Tag Archives: Suffolk

Severe Weather Warning: midnight 23 Dec – morning 24 Dec

The Met Office have issued an Amber Warning of Wind, valid from 00:05 on Tue, 24th Dec 2013 until 06:00 on Tue, 24th Dec 2013.

“Southwesterly gales and locally severe gales will continue across southern and eastern parts of England during Monday night, but are expected to strengthen further across parts of southeast England, including SUFFOLK, in the Amber warning area, during the early hours of Tuesday, with gusts of 65-75 mph inland and 75-85 mph along exposed eastern coasts. The winds will ease from the west by morning.”
Note – Friday 27th sees return of gales and rain.

Heavy rain is anticipated although it is considered that this will only have the potential for localised surface water flooding with up to 20-25mm of rain across the county.  There may be other incidents of flooding in areas susceptible to flooding from fast reacting rivers – Rattlesden, Stowmarket  and possibly to Needham Market.

Widespread messages are being circulated to the public through the media – that “ the Public should be prepared for disruption, particularly to travel and for interruptions to power supplies.”

TRAVEL

Road:  The Highways Agency has closed the QEII Bridge at Dartford until further notice with traffic being diverted through the tunnels.  It is anticipated that the Orwell Bridge will be closed later this evening- based upon the wind limits, but hopefully after this evening’s homeward commute to ease congestion problems in Ipswich.

Suffolk Highways are activating their Highways Hub overnight to deal with expected road disruption.  However, crews will not carry out chainsaw clearances during darkness hours, but will make situations safe and put diversions in place.  Additional crews will commence shifts earlier tomorrow morning.

Rail: Anglia Rail tell us  50 mph speed restriction will be imposed across the Route network from 6pm this evening until first thing tomorrow morning. As a consequence there will be some cancellations and alterations to services.

Services in Anglia are not expected to resume until after 10am tomorrow morning, to be in position to clear the debris, etc. and also allow for “route proving trains” to check the lines before re-opened to services. If possible they will restore services before 10am but the advice to the public is not to look to travel tomorrow until after 1000 hrs.

POWER OUTAGES

It is anticipated that there will be power outages, especially along the coast.  UK Power Networks have initiated their emergency procedures.

GENERAL

Warnings are being sent regarding open areas, public spaces and parks and Right of Way regarding the hazards.

There may be loss of power affecting care homes and vulnerable people

Probable closure of Port of Felixstowe,  and increased congestion if Orwell Bridge closed.

 

Suffolk Staycation

Apologies for my absence – I’ve been holidaying to the far north east east.  No no, not Siberia, camping by the sea in the far north east of Suffolk. And financial squeeze or not, I wonder why anyone ever goes anywhere else. Our county is an absolute delight:

Lets face it, who needs to go to the Med when the North Sea is so lovely and swimmable – and has such great waves to boot?

And who needs  the Sistine chapel ceiling when you have such things as the glories of the Wenhaston Doom close to hand? If you’ve not seen it, its a large wooden representation of the Saved and Damned – saved in its turn  from Henry VIII’s reformers by a coat of whitewash  (and then by a shower of rain from a bonfire 400 years later. Yes really. It was lying in the church grounds, slated for destruction, when a rainstorm finally washed that whitewash off and they saw the Doom for the first time in centuries)

And not even the Taj Mahal, or the Great Pyramid at Giza can give you such a flavour of the person it commemorates as does this wonderfully funny epitaph at Bramfield.  I want one too!

For those who like more active sports, in Suffolk there’s always that great (non-blood) sport of crabbing. Do you know it?  I swear there are crabs all over the county who have to book into fat farms when the holiday season is over, they get so bloated by meals of bacon, chicken and the like.

In the evening there are such delights as the Moving Pictures. This Picture Palace at Southwold seats 70 people now that they’ve built a Royal Box – and it has a uniformed commissionaire and an organ that rises from the floor too.

Though there are plenty of other amusements  for those who prefer to remain outdoors.

And at the end of a well-spent day, can the Manhattan skyline possibly beat this?

I’ve come home brown, relaxed and happy. I’ve walked or cycled most of the time. I’ve wasted no time in traffic jams. I’ve spent no time at airports.  But I have spent every penny of my holiday fund in Suffolk.

Win, win!

Local care for local carers: Wickham Market finds a solution

More and more of the UK’s care problems are being picked up by family carers, but who cares for them? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The government and the media and all the other movers and shakers may move shiftily and shake their heads despondently, but they come up with precious few answers.  I can tell them exactly how to move forward. Government and the media and all the other movers and shakers – you  just need to come and look at what’s happening in Wickham Market!

