
The council’s current bizarre ‘New Strategic Direction’ (which seems to combine ‘selling off of the family silver’ with dumping some of it in a skip) does not seem to think this way. Far from intending to deliver ‘the best’ for the people of Suffolk, the NSD does not intend to deliver anything at all!
Care homes, libraries, bus services and school crossing patrols: all of these are not just ‘optional extras’ to be dispensed with and disposed of by those who do not use them (and seemingly fail to remember they do not own them). Yet there is such a thing as society in Suffolk, and all these services are ones that make you proud that it still exists.
Suffolk County Council is cynically using the cuts in central government grants to justify what it plans to do, but central actions (whatever we think of them) do not in any sense explain what is being done here in Suffolk. The Coalition government is not going to win any popularity contests while trying to recoup the eye-watering deficit bequeathed by Gordon Brown and the last thirteen years. However it should not be expected to carry the can for the ‘scorched earth’ decisions being made – without reference to the public or even a business plan – by those who have created the ‘New Strategic Direction’.
But the CEO and the Tory administration at Suffolk County Council are not the only people to blame for this mess. There’s also the sheer apathy of all too many of the people of Suffolk to factor in!
In late October/November last year I – together with many other colleagues – trudged around a large area of Suffolk Coastal delivering 23,000 copies of an emergency leaflet which tried to alert the people of Suffolk to what lay ahead.
The administration accused us of ‘scaremongering’ – yet our direst predictions were less terrible than the truth.
We did our best and gained a huge amount of support from those prepared to listen – but it was not enough. Far too few people took notice. Some hoped it wouldn’t really happen under a Tory watch, others hoped to regain popularity for the Labour party by standing on the sidelines and letting our society crumble, others just hoped that the problem would go away if they shut their eyes and buried their heads in the sand.
So, once again I urge you to put aside party-political differences and take action! After months of refusing to listen to the people it represents, Suffolk County Council has finally put up an e-petition site. Register on it and add your name to an existing petition or start a new one. Or best – do both!
You can sign any petition – the only qualification is that you need to live, work or study in Suffolk (for example, I have signed all the Library petitions as I believe in an integrated service for the county) but current petitions that particularly affect you are :
Save our School Crossing Patrols – the St Mary’s School Woodbridge lollipop man is going to be cut along with the other 97 lollipop posts across Suffolk, to save a sum of money that equates to to less that 80% of the Chief Executive’s annual salary!
Save Woodbridge Library: it will not be closed – but it is still in danger of ‘divestment’.
Save Woodbridge Buses Cuts – confirmed yesterday – to SCC subsidised services will leave Woodbridge without any evening, sunday or bank holiday bus services, plus cut easy links to other towns and villages. This will cause huge problems to those who can’t, don’t, or can’t afford to drive
Save the 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
(NB: A word of warning sometimes the e-petition links work poorly. If so , go to the site and navigate from there! And if it doesn’t work, keep trying until it does.)