Tag Archives: school crossing patrol

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

Pretzel maths from SCC

One of the things that is so remarkable about the leadership at Suffolk County Council  is their perverse combination of parsimony and prodigality.

On the parsimony side, they stand up straight, cross their fingers behind their backs  and declare straightfaced that they simply haven’t the money to spend on inessentials like road crossing patrols and libraries.

Yet it was just before Christmas that they spent literally hundreds of thousands of pounds on setting up Suffolk Circle, a membership-based social enterprise that had apparently worked well in Southwark.  (Where, I would suggest,  there is less sense of social cohesion and a greater turnover of population than in Suffolk).

What none of Suffolk’s Cabinet seemed to have asked, of themselves or of anyone else  was Is this necessary?”

Kathy Pollard’s blog makes clear this is a question that should definitely have been asked:  Suffolk Circle is currently offering services that were already available free in Suffolk!  And, when SCC spent £750,000 on Suffolk Circle, this really means that every man woman and child in Suffolk has been asked to subsidise this social enterprise to the tune of £1. Without consultation. Perhaps they might have decided there were other services they preferred to spend their money on? (Update:  April 2012 we currently believe the  sum spent on Suffolk Circle to be ‘only’ £680,000)

Suffok’s leaders seem genuinely confused about the value of our money, letting it flow through their fingers like water  on inessentials  yet defending core cuts as unavoidable.   “Do as I say not as I do”  is their mantra over and over again.  It’s as if they genuinely cannot tell the difference between right and wrong decisions!

Nine months ago  – just as the cuts began to bite –  our leaders decided to allow the Chief Executive to spend £122,000 of public money (thats sixteen pence from every Suffolk resident)  on unspecified ‘services’  from three consultancy companies : Fields of Learning, Scintillate and DNA.   This decision was voted through at the May 2010 Council meeting, by the Conservative majority  after an earler attempt to to slip the decision through Cabinet without further publicity was called in by the Lib Dems.  We said that this was a grossly inappropriate use of public money at a time of belt-tightening.

Deputy Leader Jane Storey’s response?  “This is a tiny proportion of the county council’s budget!”

I kid you not.  I wrote down these words as they dropped from her mouth.

It is a tragedy that SCC is being run by people who consider £122,000 a small sum of money to spend without further authorisation of disclosure on ‘consultancy’ , £500,000 a sensible amount to ensure closed mouths for former council  employees, £750, 000 a reasonable sum to  set up  ‘pay-for’ friendship groups in a county where  friendship and support groups proliferate and for free – yet think £150,000 a good sum to save by closing the Bury Park and Ride and £174,000 to abolish our School Crossing Patrols.

As many members of Suffolk will remember, one of the above consultants, Bedfordshire-based  Fields of Learning had previously been used by Suffolk County Council – who spent nearly half a million pounds of Suffolk taxpayers money in 2009 on  “neuro-linguistic programming” courses for the deputy leader and her colleagues.  Yet, if you google ‘neuro-linguistic programming’ you will discover it described as one of the 10 most discredited forms of intervention in published research – on a par with ‘equine treatment for eating disorders’ and ‘dolphin assisted therapy’.

What on earth is the Tory leadership  doing spending public money on  such things while insisting  that the rest of us have  to tighten our belts so dreadfully?  Come to that, why do they pay for meeting rooms in Ipswich when Endeavour house echoes with underused space? Why do they get so antsy when we suggest they cut their own  mileage bills by 10%?

Back in November, Colin Noble,  Portfolio holder for Adult and Community Services  disclosed  his difficulties  on his blog when he wrote  “as I get older I realise I know less and less about more and more.”

I think that says it all.

Chinese saying of the day:

朱门 酒 肉 臭, 路 有冻 死 骨 (zhu men jiu rou chou lu you dong si gu)

behind the doors of the rich meat and wine go to waste, while out on the road lie the bones of the frozen

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

Woodbridge Town Council report Feb 2011

This month’s report is largely about various – very worrying –  cuts and ‘divestments’ that the forthcoming SCC 2010-11 budget intends to legitimise. Specific reference to Libraries, Road Crossing Patrols, Bus Services (especially the 62a/b evening, Sunday and bank holiday service) and the young persons’ eXplore card, together with links to petitions to try and help save these.

