Category Archives: Dave Wood

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!

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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

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Suffolk Lib Dems launch Manifesto 2017

Candidates for the forthcoming Suffolk County Council elections join Sal Brinton and Ros Scott in the launch of their Manifesto

On Saturday 4 March  Suffolk’s very own Baroness Ros Scott joined Lib Dem party chair Baroness Sal Brinton to  launch the Suffolk Lib Dem  party manifesto for the elections in May.

We have now had  had a decade of conservative cuts letting local people down. Since 2005 the Conservatives have run the County Council, consistently  reducing services, rather than looking after the real needs of local people.  Suffolk Liberal Democrats believe there is a better way and we need urgent action in some important areas.

Suffolk Lib Dems’ SIX priorities for local people

  1. Provide a £5m boost to adult social care
  2. Invest in the infrastructure to support new housing – roads, schools and doctor’s surgeries
  3. Fund a county-wide mental health programme in schools
  4.  Fix our roads and pavements
  5. Invest in local bus services and make park and ride buses more frequent
  6. Protect our libraries

And there’s more. Read our full manifesto here

And here is the EADT’s angle on it

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Liberal Democrat Response to the Budget and the Labour Amendment 2017

Yesterday saw the setting of the County Budget for 2017-18. With an election in May this was always a day when we would emphasise the difference between the parties and it did not disappoint.  The was lots of Conservative emphasis on keeping spend down and how they have amassed large reserves over the past seven years.  Labour wanted to spend to preserve services and give the residents of Suffolk what they need.   We felt the Conservatives were cutting too hard but Labour were spending at the top limit of what would be possible.

My approach -on behalf of the LibDeb group- is below, seeking to use the resources available but not take unreasonable risks.  In the end the administration carried the day and a further £30 million will be cut from services.

John Field: Deputy Leader of Suffolk Lib Dem Group & County Councillor for Gipping Valley

Continue reading Liberal Democrat Response to the Budget and the Labour Amendment 2017

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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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Fire Cuts Still On The Agenda

Despite the best efforts of the Opposition Parties at the Suffolk County Council meeting of 17th March 2016 life threatening cuts  to the Fire and Rescue Services  are still on the Conservative administration’s agenda.

The motion to rule out these changes – put forward by Lib Dem Leader David Wood and seconded by the Leader of the Labour Group – was narrowly defeated by 36 votes to 35 at yesterdays Council Meeting.

Earlier, the Portfolio Holder Cllr Matthew Hicks had refused the FBU petition calling for the cuts to be the subject of a decision and debate by full council, despite a impassioned speech by the Fire Brigades Union rep Steve Hayward. (A speech that bought a standing ovation from opposition councillors ; sadly the Conservatives sat on their hands).

In a debate lasting 2 hours many worthwhile and important points were raised by opposition councillors as to why these cuts should not take place and why the safety of the people of Suffolk should come first. Time and time again, the Conservatives kept insisting that they were waiting for the results of the consultation to be made public before any decision is made.

But who will make that decision – the Cabinet and to quote the Public Protection Portfolio Holder Cllr Matthew Hicks “It Is important for the council to balance its books so the Fire Service must play its part”. Hence the reason for our motion, to let all of the elected representatives have their say on your Fire Service and its future.

During a passionate summing up Cllr David Wood referred to the extra money the council had been granted from the government from its rural sparsity fund ( a nice round £6.8m over the next 2 years), asking “Instead of putting it into reserves, shouldn’t a proportion of that be used to save these cuts? after all it does belong to the taxpayers of Suffolk!

(Apropos  of this, Cllr Wood was  asked to withdraw his description of senior Conservative Cllr Guy McGregor stating “lets not waste money“. In the interests of keeping the  meeting going he did so –   however, if you listen to the Suffolk County Webcast   do be sure to listen carefully to the Councillor, and especially his closing words.)

We may have lost the first round but the fight will continue to make sure the residents have a Fire Service that is fit for purpose.

