All posts by Caroline Page

What your LibDem Councillors are asking SCC, 24 October 2013

BannerAt today’s Full council meeting, your LibDem councillors are asking the SCC administration the following questions. We will post the answers and any supplementary questions and answers arising from them

From Cllr Penny Otton to Cllr Lisa Chambers

16,000 pupils in England are severely bullied and cannot face going to school.  What alternative provision does Suffolk have for these children other than pupil referral units.

From Cllr Inga Lockington to Cllr Mark Bee

Is there anything in in any Customer First Contract between SCC and CSD to stop staff talking to a customer face to face.

From Cllr Caroline Page to Cllr Alan Murray

Following Friday’s permanent closure of the Sexual Health clinic at Ipswich hospital, I am reassured that Public Health is working hard to ensure some services will continue be available in Ipswich while a future location is created. Can you please tell me what  facilities for immediate STI diagnosis (eg microscopy), for immediate on-site free dispensing of drugs (as opposed to by prescription collected from a pharmacist) and for co-ordination of contact tracing  Public Health is ensuring are put in place in the immediate aftermath of closure?

Greater Anglia to remove cycles from trains?

4SuffolkSUnriseWhile Suffolk’s public health team are encouraging people get out of their cars an onto bicycles, Suffolk train operator Greater Anglia has produced a draft cycle strategy  stating pretty unequivocally that their future intention is that they will no longer carry cycles on the trains.

The company says it is  intending to work towards “ a ‘corridor approach’ where a specific problem exists with cycles on trains, and to provide secure cycle parking and hire at both ends of the train journey so that customers are encouraged to either have a cycle at both stations, or to take advantage of cycle hire or possibly another sustainable mode of transport from their destination”. You can read the full  piece below.

“Whilst bike and go is a suitable model for some cyclists – principally those with simple journeys, who are affluent enough to afford two bicycles or the £3.50 a day to hire one – this plan will  further disadvantage those passengers who are poor, with few travel options, and/or need to take a train to and from a rural destination. The Wickham Market station at Campsea Ash is a prime example – here there IS no sustainable transport,  no likelihood of cycle hire, no secure parking, and the town is some miles of unpavemented, unoccupied rural road from the station,” says Lib Dem Spokesperson for Transport, Caroline Page.

“I am further concerned about  other wording elsewhere which suggests that folding bicycles may not in the future be considered as luggage, although they may well be smaller than other pieces of luggage. This is a worrying development.

As another part of this consultation, Greater Anglia are planning on setting up a Cycle Forum to assist them in decisionmaking. I have already written to ask that I be included in this, and am awaiting their response.”

The consultation relies on one to download a pdf  hidden on a page in Greater Anglia’s website and then make a  response in writing, or by email. 

Cycle Strategy Responses
Greater Anglia
11th floor
One Stratford Place
LONDON E20 1EJ
cyclestrategy@greateranglia.co.uk

Please clearly mark your response ‘Draft Cycle Strategy

 The  draft cycle strategy as relating to Cycles on trains:

“Our policy in the short term continues to be that we will try to accommodate the carriage of cycles on trains free of charge wherever we possibly can. However, we have to balance this demand with the views of our customers as a whole, some of whom are beginning to voice understandable concerns about the safety of carrying large numbers of cycles at peak times. Our objective for the medium to long term is therefore to reduce the carriage of cycles on trains by stimulating behavioural change.

Many of our trains carrying commuters into London and regional centres such as Cambridge are becoming increasingly crowded, and it has already become necessary to impose restrictions on the carriage of non-folding cycles at these times. We will keep these restrictions under review, but as the use of our services continues to grow, we believe that we and future franchisees will have to consider a widening of the restrictions to cover other routes and services. Unfortunately, it is not a simple matter to provide additional carriages, and the priority will always be to provide seated or standing accommodation for passengers.

We are therefore conscious that we need to work with stakeholders to find alternative solutions to this problem. These need to be viable alternatives, rather than just more punitive restrictions.

We believe the options are to take a ‘corridor approach’ where a specific problem exists with cycles on trains, and to provide secure cycle parking and hire at both ends of the train journey so that customers are encouraged to either have a cycle at both stations, or to take advantage of cycle hire or possibly another sustainable mode of transport from their destination. This reflects the culture in force in many parts of Europe and will require considerable resolve on the part of our company and all of our stakeholders if it is to become the norm in this country.

