COVID-19 Latest SCC information is available here: https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/
Latest Government advice is available here: www.gov.uk/coronavirushave
Ukraine Full Council presented a rare opportunity of unanimity between Suffolk County Councillors, as our Opposition GLI Group and the Conservatives shared a single motion in support of Ukraine, supported by Labour. Our Group proposed a motion condemning the actions of the Russian government, as well as commitment to supporting and welcoming refugees as they become a part of our Suffolk communities. The Conservatives seconded the motion and many councillors spoke. I spoke about the additional horrors faced by women –tragically borne out by recent events – urging our Suffolk MPs to lobby to waive visa requirements. It is of little use offering accommodation etc to those displaced by this terrible ongoing conflict if they cannot enter the country
Further details, including the full motion, here: https://suffolklibdems.org/carolinepage/2022/03/26/suffolk-a-county-united-with-ukraine/
Poor Water Quality in the Deben Unknown to many if not most residents , local water quality is often very poor. This was recently publicised by the BBC after testing by local people.
Enjoying unpolluted waterways should be a basic right for all wildlife, humans included. But the Deben is polluted with sewage and there is little appetite from the water companies or Ofwat to remedy this fast.
If you work, swim, sail, kayak, row, paddle board, birdwatch, enjoy the wildlife or plant life or simply stroll along the Deben glorying in the views and the natural world, this affects you.
A cross-party, cross-interest group were marching and speaking for clean water in Woodbridge on Saturday 23 April, meeting at Whisstocks Place at 12noon. There were excellent speakers, a draft Declaration of the Rights of the Deben, a film and exhibition of local water quality findings, together with a showing of Ruth Leach’s Faces of the Deben, an impromptu banner exhibition, and a specially written haiku. Rivers cross all boundaries.
Bus Back Better SCC’s funding application for Bus Back Better has failed – Suffolk won’t be receiving a penny from DfT for its new bus strategy. The Government confirmed that those bids that failed “did not show enough ambition”.
We were told that Suffolk’s bid would be achievable and modest, but the Government didn’t want modest – it wanted ambitious. Suffolk proposals (of a few more late buses, discounted student travel, and better timetables, when suddenly there are no timetables so the provision of any timetables at all would be better) were measures for those that already use buses. They would not make buses a natural choice for everyone or encourage any modal shift. Suffolk needed a plan that not only invested in public transport, but actively encouraged people out of cars. This has resulted in zero funding for Suffolk.
While Suffolk’s bid has failed, our bus services continue to need saving. The Conservatives need to find the funds in our own resources to rescue our bus services and reduce social isolation in rural areas.
International Women’s Month, and Day 2022 March was International Women’s Month. This is a time to acknowledge and celebrate women and what they do and push further for equality around the world. This year’s theme revolved around breaking the bias, focussing on a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination.
Our group was immensely supportive of this celebration. As Suffolk GLI’s Spokesperson for Women, I called for the flag for Women’s History Month to be flown high next year at Endeavour House. Suffolk County Council agreed this was an important step forward, but could not procure one in time for this year. In the interim, I highlighted a different interesting Historical Suffolk Woman every day in March. The full list is here: https://suffolklibdems.org/carolinepage/2022/03/01/womens-history-month-22-wonderful-suffolk-women/
Environmental issues: The Cabinet met to vote on the disapproval of the current plans by Sunnica to build the country’s largest solar farm in Suffolk and East Cambridgeshire. Suffolk County Council have asked the Government to reject the plans in its current form, arguing the application fails to properly mitigate the impacts of such a large project. This is particularly worrying when current affairs – both war and climate – are leading to food shortage, and it would be more appropriate for solar panels to be mounted on roofs.
In addition, the Cabinet voted on approving the National Grid’s project to scale up its energy infrastructure from Bramford to Twinstead, as part of the Government’s Net-Zero plan to increase low-carbon energy in the UK. Our Group, while we approve of the increased capacity for low-carbon energy, argue that this rush into large projects is a result of decades of inaction from Government. This means it is now a lot harder to develop a coordinated plan with regards to energy supply, disruption, and sufficient mitigation.
Freeport East On 29 March, Cabinet voted unanimously in favour of a plan to establish ‘Freeport East’. This is part of a national strategy to create freeports across the country, in an attempt to generate economic activity through tax incentives. Felixstowe Port, Harwich Port, and Stowmarket’s ‘Gateway 14’ Business Park are set to become part of Freeport East. Our opposition Group has severe concerns about this project, as foreign direct investment is being prioritised over local businesses, many of which will now not be able to compete with the foreign businesses receiving tax relief. The project poses many other issues, such as a potential for increased corruption and money laundering, a lack of clear strategy towards net-zero, and a risk of high-skilled jobs being imported, excluding the Suffolk workforce.
County Deal: below
is a list of key points to date as provided by SCC’s administration. As you see it is a work in in progress:
1. The Government’s Levelling Up White Paper, published in February, set out a mission that, by 2030, every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal, with powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution, with a simplified, long-term funding settlement.
2. Suffolk was announced as one of nine county areas that have been invited to begin negotiation for a County Deal – a localised approach to devolution based on the dynamic devolution framework in the White Paper. Government has indicated that it expects the first Deals to be completed in 2022.
3. A County Deal takes devolution beyond the major cities and involves the transfer of power in areas such as transport, education, skills, housing, and planning. The Levelling Up white paper sets out three levels of devolution deal available to county areas:
I. Level 1: Local authorities working together across a functional economic area (FEA) or whole county area e.g., through a joint committee. Offers local authorities the opportunity to play a role in delivering services at a strategic level and work together to pool delivery of public services.
II. Level 2: A single institution or County Council without a Directly Elected Mayor, across a FEA or whole county area. Additional powers could include control of local transport functions, bus franchising, devolution of the adult education budget and compulsory purchase powers.
III. Level 3: A single institution or County Council with a Directly Elected Mayor, across a FEA or whole county area. Powers include greater control over transport funding and the powers to identify a key transport route network and to establish mayoral development corporations.
4. Suffolk has indicated it will pursue a Level 2 deal for extra powers. We have been developing content for discussion based on the devolution framework. Specifically, we have been confirming those areas included in Level 2 of the Framework which were also included in our original submission last year. This includes powers and budgets around skills, transport, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, housing, Climate Change and Net Zero.
5. We are also looking beyond this at Level 3 of the Framework and other opportunities, including areas where we think Suffolk has a key role to play in delivering the Levelling Up agenda and the Government ‘missions’ set out in the White Paper. These areas include Education, Community Safety, Energy Supply and Security, Property and Public Estate and Community Safety. We are also underlining the importance of connecting to Government agendas, most notably the Bus Service Improvement Partnership and the Health and Care Integration White Paper.
6. Over the coming weeks, we’ll get more involved in the negotiation with Government and we expect this will involve discussions with ministers. We will be responding to a ‘template’ setting out our responses to questions around the devolution framework. We expect the first deals to be concluded in the Autumn with others following on from that.
7. Whilst a County Deal will be between the Secretary of State and the County Council, consistent with their collaborative track record, Suffolk council leaders will work collaboratively with public sector partners as well as private sector and VCSE sector partners to ensure we secure the best possible County Deal for Suffolk residents.