Music Lessons Under Threat

In the summer the Government announced that it would fully fund the pay rise for all classroom teachers, yet it has since emerged that this will not apply to teachers employed directly by councils.  The majority of these  centrally employed teachers (CETs), provide music tuition.

The Local Government Association, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, is seeking assurances from the Government that it will meet the cost of the additional 1 to 2.5 per cent salary rise for CETs – estimated to be £5.5 million – which councils will not have budgeted for. The LGA says this burden cannot fall on local authorities. Continue reading Music Lessons Under Threat

Suffolk County Council: Bosmere By-Election

Due to the untimely death of Cllr Ann Whybrow, a by-election will be held on Thursday, October 25th for Suffolk’s Bosmere division.

Our candidate is Steve Phillips.

Steve will aim to carry on the active and successful record of representing you, set by Ros Scott and Julia Truelove, your previous Liberal Democrat Councillors.  We  hope to meet your needs again with a hard working Liberal Democrat.

Steve’s Background

Steve says:  ‘I am looking forward to serving you in Bosmere as a County Councillor and hope you will elect me on the 25th.

I have been a Town Councillor for 20 years and have served as Town Mayor/Chairman of Needham Market Town Council on two occasions. During that time, I have regularly fought for issues within the Town, for example improved facilities for Crowley Park playing field, so I have a good track record.

I have listened and responded to individuals’ concerns and helped promote local community projects.  I have helped to run the young persons’ football club in Ringshall and got to know many of the residents and their children.

I take a keen interest in our surrounding villages and getting things done. I have attended Parish meetings, visited local community shops and attended coffee mornings, as a member of the public.  If you choose to elect me I will regularly attend Parish Council meetings as your County Councillor to ensure I keep closely in touch with your needs and views.

I will also keep in touch via email and social media, our www site and by producing regular “Focus” leaflets

As a family man with 5 children, now grown up, I have maintained a continuing interest in education and this will  be of special interest if elected as your County Councillor.

Above all, I have tried to treat people fairly and hope to continue the trust placed in me.’

Current Issues

Every year the County Council is cutting back our vital services, shifting the burden onto voluntary groups and increasing charges without weighing up the impact on vulnerable people.  They are responding to cuts in government funding but for several years have made “savings” sufficient to add to the reserves, which in total are over £150 million.

Health and adult social care is in crisis and many elderly people in the UK are not receiving the care and support they need. This has a severe impact on the NHS.
We believe cuts to health and adult social care, public transport, libraries, affordable housing, schools, road maintenance and the necessary infrastructure to support housing growth have gone too far.

Steve says  “If these are things that you feel as passionate about as I do, please give me your vote so that I can challenge this Tory Council on your behalf. Your vote is important not only to you but to shape your Town or Village –  so please vote for me on Thursday 25th October and together we can make a difference.”

Suffolk Conservatives: Modified Support only for Green/LibDem Cycling Plans

The Conservative administration at Suffolk County Council  agreed yesterday to a motion proposed by the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group to develop a strategic costed cycling plan.  The motion, seconded by LibDem leader Caroline Page, and proposed by Green Robert Lindsay  first asked for a strategic, costed five-year cycling plan to be drawn up for Suffolk.  It secondly asked  for a commitment of 5% of the annual Integrated Transport Block (the equivalent of £160,000) to be spent on cycling infrastructure.
Both motions were vital: without a  commitment of funding, it will be impossible to implement a cycling plan. However, the Conservatives refused to commit any funding whatsoever  to cycling infrastructure – thus managing to have their fiscal cake and eat it.
In the past SCC used to have a cycling team and  a costed cycling infrastructure plan – which was allocated funds from the Transport budget every year.
Back in 1995 the then Country Councillors voted to fully support plans to develop the Sustrans’  National Cycle Network routes in Suffolk and steady progress was made with this for several years.
A cycling budgets also benefits other modes of travel:
1) Most off-carriageway cycle infrastructure is designed to be of equal benefit to pedestrians e.g. shared use cycle paths; Toucan crossing; bridges  – therefore ‘Safe Routes to School’ (for both cycling and walking).
2) More cycle commuters means less traffic on roads, leading to better journey times for those who really need their vehicles.
Since 2011, Suffolk and Ipswich were eligible for six sustainable travel grants from the Department for Transport, yet did not win a single one of these. By failing to commit a minimal amount of funding, it is likely that any future bids for funding will likewise fail.

