Tag Archives: young people

What’s been happening at SCC – October

Various exciting things have been happening this last month. On a county-wide stage we have managed to get Suffolk to recognise that its decisions about Concessionary bus passes (that is, those for the disabled and the elderly) were made without adequate consultation. On a local level, I have managed to turn around the current situation regarding the Just 42 youth club. From having been offered no lease whatsoever at the  Woodbridge Youth Club  since August last year – and well-grounded concerns as to its future, Just 42 have now been offered a ten-year lease on the whole building  (- and watch this space. More is to come)

Suffolk forced to look (yet) again at  its decisions on Elderly and Disabled Bus Passes Suffolk’s County Council Cabinet has been forced to look again at their decision to provide only the statutory minimum free travel  for the elderly and disabled (0930-2300 weekdays, all day weekends and bank holidays), after the Liberal Democrat Group called the decision into the Scrutiny Committee at the end of September.

I (as proposer) and CllrDavid Wood(as seconder) presented the case that Cabinet’s decision had failed to take account of a number of important principles, most particularly  a lack of consultation of those affected, the negative impact the decision had on many peoples’ lives, the openness of the decision-making, and the insufficient evidence provided to justify the decision. We also pointed out that SCC underspent on this part of their plans for public transport by the best part of a million pounds this year, yet had no problem in finding an extra £1.3 million for better broadband (see below).

The number of public speakers (largely representing a range of disability groups) at the meeting and the written submissions (from other disability groups) that arrived in the week before the meeting, highlighted the lack of proper consultation before the decision was made.  Cabinet only looked at one submission about impact when they made their decision, – and that was because that user group  had heard about the meeting and asked specifically to contribute.

The Committee voted by seven votes to three to send this decision back to the Cabinet to be reconsidered.

I will keep you updated of any news as to when this will be.  In the meantime if you would like more information about the Call-in, please head to my blog piece about it.

NB Just to remind you, I  originally raised this issue back in July 2011, when I was able to persuade the entire Council to put aside party political differences and ask  Cabinet to look again at what it had decided to provide for Concessionary Bus Passes  and provide 24/7 travel for those eligible due to disability and allow those elderly pass holders to travel from 09.00. It took from July 11 to July 12 for Cabinet to get around to acceding to this.

Just 42 and the Woodbridge Youth Club   Excellent news! After some firm negotiation, SCC is now offering significantly differing terms to Just 42 than those which SCC has been proposing for the last 18 months. As follows:

  •  A new 10 year lease (excluded from security of tenure but see below) to be granted to Just 42;
  • Mutual annual break clauses (see 3) after three years;
  • Just 42’s position will be protected in that SCC’s right to bring the lease to an end will be conditional upon SCC providing adequate alternative facilities for Just 42 (the term ‘adequate’ to include external as well as internal facilities!);
  • The extent the area to be exclusively used by Just 42 to be agreed, together with rest of the buildings that may be available to other parties;
  • Just 42 will make the building available to other Community users when not in use by Just 42: such details to be agreed in due course;
  • SCC currently use an area of the building as an office on occasions & it is envisaged that this will continue

These proposals – although they look  very suitable – haven’t yet been accepted. We are busy checking the small-print to ensure that Just 42  – and other groups – are in no way disadvantaged!

I am immensely grateful to Charles Notcutt, the Mayor of Woodbridge,  for his presence at the last meeting. It has seemed in the past that many decisions were being made by officers at SCC and SCDC without  recognising the needs and requirements of Woodbridge and the Woodbridge young people. I therefore insisted on tsuitable respresentation from Woodbridge Town, and Mr Notcutt was kind enough to make time for this.

(Incidentally, this is by no means the end of the matter – but will give those who are providing  for  the young people of Woodbridge some much-needed security  and relief from anxiety while concrete plans for the long-term future. I now suggest that  I and the other members of the  group set up at July’s council meeting should now meet with my new Locality Officer to discuss an overarching plan that would meet the needs of Woodbridge youth over the longer term and within the plans for the town.)

 September County Council Meeting and 20mph The County Council meeting in September had quite a light agenda, but proved remarkably eventful.

