Category Archives: Caroline Page

Community Transport – a Continuing Story

cropped-Dave-Wood1.jpgAt the last County Council meeting (14th July) during the debate on the Annual Equalities and Inclusion Report 2016, leader David Wood asked for the following to be clarified, on his own behalf and on that of Cllrs Penny Otton and Caroline Page :-

Referring to point 3 of the report – ” Empower more people with protected characteristics to live safe, healthy and independent lives”. Could the proposer please tell me how the recently awarded Community Transport Contracts fits in with this report – especially its equality objectives.

For instance I know in Mid Suffolk one cannot use a bus pass to access these services – yet in other areas of Suffolk you can.

In my own area I am receiving complaints regarding these new services: these come from a young person with Downs Syndrome; a person with visual impairment; and a wheelchair user –  all have been told they cannot access services they have come to rely on and have become an important part of their lives. In one case a person’s job is at risk; another is seriously considering moving away from the village she has lived in all her life.

My question is, how does this fit in with our equality and inclusion objectives?

Cllr Goldson could not provide an answer during the debate but has assured me he will look into this and will be replying to the question raised.

The Portfolio holder for Highways and Transport was strangely silent during the debate.

David Wood
Group Leader

 

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SCC Annual Executive Statement: LibDem Response

photo: Caroline PageAfter a week when momentous change has been initiated by a referendum result that many did not expect, it feels strange to reflect on the more mundane but nevertheless important issues of the last year.

Where to begin? The financial challenge and the Council Tax?  The administration promised no rises in council tax for four years, ignoring the challenging social care needs of an increasing elderly population.  They have met those needs by outsourcing and changing services in a way that makes it difficult to be sure if all those who need our help get enough of it.

This year, after government encouragement the Conservatives have now introduced a special 2% precept -not a council tax rise – to meet the steadily increasing demand for care. We welcome the move and look forward to knowing just where this is spent.

Had the administration raised the council tax by a similar amount, we all would have been challenged by the need to find an extra £26 or so per household but it would have gone some way to fill the gap left by cuts to government grants.

A feature of the year has been the continuing, cross party, councillor discontent with the outsourced Highways contract. High design costs and slow response to the need for work makes it impossible for councillors to use our individual highways budgets to meet residents’ reasonable demands.  It increases discontent and confirms the public mistrust of politicians.  Conservatives  believe in the outsourcing model, they let the contract -can we see some effective delivery please?

In the education arena we are pleased to see Suffolk – at last – moving up from so close to the bottom of the league tables. Unfortunately, poor past performance leaves our schools at risk of forced conversion to academy status.  That is a transition many do not want but our poor management performance leaves little choice.  The academy structure in our view leaves management overhead spread across a much smaller base.  Dedicated leaders may of course produce outstanding results but the record is far from perfect.

We don’t want to be entirely critical. We applaud Conservative actions to focus intensive action on troubled families and on making every intervention count.  The campaign to recruit more foster carers was first class

We thank the administration for the way they have kept us informed as the devolution proposals developed, a pleasant example of openness and honesty. It will be good if the public get the same feeling.  However,  we will no doubt discuss the public consultation which appears to be heading for the summer holiday period.

Saving money on services like Community Transport or Park and Ride is short sighted. If the administration is so intent on new models then they  need to fully finance the transition to working services.  When we say ‘working services’ we mean working for everybody –  but in Mid Suffolk, older people will no longer be able to use their bus passes.

Dave Wood is pleased DEFRA have noted the importance of our protected landscapes and have guaranteed the grant to our AONB’s with a slight rise in funding. The county has followed suit, sadly without the increase.

One can’t close without a comment on Brexit. We have a new challenge. We are appalled that our nation is not mature enough to stick with our European friends and solve their problems. We prefer to abandon them to their fate and seek a better future in the past.  We hope that the course back to 1930 nationalistic attitudes will not lead to a spread of behaviours like those in Ukraine.

One wonders how many who believe our trade will now grow unencumbered by regulation have first-hand experience of the competence and skill of our competitors in other nations and of the international regulation that exists.

