The last few weeks before the upcoming electoral moratorium – and a lot of things have been happening: at home, underground cables are coming close to Woodbridge and destroying all the trees in its 55m wide path, Woodbridge Youth Centre has been saved and my Locality and Quality of Life budgets have been spent.At county level – the SCC 2013-14 budget is finalised and various cabinet decisions have been made. Scc has a new candidate to take over Highways maintenance.
And finally – and most satisfactorily – the meat served in Suffolk schools has been found to be free of equine DNA .
Next year’s SCC Budget Suffolk County’s Full Council budget meeting took place on the 14th of February. As I mentioned last month, the administration’s budget aimed to cut £24.9m this financial year. This included £7m from Adult and Community Services, and £2.5m from remodelling Children’s services. The council’s reserves currently stand at £152m – just under one third of the total budget.
The Liberal Democrat Group submitted an amendment to the budget aiming to improve services in a number of different areas. This would have been funded from the contingency reserve.
- £650,000 to School Improvement Services – to employ additional advisors that go into schools to provide guidance to help schools improve their level of attainment, which drastically needs improving in Suffolk.
- £475,000 for providing an additional 1900 days of supply work providing it is matched by school funds. This would allow time for teachers from well performing schools to partner with those who are not doing as well. This approach has been very successful in Hackney.
- £300,000 to help Suffolk County Council commit to a pilot scheme that would increase the number of foster carers for the most vulnerable children in Suffolk.
- £300,000 to respond to local community requests for 20mph zones in Suffolk towns and villages.
We believe would have helped to improve attainment in Suffolk, care for those vulnerable children and to improve the response to new speed limits, following the Cabinet Member’s disbanding of the speed management team at the County Council.
The school improvement budget has been cut substantially over the last few years and this has coincided with a dramatic fall in the performance of Suffolk schools, so we were very disappointed that our amendment was defeated.
School Meals in Suffolk The catering provider to schools in Suffolk, EATS, has provided assurance that the meat provided in its schools does not contain any horsemeat.
The vast majority of meals provided for children in Suffolk schools, are created inhouse, and beef used by EATS is Red Tractor accredited. The red tractor logo is a guarantee of both quality and origin.
Woodbridge Youth Centre As you know I have been very anxious about an unconfirmed threat of development of Woodbridge Youth Centre premises for a couple of years.
Refer to my blog for full details but in short it turned out that this threat was genuine – and had extended as far as officers secretly deciding not to process our local youth club Just 42’s licence to occupy the premises – possibly in case it was necessary to give them speedy notice to quit! This decision was not declared by officers. This culture of secrecy also meant that plans and proposals were being discussed and taken forward as far as actual physical paper plans for the development in question ( I have copies ) without any reference to the occupants, the users, the elected councillors at all levels and the people of Woodbridge as a whole.
I took my concerns to the most senior officer in SCC – Chief Executive Deborah Cadman, who investigated the matter. She assures me that officers will never in the future make decisions without involving local elected representatives to the full. We have been told that Woodbridge Youth Centre is now safe and that any discussion about its long-term future will involve all stakeholders, which jolly well includes our elected councillors.
My Woodbridge locality officer – in collaboration with Emma Smith of SCC – arranged the first WYC stakeholders meeting last week – and I was delighted to see both Town and District council represented.
Speed restrictions in Woodbridge I asked the following question at March 14th Full Council:
A 20-year longitudinal study of 20mph limits found that an extra 10mph off the current road limit reduced casualties by 42 percent, as well as reducing pollution, and promoting cycling, walking and local shopping. This is because only one in 40 pedestrians hit by a vehicle at 20mph die, compared to the figure of one in five when hit at 30mph
New guidance, issued by the Department of Transport, sets out the criteria for a reduction in speed limits which safety campaigns believe could reduce child pedestrian ksi by as much as 70 per cent. The Government is urging councils to cut speed limits to 20mph in residential and urban areas and built-up village streets. The guidance is expected to result in a significant national increase in the number of 20mph zones – as well as more rural 40mph zones. More than half of local councils are keeping up with the times in this respect: reversing decades of policy which prioritised motor vehicles over the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. Islington Council which has limited all of its managed roads to 20mph, claims a 65 per cent fall in accidents in its 20mph areas.