As there was only one motion (about improving localism to support towns that wished to adopt 20mph speed limits in towns) it could be assumed that the meeting would have passed without any significant issues. As you know this is an issue which is hotly debated in Woodbridge.

However, an amendment proposed by Conservative administration to the 20mph motion changed every word  -and the meaning and intention – of the original text, leaving council to discuss things which SCC was already doing! The opposition parties pointed this out – but when the Council Chariman and officers refused to accept that this changed motion left us debating the status quo, the opposition parties – apart from the proposer and seconder of the motion, had no option but to leave the Council chamber. Full details  here.

This is another example of the stifling of democracy at Suffolk County Council, which is also so apparent in the way in which the Cabinet makes decisions without reference to the other members of its own party, let alone those of the opposition parties!

Grit bins (again!) Now is the time to be looking towards the winter cold. I know we only had a couple of days of real ice last winter – but we can certainly not rely on it!  If anyone knows of areas where bins would be useful – and here I am thinking specifically of Peterhouse and the Warwick Avenue area, I can fund them and the Town Clerk will be happy to buy them on my – and your – behalf!

Remembrance Day  After listening to the Rev McCormack’s wonderfully inclusive words at last Remembrance Day, I have been asking if it would be possible to have a non-religious presence on the Shire Hall steps for Remembrance Day. This would represent the 1 in 5 people in Woodbridge (as in Suffolk as a whole, and the UK in general) who see themselves as ‘Good without God’  and to recognise how many of such people have served and died in the name of  their country without any religious beliefs to sustain them – and who are doing so to this day. I am glad to say that this has now been accepted as  a valid point. After talking to the new Rock Barracks padre yesterday, it looks like he may be able to find a suitable acting soldier to undertake such a role for Woodbridge on this important and highly significant day.

Grand Driver Scheme  The Grand Driver scheme has just been launched: to help assist the continuation of safe driving as people get older. Older drivers are the fastest growing driving population in Suffolk.  Although there’s evidence to suggest that the likelihood of crashes increases with age, older adults are also renowned as safety-conscious and law-abiding drivers.

The scheme comprises  3 main elements: Insight and awareness of attitudes to driving and self-regulatory behaviour, An opportunity to update and refresh knowledge and discuss driving matters at workshops arranged throughoutSuffolkand a driving assessment and feedback in your own vehicle focusing on safe driving and coping strategies.

More information can be obtained from Michelle Haward: 01473 265256  Michelle.haward@suffolk.gov.uk

Better Broadband SCC’s Cabinet has decided to take Better Broadband for Suffolk to the next stage, increasing the level of money invested by Suffolk County Council by another £1.3 million , and delegating the contract agreement.

Scampaign – Lottery Scams   Suffolk Trading Standards are warning us about lottery scams, which often claim people have won a significant amount of money on an overseas or online lottery and ask for personal information including bank account details.  Please could councillors make people aware that they should protect themselves against lottery fraud in the following ways:

Protecting yourself against lottery fraud:

  • Be realistic: if you haven’t entered a lottery then you can’t have won it
  • Never respond to any communication –  as above, if  you haven’t entered a lottery then, really and truly  you can’t have won it
  • If they’ve provided an email address to respond to, be particularly suspicious of addresses such as @hotmail.com or @yahoo.com or numbers beginning with 07, because these are free to get hold of
  • Any request for a fee payment is a good indication that someone is trying to defraud you – there are no official lottery operators who ask for fees to collect winnings!
  • Never, ever disclose your bank details or pay fees in advance
  • Genuine lotteries thrive on publicity. If they ask you to keep your win a secret it’s likely to be a fraud
  • Many fraudulent lotteries have bad spelling and grammar – see this as a warning that fraudsters are at work

What to do if you are a victim of lottery fraud:

  • Report to Action Fraud specialists by calling 0300 123 2040
  • If you have responded to the email/letter/call, break off all contact with the fraudsters at once
  • If you have given over your bank account details, alert your bank immediately
  • Be aware that you’re now likely to be a target for other frauds. Fraudsters often share details about people they have successfully targeted or approached, using different identities to commit further frauds

My next County Councillor’s Surgery This will be in Woodbridge Library on Saturday, 20th October 10-12 noon as ever. All welcome!

