Category Archives: Transport

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

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

LibDems raise concerns about Lowestoft’s Third Crossing

Suffolk Liberal Democrat County Council Group, with Lowestoft Lib Dem Activist Adam Robertson. From Left to Right of Lib Dem Councillors on Suffolk County Council: David Wood, Leader of the Liberal Democrat County Council Group, Dave Busby, Inga Lockington, Penny Otton, Adam Robertson, Julia Truelove, John Field and Caroline Page
Suffolk LibDem County Council Group, with Lowestoft Lib Dem activist Adam Robertson. Left to Right: Leader David Wood, Dave Busby, Inga Lockington, Penny Otton, Adam Robertson, Julia Truelove, John Field and Caroline Page

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.

Continue reading LibDems raise concerns about Lowestoft’s Third Crossing

LibDems Question the Administration : Council 16-07-2015

BannerYour LibDem councillors raised a number of important issues during this month’s full council meeting on Thursday, 16 July. Amongst these were the third crossing in Lowestoft, provision of official Travellers’ sites in Suffolk Coastal ; Concessionary travel,  EOTAS, disability and employment, and the impact of the Living Wage.

Leader Dave Woods raised the administration’s inexplicable inability to agree any official site for Travellers in Suffolk Coastal, having halted consultations a couple of years back;

Caroline Page raised the continuing problem of Suffolk’s disgraceful inability to educate or train disabled young people for employment;

Talking to the issue of young people with mental health problems being sent outside the county, Julia Truelove mentioned her concerns that instead of developing resources within the county, the county remains content to send young people outside at great expense, leaving the support of friends and families – and adding to the emotional stress of young people who are already vulnerable. Continue reading LibDems Question the Administration : Council 16-07-2015

More transport diffculties for post-16 students

Decisions  about funding post-16 transport made by the SCC Cabinet in 2014 are now hitting the street. These resulted in a significant tightening of SCC’s ‘discretionary’  transport offer, due to a double whammy created by conflicting governmental expectations: On the one hand young people are now expected to remain in education, training and employment until 18 – thus creating a de facto if unofficial statutory leaving age of 18. On the other hand, continuing cuts in central funding, assisted by ideological reluctance to increase taxation at either national or local level  means that SCC are trying hard to cover impossible bills.

This has left many rural families with significant problems..

The London-based, urban-centric nature of  central government has a track record of making  decisions without funding support, that put rural-dwelling young people  at a very particular disadvantage. They have so much further to travel to education and so much less in the way of public transport to fall back on than their urban peers. This is my letter in today’s EADT, 2-07-2015.

Sir,

Many people have contacted me re with concerns about SCC’s new post-16 ‘discretionary’ policy which will offer students travel to the nearest place of education only. This sounds reasonable, until you look at the plight of the rural young.

The government’s Raising the Participation Age (RPA) insists on education, training and employment until 18. However, almost all support for travel finishes at 16. And for many rural post-16 students , there may be literally no other transport to education apart from the SCC-chartered bus the discretionary pass is used on,  because the bus services have been cut.

A few years ago SCC replaced many rural bus routes with ‘demand responsive transport,’ A Rural Transport PDP working group last year found this was incompatible provision for school attendance. Remaining bus  routes often run a regular service except for the one bus at school times which has been taken off-route so as to run a school- specific service – ironically for bus-pass holders only. And if a student wants to continue their studies at their catchment school since age 11 (Farlingaye, for example) – but there is another education provider a shade closer, too bad!

Let me remind readers that a discretionary bus pass is not free. It costs the student £600 a year. But the bonkers bus deregulation laws – aimed at promoting competition -won’t allow one to pay for a seat on a school bus if one has no discretionary entitlement. It’s a deeply unhelpful scenario for those who just need transport to get from A to B!.

I have yet to establish what is the situation of the rural young person who is literally unable to attend mandatory school college or training because there is no public transport and they do not drive. Are they sanctioned?

In February’s 2015 Budget debate, I suggested affordable transport was so crucial to education that  we take money out of reserves to support educational transport for disadvantaged  post-16 year olds. My plea was ignored. The council needs to revisit this decision.

I also call again on the county council to lobby for  the extra funding to support RPA. Compare the prospects of our rural young with those in  London – an Oyster card gives free, accessible and appropriate travel for all young people. We cannot continue to lose out to the Londoncentric  travel funding policies of successive governments – who simply ignore the problems faced by rest of us . Young people in Suffolk also deserve  to achieve their potential!

