Imminent threat to Suffolk’s Law Courts!

Suffolk County Councillors rather uncharacteristically reached unanimous agreement today – that the Ministry of Justice’s proposed closure of Suffolk law courts (Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft) leaving us with just the facilities in Ipswich, are a bad thing and should be opposed.

In brief, it is proposed that:

a) Lowestoft Magistrates’ Court, County Court and Family Court is closed and the civil hearing work move to Great Yarmouth (Magistrates’ Court and Family Court), the family hearing work to Ipswich (Magistrates’ Court and Family Court)., and the criminal work move to Great Yarmouth (Magistrates’ Court and Family Court) and Norwich (Magistrates’ Court and Family Court).

b) that Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court and Family Court and Bury St Edmunds Crown Court are closed, and the existing magistrates’ and family workload  be moved to Ipswich (Magistrates’ Court and Family Court) and Norwich (Magistrates’ Court and Family Court). It is also proposed that victim and witness facilities will be installed at Bury St. Edmunds County Court and Tribunals which would enable court users, in suitable matters, to give evidence by video link!

All to save £600,000 a year. Truly this government knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

It is 800 years exactly since the rights  of the common people in England were asserted through Magna Carta. The 39th clause of which , still part of British law today, says:

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.”

Putting aside anxieties about ‘trial by video’ , it would seem particularly ironic that Suffolk’s legal representation is in danger of being reduced to one single court with all the difficulties of access from the west , mid-Suffolk and the north of the county, in this iconic anniversary year . (I was going to speak to this motion on these lines) when Cllr Joanna Spicer took the very words out of my mouth, quote and all. Two minds with but a single thought and all that..)

You may not know of this consultation – although it has been going on since July. This is because the Ministry of Justice  in its wisdom has classified Suffolk as part of the South East. However, here is the link (tip- don’t wade through all the pages, search in document for ‘Suffolk’ and it will tell you about the two proposals that affect us) – do please respond to the consultation and give your thoughts. Oddly enough, the one bit of the whole document that is squeezed for space is the one that asks for your views. But please don’t let it stop you!

Whats been happening in Suffolk: August – September

After the August slowdown, events in Suffolk are starting to speed up. The most important thing to mention this month is the potential of Suffolk devolution:

 Potential devolution of Suffolk  Devolution of powers from Central Government to local authorities is high on the government’s agenda – Suffolk is one of a few counties to put in a bid (Essex and Norfolk have also done so). The Suffolk  bid comes via the Public Sector Leaders’ Group, with contribution from all public sector partners including police, health and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership. I am told their intention is “to get the power to do things locally which will make a real difference to people who live and work here. We have to be able to prove to Government that what we are proposing will not only be better for people but will also make services more accountable by being locally-determined and will not cost any more than they do now (indeed the expectation would be that any changes save taxpayers’ money).”

Because greater local autonomy and control over resources and decision making is a natural development of greater stewardship (I quote from the bid document) the leaders of Suffolk “are confident devolution will deliver the following economic and social dividends – raising revenues and reducing costs:

  1. 70,000 homes by 2031
  2. Improved educational provision and outcomes, for example: at least 65% A*-C GCSE passes by 2017 ( this is a very moderate ambition bearing in mind that the 2015 UK average is currently 72.6%)
  3. Working with districts, boroughs, public, private and voluntary andcommunity partners there will be stronger communities and families,with greater democratic participation
  4. Improved health, with reduced demand for health, care and safety services – with better supported families and less child poverty
  5. Significant reduction in the £430 million spent on DWP and work-related benefits in Suffolk (2013-14) through better paid jobs
  6. A more skilled workforce including at least 5,000 new apprenticeships by 2020 and a further 2,500 in Suffolk by 2025???
  7. Greater productivity and growth of over £18 billion total GVA (Gross Value Added) per year by 2025

The bid will be debated at Suffolk ‘s full council on 17th September.

Highways issues  There continue to be complaints about heavy vehicle traffic  driving down California to the nursery in Sandy Lane, apparently because large lorries can’t go underneath the railway bridge. I have raised this with highways: there is apparently no law that prevents these vehicles going through this residential area but it seems clear from videos that residents are finding them increasingly problematic.