What’s been happening, July 2018

Opposition’s “call in” of Suffolk County Council school transport cuts unsuccessful   On Tuesday 19 June, Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet voted to change the Home to School Transport policy so that only children travelling to their nearest school would receive free transport. The changes are due to be phased in from September 2019.

As you may be aware,  LibDem Councillors and their Green and Independent colleagues  have been opposed to this policy change since it was announced in September 2018. As was the Labour group. There has also been very vocal opposition from schools, parents, carers and parish councils across Suffolk.

All the opposition cross-party worked collaboratively to call in the decision to Suffolk’s Scrutiny, with Cllrs Otton and Page as the Lib Dem signatories.

The “call-in” was successful on three fronts:
1. Concern at the quality and reliability of the financial modelling;
2. Whether the Cabinet were fully informed of the role of the Consultation Institute;
3. Whether there was enough analysis of the experience of Essex County Council, who implemented a similar policy in 2013.

Unfortunately despite the considered opinions of really competent and well-qualified members of the public, the Conservative administration failed to recognise their own financial forecasts were flawed. The decision will therefore go ahead.

Major review of Suffolk Highways announced The new Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Highways, Cllr Mary Evans, has launched a major review of the way highways in Suffolk are maintained.

Areas due to be reviewed include:
• Existing policy which determines how resources are deployed, known as the Suffolk Highway Maintenance Operational Plan (HMOP);
• How the location of potholes on the road is considered alongside the width and depth, recognising the impact they can have on cyclists and motorcyclists;
• How utility companies coordinate roadworks and are held to account for their actions;
• How residents, councillors and businesses are informed about road repairs and how they can access information;
• Financial control and contract management;
• How town and parish councils can work closer with Suffolk Highways to make the best use of their local knowledge, skills, money and time.

Consultation launched on future commissioning of specialist education services  Suffolk County Council have launched a consultation into the commissioning strategy for the development of Suffolk’s specialist educational provision.

Demand for specialist education places in Suffolk for children with SEND continues to grow, and currently the county council has a much lower number of specialist education places than other similar authorities. This means that many children in Suffolk are forced to travel out of county to access the education provision they need – and often Suffolk County Council foots the bill.

At a time when the Council wishes to reduce the amount of free home-to-school transport it provides citing fears of escalating costs, it is vital that we begin to provide more SEND provision within Suffolk.

The 6 week consultation will look at three options for meeting the additional demand for specialist provision. More information and a link to the consultation can be found online at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/SENDsufficiencyeducation

Suffolk LibDems in cross-party call-in of ‘undemocratic’ school transport cuts

LibDem questions to Cabinet

Update: The Call-in was successful! The decision will now be scrutinised  by SCC’s Scrutiny Committee on 9 July, who will investigate the quality and reliability of the financial modelling; whether the Cabinet were fully aware of the actual role played by the Consultation Institute , and whether enough weight was given to the negative experience of EssexCC when they attempted the same policy.

Suffolk’After Suffolk  County Council’s Cabinet  voted  unanimously  for undemocratic cuts to school transport changes, – ‘the option that nobody wanted,’ your LibDem Councillors  (Leader and Transport Spokesperson, Caroline Page and  LDGI Education Spokesperson Penny Otton ) are part of a cross-party opposition  attempt to  ‘call in’ (that is, challenge) the  decision. Both  councillors (and especially Penny Otton  as ‘councillor on the ground’ for Thurston)have been very vocal on the subject

If the ‘call in’ is accepted, this means  the decision will not go  ahead until SCC’s scrutiny  committee  examines it fully.

The call-in was cross party, as was the  unanimity of focus of the opposition questioning on Tuesday . Concerns focused the grounds whereby Cabinet discussed only the unpopular Option 2 (phased change) instead of the universally popular Option 3 (best described as ‘leave well alone.’) Lib Dem, Green and Labour questioning was forceful and forensic and took – literally – hours.

LibDem Leader Caroline Page queried the administration’s terms of reference. Was Suffolk’s offer genuinely “more generous” than the government minimum, when the government minimum covered urban and rural students  indiscriminately, she asked? City students do not have 3 mile walks to their catchment school: city schools are closer and public transport is plentiful and cheap.

We were told how expensive our spend was- over £100 a student head as opposed to Salford’s £2. However, as Caroline pointed out,  Salford has a total area of 8 sq miles, and it would be almost  impossible for a child to live more than 3 miles from their local school! Suffolk, in comparison, has an area of 1466sq miles,  “Are you not comparing apples and pears, in order to justify hard-to-justify decisionmaking?” she asked.