Earlier this year, Suffolk County Council cabinet member for roads and transport disbanded the team that dealt with routine requests for speed limit extensions in the county and put a freeze on implementing new speed restriction zones on the grounds that Suffolk already had enough speed restrictions in place, and following a review of A and B class roads, he was confident speed limits complied with the “most up to date guidance” from the Department for Transport.
As this is clearly no longer the case can he inform us what he is doing urgently to reverse this decision and give many Suffolk communities the opportunity they have asked for in vain – in Woodbridge’s case, since 2010
Locality Budget/Quality of Life budgets for Woodbridge All my Locality budget money has been spent on a nice broad spread of local projects. To prevent any claw-back to SCC – which is what happens to any money uncommitted or returned at the end of the electoral cycle – I have asked the Locality Budget Officer to add any such into the Elmhurst Park funding.
And at least four of the QoL road schemes I have been working on over the last couple of years are all finally coming to fruition within this electoral cycle.These are,
- new signage to prevent HGVs trying to get to the town centre via Angel Lane;
- sighns and lines slowing traffic on Cemetery Lane;
- calming Sandy Lane with pedestrian and cyclist warning signs at each end and at the railway bridge, and white edge markings throughout for pedestrians to walk behind. These would also give warning of the road edge at night which will be very useful, particularly to cyclists
- more cycle racks – removing the three at Cafe Nero (which are expensive to match) up to Shire Hall, and putting five new matching ones down at Cafe Nero.
The only one that will not be at least started before the upcoming electoral moratorium is the new sign at the entrance to Cumberland Street from cross corner, forbidding all vehicles except bicycles.
February Cabinet decisions The February Cabinet on the 26th, contained a number of significant issues for residents across the County. Some of the issues that were discussed and agreed were;
- East Anglia ONE Offshore windfarm – SCC’s response to the consultation of this application which will see a significant section of the power cables from the windfarm come ashore and be buried underground travelling from Felixstowe to Bramford. I have blogged on this http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2013/02/28/ea-one-offshore-windfarm-implications-for-deben-estuary-countryside/ and submitted a response suggesting amelioration, and querying why this plan has abandoned the original notion of putting the cabling UP the estuary.
- Procurement of Highways Services – after the debacle of their previous procurement of a preferred bidder, the Cabinet agreed to negotiate extensions to the current highways contract up to the 30th September, and proceed with awarding a new highways contract to the joint venture between May Gurney & WSP UK Ltd which will commence on the 1st of October.
I asked them what would happen should this preferred bidder fall through, and they said this was ‘very unlikely’ – which is what they said when I asked them last time bout the first ‘preferred bidder’, Balfour Beattie.
- bringing the Councils customer service function back into the Council (from CSD) as of May 2014. This includes public access and Customer First functions.
Stowmarket and Stowupland SOR SCC Cabinet made the decision on 26th of February to abolish the middle schools in Stowmarket and Stowupland. The Liberal Democrats attempted to get the decision called into the Scrutiny Committee as we felt the justification for making this decision was flawed. We were particularly concerned about the lack of funding to provide top class schools in this area, as the plans will see a split site school created in Stowmarket. We also highlighted the contrasting statistics provided by the Council and the campaign group to support opposing cases, as well as issues over safety.
The call in was rejected on the grounds that the Cabinet had all the required information to hand, which means the decision has now been approved. The Lib Dem group are disappointed that an opportunity to look again at such a large issue to which so many parents and pupils feel passionately about has been refused.
This is particularly so when national governmental policy appears now to be turning in favour of a three-tier system again