SCC Budget 2011-12 – Update

The County Council is finally setting the budget at Full Council on the 17th of February.  The total level of cuts for next year will be approximately £43m from across the authority; this is combined – as  SCC is keen to point out – with a 0% increase in Council tax .

SCC does not mention that by electing not to raise council tax the council is eligible for a government grant of £7,200,000 – equivalent to them imposing a 2.5% rise!  SCC would therefore have to raise its council tax by more than 2.5% to get any benefit from doing so.

As you will have seen in the news, the County is wishing to cut back a wide number of frontline services, including Libraries, Buses,  the eXplore card.and School crossing patrols, all of which which I will discuss later.

Other areas that the Council intends to make savings include;

  • selling off Country Parks and recreation areas
  • The closure of seven Household Waste recycling centres – which are  supposedly as yet to be decided (although I have been told that already some redundancy notices have been issued)
  • Divestment or closure of Youth Clubs
  • Stopping the subsidy for community meals
  • Divesting the Fire Control Function to another service
  • Ending the Healthy Schools programme
  • Cease checking lorries to see if they are overloaded, and cease enforcement of environmental weight restrictions on County’s roads and bridges.
  • Ceasing offering advice to Suffolk residents on consumer disputes where the law is complex..

The interesting point about this is that there are plenty of neighbouring county councils with a Conservative majority who have not needed to do this, preferring to salami-slice cuts equally across the whole council and consulting their population as to their preferences . Norfolk is a good example.

For more information, and to view the papers which highlight the level of capital spending planned by the authority for the upcoming year, please head to: http://apps2.suffolk.gov.uk/cgi-bin/committee_xml.cgi?p=detail&id=1_15073

Suffolk Libraries ‘Consultation’

As you have probably heard, the County Council is intending to divest, or close a significant  number of the 44 Libraries around the County. They have divided these into ‘County’ and ‘Community’ libraries.

Woodbridge library is ’safe’:  that is, it will remain one of the 15  ‘County Libraries‘  free from divestment – that is, unless someone really really wants to take it over.  In which case it will be ‘divested.’. It will not, however, close.

The  other 29  (now designated Community) libraries  -including Wickham Market,  Framlingham, Debenham, Kesgrave, Leiston, Oulton Broad and Southwold – are up for divestment – that is, being taken over by community groups. However SCC says: “If the response to this consultation is disappointing, and the county council does not receive viable proposals and ideas from people, groups, businesses and other interested parties for ways to run community libraries, we propose that funding will stop from 2012”.

As is becoming standard in these SCC consultations,  ‘having your say’ on the future of Suffolk’s libraries doesn’t mean the administration allows  you any opportunity to say their idea is bad, and you want no part of it.

This consultation only gives you a chance  to explain your idea for running your divested library.   For example, Question 4 is:  “How will your idea  or interest generate changes or significant efficiencies in the way the library operates to reduce what the county council pays by a minimum of 30%”.

The ‘consultation’ which is titled ”Have your Say on the Future of Suffolk’s Libraries”  began on the 18th of January, and finishes on the 30th of April.  You can find it on the home page of Suffolk County Council under the Consultation heading. http://www.suffolk.gov.uk.

You may feel like filling in the consultation document. You may, on the other hand feel like filling in one of the e-petitions that are proliferating on the Council’s new petition site: http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/. There is a petition asking that Woodbridge library remains undivested, and another one requesting that the Library Staff remain salaried.

Cuts and threats to Woodbridge Bus Services

The County Council is making very significant reductions in the passenger transport  which enables commercial services to operate in non-peak time slots.

We had a shock announcement on Wednesday that our 62a and 62b services will go on 27 February. The announcement was made a day after Cllr McGregor had assured Cabinet that no decisions on cutting services would be made until after 17 February’s full council.

