What’s been happening in December

“The local authority is a servant not a master, a truth which on occasions is too easily overlooked.” All local authorities, whether town, district or county, should remember Lord Justice Mumby’s maxim – and abide by it

Why you haven’t seen much of me Some of you many have wondered why you have seen less of me than usual over the last few weeks. The reason is that I have been off work recuperating after a major operation. This unfortunately has been complicated by my other underlying health conditions.

Additionally, my mother (for whom I have been a weekly carer for many years) died in late November. Her funeral was at the beginning of December.
I have missed attending some meetings and have had to cancel two of my regular monthly surgeries for the first time ever.

 

I will now be gradually returning to work – slowly at first – but expect to be functioning as normal in January 2019.

Challenge to Woodbridge Town Council’s audit 2017-18 – ongoing       This is a long tale and still continuing. I have yet to have any direct response from Woodbridge Town Council regarding my objection, five months ago, to certain points they signed off as correct in their last year’s Annual Governance Statement in May 2018. This governance statement (AGAR) is a formal legal obligation which is taken very seriously indeed. You can see what the council asserted here : http://www.woodbridge-suffolk.gov.uk/assets/Town-Council/Finance/Annual-Return/Notice-of-audit-of-AGAR-17-18.pdf, page 2.

My concern was that – however mistakenly – Woodbridge Town Council did not follow their own financial regulations. In July, after  concerns articulated on this blog had been dismissed by councillors in the rudest – nd least disciplined – full council meeting I have ever attended,  I exercised the legal right that all electors have to examine the Council’s accounts (during a specified period). As a result, I sent a list of objections to the external auditor and copied them to the Town Council on July 13.

Full details of my concerns –and the Council’s initial responses –were briefly on the Town Council site in early October but are now taken down. Apparently, they are available on application to the Town Council (for a small payment).

Unfortunately this has not been a subject the Town Council seems willing or able to engage with as a full council . I believe it has yet to be on the agenda for discussion at any full council meeting, although it is an issue that can only be decided BY the full town council. (And, as I said, the querying of one’s town’s annual audit is every resident’s legal right.)

Additionally, from the start, I noticed certain comments on my social media, made within a few days of my original objection – eg https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1776255192439524&id=100001651809340 and https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1766416283423415&substory_index=0&id=100001651809340 which in retrospect might suggest predetermination on behalf of some councillors NOT to want to engage with my objections.

One Councillor was very keen to explain that there were ‘items that would not benefit from being made public’. But not why. (And we need to know why: councillors are public servants, not masters!) Another councillor immediately started shroud-waving about a ‘very expensive’ re-audit – and this was before any councillors had been officially informed of any objections to the internal audit at all. It was almost as if an unofficial cabal  were aware of things that were  kept from other councillors…

Such attitudes are strange and disappointing. These also showcased extraordinary suggestions that any public examination of the town’s audit is slanderous and inferred that anyone doing so is not undertaking a democratic right legally advertised as available to every elector, but is somehow behaving improperly . It was almost as if the Town Council wished to deter any resident from doing so in the future.

It is hard to think of a more arrogant example of the tail thinking it existed to wag the dog!

The Town Council’s continued silence to me is even more disappointing, because the external auditors specifically recommend that there is dialogue between council and objector specifically in order to save public money. And also because I had made clear and specific suggestions in a formal letter back in September as to how to resolve this matter effectively and cheaply.

I am sure many people will be as puzzled as I am that Woodbridge Town Council is making such heavy weather of this matter, particularly as councillors’ decisions – or lack thereof – run a risk of costing the town (us!) significant sums of money.

I have therefore sent all town councillors the full set of letters and emails exchanged on this subject. As this is vital public information concerning the running of our town, I am also offering to share these with any Woodbridge resident who is interested.

Proposed Suffolk County budget cuts for 2019/20 On 22 November, Suffolk’s scrutiny committee discussed proposals for the 2019/20 budget. These will be finalised and presented to the Cabinet in January, before being debated by the full Council in February.

Council tax will increase by a total of 3.99% in 2019/20 – this will be made up of a 2.99% increase in general council tax and a final 1% increase for the Social Care Precept. The proposed “tactical savings” total £11.2m. These are spread across the Council’s directorates (as shown in the table below), with Growth, Highways and Infrastructure, Adult and Community Services, and Health, Wellbeing and Children’s Services seeing the greatest cuts.

  • Remove the full Citizens Advice Grant (however the Council have since announced that this will be phased in rather than immediate, with 50% of the grant being cut this year and the remaining 50% being cut in the 2020/21 budget)
  • Staffing reduction (totalling £3m) across all directorates
  • Reduce Housing Related Support and the provision of hostel beds
  • Negotiate care pricing
  • Stop displaying bus timetables at the roadside
  • Reduce spend on sponsored bus services
  • Reduce out-of-hours stand-by service and winter support fleet for Suffolk Highways
  • Stop road sign cleaning and only maintain mandatory road markings
  • Turn more streetlights off overnight
  • Cease accreditation of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme (the scheme will continue, however organisations will license themselves directly with the charity rather than through SCC)

As you can see, many (if not most) of these cuts will cause significant hardship to people in Suffolk.

Unfortunately, I have not been informed of the savings associated with each of the above proposals, and instead have only been told how much each directorate is expected to save in total. The final proposals, along with the savings associated with each of them, will not be made available until January.

U-turn on support for period poverty In October, a motion asking for a commitment of £15,000 in the budget to help tackle “period poverty” was unfortunately rejected by the County council on the grounds that it was not inclusive. My amendation to £30,000 to include all schools was rejected without appropriate reason.

However, the administration have since announced that they will be undertaking an audit of the services in Suffolk that are aimed at tackling period poverty, to identify gaps and assess how provision can be improved.

“I am cautiously hopeful that this review will result in proper support and funding for those wonderful voluntary organisations that are currently providing free sanitary products. They cannot provide that service all on their own, and a commitment of funding from Suffolk County Council will be vital to ensure we eradicate period poverty across the whole county.

Significant increase in insurance pay-outs for cars damaged by potholes Data published under Freedom of Information laws has shown that, between 1 January and 16 October this year, Suffolk Highways have already paid out £67,819.07 for vehicle damage (including insurance pay outs, costs and legal fees). This is a significant increase from the previous year, when pay-outs for the whole of 2017 totalled £26,004.63.

“The number of claims has also more than doubled, from 598 in 2017 to 1,265 so far in 2018.

Work on on Upper Orwell Crossings delayed Work on the Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich has been suspended since August 2018, due to concerns that the costs of the project were no longer sustainable.

In October, the administration announced that they would need an additional £43m of funding in order to continue with the project. It was agreed by Cabinet that officers and councillors would have until December to try and find this additional funding. However, this deadline has now been pushed back to January 2019. We are therefore expecting an announcement in the new year about the future of the project.

One thought on “What’s been happening in December”

  1. You offer concerned residents the opportunity to see the relevant correspondence and I would like to take you up on that offer.

    Because I live on the side of the road that is the Melton boundary, am I eligible? The reluctance to communicate does seem very strange, especially as the council describe themselves as being open and transparent to all.

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