In this small Suffolk village the Wickham Market and District  Family Carers group  (a wonderful group of which I am proud to be a member) has created a trail-blazing solution to Britain’s growing care problem. In March, 13 volunteers from Wickham Market became  the first people in the country to qualify in an innovative scheme to provide local free trained respite care to local family carers!

Why? When the villages ‘s parish council saw local services struggling to meet the care needs of an ever-increasing older population, they recognised that it would be most practical to support the people who look after this population – the family carers. They also recognised that the single most important way of supporting these people was by giving them worry-free respite from their caring role. Their unique scheme ‘Local Care for Local People’ provides a pool of trained, accredited, insured – and most importantly LOCAL – volunteer carers, to respond to the present and future needs of people looking after loved ones fulltime.

After qualification, the volunteers carry on receiving  training, development and supervision. The knock-on effect is an improvement to employment opportunities for local people in our rural area . The scheme is therefore not only helping our local family carers, its contributing to the economic health of the community,” says the dynamic and diminutive Pam Bell, too modest ever to admit she is the brains behind this idea (she is). “Each volunteer has undertaken 56 hours of training by accredited trainers, 10 hours of assessed placements in residential care homes, plus course work. It a huge investment of time and effort for them to make  even before they start their volunteering role in the community. This is real commitment. From Easter 2012 we’ve been able to provide up to 100 hours per month of free support for family carers so they can take a break.  Our Volunteers are qualified, insured, CRB checked and supervised and each individual Family Carer can contact the volunteer they choose directly, no agency, no waiting, no cost!”

Family Carers are unsung heroes who, out of love, compassion, friendship, voluntarily care for another adult 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, with little or no support or opportunity to take a break. They find it hard to do all sorts of things non-carers take for granted – to go shopping, to go for a walk, to meet a friend for a coffee – even get to the doctors or cope with an unexpected injury. The idea of doing something really positive to help them – training local people to become Local Volunteer Carers – was born from their plight says Sarah Owen Williams who is Wickham Market and District’s  Carers Support Group leader.

“Almost all support groups for carers are centred on the illness of the person they are caring for. Yet the problems that all carers face are very similar. Once we’d set up a group in Wickham Market to help any local family carer, we realised that respite was the key issue for all of them. And that we could make a real difference to their lives by training a bank of local people to provide short term respite care when emergency strikes. Or just when somebody wants a little time off from it all. Why should their love and public-spiritedness give them no private time? Pam adds.

When employed people talk about the stress of  their long working weeks, they need to remember that a full-time family carer is working a 168 hour week without pay, overtime, sick leave, holiday pay or an occupational pension. You can be called on any time of the day or night.  Indeed, I spent a terrifying and upsetting night in A&E ten days ago – unsure as to whether the relative I care for would survive the night (she did).  It may be  stressful running counties, countries or big companies  – I wonder if it is any less stressful being on call for years as the permanent link between life and death for just one single other person. You certainly don’t get paid at the same rate.

And on top of everything carers are always worrying about what will happen to their loved one if they have an accident or became seriously ill. I was knocked off my bicycle three years back by a man driving on the wrong side of the road.  He jumped out of the car to see if I was badly hurt.

And grazed and bruised I might be, but I had my priorities. I burst into tears and said If you had killed me, there’d be no-one to look after my daughter!

Nor was there. There are no carers for carers.

But now Wickham Market has made sure there are!

And if you don’t live in Wickham Market, or district? This scheme is unique – but we would be delighted to help other communities to replicate it in other parts of the country says Pam.

So  that’s all there is to it. Go thou and do likewise, why don’t you?

Suffolk Circle – paying to be neighbourly!

As my neighbours will corroborate, if they need help, I am very happy to offer it – and if I need any, I go running to them. No money changes hands. Its about neighbourliness and a sense of community. This isn’t a purely Woodbridge characteristic – good neighbours can be found up and down the length and breadth of Suffolk and elsewhere.  Yet yesterday Suffolk County councillors   looked  at Suffolk Circle which is  a “Pay-for-good-neighbour” scheme funded two years ago by SCC to the tune of £680,000.

(I have blogged querying the basis of  this decision in both February and July 2011)

Suffolk Circle was based on a Good Neighbour scheme  that had recently started  in inner-city Southwark and had -apparently – been mentioned enthusiastically once by David Cameron.  The declared intention was to save money by building sustainable support for the increasing numbers of ‘frail elderly’ in Suffolk and thus saving money longterm.

In order to be part of the Suffolk Circle you must pay an annual membership fee (currently £30pa).  In order to use one of the helpers (for maintenance, TV, gardening etc.), or attend one of the priced events, members must buy half-hour tokens for £6 each.

This scrutiny gave everyone – that is, all non-Cabinet councillors as well as the public –  first sight of the confidential paper provided to Cabinet on the 25th of May 2010 on which Cabinet unilaterally made the controversial decision to fund the programme. This made interesting reading. (Full details here.)