Tuition Fees and Maintenance Loans – 10 Myths debunked

“It is more from carelessness about truth than from intentional lying, that there is so much falsehood in the world.”  Dr Johnson

Lots of  people are being frightened by scary estimations of student debt and their impact on the future life of graduates. 

Many of these claims are simply not true.The people who promulgate these myths seem to be doing so either from genuine ignorance – or deliberately, to serve party-political aims.  The full picture is much more complex and less frightening.

There is much to argue that the current system is an equitable way of ensuring that the larger proportion of UK young people are able to get to  university  on merit rather than parental wealth. This will be for the first time!

I was a university graduate under the old system where 10% of the population were given a pretty easy ride through a university system funded by the other  90% of the population.

Since then, I have just seen one family member through a university education under the ‘old system’ of tuition fees and loans and parental support  that the last Labour government introduced. I am just about to see another through the ‘new’ (Coalition) system of tuition fees and loans.

Although I was deeply sceptical as to this new system having any merits – I’ve discovered there are many positive benefits for the students and their families. These are being overlooked in a lot of party-political in-fighting between pople who are neither students nor families of students.

MYTH 1: ‘Upfront’ payments mean that only the rich can afford to think of university

Untrue. No upfront money is required from anyone. As long as you register for a loan, the Student Loan Company automatically pays the tuition fees and gives you a maintenance loan to help with living costs.

MYTH 2: Tuition fees leave all students with a debt of £50,000

Untrue.  Firstly, these estimations always conflate tuition fee loans and  maintenance loans. Maintenance loans are optional but a very good way of preventing this cost falling in the shoulders of poorer parents –  as in the past. It also stops poorer students having to take on casual jobs to support themselves while in education, as again was often the case.  Secondly, these estimations are based n the highest possible tuition fees charged.

MYTH 3 : .An inevitable debt  of  £50,000 and more is a terrifying burden and disincentive for poorer students and leaves education in the hands of the rich.

Untrue. For a start, that estimation of a £50,000  debt are based on 3x the highest amount borrowed – All students with a family income below £46,000 are entitled to unrepayable grants for some part of the loans, plus additional bursaries etc depending on how much less than £46,000 the family income is.   Grants and bursaries, unlike loans, do not get repaid, so the poorer the student/student’s family are, the less of a loan they will have to repay. The most generous grants, bursaries and other incentives are directed at students from families with incomes of £26,000 and under – particularly helpful to the students who come from the UK’s 2m single parent families (more likely to be earning the £24,000 median income for a single person)

MYTH 4 : Tuition fees supported by longterm loans are a completely retrograde  way of providing higher education

Untrue.   Firstly, the new system opens up financial support to part-time students for the first time. These, often forgotten in political grandstanding, make up 40% of all undergraduates and had to pay fees upfront, being not entitled to student loans. Many were unable to study or had to give up their studies midway.  These will now be eligible for tuition fee loans on exactly the same basis as full-time students.

Secondly, Courses will need to be worth the cost – and lets be honest this has not always been the case in recent years.  This system will encourage universities to be  responsible to the students for the quality of education provided.

Thirdly, these solid systems of financial support for poorer students constitutes a reasoned attempt to reverse literally generations of educational inequality. Quality higher education needs to be available for all who will benefit! The UK has had a very poor record in educating  our poor and smart young people.

 MYTH 5: Repayment, particularly of the largest sums will be a millstone of debt around the necks of the newly qualified

Untrue. If two friends graduate and earn £23,000 they will both have to pay back the same amount each month, even if one friend has a bigger student loan. And You don’t repay it until you’re actually earning.  The maths of this makes very good sense. If you are doing a degree ‘for love’ and don’t expect to earn much you’llrepay little or nothing.

 MYTH 6:  Everyone always had free higher education in  Britain

Untrue.  For 50 years we were relying on paying for an ‘upper 10%’ who got a university education via the taxpayer,  90% of whom didn’t get a university education. This was deeply divisive. But if we, the people of Britain, want more people to go to university (and we want 50%),  we need to find some way of paying for this. This is why the last Labour government first instituted tuition fees and then tripled them, at a time when the country was supposedly prosperous. It is preposterous that they now forget this.

