Save our Woodbridge Lollipop patrol!

Seven years ago Suffolk’s lollipop men and women were being hailed by Suffolk  county council as  ‘greatly appreciated frontline staff’ as the golden anniversary of this wonderful, useful and CHEAP service was being celebrated.

School crossing patrols were formally recognised in Britain by the Schools Crossing Patrols Act of 1953.  Lollipop people are one of only four agents entitled to stop traffic by law (The others being the police, traffic wardens and some members of the Armed Forces).  Lollipop men and women have long done a fantastic job for a pittance and little thanks. But worse is to come..

Today all 98 patrols  in Suffolk are being cut by order of the Suffolk County Council’s Conservative administration to save a paltry £174,000  ( that is, a mere 79% of the Suffolk CEO’s annual salary).  At the very same time, SCC  is  adding another £2m to its roads budget which will weigh in at a truly gobsmacking £18.2 million this  next financial year. You couldn’t make it up.

Do you ever get the feeling that the people running SCC have simply got their priorities well and truly WRONG? that they haven’t the faintest idea about what really matters in the real world?

Dear Cllr Pembroke, dear  Cabinet:  Lets get this straight. School crossing patrols  – like the one run here in Woodbridge  by our invaluable St Mary’s School lollipop man Terry – are  not set up on a whim.    No, they are established at sites where children are in danger from road traffic when walking to and from school as assessed  – not by naughty bad people who just want to irritate you – but by national guidelines (establishedby the Local Authority Road Safety Officer’s Association and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents , no less)

So they’re not what you might call a frivolity …

Ten years ago in Woodbridge the Times reports on how the (then)  Woodbridge Lollipop man, Frank Howe, was knocked to the ground by an impatient driver while on patrol on Birkett Road, directly outside St Mary’s School.

“This driver was revving his engine,” Howe recalled. “I could see by the way his mouth was going that he was cursing me for keeping him. He mounted the kerb and went to pass me. His wing mirror caught me and I went down. He didn’t stop. Luckily, an off-duty policeman saw what happened and forced him to come back.

“The parents and children were very shocked, but they had taken down his registration number. He was prosecuted, given a £350 fine and eight points on his licence, but I never got an apology.”

Cllr Pembroke, Cabinet, can I ask you: has traffic become less busy in the last ten years?

The same article quotes the (then) SCC officer in charge  of the School Crossing service as saying:

“We want our lollipop men and women to know just how much we appreciate them. We see them as frontline members of staff, very visible!”

What a difference seven years can make, folks.

So, Cllr Pembroke, Cabinet – let’s get this straight

  • School crossing patrols were instituted and enshrined  by Act of Parliament because they were needed;
  • They have been running for over sixty years because they clearly continue to be needed;
  • Over these years the roads have got busier and busier;
  • Patrols only operate where children are in danger from road traffic when walking to and from school (this danger assessed by national guidelines);
  • We want to get children out of the car and back onto their feet – to combat child obesity and encourage independence , as well as discourage the fumes and jams and road danger caused by heavy schoolrun traffic;
  • patrols are very very cheap to run – £2,500 – £3,500 a year
  • SCC also has (although in my opinion, totally self-serving, unrealistic and self-deluded) aspirations to be ‘the Greenest County.’

And you want to close  every school crossing patrol in Suffolk to save less money than you pay your Chief Executive as basic salary???

A final question, Cllr Pembroke: What is a cynic? According to Oscar Wilde,  its  A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Cllr Pembroke, you and your Cabinet need to recognise that the  tiny cost of the Suffolk School Crossing patrols bears  little  relationship to  their extraordinary value to the people of Suffolk! Let’s hope you  recognise this before we all learn the hard way the truth of Wilde’s other famous quote from the same play: Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.

If you wish to encourage Cllr Pembroke and his Cabinet to change their minds , you could always write directly to the Leader of Suffolk County Council at Endeavour House, Ipswich.  Closer to home, St. Mary’s School has  a paper-based petition available to sign in school.

You can also add your signature to the SCC e-petition on the subject  by clicking this link

Distribute that middle! Losing Suffolk libraries through a logical fallacy

If you thought an ‘undistributed middle’ had something to do with eating too much Christmas pud, think again. In Suffolk its the administration’s pitiful excuse for  reducing  our our loved, valued, and needed library services.

SCC’s consultation paper : Have your say on the future of Suffolk’s libraries was launched last week.  The first page of this document sets the framework for you ‘having your say’. It is titled: Services to be delivered differently in the future‘  and the first paragraph is  a whole lot of guff about iPods, e-books and Twitter – just to reinforce the fact that we no longer really need books on bookshelves. And just as well…

Why?  The document tells us that:

“With major changes affecting the country’s economy, and government’s aim to cut the national budget deficit over the coming years, Suffolk County Council must reduce its funding to libraries by at least 30% over three years.”

Eh? Did I miss something? This is a perfect example of a logical fallacy :

Another  example of this  flaw in argument can be seen in the following:

“Dollar bills are green, trees are green, so money must grow on trees.”

Yes,  Mr Pembroke, there are major changes in the country’s economy.

Yes, the government wants to  cut the national budget deficit over three years.


(And  did you know that The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 makes the provision of ‘a comprehensive and efficient’ public library service a statutory requirement?)

As usual, when justifying their divestments and cuts, SCC  points to cuts in central government grants.  Again, this document fails to mention  that the government grant which is  being cut (by 26% over 4 years, not 30% over 3)  forms only part of SCC’s income. The rest of which is staying the same, or rising. In other words, SCC  does not have to impose of cuts to the Suffolk library service  of over 30% over 3 years at all!