Cllr Page also asked why there was no Traffic Impact Assessment for the county – and while the very limited (Thurston area only) TIA failed to consider issues such as pollution and air quality? (Answer: too expensive/work in progress.)  And, as over 70% of  consultation respondents were women , and LG cuts disproportionally affect women,  whether Cabinet  could be genuinely satisfied that the IA’s conclusion that “impact on women would be minimised by phasing in the changes”, fully addressed the  actual impact these changes would have on  women. Ominously  – but unsurprisingly -this question was not answered at all.

Penny Otton thanked Thurston school for their months of hard work. She also  asked Cllr Hopfensperger whether or not she had confirmed ahead of the publication of this report  (and decision of the Cabinet) that ‘local solutions’ are be implemented in September 2018, and asked for confirmation as to whether – local solutions having been provided by Thurston college and wholly ignored, whether any schools have reconfirmed their desire to work with  a council that had so totally ignored their input.

John Field asked why the Cabinet report used just three years historic data as the basis of an average growth estimate.  “Is that standard local government accounting practice?” Cllr Field inquired. He also pointed out that the  administration was using just three very different years of rapidly reducing cost growth as the basis for their forecast.  “Is that a valid forecasting technique?” he asked.   (The answer in both cases was to explain what had been done  – but failed to address the validity of the processes).

David Wood asked whether the Cabinet member could confirm that there would be no teacher redundancies and that no villages who currently all go to one school will now need two routes to take them to their nearest school. The  answer was not the positive affirmative that one would desire.

Cllr Wood also asked  why the administration didn’t commission experts from the University of Suffolk to undertake the educational impact assessment for these proposed changes.

This was new Council Leader Matthew Hicks first time chairing the Cabinet and it was a baptism of fire. It is only fair to say he chaired the meeting with justice and impartiality, allowing the opposition all the questions they wished to ask and cutting short members of his own party who wished to speak in order to make loyal declarations  rather than questioning Cabinet.

Will the call-in be accepted? Watch this space!

Suffolk CC: June Whats been happening

LibDems in Woodbridge raise awareness of the school transport proposals – and what they will mean to everyone

Suffolk shows overwhelming public opposition to  proposed Tory school transport changes-   Leaked documents from Suffolk County Council show overwhelming public opposition to proposed school transport changes. Of the 3600 responses to Suffolk County Council’s recent home-to-school transport consultation, 85% “strongly oppose” the proposals and a further 5% “oppose” them.

This is the most responses received by a Consultation in recent years, and it is clear that parents, teachers and communities have very serious concerns about the proposals.

The Cabinet is due to make a decision on changing the school transport policy on Tuesday 19 June. Suffolk Lib Dems have opposed the proposed changes since they were first announced in September and we will continue to raise our concerns at the Cabinet meeting.

New Council Leader elected  Following the recent Conservative Group leadership challenge, Cllr Matthew Hicks has been elected as the new Leader of Suffolk County Council, replacing  hard-liner Cllr Colin Noble. His Deputy will be Mary Evans, former Chair of Scrutiny, and previously Chair of the highly effective crossparty Transport & Highways Policy Development Panel, before Cllr Noble abolished these on becoming leader a couple of years back.

Cllr Hicks has promised us a “new era” of politics at the Council, with a focus on mutual respect, collaboration and co-operation. We hope he will be more open to working with, and listening to, councillors from other parties.

The first major change has been the replacement of  the only-just-established  unwieldy and untransparent Cabinet Committees with new Policy Development Panels. We do not currently have full details on how these will operate but, well-organised, they provide excellent crossparty consensus.

Some ‘Outstanding’ Suffolk schools in Suffolk have had no Ofsted inspection for a decade   The National Audit Office has revealed that over 1600 schools in the UK have not been inspected by Ofsted for 6+ years!

In Suffolk, 23 outstanding schools – almost half of those rated ‘outstanding’ – have not been inspected for at least 6 years.  SIX of these schools were last inspected over a decade ago! This means that whole cohorts of students have gone through school without a single Ofsted inspection.

LDGI Spokesperson for Education, Lib Dem  Cllr Penny Otton, raised the issue and her concerns at a Council meeting on 24 May. The Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Education, Gordon Jones, assured her that he shared her concerns and would raise it with the head of Ofsted.

Ofsted have said that the majority of ‘outstanding’ schools are exempt by law from inspections. However, if a number of concerns or complaints are raised against a school, they would have the power to carry out an inspection.

