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
- Provide a £5m boost to adult social care
- Invest in the infrastructure to support new housing – roads, schools and doctor’s surgeries
- Fund a county-wide mental health programme in schools
- Fix our roads and pavements
- Invest in local bus services and make park and ride buses more frequent
- Protect our libraries
And there’s more. Read our full manifesto here
And here is the EADT’s angle on it
After 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.
Will Lowestoft’s proposed Third River Crossing be in fact a Third Crossing or just another second one? Suffolk Liberal Democrats have obtained information, through FOI, questioning the credibility of promises made by the Conservatives, before the General Election on this matter.
Their concern is whether funding will go to create a sum total of three crossings or whether a smokescreen issued by the Conservatives hides plans to to remove Lowestoft’s Bascule Bridge, after the Third Crossing is built.
Having learned from an exchange between local MP, Peter Aldous, and a special advisor from the Department of Transport, that the cost of this feasibility study could be as high as £4-5 million, they also noted that the Prime Minister’s pre-election promise was for £2 million – less than half that amount.
The Liberal Democrat group is fully aware of the overall financial situation and supports the government focus on reducing the budget deficit. However it believes that many services provided by local government are valuable and should not be a first priority for cuts.
We believe that the county should use the resources provided by government and those it raises locally to support the local population and the economy. The Tories have diverted significant funds into reserves “for a rainy day”, and we have seen reserves grow dramatically during the financial crisis. They appear to be saving for a “rainy decade” while cutting services NOW. Funds could be used on today’s issues using reserves set aside for activities that will never occur.
The county must fund infrastructure that supports the local economy and ensure it is fit for purpose. For broadband we can see some progress but highways maintenance is slow and inadequate.
The county should provide services that support a good quality of life for vulnerable people and those who have difficulty getting work. We need to help people into work or help them into work re-enabling people who have had problems whenever possible.
ACS–Services for the elderly and vulnerable Within ACS the administration continuously seeks to reduce demand making no increase for inflation or demographic change. We support continuous pressure to improve efficiency removing bureaucracy and deploying new techniques and technology. However, we must ensure that people are not just forced out of relative low cost services into those with much higher spend. Into acute hospitals due to a lack of care places for instance. The county should collect data on local needs, understand it and focus on those needs. There should be clear evidence that needs are being met.
The cycle we see too often in our divisions, of a chaotic and disastrous end to life bounced from service to service must cease. We find it difficult to believe that this can be achieved in the face of an increasing elderly population while we put money in reserves “for a rainy day”. The problems experienced with care homes within the County’s contract are inexcusable.
The County must watch its strategy closely to be sure that the vulnerable are not being pushed out of the support system. Cost reductions purely from lower wage rates or working hours are not acceptable. They just move the budget problem to the benefit bill.
Public Health Mental health services are clearly inadequate but at national level Liberal Democrats are taking action and we welcome the moves by Norman Lamb to establish maximum times for referral. We believe that the County must play its role in this area.
CYP– Children’s services with emphasis on education These concern us concerns us most. The performance of many of our schools, particularly those in deprived areas lags the national picture. While there are improvements, in key stage 2 reading, writing and maths Suffolk has improved moving us up the Local Authority rankings from 145 to 141 this is not good enough. The Tory response is to cut the overall CYP budget by £6.6 million.
We have the “Raising the Bar” initiative but find it difficult to detect any real enthusiasm for it in Suffolk Schools or a belief that it is an effective approach. A school governors commented recently “If the Local Authority continues to focus on such non-events as the distribution of meaningless and infantile rosettes, I think we can be confident that the Bar will remain firmly on, or near, the floor.” Currently we appear to have a learning inspection service and we need a learning improvement service.
Leadership is essential but the enthusiastic effective leadership teams in our good and outstanding schools just don’t have the budget to cover supply replacements while they help others to make the leap in teaching and learning required. They can’t neglect their own schools and let them fall back.
We still believe that the County should fund supply cover and in addition establish a small number of “excellence” teams who could work with the leadership teams in failing schools to remove pressure, determine what needs to be done and put it in place. Excellence teams would need people with proven track records who enjoy a challenge and would need to ensure that necessary management decisions are taken.
The cost of such teams would not be trivial but would be small compared to the County budget and must be less than the continuing cost of failure.
The Conservative administration have been in control of our children’s education now for ten years and in many areas a whole generation of Suffolk young people have been through a failing education system. This system must be improved and “Raising the Bar” is not working.
And, while the government has made it mandatory for young people to remain in education or training until 17 it seems deeply inappropriate to have no fundng mechanism in place to support the poorest young people of the county for this last year of what is now statutory education, as exists up until 16. Our view is that you need to speculate in order to accumulate – that savings should be measured longterm. A small investment from our our rainy day millions now could reap dividends in years to come
The Suffolk County Council Lib Dem Group