And finally, it is surely time for Suffolk to lobby for the re-regulation of local bus services, so that we do not carry on  spending our council tax payers money patching together pieces of a fractured system that fails in a rural setting

Caroline Page
LibDem Spokeman for Transport

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

SCC New Leader and LibDem’s midterm response

So, after all the lead-in,  the new leader of Suffolk County Council – Colin Noble – was elected without a hitch at today’s Suffolk Full Council. That is – every single Conservative, apart from Cllr Bee, turned up, and obediently voted him in.

A rainbow coalition of the opposition – the serried ranks of the LibDem, Labour, Independent, Green and UKIP joined forces to vote against him. A  few were absent. Brian Riley was – we presume –  in North Carolina.  Colin Noble was elected – third time lucky – 37:31. No abstentions. Time will tell where this far-from-ringing endorsement will lead.

Lib Dem Leader’s Response to  SCC Leader’s Executive Statement

The recent General Election proved a godsend for those opposite  – not just the result. What the campaign also managed to hide from the public scrutiny was the battle that seemed to be going on within the party who are in charge of the administration of our County.  Is such a seemingly divided party the best to be in charge at the present time?   Writers of  soap operas – Eastenders and Coronation Street – couldn’t have wished for better material for one of their productions, because believe me, to the casual observer that’s what it looked like!

That brings us to the present and one must wonder – is this the dawning of a new age or are we about to travel back in time.  We are all aware the new leader has a habit of looking back into the dim and distant past so God forbid,  are we about to see the re launch of THE NEW STRATEGIC DIRECTION and all that entailed?

Looking back over the past year:  yes, the roll-out of superfast broadband is proving to be a success –  although I still have a job persuading some of my electorate that it is coming. We must also applaud the roll-out of the Sunday Bus services in some rural areas – something that is essential to the way of life in these areas.

But sadly the last year has been overshadowed by the headlines Suffolk has attracted this week  – “County Slow to Improve Schools”, “Suffolk County Council too Slow” and “Not Enough is Being Done To Improve School Standards in Suffolk” – these are just but a few we have seen this very week.

We have heard the excuses and the supposed successes but this report is just not good enough.   It’s not good for our children, our future, our parents, our reputation and Suffolk as a whole.

When you consider that 25,000 children,  very nearly  the capacity of the football stadium next door,  attend schools that are classified as requiring improvement or are inadequate,  that clearly is not good enough.  This is especially so when most of those children live in Suffolk’s two largest towns,  Ipswich and Lowestoft.   Once again it has taken an Ofsted inspection to highlight our failings.   How many more times are we going to allow this to happen.   It would appear that the Raising the Bar Initiative is not working as it clearly needs to Raise its own standards.  Only this year we have seen Make Every Intervention Count by restructuring the schools improvement services to save a further £5 million.   Surely the time has come to use some of the Suffolk Council Taxpayers’ money being secreted away in reserves to seriously invest in the education of our children. After all we talk about what a wonderful County we have,  what opportunities we have here,  and will have here.   Our children are the future of Suffolk and we want them to be part of this story so let’s be serious about their future and put the resources where they are needed,  not just for education but also lets start reducing these levels of deprivation and see a real rise in attainment.

The care of our elderly has also come under the spotlight recently with the problems surrounding Care UK.  Reassurances were received that problems had been dealt with but then it all resurfaces again. Similarly with our highways contract all is not plan sailing there yet. We were told that by outsourcing these contracts it is the way forward but one must ask the question is it.

So as a mid – term report one can say, shown a slight improvement in some areas but could do better and in some areas MUST do better.

David Wood

Leader Lib Dem Group

You can read David’s tribute to Mark here

Sizewell C: an opportunity for better transport in Suffolk Coastal?

Caroline Head small (800x800)At March Suffolk’s full council Woodbridge Councillor Caroline Page spoke  regarding the development of Sizewell C and how any mitigation and compensation in development must include forms of sustainable transport .

“I’d like to make clear that the decision as to whether to build or not to build Sizewell C is not at issue here. THAT is a decision being taken elsewhere. However, what is very clear to me is that if Britain’s city-dwellers want us in Suffolk coastal to host their nuclear-powered electricity generation, they need to be compensating us handsomely for this. I haven’t noticed any great  desire to build a new power station in  London, after all.

Suffolk coastal is already an area suffering from a double whammy of traffic problems – traffic congestion onsections of  the A12 on the one hand, rural transport poverty on the other. Any development of Sizewell C must be seen as an opportunity to address this.