We can’t sell railways and steam engines to the empire any more. We need many more companies like ARM in Cambridge if we are to succeed. It is doubtful whether we have them.

One hopes the Conservatives the vision our new future will require, that nationally, they will stop rewarding the rich and punishing the poor who have suffered disproportionately the price of austerity. We need to get them back on side.

Where our consciences allow we LibDems will support efforts to survive and prosper in the new Great Britain, although of course we would prefer to be heading in a different direction.

John Field
Deputy Leader

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LibDems are standing for the 48%

48Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has pledged to fight the next General Election on a platform taking Britain back into Europe.

Since Britain voted for Brexit on Thursday thousands of people have joined the Liberal Democrats and all Suffolk Lib Dem groups are seeing a share of this surge.

The economic uncertainty following the Brexit vote  will affect jobs, people’s homes and livelihoods.  While accepting the result of the referendum, the Liberal Democrats plan to make the case for us to rejoin the heart of Europe.

“For many millions of people, this was not just a vote about Europe. It was a howl of anger at politicians and institutions who they felt they were out of touch and had let them down,” said  Tim .

“The British people deserve the chance not to be stuck with the appalling consequences of a Leave campaign that stoked that anger with the lies of Farage, Johnson and Gove.

“The Liberal Democrats will fight the next election on a clear promise to restore British prosperity and role in the world, with the UK in the European Union, not out.

If you agree with us, join us to make this happen.”

You can join the LibDems here

Caroline Page

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Bus passes no longer available for use on community transport in Mid-Suffolk and Ipswich

Further to our report on Suffolk’s new bus franchises Thedwastre  South Councillor Penny Otton reiterates: “It  now turns out Suffolk county council Tory council has awarded a contract for the Mid Suffolk  area where you cannot use your bus pass. You can pay or swap your bus pass for a voucher worth £100. How  many trips will that cover?? Is this fair?? I don’t think so!”

BSEVC covers not only MidSuffolk, but also Ipswich. Fortunately  for the rest of Suffolk these are the only two areas where this iniquitous system is currently running -though the franchises are able to change their operating terms at any time.

“We’ve been told that BSEVC is able to refuse bus passes because they are operating 9 seater transport rather than the previous 22 seaters.  This allows them to operate under different rules as community car schemes and Dial-A-Ride rather than  Demand Responsive Transport.  SCC officers have told us this is because the 22 seater buses  are  ‘not economically viable’ ; that BSEVC do hold 22 seaters, and that they could bring them back into use ‘should demand increase,” explains LibDem spokesperson for Transport, Caroline Page .

But as  the voucher system allows previous bus pass holders living in remote areas to make no more than 11 return journeys a year,  it is hard to see how this promise is anything other than window dressing!”

 

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Is your bus pass valid on your new Suffolk Community transport?

So, people of Suffolk,will you be able to afford your new Community transport as re-engineered by your caring sharing Suffolk County Council? Will it accept your bus pass even? I really wouldn’t count on it

In Suffolk Coastal we haven’t yet been told the situation, but elsewhere in the county people already have had very bad news. Predictably, LibDem anxieties about the format of Suffolk’s new Community Transport franchises are already showing themselves to be justified.

In the whole of the mid-Suffolk district , franchisees  BSEVC have already announced that they will no longer be operating Demand Responsive Transport. This means  NO Bus Passes will be accepted , all fares will rise, under-16 fares will only apply if are accompanied by an adult, and the under 18 reduction is derisory. And, surprise, surprise, there seems to be no provision for young people to use SCC’s much vaunted youth card the Endeavour (that pallid simulacrum of the much more successful Explore  card ). An offer to ‘restore DRT if the demand is there is meaningless. How  can the demand be created if the national bus pass scheme  no longer operates?