I’ve been copied a letter by Melton’s Cllr Butterwick, as I believe the Town Clerk also has. He suspects that such  a cut without a 56day notification period is not even legal and has written to the Traffic Commissioner to ask his advice about it.

Suffolk County Council says it plans to ‘remodel’ much of local rural transport, by replacing services with a ‘demand-responsive’ alternative, booked a day in advance. However the council transport team (when questioned by me) admits that “demand responsive transport operates between 0700 and 1900 Monday to Saturday and we are unable to offer any extension to these hours”.

Therefore, when the 62a and 62b services close later this month, they will not be replaced with demand-responsive transport: they will be replaced with nothing at all. Residents in Woodbridge will have NO sustainable transport in the evenings, on Sundays and on Bank Holidays. Those residents who do not have, cannot afford to, or are unable to drive a car, will be stuck! This will have an impact on people from Ipswich to Wickham Market and Rendlesham.

I am deeply saddened about this cut because it represents a very retrogressive step in the history of our local bus service. It leaves those Woodbridge residents without a car with NO options for bus travel over, say, a bank holiday from about 6pm Saturday till about 7am the following Tuesday.   This is a cut that will affect car drivers not a whit but will impact very heavily on those who don’t have a car, those who can’t afford a car, and those who are prevented by age or health from driving a car..

Other threatened services are

70, 70a. 118: Ipswich – Bealings – Woodbridge – Grundisburgh – Ipswich

71, 163, 173,  IP179, IP512: Orford/Felixstowe – Woodbridge – Ipswich

We have not yet heard a word about their fate.

Luckily  we were sufficiently anxious about the possibility of cuts to have  set up an epetition to save Woodbridge buses a few days before the shock announcement about 62a/b… Can I continue to urge Town and District Councillors – who were so very helpful when we joined together to press for better bus services last spring –  to join together again to try and overturn this cut?   It will have huge implications for the people of Woodbridge.

http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/Save-Woodbridge-Buses

Abolition of the SCC Explore card

SCC has also made another  £1,700,000 cut to sustainable transport usage by abolishing the eXplore Card. Although the bus services in Suffolk have become extraordinarily expensive as well as patchy, up till now young people have had  to help with their travelling 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 many off peak rail journeys. Poorer students have also had EMA.

As regards post-16 transport, 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 if their parents are poor, EMA too. This means that up to now transport to work and educational opportunities should be in the reach of all young people in Suffolk – and a very good thing that is too! This abolition means that there will be more cars on the road many, many more young people will be driven, or drive  to school, college, employment etc ,  and will put more, less confident cyclists on busier roads,  because they  are forced into cycling before they are ready. It will lead to less  take-up of  FE education because of difficulties of access (especially to colleges and Suffolk ONE ) and less chance of going for job interviews and training.

SCC says they hope that individual bus companies might take a paid-for version of this card up for the future, but I believe First have rejected the idea. It will, anyway be of limited use unless all buses take it on the same terms. And one of the things SCC Transport has been constantly telling us in the past is that the bus companies have no desire to work together – this is the reason we never managed to get an integrated ticketing service.

Again, there will be a petition about this on the SCC site http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/Save-the-eXplore-card-

The End of SCC School Crossing Patrols

You will be aware of the huge amount of anger that has been generated in Suffolk  by the Council’s decision to close all 98 School Crossing patrols to save £174,000. (In fact more like £125,000 as a number of vacancies exist which can’t be filled because of the current hiring freeze).. This includes the St Mary’s School crossing patrol.

School crossing patrols were formally recognised in Britain by the Schools Crossing Patrols Act of 1953.  Lollipop people are one of only four agents entitled to stop traffic by law and are established at sites where children are in danger from road traffic when walking to and from school as assessed  by national guidelines (established by the Local Authority Road Safety Officer’s Association and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents). Ten years ago  the (then)  Woodbridge Lollipop man, was knocked to the ground by an impatient driver while on patrol on Birkett Road, directly outside St Mary’s School.  More recently, I had two near misses when cycling past the school at playgroup collection time last week.