In addition to  finally getting round to building the Four Villages bypass (a crying need since I’ve been a county councillor) any development should include heavy investment in the East Suffolk line and better rail services along the Suffolk coast, together with huge investment in other forms of sustainable transport, such as regular reliable bus services. This would aid building work and allow both residents and visitors to enjoy the Suffolk coastal countryside while leaving a lasting and green legacy of the development  that would go a small way to compensate us for all we are being asked to hazard – in short-, mid- and long-term – when hosting such a project for the benefit of the nation.”

Caroline Page

What we Need from a New Passenger Rail Franchise

DSCF4355 (600x800)The Suffolk County Lib Dem response in full:

I am replying to the East Anglia Rail Passenger Franchise Consultation as County Councillor for Woodbridge, and as LibDem Spokesperson for Transport – on behalf of my constituents and all the rail travellers of Suffolk.

In addition I am a very regular rail traveller, using Abellio Greater Anglia rail services several times a week: generally using the East Suffolk  line, the Ipswich to Cambridge line, the Ipswich to Peterborough line and the Ipswich to London line  – though I also make fairly regular journeys on other portions of the network. I am therefore qualified to talk about the current rail provision with significant personal knowledge of the day-to-day running of the services.

Firstly I would like to make special reference to questions 3, 4 and 5 which all link together:

“Question 3  Are there any changes to the current passenger rail service which you feel should be considered? “

Currently the trains specified to and from Ipswich are:  Hourly to Felixstowe . Hourly to Lowestoft . Hourly to Cambridge . Every two hours to Peterborough.

It is clear to all regular travellers that the Cambridge and Peterborough services need extending: Increasing the Ipswich- Cambridge service to  twice an hour; Ipswich -Peterborough  service – hourly would meet the needs of our developing community. An later extension to the Lowestoft service would be a huge benefit.

The current poor service to Peterborough means that Ipswich is already substantially cut off from rail connexions to the west and north unless one travels via London, putting unnecessary stress on passenger numbers on that line and a huge extra-time burden on Suffolk travellers. Cynically this might seem for no better reason than the privatised competitive operators seem  reluctant to extend services beyond the Intercity route with the biggest gains (Norwich to London). This then causes a London bottleneck and a lack of flexibility in travel which seriously needs addressing:

People in Suffolk need an hourly service to Peterborough as a bare minimum  – both for their own convenience and benefit  and, strategically, to take pressure off the London route.

Similarly the Ipswich- Cambridge service needs to be improved from the once-an-hour service which is all that  it currently merits – bearing in mind that the Ipswich-Cambridge line is not only the gateway from Suffolk to the west but to Stansted.

Although we are hugely grateful for an hourly service, people in Woodbridge  and further along the East Suffolk line could do with at least  one later train in the evening to allow them to enjoy a night out in London – or even Ipswich. The last London train to meet the last existing Lowestoft service leaves at 21.00. The last Lowestoft service leaves Ipswich at 10.17.

“Question 4:Results indicate that rail is not the preferred mode of transport when travelling to Stansted Airport. What improvements do you believe should be made to the rail service in order to make this your first choice of travel?”

See answer to Q 3. Try to get to Stansted from anywhere in Suffolk – especially east Suffolk and the answer is simple. Currently Abellio runs a slow hourly service that is far from reliable. The last train from Ipswich goes at 21.19 and takes just under an hour and a half if all goes well. Reliability being an issue (and I personally have been given as little as 30 seconds notice of this train stopping dead at Newmarket an turning around  rather than continuing to Cambridge, although it was clear the guard had known in advance!) means that no sensible person would rely on this service if they have a  plane to catch.

 A frequent, fast, reliable service to Cambridge from Ipswich, starting early and finishing late and costing a reasonable amount is what is required if you wish to support rail transport from Suffolk to Stansted. This is a simple strategic decision that has been beyond every planner since Stansted became a functioning civil  airport.

“Question 5  If you have a view on or would be affected by the proposal set below, please provide it: In order to improve connectivity between Cambridge and the north of England, Rail Executive is currently assessing the case for the diversion of the current Liverpool Lime Street to Norwich East Midlands Trains to Cambridge and a new hourly East Anglia operated service between Norwich and Peterborough providing good connections to the East Coast Mainline services to Yorkshire, North East England and Scotland. The assessment will equally include a sub-option where the current Ipswich to Peterborough service would be limited to Ely and connections would be provided with the new Norwich to Peterborough service. The option to retain the current Norwich through service to Liverpool Lime Street will be included within this assessment.”

My view is simple, and relates to my answer to Q3.

  Suffolk needs an direct  hourly service between Ipswich and Peterborough. If you elect to link the service to anything that carries on further, that is up to you, however it MUST NOT be any less (eg to Ely). Anything else will be selling the residents in Suffolk short, and limiting our transport choices further than they are already limited.