Although the social enterprise could provide evidence of some satisfied users, the taxpayer would find almost all details disturbing:

  • Suffolk Circle was presented to the people of Suffolk as long-term assistance to the council’s social care budget by helping support the vulnerable elderly. However, the social enterprise assumes ‘the elderly’ start at 50 – thus including over a third of Suffolk’s population (and the vast majority of SCC councillors)!  If Suffolk Circle wait for every 50 year old to become frail and elderly they are likely to be waiting 35 years. This is a ludicrously long-term solution!
  • Suffolk Circle missed its first year membership target by over 10% – only getting 362 of 404 target members. This was itself an unbelievable modest target  for £350,000 : 363 people make up 0.16% of Suffolk’s over-50s.
  • Suffolk Circle’s target membership for next year is to achieve 1630 members, and 3500 at the end of the funded three years. This will have cost the Suffolk taxpayer just under £700,000 and ‘reached’ 1.6 % of Suffolk’s over-50s – with no guarantee that many of these would be ‘frail elderly’! And this is assuming that nobody who has joined has ever left.
  • Suffolk Circle now charges £30 per year for membership, although the original financial plan was to charge between £30 and £75 per quarter. Despite this radical shift, we could glean no information as to how this might alter the financial viability of the project.
  • At £6 per half-hour, the tokens are twice the cost of employing someone at minimum wage and the ‘helper’ is given one token for an hour’s work. The rest goes to Suffolk Circle. Outing/ social events cost a lot more than  one token (the last one in April was a cookery course costing £36 a hed) – and instead of offering a discount for theatre outings etc, we were told Suffolk Circle members actually seem to pay a premium. That is, it costs the member more than it would cost the man or woman in the street
    How could this price structure meld with the vulnerable elderly with £107 pw pension? Suffolk Circle told us they hoped to ‘get in’ on ‘Personal Budgets’. I must tell them, it didn’t have a good sound.
  • No account seems to have been taken  (either by the Cabinet who agreed this expenditure, or Suffolk Circle, who proposed it ) of the huge number of existing interest groups and services for the Over-50s AND for the ‘frail elderly’  that were already available in Suffolk.  Locally this includes: Church groups, Suffolk Carers, Royal British Legion, WI, English Country Markets, Library groups, amateur dramatics and plat readings, Good Neighbour Groups, Tea dances, Ramblers, Age UK (including their telephone befriending scheme), Wickham Market Family Carers Support Group, political parties, WRVS, lunch groups, charity work, NADFAS, WAMRAG, and groups for those interested in art, photography, music, opera, ballet, the theatre – to name but a few
  • When questioned about this, spokespeople ( I would hate to call them apologists) for Suffolk Circle, told the committee that Suffolk Circle was still “learning.”  You’d think this was part of the research and scoping SCC paid them £100,000 for  in the year before the enterprise started!

It would seem to me that this dubiously useful project is a prime example of how Suffolk County Council’s undemocratic Cabinet system is failing the taxpayer.  It allowed a few – seemingly mathematically challenged councillors –  to make an effectively unilateral decision that is costing council tax-payers of Suffolk the best part of a million pounds. And without providing any demonstrable benefit to the vulnerable elderly of Suffolk  it was supposedly set up to help. Yet in these straitened times,  the frail elderly need and will increasingly need all the help they can get.

When money is so tight this is a disgraceful example of putting the ideology of private enterprise above the common-sense of making limited resources stretch as far as possible.

And what could possibly have been the rationale? The Conservatives have been heard to say that £680,000  is “really not very much money”. They need to remember that it is is a fortune to people living unsupported and friendless on £107 a week!

A petition that won’t lie down: democracy and post-16 travel cards

Last week Suffolk’s  ‘Save the  eXplore Card’ petition earned the right to be discussed at full Council – having received over 6,000 signatures.   (To remind you: this  young person’s travel card, a brainchild of SCC’s last Lib-Lab Coalition, has been cut halfway through this academic year without any form of consultation or risk assessment by Suffolk County Council.)

Unfortunately, it turned out that SCC – having set up their e-petition site as a legal requirement – had not thought at all about what should happen after an e-petition had reached 3675 signatures  and was discussed at full council – as is required by the SCC constitution .

From the first there was great confusion.

The originator (Patrick Gillard)  found that his petition had not been acknowledged:  it still registers as ‘failed to achieve the requisite number of signatures’ on the epetition site.  SCC had not invited him to speak as he asked (and was his constitutional right). When he insisted on speaking, another speaker (Greer Hill, Otley College) was un-invited by SCC. After pressure from myself and Kathy Pollard, both speakers were finally allowed their 5 minutes  – but this left only 10 minutes for discussion.  SCC offered no explanation for this.  This was a grave discourtesy to the speakers and to all those thousands of petitioners  they represented.