What price Suffolk's new Community Transport Franchise deal? A lot in BSE- with the new company accepting NO BUs Passes, nor fares for under 16s unless accompanied by an adult (!) plus an overall increase in adult fares. And will the SCC Endeavour card be honoured? Er.. no
(click to enlarge) What price Suffolk’s new Community Transport Franchise deal?  Pretty high round Bury St Edmunds, – with BSEVC accepting NO Bus Passes, nor fares for under 16s unless accompanied by an adult (!), scrapping discounted returns  plus offering an overall increase in adult fares.   And will the SCC’s Endeavour card – that supposed banner of support for the  travel-poor young people of Suffolk-  be honoured? Er.. no

As Creeting resident Mark Valladares said bitterly on Twitter,

“My Conservative County Councillor claimed we would have a “better service at lower cost”. Now we know what he meant”

Mr Valladares also pointed out that  BSEVC has scrapped the discounted return fare – his return fare is now up by 54%.

Rural community transport  needs to be reliable and affordable because it underpins education, employment, training, access to health and social care for those that need it.  Once again SCC’s administration have turned their backs on those that need this transport most!

Caroline Page
Lib Dem Spokesperson, Transport

Every area  is offering a one hour ‘drop in’ to inform all the people within the community link area.  This adds insult to injury -not only is the time short, but the problem of access has npot been considered. For example  the drop-in for the whole of Suffolk Coastal, being in Woodbridge, can only be accessed by community transport link customers BY community transport link. How many will be able to get there for 10-30 to 11.30 on a Monday morning?

Babergh The Dining Room, Hadleigh Town Hall, Market Place, Hadleigh, IP7 5DN Friday 27th May Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
Forest Heath Forest Heath District Council, Council Chamber, College Heath Road, Milden hall, IP28 7EY Friday 3rd June Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
Ipswich Ipswich Town Hall Friday 10th June Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
Mid Suffolk Mid Suffolk District Council, The Dove Room, 131 High Street, Needham Market, IP6 8DL Wednesday 8th June Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
St Edmunds bury St Edmundsbury District Council, West Suffolk House, Western Way, Bury St Edmunds, IP33 3SP Wednesday 1st June Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
Suffolk Coastal Suffolk Coastal District Council, Council Chamber, Melton Hill, Woodbridge, IP12 1AU Monday 6th June Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
Waveney Waveney District Council, Riverside, 4 Canning Road, Lowestoft, NR33 OEG Wednesday 25th May Drop in between 14.00 & 15.00
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Lib Dems support Community Transport

cropped-Banner1.jpgWe’re all  representatives of  many Suffolk residents who are left at the mercy of our current rural transport service. As such, your Lib Dem councillors were keen to support a Labour motion to Full Council yesterday calling on the Conservative administration to  reverse decisions it has made about the future of community transport (see here for details).

As Lib Dem spokesperson for Transport, Caroline Page put it:  ” The new-look Community Transport is tasked  with doing so much more for so many more with so much less. Cynically it would seem that a primary reason for this design is that should these services fail, they would fail at one remove from the County Council. The outcome – whether intentional or not – is SCC could then look at the people unable to get where they need to go – the very people for whom Community Transport was intended – and say, “Not my fault, guv.””

A planned cut of 50% to the County council operators’ subsidy, when combined with a move away   from community-based services is a double-whammy.

Cllr Page pointed out that change was inevitable at a time of austerity. “But to remove the subsidy and to remove the minibus fleet simultaneously – and then sit back and say “Of course you’ll make a profit!” without checking whether it is possible, or what will happen to those who would lose out if it fails, seems plain irresponsible.”

Leader Colin Noble had confirmed earlier in the meeting that the current Rural Services Delivery Grant had maintained, rather than cut, Suffolk’s level of rural  funding. This emphasises the subsidy cut was not necessary “but an exercise of power without responsibility, putting ideology before efficiency,” said Cllr Page.

“I can only reiterate what I said at last month’s budget meeting: Yes, this is a time of austerity and we must all get real. SO lets talk the reality of reality. At such times we have a duty to support those people who are suffering most from the impact of austerity. We must do everything to ensure our rural community transport reliable public transport reliably underpins education, employment, training, access to health and social care for those that need it. ”

Despite impassioned and intelligent argument from the opposition cross benches,  the motion was voted down by the ruling Conservative administration.