The Peterborough – Ipswich service is already the poor relation of Abellio’s services. The last time I travelled on it, it compared very unfavourably to several rail trips I had recently made in rural China! As planning legislation requires more and more housing in the Suffolk countryside we Suffolk residents deserve rail services that are better, not worse –  and that will allow us to move around the region to employment and education choices that do not funnel us automatically through the already overly congested unreliable bottleneck that is Liverpool Street Station. By removing the direct Peterborough train you will be doing just that!

“Question 8a How can the franchise operator help you better during planned disruption, such as engineering works?”

Let us rephrase this question: “How (excuse my bluntness, but I am put beyond patience) can the franchise operator best get off its backside and consider providing the service that the farepaying public are paying for when they cynically ‘plan’ their disruption during weekends and public holidays?”

  The current franchise operator appears to  consider the needs of the distance city commuter first and foremost when it comes to ‘planned disruption’ I suggest that it is time that this should be queried as a priority. As Woodbridge county councillor I represent a huge tranche of travellers and business people who would like to travel – or to service the needs of travellers able to arrive by rail – at the weekends and on public holidays. The next rail franchise operator needs to consider that leisure and tourism is an important part of Suffolk business and understand that supporting the travel of a wider range of passengers should be a significant part of their operation.

Yet, because Abellio concentrates on the Norwich-London commuter traffic ,  the company  has shown itself totally cavalier to the requirements of internal Suffolk  travel and travellers and specifically weekend and holiday travellers. Why should it be so difficult for travellers to travel at the times most peoplewant to travel? And for that matter why on earth should travellers be paying the same fare for this substandard and shoddy service? Most of all – if people can carry a bicycle on the train why can they not carry their bicycle on these replacement buses?  It is not beyond the wit of man to make adequate provision for the people the operator is so ready to discommode while they continue to charge them full fare for this poor apology for ‘service’ in a wholly ‘Jesting Pilate’ spirit!  Our expectations from the next franchise operator should be of a reasonable level – and I am expecting them to be able to commit to do a lot better! (Incidentally, I travel around the world on trains and have yet to find another country which grinds to a halt the way the UK does on Sundays and public holidays. Perhaps a new franchise operator would like to investigate that?)

“Question 9 …However, we are confined by limited timetabling and infrastructure constraints and are therefore looking for other innovative ways to resolve the issue of excess capacity. When travelling on a service where capacity is stretched, what opportunities do you see which would improve your on board experience?”

First and foremost I go back my answers to Q3 and 5 and to the simple notion of not allowing the franchise operator to neglect the minor routes and produce these bottlenecks in the first place – which is pretty much what you are proposing to do by eg removing the Ipswich to Peterborough service! It is not rocket science to see that you need to be reducing the pressure on these trains. So, simple solutions are:

Ensuring that as many competing rail services are across the area running efficiently and well and at as full capacity as possible by funding them appropriately and not allowing franchise operators and their shareholders to cherrypick the lucrative Intercity routes for short-term profits

Investing in double-decker carriages which are standard  in Europe and China (and don’t give me that spiel of amazingly long and impossible time-scales for commission and delivery that I have been given by UK rail operaters! They built an entire monorail across Chongqing: rail, stations, carriages and all in two years. In this global marketplace a rail company could source and build new carriages fast if it was in any way motivated to do so).

Biting the bullet and giving up the spacious first-class carriages and replacing them with the much more intensively occupied standard seating which is what the current franchise holder has provided for the rest of the passengers! My view of first class is that if there is no pressure on space, I have no issue with provision of first class seating – should people wish to pay for it. If however we have limited room and no chance of extra carriages, I’m afraid they stand in the way of efficiency and progress and are doomed to extinction

Question 15 mentions facilities:
There is a continuing diminution of cycle, buggy and luggage storage on current Greater Anglia trains, and the situation is getting worse.  On some Abellio trains (eg Cambridge – Ely and beyond) there is none at all within the carriages  although they are also without a guard’s van (and now resemble tube train carriages). This means there is nowhere at all to carry luggage. So what then is a traveller? Someone who only carries themselves? On these trains this lack of storage has a dreadful effect on the travel experience – cyclists and passengers with heavy luggage standing at the exits and getting in the way of people wanting to get on and off, and often with guards and passengers shouting at them. This is not appropriate reasonable or fair. Even on, say the Ipswich – Cambridge  or East Suffolk Line trains there is limited space for cycles and  it means that travelling is fraught with anxiety that one might be denied access. On several occasions in recent years I’ve been denied access onto a Greater Anglia train with a prebooked ticket because there was no space for my bicycle. More commonly, however, I’ve suffered great anxiety that I might be denied access, which has diminished my travelling experience. The East Suffolk Line is rural and there are no connecting buses so this is a particular handicap.