Although this  petition was heard in the middle of GCSE, A.A/S and college exams, it was handed to Transport Portfolioholder Guy McGregor by a very large group of  Just 42 youth club members, other young people,  MYPs, councillors, and representatives of schools and colleges. These were eager to  explain their anxieties. Cllr McGregor’s  response was his old traditional theme “you can only spend a pound once.” He did not explain why he had failed to consult on this cut or explored alternative options. No explanation of this has ever been forthcoming!

At this point it turned out that two teenage members of Woodbridge’s Just 42  youth club , who had scheduled a public question, had not had this question acknowledged at all by SCC. I had to  go to great pains to get their  right to speak agreed  and it was only very few minutes before the debate that it was confirmed. This was another grave discourtesy – in this case,  to the youngest public questioners ever to address the council!

During the meeting, SCC’s new Leader Mark Bee spoke about a new era based on the principles of  Listening; Openness/ transparency; and Practical, common sense solutions to problems.  Although he mentioned other cuts,  he never directly mentioned the Explore card. The resounding silence of SCC’s administration re this cut and the lack of any consultation is one of the great mysteries of this year.

After the petitioners had spoken, Councillors from all parties had the opportunity to speak briefly before  the portfolio holder replied.  (my speech below). Cllr McGregor did not repoond to these concerns raised but merely re- asserted that  the cut was necessary.

At this point it became clear that no-one had any idea as to what was to happen nextClearly ending the process undemocratically, without a vote,  by means of a response from the very person who had organised, agreed and implemented the cut made the whole epetition process completely futile. After a heated exchange in the chamber, a  short recess was announced. During this  Mark Bee and Guy McGregor spoke directly to the young people from Just 42 and  promised that the problems of their particular cut would go  before scrutiny. This was however, outside the chamber, and remains unminuted.

The strength of the young people’s clear, polite and determined  objections made it clear to the administration at this point – if not before – quite how much people care about  this cut . These young people were not coming here to observe democracy: they were coming to take part!

Three  things are clear –

  • the Explore card may be dead but it ain’t lying down;
  • SCC MUST tell the petitioners officially  now, exactly what is to happen next
    – and finally;
  • SCC’s procedure for dealing with e-petitions MUST be defined before the next council meeting in order to prevent this a repeat of Thursday’s shambles and to ensure these petitions to perform the constitutional function for which they were created.

My speech on the Explore card 26 May 2011

We’ve heard first hand – from the thousands of responses to the petition, from those  addressed us – most of all from individual young people in our divisions – that this cut was a bad idea – a short term fix  that didn’t consider the future.

There was no impact assessment for this cut –made  halfway through the educational year. Instead SCC boxticker noted  blandly that

There may be an adverse impact to the 15-19 age group – but there was  no need for an impact assessment  as it is a discretionary activity and has been identified as a budget saving proposal

In other words – it will have an impact but we don’t care!

Rather like saying I’ll  pay my council tax because I have to  but  I won’t pay into a pension because I’m feeling poor. The explore card expenditure is not just money paid out – it is money invested in the future  it  IS our pension plan – The young people of Suffolk – future builders, magistrates, nurses, shopkeepers, entrepreneurs, firemen, soldiers, carers, taxpayers – are our future and we will be relying on them in the years to come. It is in our interests to support them now so we can get the best out of them when we need them later on.

The administration tell us that we can’t afford it and that home-to-school transport cuts are  ameliorated by help with post-16 discretionary passes, and tempering the Catholic transport decision.

This is a red herring.

The Explore card is the most important home-to-school pass we had because it was such excellent value for money – giving halfprice travel at all times to all places to all young people at a total cost to the council of less than £30 a year for each of its 55,000 users!

Where a discretionary pass  gives one school day, school hour  journey each way at the cost of £150 a term to the parent and a lot more to the council, the explore card  was much more flexible- used by those studying in the evening or  multi-site, by those  wanting to attend a distant college because the local school didn’t run the course,, those on training courses outside the scope of Suffolk’s transport policy, starting a first time job or going to job interviews to find one. Those who want to go out safely in the evening, without worry about road conditions and ability to drive. Those who we don’t want to hang about the bus stop because they can’t afford to get on a bus. All  this for £30 a head.

Colleagues, we can afford this investment in our future. I won’t remind you of some of the recent headlines on SCC expenditure  but  we all know that it is not as simple as “can’t pay wont pay” . Even in a time of cuts there’s a large element of what we choose to pay for. Suffolk is poor but resilient – we’ve enough in the reserves to pay to reverse  this decision and continue investing this  £30 a head in the future of these young people and our county.