There may also be options around wider use of folding cycles, provided that these are used with sensitivity for the needs of other customers. We appreciate that there needs to be a considerable amount of partnership working and goodwill from all parties to manage this difficult situation. We undertake to work with other train operators on shared sections of route to manage the problem consistently and as sympathetically as possible. We will also engage with local authorities and cycling groups to implement the ‘corridor’ approach where it is practical to do so”

A unitary council? – Forget ideology and go for practicality

Dave WoodSo, what is the Lib Dem viewpoint on  forthcoming government cuts in the council budget?

Considering the mess we have inherited, they are inevitable, LibDem leader Cllr Dave Wood tells us.

Speaking on the BBC Radio Suffolk’s Breakfast Show  he said ”  it is inevitable that there will have to be be cuts – and ones to frontline services. The important thing is that we must make sure that children and the vulnerable are protected as best we can.”

” There continues to be a lot of talk about the Councils in Suffolk sharing services,” Cllr Wood added. “Lets stop being precious – it is okay to talk but now is the time to act!  We missed out a couple of years back  squabbling over whether Suffolk should be unitary or not, and so we missed the boat. Yet a three tier system is unwieldy, expensive and leads to unnecessary duplication. Lets forget ideology and go for practicality.  Now is the time to open the debate once again – and this time, lets go for it!”

 

Answers to LibDem questions: Full Council, 19 September

Questions we asked this month concerned Homecare packages, closure of Lowestoft’s  EAOTAs centre and the  disparity between amount of expenses Suffolk county councillors can claim for different forms of transport.

Below in full are the questions as tabled by your Suffolk Lib Dem Councillors at September’s Full Council on the 19th, together with a summary of  the appropriate  Cabinet member’s reply (plus supplementary question and response where appropriate).

Inga Lockington  to Cabinet member for Adult Care & Health  Allan Murray

Question: How many residents assessed as needing care support and living alone in Suffolk receive Homecare visits of no longer than 15min within their care package?

Answer:  We only commission packages that meet the needs of the patients and the basic package is for never less than 30 minutes.  However an extra package may be added in certain circumstances. This may be a 15 minute package

Penny Otton to Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Young People Lisa Chambers

Question: Following the interview I did with Sally Chidzoy on BBC LOOK EAST in July I am pleased  to discover that the EAOTAS centre in Lowestoft has NOW closed . Why did this take so long??

Answer; EOTAS is run by external contractors – despite SCC working closely with the last company we were unable to come to an agreement, so they were given notice.  The scheduled closure is Oct 25th.

Supplementary question: How are you supporting the children?

Answer: We are working closely with the parents to ensure a smooth transition.

Caroline Page to Mark Bee, Leader of the Council

Question: Cllr Bee, as you have made it a council commitment that Suffolk should be ” the greenest county” and that we should  ”strive to improve the health, life chance and life expectancy of our residents”,  will you now commit to a reduction of the extremely generous mileage allowance Suffolk County councillors get if they use their own cars for transport on county council business – and instead to incentivise county councillors  to set a good example  to the residents of Suffolk by travelling by public transport or bicycle?

Answer:    Council are committed to encouraging healthier / cheaper forms of transport.  Allowances and expenses are being reviewed by the remuneration review panel. Cllr Bee  says he will put these concerns to the panel

(you can read Caroline Page’s blog about her question here)

‘Active travel” needs SCC councillors’ active support!

DSCF8699
Caroline Page and David Wood on the Suffolk Challenge Walk 2013 which followed 100km of AONB from Felixstowe to Lowestoft in May.

 

Suffolk’s  Annual Public Health report  2013  – Moving forward? concerns itself with travel and health and recommends a  move to ‘active travel’  – and a wholesale transfer of many journeys or parts of journeys to the bicycle or foot.

In supporting the report, Lib Dem leader   Cllr David Wood urged the administration to look again at its public transport policy. “We need to see  see buses in rural areas in the evening on Sundays and Public Holidays once more, enabling rural Suffolk to be open again for business and not totally reliant on the car,” he said.

He pointed out that vast areas of Suffolk’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty  prime land for cycling an wakling, cannot be accessed by any other means than car – a frankly ludicrous anomaly!

Lib Dem spokesman for Transport, Cllr Caroline Page, is a committed cyclist, pedestrian and bus user. She was also enthusiastic about this report,  but has reservations about its chance of implementation.

“Sadly there seem to be many councillors who are converted to active travel  in theory but not at all in practice.  At the full council debate on the subject last Thursday, I heard a stream of excuses, exculpations and explanations from  individuals who are compensated by the Council Tax payer at 44p per mile to remain in their cars at no cost to themselves –  and so don’t have to make the same choices as others they represent.