Caroline Page
Lib Dem Spokesperson, Transport

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Sufffolk LibDem Budget Statement 2016: Support for sensible use of reserves

Suffolk County Council’s burget proposed  cuts amounting to £34.4m –  leading to a budget requirement of £445,659,553.  With all these cuts the budget still  increased council tax by 2% – though in a figleaf to the administration’s electoral promise to freeze council tax for the entire electoral period this was worded as “”The budget is based on a freeze… but includes a 2% precept to fund Adult Social Care…”

The Lib Dems supported  a Labour amendment that tried to ameliorate – indeed turn back – the cuts. They were joined in cross-party unity with the Greens, the Independents and even UKIP. It was a tight vote but the administration squeezed through.

With this cross-party support, the Labour amendment was lost  by a  narrow margin: 32-36. The Conservatives won their budget 36-27.

LibDem deputy group leader John Field told  council:

Local councils have suffered heavily at the hands of the chancellor as he tries to reduce the deficit that the bankers generated.  The County finances are challenged but since 2011 reserves have increase steadily to £140.5 m with £36.9 m in the contingency reserve.  This is money “for a rainy day” not spent boosting the economy or protecting vulnerable people.

The government is now assuming that councils raise council tax by 1.7% per year –  and, if they deal with social care, another 2% on top of that.  If they don’t do this their spending power will fall. There will be no more Pickles grants for keeping tax rises at zero.   As I see it that leaves Suffolk County Council  as a tax cutting administration in a pickle.  Raise tax by just 2% and your resources decrease.  Raise it by 3.7% as the government is assuming and you break your pledge of zero rises.  Do you square the circle by “managing demand”, is it “Transformation” or “Demand Management” locking the door so people can’t get in?

We believe that there must be a continual activity where services are re-engineered to reduce unnecessary process steps and to seize the possibilities offered by technological change.

However, we receive anecdotal information that the vulnerable are steadily receiving reduced service. We believe that we need proof that front line services are being preserved.  The need for continual “demand management” implies they are not.  When people do not get the care they need and the knock on effect on the NHS is substantial.

There are sound reasons for reserves but there is no need to grow them endlessly.  The proposal within the amendment to use a sum equal to the recent growth to support services is a rational choice.  We will no doubt be reminded that reserves can only be used once, obviously true but there is no proposal to spend all the £140.5 m in one period of excess or even all the £36.9 m in the contingency reserve.  The proposals in the amendment appear sound; the proposal to reinstate this selection of your cuts is socially responsible.

Many of the cuts that would be reversed not only meet the needs of the vulnerable but also increase economic growth or reduce costs like those of the delayed transfer of care.  They will reduce spend elsewhere in budgets throughout the public sector.  Those savings are far harder to measure than the administrations cuts but nevertheless are real.

It is your choice to build reserves and endlessly reduce service or to meet need.  You cast yourselves as heroes dealing with adversity but just deliver cuts to the disadvantaged and the vulnerable.    For these reasons we support the Labour amendment.

Caroline Page’s speech on the impact of these cuts to transport can be found here

John Field  (deputy group leader)
Caroline Page

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SEN Education in Suffolk review – Consultation (& Update)

Update: The first tranche of this consultation  finished on 7th February. Click here for Cllr Caroline Page’s response and remarks: SEND Education on Suffolk – the costs and hidden costs).

Suffolk County Council are currently consulting about the future of specialist education provision in Suffolk.

Opposition councillors were naturally sceptical that this was cover for money-saving, but  very clear and open answers from  officers have reassured us that this is not a cost-cutting exercise (the money is ring-fenced) but about spending it to best advantage and with better outcomes.

Suffolk currently has 256 young people sent out of county at the cost of £11m a year for educational provision that Suffolk has not been able or willing to provide in county; some of Suffolk’s PRUs ‘require improvement’ (one is in special measures) and are significantly more expensive per capita  and produce worse outcomes than Norfolk’s (which are rated outstanding), and all the SSCs (specialist support centres)  are located in one quadrant of the county because historically they were only sited in schools that declared themselves willing to house them. “This means there is no specialist support provision in the north and west of the county and some children are making two 75-minute journeys a day to reach them,” according to Caroline Page, spokesperson for Transport and Vice Chair of Educational Transport Appeals.