I think it is fair to say that road has not got any safer in recent years.

The school, parents, PTA, and many others, including myself  are anxious that this cut  could have  dreadful repercussions. I have asked SCC if they know what the council’s legal position would be if – heaven forbid – anyone was knocked down after the patrol has been withdrawn. I have, as yet, had no reply.

Again, there is a petition against this cut: http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/

Your Councillor’s Quality of Life and Locality budgets

On a more positive note, we heard at Cabinet that the County Councillors’  Quality of Life budget will be retained – though with less money. This is good news for Woodbridge. I hope this will allow me to undertake the Sandy Lane road traffic calming I had to postpone last year .

Of the three projects I have funded so far

  • The Duke of York (ex-Seal) Crossing is proving immensely successful
  • the (separate) 30mph LED sign for further down Ipswich Road is ordered and being constructed
  • The final consultation for the TRO finished last month. From various communications from constituents, it would seem to be the first they had heard of it!

I do not yet know the fate of the Councillor’s Locality budget, but I hope that this will also be retained. I have recently made grants to establish a Graffiti wall up in Kyson, to buy a seat for people in Kingston Fields, to provide  two bicycles for the Town pastors and  a lawn mower for the Scouts to use to raise income and to buy Olympic-branded jute bags to advertise the Wood-Olympics  next year.

Let’s try rescue Suffolk’s Explore Card PLEASE!

I ‘m hoping that as many people as possible – cardholders, past cardholders, friends and family of cardholders – will sign the SCC e-petition asking them to overturn SCCs latest shocking proposal – to abolish the young person’s eXplore Card (click here).

Up till now young people in Suffolk  have had the eXplore 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.  Considering the scandalous cost of the average bus fare around here this is a huge advantage for them, and must have encouraged the continuance of various bus routes.   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  it has been too!

 SCC’s abolition of the eXplore card has happened simultaneously with  SCC’s evisceration of the rural bus services. This  is creating a double whammy for the young and poor – particularly the rural young and poor – that our SCC administration would do well to back away from with shame and embarrassment!

The proposed abolition of the card will mean there will be more cars on the road because many more young people will be driven or drive to school, college, employment etc. Worse, it will put more young drivers on the road before they are safe and ready often in cars that are chosen for cheapness rather than any more reliable quality. On top of this, it will put more, less confident cyclists on busier roads – where – as we’ve all heard – Jeremy Clarkson is advocating they should be knocked down for getting in his way  (No, I didn’t make that up, sad to say, click here: relevant section is at 21:44 and please don’t get me started on the appalling waste of public money HE represents. An expense of spirit in a waste of shame, that’s Jeremy Clarkson – but I digress). 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.

SCC apologists – the ones I call the “Shh – be quiet, and it will all be ok“ brigade  (those who don’t want the victim to wriggle as the blade is shoved in),  say “shh – be quiet, and it will all be ok”.  These people speak loudly of their hope that individual bus companies might take up the idea of a paid-for version of the eXplore card for the future.  (Actually, I believe First have already rejected the idea.)

Such a scheme would, anyway, be of limited use unless all buses take it on the same terms. And one of the things SCC Transport has been constantly telling us in the past is that the bus companies have no desire to work together – this is the reason we were told that us poor bus users in Suffolk  never managed to get an integrated ticketing service as exists in most other places.

The  “Shh – be quiet, and it will all be ok“ brigade will also be out there telling you these cuts are sad but necessary. (By the way, the prerequisite of being a member of this brigade is never actually using a bus themselves.)

No, these cuts are not ‘necessary’ – Suffolk could well afford to keep the eXplore card, if Cllr Guy McGregor weren’t so determined to  stay in the good books of the car lobby. There is an extra £2m going to the roads budget this year. Explore card users, Park and Ride users, School Crossing patrols etc are all paying dearly for his partiality!

So, another epetition to sign. It is as urgent and vital as all the others!