While there remains such a clear gap between what  councillors think is a good idea for others and what they are prepared to do themselves, we  are not going to progress as far or fast as we would like,” she says.

On a happier note, it looks as if the Suffolk train services are becoming more proactive on the subject of cycles.  After introducing many more cycle parking spaces and introducing ‘Boris bikes’ on its routes,  Greater Anglia  has now formally launched its new cycle strategy with a consultation. You can find further details and a link on Caroline Page’s blog

 

Lib Dem Questions for Suffolk County Council: 19 Sept 2013

BannerEvery Full Council, elected members have the opportunity to put questions to the Cabinet members at Suffolk County Council.

These are the questions Lib Dem county councillors are asking this September. I will post the replies after the meeting

Inga Lockington  to Cabinet member for Adult Care & Health  Allan Murray

How many residents assessed as needing care support and living alone in Suffolk receive Homecare visits of no longer than 15min within their care package?

Penny Otton to Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Young People Lisa Chambers

Following the interview I did with Sally Chidzoy on BBC LOOK EAST in July I am pleased  to discover that the EAOTAS centre in Lowestoft has NOW closed . Why did this take so long??

Caroline Page to Mark Bee, Leader of the Council

Cllr Bee, as you have made it a council commitment that Suffolk should be ” the greenest county” and that we should  “strive to improve the health, life chance and life expectancy of our residents”,  will you now commit to a reduction of the extremely generous mileage allowance Suffolk County councillors get if they use their own cars for transport on county council business – and instead to incentivise county councillors  to set a good example  to the residents of Suffolk by travelling by public transport or bicycle?

Great Blakenham pollution – a non-answer

John Field Great blakenhamReaders may remember that when Cllr John Field tabled a question about the health impact of pollution in July’s Full Council meeting he found on the day that his question – although submitted correctly, and acknowledged as such by the Suffolk County Council Monitoring Officer – had been disappeared from the Full Council agenda and therefore coud be neither asked nor answered.

To remind you,  it related to the Great Blakenham incinerator and was asked of the Cabinet Member for Environment, Waste and Economic Development (Richard Smith). John Field asked:

The “Escape” study published in the Lancet Oncology journal indicated substantial increases in Lung Cancer at levels of PM2.5 and PM10 pollution significantly below the EEC recommended limits.  A second study from Nicholas Mills also in the Lancet linked heart failure rates to PM2.5 and PM10 pollution.  These studies raise concern in the population local to the incinerator under construction in Gt Blakenham whose emissions are designed to meet European standards.  While I don’t wish to be alarmist these new studies warrant attention.  Will the Cabinet member ensure that the implications of these reports for my division and the wider area are studied thoroughly and reported to councillors and local people?

After being chased up, a response from the Cabinet Member was eventually forthcoming –  although far from helpful. It went as follows:

“The Lancet reports referenced in the question refer to the medical consequences of air pollution, although no direct reference appears to be made to incinerators, or energy from waste plants, as a specific source of the air pollution problems in the summaries of these reports. The reports help from a backdrop for the vigilance required when dealing with potential sources of air pollution. To this end, the ultimate responsibility for the control of air pollution, and specifically emission limits, lies with the regulatory authorities who will have our full support.

The Council’s Energy from Waste contract signed with SITA UK has 6 principal obligations, the relevant one in this case being that the Service be provided in accordance with legislation. The emission limits for the facility at Great Blakenham will be monitored by both SITA and the Environment Agency for compliance with the statutory limits.

The County Council does not have the primary role of monitoring the emissions, neither does it have the technical expertise and knowledge so as stated above we will ensure that the relevant statutory bodies have our full support in the carrying out of their duties.

SITA have designed and constructed the plant to perform well within the current emission limits, and have published their emission policies as far as monitoring and publicising them are concerned. The links to these documents are:- http://www.sita.co.uk/downloads/SuffolkEfWCLGAirQuality-web-1101.pdfhttp://www.sita.co.uk/downloads/EfW-BriefingNote-web-1106.pdfhttp://www.sita.co.uk/downloads/SuffolkEfWBriefingNoteAirQuality-web-1206.pdf

However, a failure to keep within the emission limits could have serious consequences, not only for the health of Suffolk residents, but also the delivery of the service. The County Council will ensure emissions information is published once the facility becomes operational, and currently publishes quarterly reports of air quality in the locality on its website.

The European Union and the UK Government employ experts who keep emission limits under regular review so if at any stage the emission limits for energy from waste facilities are changed, there are clauses within the contract which allow for the necessary capital expenditure to be approved, and the consequent cost of the service to be amended.