We need also to look at our priorities. How about pitting the cost of tuition fees against, for example, the cheapest cost for a car, petrol, tax, insurance for a student-aged young person?

 MYTH 7 : People never forget a party who breaks a pledge over tuition fees.

Untrue.  How many readers remember how often Labour broke pledges on tuition fees during the last government? 

Personally I think any breaking of pledges is disgraceful, but it’s not something where other parties have any right to be sanctimonious. Tuition fees were introduced by Labour after pledging they wouldn’t – and at a time of supposed economic prosperity. These fees were more than tripled by Labour during the course of the administration, even though they pledged they wouldn’t.

When the financial situation got bad and Labour realised current levels of support for university education were unsustainable they commissioned  the Browne report  but cynically put off making its findings public and so having to act on it  till after last (2010) election so as not to get their electoral chances tarnished by: the need to raise tuition fees.

MYTH 8 :  Increased tuition fees will result in higher monthly repayments of loans for graduates

Untrue.The repayments  don’t start until the graduate earns over £21,000 (as opposed to £15,000 under Labour), and will at that point be £515 a year lower than they were under Labour:

Monthly payment for graduate from salary after they get work

Graduate Salary

Graduate annual repayment

up to 2012

Graduate monthly pay packet reduction it’s equivalent to

Graduate annual repayment

2012 on

Graduate monthly pay packet reduction it’s equivalent to

£15,000

Nothing

Nothing

Nothing

Nothing

£16,000

£18

£1.50

Nothing

Nothing

£21,000

£470

£39

Nothing

Nothing

£22,000

£560

£46.50

£90

£7.50

£30,000

£1,280

£106.50

£810

£67.50

£40,000

£2,180

£181.50

£1,710

£142.50

£50,000

£3,080

£256.50

£2,610

£217.50

MYTH 9 : Tuition fees will leave the poorer student jugglimng jobs to survive

Untrue – The new tuition fee/student loan system comes with automatic large grants for poorer students which are non-repayable.  All full time students from families with an income (this year at) under £42,600  get maintenance GRANTS which never need repaying. As the total cost of student loans includes the full living expenses for the student for all but those from very affluent families. This means that students can devote all their time to study rather than having to work to support themselves, and that their parents do not have to  worry and scrape together money they cannot really afford  to contribute to their children’s support.Universities also offer bursaries and fee waivers to poorer students

MYTH 10:  Student loans for tuition fees/maintenance will leave this generation of students with unmanageable debt

Untrue. The independent Money Saving Expert says “No, student finance is like a graduate tax, not a loan”

  • It’s repaid through the income tax system
  • You only repay it if you earn over a certain amount
  • The amount repaid increases with earnings
  • It does not go on credit files
  • Debt collectors will not chase for it
  • Bigger borrowing doesn’t increase repayments
  • Many people will continue to repay  in small amounts for the majority of their working life.

This is in return for getting an education which will fit you for a more highly paid future.

You can get more interesting unbiased info without spin from the Money Saving Expert

 

SCC: where does their “Interest” lie?

 At their last Cabinet meeting SCC’s Tories revealed that they had underspent a total of £13.1m in the last financial year. Much of this money is going into the already large reserves (now standing at £158m).

Yes, you heard me right.

At a time of huge financial stress when we need to make best use of every penny, they quite unnecessarily took more than £13m from our hard-pressed services and entrusted it to the banks

They must be the last people left in the country who have any faith left in bankers.

And they put their trust in the banking system at a time when public money is desperately needed to support the local economy. When the community is reeling under the impact of lost public services .

The Conservative administration has told us they’ve cut these services because they were unaffordable. This is how they have justified the huge damage that they have inflicted on Suffolk’s public transport – by tellling us that  “you can’t spend a pound more than once,”(as the Cabinet member responsible has told us rather more than once).

Now it seems clear that the Cabinet just doesn’t want to spend some of these (our) pounds at all.