Rather,  it means is that SCC  sees libraries as a ‘soft’ target. In fact, SCC has taken three-quarters of a million pounds away from library funding this year to pay for a hole in care finances already. Yet there has been no proposed reduction whatsoever to Suffolk’s multi-million pound  road maintenance budget. Lorries before learning!

We all know that some cuts, some pain IS going to be unavoidable – but there are different ways of targeting them. For example, you can discover what your residents want.

Norfolk is –  like Suffolk – run by a Tory administration. It is – like Suffolk – rural, and thinly populated in many places.  So how is it managing the problems of less funding? Has  Norfolk  told people that its too expensive to run frontline services? No! Instead of insisting on a mad, undemocratic, ideologically motivated  New Strategic Direction , and deciding on outcomes before consultation with its population,  Norfolk has held a ‘Big Conversation’ – and established what  its residents’ priorities are! After all it is their council tax and their services!

Big Conversations? You might object to the terminology – you can’t fault the way their minds were working.  You can read more about Norfolk’s so much more ‘grown up’ and democratic process  here

Suffolk’s embarrassingly autocratic  library ‘consultation’ will continue  until 30 April. As ever, I urge you to have your say.  I warn you – just as in the case of Suffolk’s Care Homes – ‘having your say’ on the future of Suffolk’s libraries doesn’t mean the administration is allowing you any opportunity to say their idea is bad, and you want no part of it.

Oh no – all this consultation gives you is a chance  to explain your idea for running your divested library.   For example, Question 4 is:  “How will your idea  or interest generate changes or significant efficiencies in the way the library operates to reduce what the county council pays by a minimum of 30%”

Am I the only person who  thinks this is frankly ludicrous when we remember the ‘New Strategic Direction’ is the brainchild of an exceptionally highly paid Chief Executive, who only recently flatly refused to countenance the idea of a voluntary 10% pay cut for herself?

SCC consultation document writers may be bad with words but they really are expert at the “when did you stop beating your wife”-type question.

Woodbridge library is ‘safe’:  that is, it will remain one of the 15  ‘County Libraries‘  free from divestment – unless someone really really wants to take it over.   However the other 29  (now designated Community) libraries, including Wickham Market,  Framlingham, Debenham, Kesgrave, Leiston, Oulton Broad and Southwold  are up for divestment – that is, being taken over by community groups.  At the bottom of this page is a little  notice in quiet print:

“If the response to this consultation is disappointing, and the county council does not receive viable proposals and ideas from people, groups, businesses and other interested parties for ways to run community libraries, we propose that funding will stop from 2012.

Not that your arms are being twisted!

You may – whether or not your  own library is on the list – feel like filling in the consultation document. You may, on the other hand feel like filling in one of the e-petitions that are proliferating on the Council’s  brand spanking new petition site:

You might also write to your local paper, councillor or MP. Or all of these. Good luck!

this does not mean that there is any need or requirement for ‘scc to reduce its funding to libraries by at least 30% over three years

Give us A LAST-MINUTE REPRIEVE for our Park and Ride!

My colleagues and I are calling on Suffolk County Council to reverse their decision to close the Bury Road Park and Ride service while there is still time.  This important Ipswich facility – used by nearly a third of a million passengers last year – is slated to disappear this weekend, a casualty of the cuts imposed by Suffolk’s New Strategic Direction.

Cllr Dave Wood, Lib Dem Deputy Leader reminds us that  the Bury Road Park and Ride “is a highly valued service, and contributes to the health of the economy of Ipswich. It also reduces the number of cars travelling into the centre.

To even consider cutting this service makes a mockery of SCC’s aspiration to be the Greenest County!”

With this mindset, it is hardly surprising that the council is failing on a number of environmental targets set by Government, including air quality and access to work by public transport (as papers to SCC’s Audit Committee show this week).

To top it all, the Bury Road Park and Ride is being closed at the very same time as SCC is being given a £25m grant by the Government to improve bus and cycling facilities in Ipswich – plus a grant of £830,000 from the European Union to encourage workers in small businesses not to travel by car!  You couldn’t make it up!

It’s  a total travesty that SCC should be implementing this unnecessary closure at the same time as receiving EU and Government grants ‘to improve bus and cycling facilities’. I cannot understand why Cabinet does not recognise this fact!

Far from making a business case for the P&R closure, SCC has managed the reverse. Cabinet sums failed even to factor in the County Council’s decision to charge all concessionary pass holders a half fare to travel on P&R from this April. We’ve calculated  that this charge would remove the need to subsidise the service at all – and therefore makes the closure of the Bury Road P&R particularly pointless.

Lib Dem P&R  survey results

At the end of October, 2010 Liberal Democrats carried out an extensive survey of users at the Bury Road Park and Ride site. Four hundred forms were returned.

The service was highly valued.

Papers to Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet assumed that when the Bury Road site shut,  50% of Bury Rd users would drive on to the London Road site. Our survey found that only 29% would do this, with 43% saying they would drive into Ipswich, 12% would use another bus service and 14% would shop elsewhere instead.

Just one percent said they would use Martlesham Park and Ride instead.

The Cabinet papers also stated that passenger numbers were declining at Bury Road, whereas in fact they are increasing according to the council’s own figures:

2007/8: 192,000       2008/9: 245,000       2009/10: 306,000

One question asked concessionary pass holders if they would be prepared to pay a £1 or £1.50 return fare in order to keep the service open. Ninety percent said they would.

Based on this, Lib Dems calculated that the Park and Ride service should at least break even, instead of having to be subsidised. Ironically, the County Council are now introducing a £1.50 fare for concessionary pass holders from April 1st at the two remaining (Martlesham and London Road) Park and Ride sites.