Babychanging facilities  are important and not very noticeable on trains (though, to be fair, I don’t carry babies any more and have had no complaints). It must always be included in carriages.

Staff presence is essential – particularly to protect the  vulnerable. It must not be reduced

Tables on trains are useful for those of us who work as we travel, while plug sockets are very useful – and so is free WiFi which every FirstBus in Suffolk provides for its passengers included in the price of their average £3.50 ticket – but which Abellio does not include in the eg £50.70 standard second-class single ticket it charges Ipswich to London

“Question 16 What areas of customer service within your end-to-end journey would you expect to see monitored and reported on in the new franchise, in order to improve the service quality for passengers?”

  Price of tickets

  Punctuality and reliability

  Provision of sufficient capacity in terms of a) train frequency b) availability of seating on board the train and c) provision of services to required destinations;

  Adequacy of cycle, buggy and luggage storage;

  management of disruption: information provision and outcome;

  ease of buying the most appropriate ticket for the journey at ticket office, online, AND via ticket machine;

  The ease of access for disabled passengers and those with young children

In Summary – which is what question 18 asks from me – I ask for my constituents from the new franchise, as top three priorities:

1 More and better evening/weekend /holiday rail services without disruptions, so that we business people, residents and travellers in Suffolk can benefit as well as the Intercity commuters from the franchise.

2 More services to Peterborough/Cambridge (1 an hour to Peterborough; 2 an hour to Cambridge, a further  evening service along the East Suffolk Line). NO REDUCTION OF EXISTING SERVICES

3 Better design of carriages to allow for more passengers to travel with bicycles and luggage and buggies (in other words – to travel) – and the fast commissioning and provision of these carriages.

Finally, I must point out – once again – that I take great issue with the first question in this Franchise consultation.  I have already responded personally, and face-to-face, as a county councillor in a public consultation, to this  – but I cannot emphasise how improper and dismissive it is to ask the poor passengers who travel on the current Greater Anglia trains your Question 1 (which asks them to prioritise only three of the following  list which they consider require  particular attention in order to improve an end to end journey:

Delivering value for money; Providing a punctual and reliable service;Provision of sufficient capacity, both in terms of train frequency and the availability of seating on board the train;Effective management of disruption, especially through information to passengers;The availability of accurate information about trains and platforms;The comfort and adequacy of accommodation on the train, especially on longer distance journeys;The availability of train and station staff;The ease of buying the most appropriate ticket for the journey at a ticket office, online, or via a ticket machine;The ease of access to services for passengers with reduced mobility; and Free wi-fi available on trains)

I wish to put it on record for a third time that this question is deeply inappropriate considering the current levels of service provision. Are we expected to make a choice?  Yet as any person filling in an electronic version will be unable to continue UNLESS they tick three boxes and three only, it will completely distort the problems that exist with the current provision given that:

*The train tickets are expensive (£50.70 each way standard fare Ipswich to London) * the trains are often not punctual or reliable, * they are often not of a suitable capacity (at least for second class passengers) * management of disruption is perfunctory and kneejerk with conflicting advice being given and the poor staff on the ground left without support to deal with enraged passengers*The availability of accurate information about trains and platforms is such that I am often reminded of the comic film M Hulot’s Holiday; *space – particularly for people with luggage or bicycles and most particularly at peak or holiday times is unreliable – the stock being variable; trying to travel with a bicycle  on the ‘tube-style- carriages north of Cambridge is a particular challenge * one cannot buy the popular Day Ranger ticket either online or from a ticket machine because -although I have repeatedly asked  Abellio  to do so – they  do not provide it  online or via a ticket machine machine, presumably because it is rather too good value (!) * reduced mobility covers a multitude of problems some of which  are dealt with better than others* Finally, as I travel around Suffolk on First Eastern Counties buses who all provide free wifi in the price of their ticket – I am at a loss to understand why Abellio should decide it is a First Class perk!

Given therse, I refuse to prioritise three of these recommendations ‘that would  make my journey better’. We need them ALL to make our journeys better, if all are lacking! 

Caroline Page

Liberal Democrat Group

Suffolk Lib Dem Group: Suffolk’s 2015-16 Budget

BannerThis year we have chosen not to attempt a detailed amendment to the budget but to comment on matters of principal at a strategic level on those service areas we consider most important.

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