Give the above we are confident that the emissions at the Energy from Waste plant will be well managed.”

Right.

It is not easy to see where this confidence comes from.  The whole burden of this  reply – in as many unnecessary words as possible –  is that as long as the EU emission limits are adhered to, who cares if the Lancet has found increased incidence (please note ‘incidence’ – not risks but actual occurrence) of lung cancer and heart failure at well below EU emission limits?

Its hard  to see how anyone could write these paragraphs as an answer to John Field’s  question. They are clearly nothing more than an excuse for not answering the question.

None of our business guv.

Or as John Field more politely  puts it: “This answer is very general and does not address the possible need for a new evaluation of the pollution in Gipping Valley.”

 

Pupil Premium – a fairer society in Suffolk?

Suffolk schools pupil premiumA fascinating new interactive map will show you exactly how much extra funding  your local school has been able to claim via Pupil Premium

An extra £25,000? £75,000? £242,000?

Woodbridge county councillor Caroline Page is delighted to point out that ” this school year, Woodbridge’s excellent and inclusive  Farlingaye High School has been able to claim nearly a quarter of a million pounds to provide additional  support to pupils from hard-pressed homes. This is thanks to the  Liberal Democrats  in the Coalition government.”

The Pupil Premium – which is additional to main school funding – is an initiative introduced by the Liberal Democrats in government which intends to address the current underlying inequalities between children eligible for free school meals and their peer. It is doing this very practically by ensuring that funding to tackle disadvantage reaches the pupils who need it most.

You can click here to seach the map for yourself and find out for yourself what your  school has been able to claim.

However, getting the funding is only the start. “Its quite a revelation to see how much money is going into Suffolk schools. We now have to see what they are doing with it, ” points out Suffolk Lib Dem schools spokesperson, Penny Otton

Lets stop being modest about LibDem achievements

Dave WoodOn this Sunday’s  Politics programme, SCC  Lib Dem leader Dave Wood will be voicing robust support for his party at both local and national level  in advance of the Lib Dem party conference.

“After the initial shock at finding ourselves blamed for everything the Coalition government does, and the protest vote that cost us seats, we’ve realised that people have got into the habit of relying on us  to hold the worst excesses of the Tories at bay, without acknowledging any of the good things we do. They’re having their cake and eating it! “ he says.

“So, instead of just getting on and doing the job  – as we always do – we have to start shouting about our local and national successes. It’s  up to us to bring our out light from under the bushel because it is clearly in the interests of both Tories and Labour to keep it hidden.  But we do a lot. Let’s stop being so modest about our achievements.

Locally our hard work and dedication is acknowledged and respected. This is why no sitting Suffolk LibDem councillor lost their seat in the 2013 election. Yet for far too long we have been hard-working councillors that everybody knows and relies on without expecting the pat on the backs we deserve.  We need to be proud of what we have achieved and be proud to tell everyone about our successes. In Suffolk, our local defence of local services saw off Andrea Hill’s New Strategic Direction, while nationally, we are behind all those many innovations like the triple lock pension, tax-cuts for the low paid, the pupil premium, and bringing record numbers of poorer students into higher education etc. These are improving life for so many of us in Suffolk – and in the UK as a whole.

We need to confront people with the reality:  ask them what the Tories would be doing if we Lib Dems weren’t there to rein them in and keep watch on things. Unlike a lot of other European countries, the UK is not used to Coalition  governments and hasn’t fully understood how they work. Too many people choose to  see this Coalition as a friendship group, rather than what it is –  a temporary alliance of very differing views.  It suits the Labour party to support this view – after all the Coalition only exists to deal with the mess they left this country in.

We must not be afraid to tell everyone what we are doing and be proud to do so.”

A Partial Victory for Thurston Community College families

Penny Otton SCCCllr Penny Otton has campaigned long and hard to get free home-to-school transport for a small number of pupils in Rattlesden, Woolpit and Elmswell who were caught between catchment areas. At the moment these villages are each split between Stowupland and Thurston High Schools’ catchments  although from 2014 they will all be in the Thurston catchment.

A few families, having chosen to send their children to Thurston Community College were faced with an unexpected  termly bill.

“It just didn’t seem fair,” says Penny Otton. “Especially as no-one in their right mind would want to send their child to Stowupland for one single year!”

” The families were very poorly informed, both as to the situation and as to their rights. I have been fighting this anomaly for months.  At least today the SCC cabinet has come round to my point of view and agreed to allow free transport to the  year 9 pupils involved. However I am very disappointed  that year 10 children will still be forced to pay when their friends just 1 street away do not. This is not equitable in the circumstances.”