Explore Card petition update: a SURGE of signatures!

There’s a fantastic response to this petition (click to sign).  Thanks to a very active Facebook campaign,  support is snowballing  –  with hundreds of signatures added today!

Brilliant news – when you realise that – under Suffolk County Council’s constitution, once a petition has reached 3,675 signatures, the petitioner can take it before full council for the decision to be looked at again.  The petitioner (Patrick Gillard) tells me he is only too keen to do this.  We’re now over a quarter of the way there!

Please SIGN. Get your friends to SIGN. Get your Family to SIGN.  And then ask THEM to ask every Suffolk resident they know to SIGN. Show Suffolk County Council that this is one cut too many.

There are 51,000 Explore card users in Suffolk and 50,000 are yet to sign. Make sure they know about this – and when they do know, make sure they sign!

Why MY mailbox is full while YOUR councillor’s mailbox is empty

One  peculiar side-effect of the disgraceful democratic deficit that’s occurring in Suffolk is that we 11 solitary Lib Dems – the official opposition – are daily being asked for support, information, and advice  from residents from all over Suffolk.    That is, not only from our constituents, and from people who are affected by affairs within our districts, but from people who are supposedly being represented by the 54 Conservative councillors in other Suffolk council districts.

Why? Well, we are getting a lot of mails and phone calls  from people who have despaired of getting any contentful explanation from their own elected councillor  about these cuts to frontline services by the SCC Tory leadership. A leadership that is insisting on making 30% cuts over three years although even they are finally admitting  that national cuts amount to  no more 19.5% over the same time.  (And we Lib Dems think it is actually less.).

In other words these are mails and phone calls from people suffering from the effects of seemingly  unnecessary cuts of over 10% without any reasonable explanation (except for those three fateful letters N S D). Cuts aimed at libraries, school crossing patrols, eXplore cards, local buses, yet not at the pay of senior executives or the cost of contracts or consultants nor in gagging clause payments to senior staff who have been ‘let go’ (£500,000 last year alone).

These are mails and phone calls from people who have discovered that if they write to their own Tory councillors to express their despair and disbelief , they will get no help, or any adequate representation for their plight. And its a serious plight for most of us – the loss of vital services for which we not only pay, but which we pay SCC executives to run, and for which we elect our local councillor to represent us. Instead, we only get variations of that same old theme:

I hope that my response has gone some way to re-assuring you that we share your passion for the county and the most vulnerable within communities, and that our New Strategic Direction is designed to help precisely these people.
(I hope the writer of this can recognise his style!)

Don’t get me wrong – I am very happy to help anyone who asks me. But there are 54 Tory Councillors who should be asking themselves: Why is it that our electors do not trust us  to support, inform, and advise them?”

And contrariwise there are many people in Suffolk who should be asking themselves: Why are we electing people that we cannot trust to to support, inform, and advise us?”

My Chinese  chengyu for this post is:

东风吹马耳 dōngfēng chuī mǎ’ěr: (literally – the east wind blows the horse’s ear)  eg: information falling on deaf ears

Pretzel maths from SCC

One of the things that is so remarkable about the leadership at Suffolk County Council  is their perverse combination of parsimony and prodigality.

On the parsimony side, they stand up straight, cross their fingers behind their backs  and declare straightfaced that they simply haven’t the money to spend on inessentials like road crossing patrols and libraries.

Yet it was just before Christmas that they spent literally hundreds of thousands of pounds on setting up Suffolk Circle, a membership-based social enterprise that had apparently worked well in Southwark.  (Where, I would suggest,  there is less sense of social cohesion and a greater turnover of population than in Suffolk).

What none of Suffolk’s Cabinet seemed to have asked, of themselves or of anyone else  was Is this necessary?”

Kathy Pollard’s blog makes clear this is a question that should definitely have been asked:  Suffolk Circle is currently offering services that were already available free in Suffolk!  And, when SCC spent £750,000 on Suffolk Circle, this really means that every man woman and child in Suffolk has been asked to subsidise this social enterprise to the tune of £1. Without consultation. Perhaps they might have decided there were other services they preferred to spend their money on? (Update:  April 2012 we currently believe the  sum spent on Suffolk Circle to be ‘only’ £680,000)

Suffok’s leaders seem genuinely confused about the value of our money, letting it flow through their fingers like water  on inessentials  yet defending core cuts as unavoidable.   “Do as I say not as I do”  is their mantra over and over again.  It’s as if they genuinely cannot tell the difference between right and wrong decisions!

Nine months ago  – just as the cuts began to bite –  our leaders decided to allow the Chief Executive to spend £122,000 of public money (thats sixteen pence from every Suffolk resident)  on unspecified ‘services’  from three consultancy companies : Fields of Learning, Scintillate and DNA.   This decision was voted through at the May 2010 Council meeting, by the Conservative majority  after an earler attempt to to slip the decision through Cabinet without further publicity was called in by the Lib Dems.  We said that this was a grossly inappropriate use of public money at a time of belt-tightening.

Deputy Leader Jane Storey’s response?  “This is a tiny proportion of the county council’s budget!”

I kid you not.  I wrote down these words as they dropped from her mouth.

It is a tragedy that SCC is being run by people who consider £122,000 a small sum of money to spend without further authorisation of disclosure on ‘consultancy’ , £500,000 a sensible amount to ensure closed mouths for former council  employees, £750, 000 a reasonable sum to  set up  ‘pay-for’ friendship groups in a county where  friendship and support groups proliferate and for free – yet think £150,000 a good sum to save by closing the Bury Park and Ride and £174,000 to abolish our School Crossing Patrols.

As many members of Suffolk will remember, one of the above consultants, Bedfordshire-based  Fields of Learning had previously been used by Suffolk County Council – who spent nearly half a million pounds of Suffolk taxpayers money in 2009 on  “neuro-linguistic programming” courses for the deputy leader and her colleagues.  Yet, if you google ‘neuro-linguistic programming’ you will discover it described as one of the 10 most discredited forms of intervention in published research – on a par with ‘equine treatment for eating disorders’ and ‘dolphin assisted therapy’.

What on earth is the Tory leadership  doing spending public money on  such things while insisting  that the rest of us have  to tighten our belts so dreadfully?  Come to that, why do they pay for meeting rooms in Ipswich when Endeavour house echoes with underused space? Why do they get so antsy when we suggest they cut their own  mileage bills by 10%?

Back in November, Colin Noble,  Portfolio holder for Adult and Community Services  disclosed  his difficulties  on his blog when he wrote  “as I get older I realise I know less and less about more and more.”

I think that says it all.

Chinese saying of the day:

朱门 酒 肉 臭, 路 有冻 死 骨 (zhu men jiu rou chou lu you dong si gu)

behind the doors of the rich meat and wine go to waste, while out on the road lie the bones of the frozen