Cllr David
Leader Lib Dem & Independent Party

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Suffolk Fire & Rescue: Cuts Could Cost Lives

Suffolk Lib Dems are joining forces with the County Council Labour Group at the County Council meeting this coming Thursday (17th March) in a joint motion to try and overturn the proposed cuts to the Suffolk Fire & Rescue Service .
The motion:-

“This Council believes that the reductions in fire appliances and crews as recommended in the Suffolk Fire Service Risk Management Plan 2015 – 18 would pose a serious threat to the safety of the residents of Suffolk, their homes and their businesses.

The Council therefore calls upon the Cabinet to approve and IRMP which excludes the following proposals:-

Bury St Edmunds proposal:  To remove one on- call fire engine from Bury St Edmunds Fire Station, and make consequent reduction to associated on -call firefighter posts.

Ipswich proposal:  To remove two fire engines from Princes Street Fire Station and one fire engine from Ipswich East Fire Station, and make consequent reductions to associated whole-time and on-call firefighter posts.

25102013254 (2)Lowestoft proposal:  To remove one on-call fire engine from the Lowestoft South Fire Station, and make consequent reductions to associated on-call posts.

Sudbury proposal:  To replace one of the fire engines at Sudbury with a rapid response type firefighting vehicle, and make consequent reductions to associated on-call firefighter posts.

Wrentham proposal:  To close Wrentham Fire Station and remove the fire engine, and make consequent reductions to associated on-call firefighter posts.

By proposing this motion to the  Full Council this will give everybody a chance to debate in full the devastating effect these cuts will have on the County of Suffolk. We have cast political differences aside to enable this debate to take place, something that would have been denied if just left to the Cabinet.

We firmly believe that the safety of the residents of Suffolk should come first which is why we are saying NO to these proposed cuts. Hopefully a majority of YOUR COUNCILLORS will agree with us and support this motion.

David Wood
Leader Lib Dem & Ind. Group

 

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Swift to Serve!!! ‘Severest cut’ to Suffolk’s Fire Services?

Now we know it- the Conservative administration are planning to cut £1.3m from the Fire Service budget of £21m!

This means they are proposing the severest cut ever seen to the Suffolk Fire Service, whose proud motto is Swift to Serve . With these proposed cuts, will they be able to live up to it , one wonders!

They are proposing to reduce the whole time establishment at Prnces Street Ipswich from 48 to 28, removing the On Call firefighters and two fire engines. At Ipswich East they are removing one fire engine and several On Call firefighters; the same is happening at Lowestoft South and Bury St Edmunds. At Wrentham they are closing the Fire Station altogether, whilst at Sudbury – the scene of a major fire recently -they are removing one fire engine and replacing it with a rapid response vehicle  (whatever that might be). One Senior Officer post is also going as well as three civlian posts.

What does this mean to you the public of Suffolk?

Today, when the cuts were announced, there were at least 7 Fire Stations unable to provide cover:  Framlingham, Aldeburgh, Wrentham, Eye, Needham Market, Nayland & Brandon with Princes Street “On Call Firefighters” unavailable at sometime during the day. Last Monday, 26th October, there were 20 Fire Stations out of a total of 35 unavailable for some part of the day! Where does the cover come from to fill in these holes in our Fire Cover? mainly from the wholetime firefighters based at Princes Street. However, with these proposed cuts this will no longer be able to happen.

With the population of Ipswich due to increase and several more high rise accomodation blocks planned the Fire Service will struggle to meet its agreed pre determined attendance to these properties, is it a risk you are prepared to take.

One simple solution:  a rise of less than 1% in the council tax could prevent these cuts (its up to you)  – or  of course they could go back and look for cuts elsewhere.

Ahead of this action, Suffolk County Council will now undertake a 14 week consultation period to allow you, the public of Suffolk, to have your say. If you value your Emergancy Service I urge you to have your say and say No to these drastic cuts.

It is rumoured that the Cabinet Member for Public Protection is prepared to take what he calls” these acceptable risks”.

To you the people of Suffolk, I ask:  “Are these RISKS ACCEPTABLE TO YOUR LIVES, YOUR PROPERTY & YOUR LIVELIHOODS?” I think not. We are already one of the lowest costing Fire Services in the country .

Enough is enough. Please have your say in this public consultation and help save our Fire Service.

David Wood

Leader Lib Dem Group.

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