Citizens rights of EU born residents  Our very own Lib Dem County Councillor Inga Lockington hit national and international headlines when the Home Office turned down her application for citizenship despite her 40 years uninterrupted  residence in the UK, married to an English doctor, her 19 years as an Ipswich Borough Councillor, her 17 years as a Suffolk County Councillor and a stint as Mayor of Ipswich! Apparently the Home Office felt she couldn’t prove residence!

Although Inga’s story ended with an apology and an offer of citizenship, she points out this would not have been the case for many others in her situation.

At May’s full council, Lib Dem leader Cllr Caroline Page  asked Matthew Hicks whether Suffolk was doing enough  to support such cases of Home Office injustice amongst its residents. Specifically whether we funded the Suffolk Law Centre -the only free law centre in Suffolk- and whether he would be prepared to talk to Centre Director Audrey Ludwig about unmet needs? The reply was cautious, unspecific, and referred to Suffolk’s CABs – all of which had funding cuts in SCC’s 2018 budget.

Unitary council discussions on hold? Back in March, it was announced that Colin Noble had unilaterally commissioned the think-tank Respublica to produce a report outlining the options for a unitary council in Suffolk. This news was not well-received by the (almost all Conservative) leaders of District and Borough Councils, who had not been consulted by Cllr Noble.

However, in the lead-up to the Conservative Group leadership election in May, Cllr Noble announced that work producing the report had been suspended. It is not yet clear whether this work will resume under the new leader, Cllr Hicks.

Possible U-turn on Lowestoft records office At Council on 24 May, a petition was presented by the Save Our Record Office (SORO) campaign group, calling on the Council to reverse the decision to close the Lowestoft Record Office.

Cllr Hicks responded by acknowledging the importance of keeping local records in Lowestoft, and pledged to work with local residents and councillors to develop a long-term, sustainable solution for the storage of archives in the north of the county.However, he made it clear that there is currently no capital or revenue budget available for the project, and so the council would need to seek funding to help deliver it.

New development with affordable homes in Cockfield  On 15 May, the Cabinet approved proposals for the development of a 4.5 acre site near Cockfield, which is owned as part of its County Farms estate. The development will be comprised of 51 units, including 12 affordable rented homes. There will also be homes specifically for first-time buyers, affordable shared ownership homes, and self-build plots.

This project is being treated as a pilot for future developments on Council owned land. The County Council is planning to work closely with design and property partners, and there will be a particular focus on local needs and benefits for the local community. The council will also benefit from financial returns as a result of developing the land.

Inga Lockington: 20 Years a Councillor – but Home Office queries residence

    Inga – as Mayor of Ipswich 2007(one of those many years when the Home Office queried her residency)

Longstanding Suffolk LibDem Councillor  Inga Lockington has been denied citizenship by the Home Office, despite working as a Liberal Democrat councillor in Ipswich for 19 years, and as a county councillor for 17.

Danish Inga, lived in the UK since her marriage to Dr Tim Lockington in 1979, when the UK granted her indefinite leave to remain.  She was elected as a Liberal Democrat councillor to Ipswich Borough Council in 1999 and to Suffolk County Council in 2001 and has held these seats ever since (in the Borough elections last month gaining the highest number of votes of any councillor in Ipswich).

In 2007, she was elected Mayor of Ipswich.

Following the Brexit vote in 2016, Inga decided to apply for UK citizenship -spending  the required £1282 on her application. The Home Office rejected it, citing lack of evidence that she was permanently resident in the UK(!), and have refunded her only £80.

Residents and politicians in the town are shocked by the treatment of Inga, who has dedicated years of her life to the people of Ipswich and Suffolk. In local elections for Ipswich Borough Council earlier this month, she received 1493 votes in her St Margaret’s ward – the highest number of votes of any councillor in Ipswich.

Despite this the Home Office wrote to her saying: “As you have not provided a document certifying permanent residence or a permanent residence card issued by the Home Office, we cannot be satisfied that you were permanently resident in the United Kingdom on the date of your application for naturalisation (!!!) and it has been refused.”

According to specialist solicitor and director of PRC Solange Valdez-Symonds this decision doesn’t even conform to Home Office rules.: ” Mrs Lockington is a settled person with indefinite leave to remain granted in 1979 under immigration rules. Nothing to do with EU law (so reg 13(1) BNA Gen Regs 2003 is irrelevant) & wrong to have refused to naturalise her.”

Not only constituents and colleagues, but people across the country have shown themselves appalled and astonished by the treatment of Mrs Lockington, who has dedicated so many years of her life to the people of Ipswich and Suffolk.