Suffolk is asking for responsesto find the best way to address these issues and others.

From  11 January – 7 February 2016  people have the opportunity to give your views on a range of options Suffolk are looking at, and you can also suggest other ideas for Suffolk to consider. From 14 March – 24 April 2016 there will be a formal consultation on the proposed changes:  a 6 week formal consultation period where you can make representations to the Council – both expressions of support or objections to the proposals.

So, whether you are concerned or worried, or simply want to add your voice to the debate –  please respond and add your views! They will be valued  You can find the documents here

Caroline Page

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Suffolk gets new Community Transport model – despite reservations

Suffolk will be getting a new Community Transport model – despite reservations from opposition parties – after the  cabinet decision to tender for continuing community transport using a new structure was “called in” this month.

Community transport is the term for services like Dial a Ride that provide “on demand” transport to people no longer served by scheduled buses or trains. Over recent years the Conservative administration have increasingly replaced scheduled bus services in rural areas of Suffolk with community transport, but delivery has remained patchy disparate and problematic.  A variety of these services have operated under various brands serving different communities and specific user-groups although their vehicles have been provided by the county and the services largely specified by county officers. Often people have had little idea of availability and there has been large areas of unmet need – particularly in the area of young person’s travel , regular travel to employment, weekend and evening travel, and same day travel.

Under the new proposal,  seven contracts would be let (one per district council). This would ensure people would easily know who they should phone to book a journey and allow for greater flexibility of provision.  The problem with that is that people often travel from one district to another to visit the hospital or shop in a major town.

The proposal is that  current vehicles will  be sold to the providers, a move that would allow a wider range of customers to be served.  When the county owns vehicles, providers cannot use them to provide services if that would compete with commercial services. That would involve the state subsidising one service to compete against another.

Another advantage will be that they can then select vehicles to meet the need as they see it rather than having to use what the county provides.

The county hopes that this will allow competition for services such as some forms of home-to-school transport that will use the assets more intensively.

So why was this proposal called in by the Labour group?  Well, there were five reasons but we  LibDems thought the most significant was financial.

The intention was that, not only would the county no longer provide free vehicles saving it some some £570k (which largely voluntary bodies would have to find) but also it would reduce the subsidy from £1.4m to £700k over the next four years.  Increased revenue from the new freedom to provide services was supposed to compensate for this significant cut.

Scrutiny believed it more likely that, although the providers would survive, using their new freedoms and their vehicles to provide the county with alternative sources of transport (for instance home to school services) others would suffer.  Many services to people without other transport options would be unlikely to be supported by the new lower county contribution – and will be cut.  And as the new contract is deliberately non-specific, the County could  claim this is a matter outside its control.

We referred the decision back to cabinet but in a very brief process which allowed no comment from other councillors they dismissed the reasoning of the cross party scrutiny committee and decided there would be no change.

So much for democracy!

John Field
Caroline Page

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Suffolk’s Law Courts Under Threat – Lobby or Lose Them!

Suffolk LibDems  have joined in cross-party unanimity to condemn government proposals to close all law courts in Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft leaving the county with just the courts in Ipswich.

In brief, the Ministry of Justice proposes that:

a) Lowestoft Magistrates’ Court, County Court and Family Court is closed and the civil hearing work move to Great Yarmouth(Magistrates’ Court and Family Court), the family hearing work to Ipswich (Magistrates’ Court and Family Court)., and the criminal work move to Great Yarmouth (Magistrates’ Court and Family Court) and Norwich (Magistrates’ Court and Family Court).

b) that Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court and Family Court and Bury St Edmunds Crown Court are closed, and the existing magistrates’ and family workload  be moved to Ipswich (Magistrates’ Court and Family Court) and Norwich (Magistrates’ Court and Family Court). It is also proposed that victim and witness facilities will be installed at Bury St. Edmunds County Court and Tribunals which would enable court users, in suitable matters, to give evidence by video link!

All to save £600,000 a year. Truly this government knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Continue reading Suffolk’s Law Courts Under Threat – Lobby or Lose Them!

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