Unacceptable delays in minor highways works continues. The new Ipswich Road  bus stops  which were agreed on April 1 have spent five months getting ‘designed’ . The design consists  of a pole and a dropped kerb.  This is particularly inconvenient as the bus stop had to be moved in the Ipswich road and it would have been an ideal opportunity to  site these new ones and really help patients at the surgery.

Later on this month I and another 7 councillors (2 from each party)  will finally be provided with the required councillor training so that the long-awaited Speed Limit Cases Panel can finally get up and running.

Changes to bus services to/from Woodbridge

After more than two years of stability, major changes have been made to our local bus service with effect from Tuesday 1st September. First Norfolk & Suffolk has made major changes to service 64 and 65, as follows:-

  • Service 64 will operate Aldeburgh – Leiston – Saxmundham – Wickham Market – Melton (via Melton Road) – Woodbridge – Kesgrave (via Main Road) – Ipswich, much as now, but only every two hours rather than the current hourly frequency;
  • Service 65 will operate Aldeburgh – Leiston – Snape – Rendlesham – Melton (via Melton Road rather than Bredfield Road) – Woodbridge – Kesgrave (via Main Road) – Ipswich, but omitting Martlesham Heath Tesco, and only every two hours rather than the current hourly frequency;
  • A new Service 63 will operate Melton Chapel – Bredfield Road – Woodbridge – Martlesham Heath Tesco – Kesgrave (alternately viaFentons Way or Edmonton Close) – Ipswich, running every hour. Off-peak services will run a one-way loop between Woodbridge and Melton, running via Melton Road, Wilford Bridge Road, Station Road, The Street, Woods Lane, Bredfield Road and Pytches Road. First have yet to confirm that passengers will be able to travel from Ipswich/Woodbridge to Bredfield Road without paying any additional fare.
  • Currently the evening and Sunday service 65B, sponsored by Suffolk County Council, remain – so far -unchanged.
  • Morning peak journeys into Ipswich will change – with one less bus.
  • First is also taking over the Suffolk County Council contract for service 30 from Beestons and renumbering it as service 70

Local users have been angered at the lack of  information in advance of these changes . Consideration of customer needs was nonexistent! Not only were there no signs in the Turban centre , the old timetables were in place. Ten days later the old timetables are in place at the Duke of York stops at least. I am taking this up with passenger transport. This kind of sloppy response to changes to an established service is what causes people to lose confidence in the bus service

Suffolk Schools A total of 76% of Suffolk schools are now Ofsted-rated either as Good or Outstanding. Last year 74% were, and in 2013 it was 72%.The county council wants all schools to achieve one or other ratings by January 2017. Currently nearly a quarter continue to be rated as not good.

Suffolk GCSE figures are as yet provisional but these show  56% of Suffolk’s year 11s got the expected level of attainment:  five or more A*-C grades, including English and Maths  – a 4% improvement on our 2014 figures . However the 2015 national average was 72.6 %.

In Woodbridge we did much better:  72% of Farlingaye pupils got  five A*-C grades with English and maths – the school’s best ever results.

A levels: 210 Farlingaye students sat the exams, achieving a 98.5%  A*-E rate and an 82% A*-C rate. Nine students have places at Cambridge, Oxford or to read medicine/veterinary science.

Suffolk primary schools have also  improved slightly, rising 22 places in the league table for pupils at Key Stage 2 with 77% of pupils reaching the Level 4 target. Last year the score was 74%. However this means that Suffolk has only risen to 118th out of 150 authorities, instead of 140th. Ten years ago Suffolk was in the top  25%.

Essex in comparison has made a stellar leap from 115th to joint 12th over the last year in the national rankings.

“We Are Listening”  The Suffolk County Council leader’s  ‘We Are Listening’ event in Woodbridge which we had been told would take place on September 19th  will not take place on that date. I was informed at the end of August that it will now be taking place on Saturday 21 November at the Hamblin Road car park.

County Councillor’s Surgery – time change for this month only  My surgery will restart after its customary  August break on 19th September at Woodbridge Library Due to an inadvertent overbooking the time has been changed –for this month only it will be from 9-11.