As Caroline Page Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party at Suffolk County Council, says:   “This is truly a case of Brexit madness. Inga is well-known for her tireless work on behalf of all those she represents. Yet, as an EU national, she was unable to vote in the EU referendum – and is now told she is not welcome as a citizen in the country she has served so selflessly for so long. What kind of country has Britain become, that it turns its back on twenty years of public service  from a EU national and declares her unfit to be a citizen?

If Inga is ineligible, who on earth stands a chance?

There are many other people in Suffolk in Inga’s situation – and it is an expensive and frightening one to be in. Suffolk  LibDems urge the County Council to provide support through funding the Suffolk Law Centre to support our residents in retaining their Citizens’ Rights ”

New Leader for Suffolk County Lib Dems

New Suffolk County Council  Lib Dem leader and Suffolk County LibDem Green and Independent Group Deputy Leader, Caroline Page, with new Suffolk CC LDGI Leader Andrew Stringer (Green)

After  May’s AGM , Suffolk Lib Dems has a new leader: Cllr Caroline Page. Cllr Page was also also elected  the  Deputy Leader of Suffolk’s Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group. The new Suffolk LDGI Leader is Green councillor, Andrew Stringer.   

Cllr Caroline Page, the county council’s first group spokesperson for Women,  is a passionate campaigner on a diverse range of issues.

She says “David Wood has been a fantastic leader, and I am excited at the prospect of building on the foundation he set out.  I am very grateful for all that he has done for Suffolk LibDems over the past years. I am excited to be taking on this new responsibility for the party, and alongside Andrew Stringer, for the LDGI group. We will continue to hold this administration to account and work for the good of residents across Suffolk As a group we all believe gender balance in politics is important, so it is pleasing to see this better reflected within our own leadership structures.” 

The LDGI Group was formed following the elections in May 2017, bringing together 12 councillors from different political backgrounds. The Group has pledged to work together to hold the Conservative administration at Suffolk County Council to account, whilst still encouraging free thought, debate and voting within the Group. If you would like to find out more about it, click here

Speaking Up for Suffolk’s Women

Caroline Page, LibDem Green and Independent Group Spokesperson for Women

When the Suffolk County Council LibDem Green and Independent Group was formed, Caroline Page was appointed Group Spokesperson for Women.  She says:

“We are the first and only Group in this county to have this role. Interesting, because there IS no Suffolk County Cabinet member for Women for me to shadow.

So why am I spokesperson? Exactly because there is no Suffolk County Cabinet member for Women for me to shadow.  And this has significant consequences for the women and girls of Suffolk.

29% (22) of Suffolk County Councillors are women –  which is below the national average. But even nationally the picture is poor. Latest research shows:

  • Only 33% of local councillors are women 
  • 28% of women councillors say childcare is a barrier, compared with 18% of men.
  • 47% of women (almost double the % of men) experience clashes with other caring duties. Unsurprising, considering half of all women aged 59 are, or have been, unpaid carers. Men don’t achieve such odds till age 75. 
  • 38% of women councillors report sexist comments within their party, and one-third in council chamber
  • 43% of women councillors have faced sexist assumptions about what they could do based on their gender rather than their career, qualifications or capacity.
  • Yet women councillors are just as ambitious as their male counterparts: 45% of women and 47% of men say they want to progress to a more senior role in the council

This  lack of recognition, representation and respect  of women within local authorities, results in lack of local authority recognition and funding for issues that disproportionately affect women – whether it be outcomes for girls, or the plight of family carers or the funding of refuges and safe houses. We see examples of all these in Suffolk.

Seems that Suffolk – nursery of those indomitable seekers after equality, Elizabeth and Millicent Garrett – is in need of a reminder that equality is still a long way off.

We need Spokespeople for Women to ensure that gender equality in Suffolk is a fact rather than a fiction, to make sure that the best person gets the job, that the girls in our schools are wholly supported to have same aspirations and futures as their male peers.

Alongside this we need a clear understanding of the utter necessity for certain woman-specific provision. We can all dream of an equal society, but whilst 1 in 4 women experiences domestic violence, whilst one British woman is killed by a man – generally one she knows – every 2.4 days, women and children desperately need refuges,  support, safe spaces for access, and the funding for all this. And everyone, whatever their gender who believes in equality realise this as truth.

But without a woman to speak up for equality in the Suffolk administration – what happens to it?  It is ‘assumed’ as existing without existing. The funding gets lost because the issue has no direct relevance to those in charge – and the whole county suffers.

Sad but true.

So  I am going to be here to carry on pointing it out, until the Suffolk  administration realises this too.”