We live in a time where belt-tightening may be unavoidable, but it is clear that the Conservatives’ cutting has been overly-enthusiastic.  The money they have put into low-interest reserves could better be spent on restoring such valued and socially valuable services as the eXplore youth travel Card, our closed Household Waste Recycling Centres, the Bury Road Park and Ride, many axed bus routes, and those essential and valued walk-in Youth clubs (so useful for those who cannot afford subscription activities) as well as improving the bus pass conditions for Suffolk elderly and disabled.

These were all services that my colleagues and I argued to reinstate at Budget time, but it fell on deaf ears.  More than deaf ears – as I recall, the Leader suggested our budget had been ‘scribbled on the back of a fag packet.’

Better than on the front of a paying-in slip, Cllr Bee!

Suffolk County’s Conservatives would much rather invest our money in banks than in the people of Suffolk – preferring to build up capital than to build social capital.

 

No room for the next generation?

Recently I’ve been worried about  the Woodbridge Youth Centre  and all those who use it. And now I’m  sharing both information and my own concerns about this situation.

The Centre houses a number of spectacularly useful and important groups for young people, including Just 42 – the only open access youth group in 400 square miles of Suffolk Coastal;  provides  rehearsal room for the Company of 4,  offers meeting places for various groups;  and is the only place between Leiston and Felixstowe which can provide meeting space for children and young people in a safe, non-school setting. Already, the centre is used for  something like 170 different meetings a month of one sort and another.

However,  if you look at it cynically,  the Woodbridge Youth Centre’s  Kingston Field site is also one of the last pieces of prime development land in Woodbridge. My concerns were aroused when I was told that a three-year lease promised a year ago to one of the groups that used it had failed to materialise. I then discovered that decisions about the future of the WYC appeared to be occurring without any traceable reference to any elected member at County, District or Town level.

It was as if some of the council officers involved were acting as entrepreneurs rather than caretakers. And suspiciously as if they  had forgotten that they did not own the land, and were supposed to be administering the site on behalf of the people of Woodbridge. Having first raised the matter with the County Council  in May, I eventually got an email telling me that indeed, the group in question

 were offered a three year lease. However, it became apparent that there was a need to look at the bigger long-term future of the building and occupants following the start of the Our Place discussions… The intention is to continue to renew the annual licence, while the options are considered.

I didn’t think that this covered the issue completely, not least because I discovered that there seems to have been an unilateral decison made as to the  best usage of the site : the development of yet more sheltered housing for old people. ( As if there isn’t really quite a lot of this in Woodbridge already!). And because, after a whole year  this other (again unilateral) decision to downgrade a 3 year lease to an annual licence  had not been mentioned to anyone until I  started making a fuss. And because I have been representing Woodbridge since before the inception of the ‘Our Place’ scheme and I had never been party to any discussions on the subject!

I am therefore raising  the following wider concerns on behalf of the councillors and residents of Woodbridge:

a)  “it became apparent that there was a need to look at the bigger long-term future of the building and occupants”  As this sentence is in the passive  – a timehonoured way for bureaucrats to avoid telling anyone who said what, when and why to whom –  I have asked who it was to whom “it become apparent’?   I know, it was  not to me, nor to the building’s occupants, nor to the Town Council, nor to the residents of Woodbridge.

So far I have had no answer.

b) “There appears to be a lack of space in Woodbridge generally.” I have asked for this remark  to be disambiguated, so that everyone can be clear whose lack of space is being referred to.  Past conversations and emails suggest that it doesn’t refer to the young people of Woodbridge –  the group who really do lack space in Woodbridge. Rather it  refers to the amount of  sheltered, and care provision in Woodbridge. If this is the case, it is  not true.  There are already 660+ units offering such to the elderly people in Woodbridge – and that excludes those who prefer to live in  standard housing!
Just to remind you, there are 7500 people in Woodbridge, and because of the amount of sheltered housing  already,  3000 of these are in the ‘grandparent’ age group.  Many of these  have contacted me with concerns about the extreme lack of facilities there are for young people – particularly those people who grew up here and raised their own children in past decades!

c)  The email mentioned “the start of the Our Place discussions” ( which supposedly consist of ‘officers working alongside elected members to develop local service solutions‘.) Yet any discussions as to the “bigger long-term future‘  clearly took place without the presence or knowledge of me, and as far as I know, of any other elected member. The start of these particular Our Place discussuons must have occurred quite a long time ago, bearing in mind the lease has been witheld without any reason for a full year

In conclusion  – and because localism is about joint decision-making from the start – I have asked SCC  to approach no organisation with any proposition whatsoever  without having discussed in advance the various available options  for the site  with all the stakeholders.  That is – at the very least – myself (as County Councillor), the members of Woodbridge Town Council, the current occupants, and representatives of other youth stakeholders within Woodbridge.

