In March – just as I left the country – Suffolk Circle folded and Suffolk Tories quietly wrote off nearly three quarters of a million pounds of our money. What a surprise!
Even back in 2010 when SCC’s Conservative Cabinet unilaterally decided to give just under £700,000 sight unseen to produce a “Pay-annual-subscription-to-get-a-good-neighbour-scheme” you could see there were potential problems (see blogpost July 2011) .
The notion was ‘spun’ to the people of Suffolk as long-term assistance to the council’s social care budget by supporting the vulnerable elderly. But as the Circle defined ‘the elderly’ as anyone aged over 50, this included over a third of Suffolk’s population. Such a ludicrously long-term ‘long-term solution’ should have raised alarm bells with anyone of even average mathematical ability. Unfortunately it seems there was no such person overseeing Suffolk Circle.
Furthermore, despite spending a year and £100,000 of taxpayers’ hard-earned money on a ‘scoping exercise’ – neither the (then) Cabinet Member for Adult and Continuing Services – Colin Noble – nor Suffolk Circle itself appeared to be aware of the huge number of pre-existing interest groups and services for both the over-50s and the ‘frail elderly’ that were already operating in Suffolk * (I know, I know. You couldn’t make it up.)
So unsurprisingly Suffolk Circle missed its modest targets from the beginning.
In the first year it spent £350,000 and only got 362 members. These members had paid a minimum subscription of £30 each and STILL cost the council £1000 a head. Nice going! (362 people make up 0.16% of Suffolk’s over-50s, by the way).
The modest target-setting continued. Suffolk Circle’s target membership was supposed to be 1630 members by March 2013 and 3500 by March 2014 when the funding finished and the scheme could soar to dizzy heights without it. As it was, Suffolk Circle ground to a halt in March the moment the money ran out, admitting it had achieved no more than 2000 members in its entire existence. Paid for by the hardworking Suffolk taxpayer, who had had this scheme foisted on them – without consultation and in secret – by a set of ideological nitwits who had picked up the notion from goodness knows where.
No oversight, no claw-back, no responsibility taken. Let’s just pretend it didn’t happen, shall we?
But don’t you think the frail elderly of Suffolk deserve more? and all the local groups, from Age UK Suffolk to Wickham Market and District Family Carers who could have taken that money and spent it wisely and responsibly?
Colin Noble – until last week Cabinet member for Finance at SCC – has suddenly (and perhaps in view of the above, inexplicably) become rather passionate about debate in policy-making:
“We believe that the members of the council should debate policy and come up with proposals that are taken up by the cabinet and then implemented by the senior officers,” he is quoted as saying last week. “At present we feel it is developed by the cabinet and senior officers, and then given to the backbenchers for them to approve. I believe it is best when policy is robustly debated before being adopted and taken forward to be implemented.”
Cllr Noble, we members of the council would have loved to debate the issue of Suffolk Circle if the decision hadn’t been made by you and your colleagues in camera. As it was, non-Cabinet members first saw the briefing documents for Suffolk Circle when we scrutinized its shoddy performance one year on.
Don’t you think it’s a bit rich to start talking about debating policy now, after you threw the better part of a million pounds of Suffolk taxpayers’ hard-earned money down the gurgler?
*Just in the area local to Woodbridge this could be taken to include: Church groups, Suffolk Carers, Royal British Legion, WI, English Country Markets, Library groups, writers groups and book groups, amateur dramatics and play readings, Good Neighbour Groups, Tea dances, Ramblers, Age UK (including their telephone befriending scheme), Wickham Market Family Carers Support Group, political parties, WRVS, lunch groups, charity work, NADFAS, WAMRAG, and groups for those interested in art, photography, music, opera, ballet, the theatre – to name but a few.