I have shared my concerns with the town council, and they are very supportive, and I’ve convened a meeting of all the youth groups  this Friday.

We all need to make sure that our town’s youngest generation  does n’t get marginalised and forgotten. After all, they will be supporting us one day!

Epilepsy and GCSEs: built-in injustice

So today we hear that Michael Gove would like to abolish the GCSE system and go back to old fashioned O-levels and GCEs?  Maybe. (Though the Lib Dems  think otherwise)

In the interim let us hope he looks at whether he can find a system that will be any more fit for purpose  than the existing (GCSE) system  in assessing young people with  consciousness-fluctuating conditions such as as epilepsy. That is,  the very small percentage of the youth population who toggle between being ‘perfectly well’ and briefly ‘incapable’ without warning and at a moment’s notice. That bunch of young people whose gifts and capacities have  been so ruthlessly ignored  by our current inflexible educational system with teaching shifting between  ‘special needs’ and ‘failing mainstream’ without any acknowledgement of their actual abilities. People who could be easily become a Julius Caesar, an Edward Lear, a  Dostoievsky, a Socrates..

Here is  the case of modern-day  Ms X.

Ms X has no mental impairment except for that caused by the effects of bad epilepsy and the heavy-duty medications she has to take to try and control it. Ms X is sitting GCSEs for the Nth time. This is rather a tragedy for Ms X who studies up to seven hours a day, and has done so for six years to little practical purpose.

This is because if you have a catastrophic tonic clonic seizure before or during  a GCSE  exam, you are not able to put it off till a better time. ‘Use it or lose it‘ as they say – and lose it is often the result. Ms X’s seizures are so frequent it  is pretty unlikely she will ever go through the period GCSE exams take without one or two fairly substantial tonic clonic seizures on exam-days.

Sure enough, last week her parents  were woken by a loud crash at 6am in the morning of the longest Maths GCSE exam. On rushing into her room, they found that – apart from the ongoing tonic clonic seizure itself- she’d managed to drop from a standing position, hitting her head extremely hard, and cutting both her mouth and tongue.

She was lucky. She had no more seizures that morning  and so didn’t have to take the heavy barbiturate required  to prevent her going into status epilepticus and the hospital (as had already happened for her English exam two weeks previously). In fact, she was lucky enough to  ‘come round’ – well, at least regain consciousness – two hours later. Sixty minutes before her 2 hour Maths GCSE paper. Which naturally  could not be put off or rearranged for such minor trivialities as an early morning seizure.

Yet Ms X had had the equivalent of a knock-out blow to the head. I suspect that once again, she will not fulfil her potential.

What a different outcome there might have been for Ms X and for this exam if she were sitting it in the state of health she was in the day before – or the day after.

Successive ministers and education departments have not chosen to recognise the full extent of the difficulties of a student with epilepsy. Ms X has sat the same exams under Michael Gove’s, under Alan Johnson’s, under Ed Ball’s watch. All have talked about a world-class exam system.  None has recognised the injustice of insisting on a fixed-date one-off exam for those students with a serious yet fluctuating health condition.

Ms X is either bright, alert and mentally competent, or she incapable of remembering a thing. Is a GCSE exam instituted to discover what she knows – or merely what she is capable of remembering on one specific date?

If only Mr Gove, Mr Johnson, Mr Balls – if only every education minister that has ignored the exam issue had some recognition of the condition… If one day they were woken by having live electrodes attached to their brain for 5 mins and then were punched hard in the face without means of defence or a gum-shield (causing considerable pain and disorientation, broken teeth, split lips, bitten  tongue) and then were asked to prove all their last two years of knowledge in an exam paper 2 hours afterwards, would they consider this to be a reasonable test of their own abilities?

I suspect not!