SUFFOLK: What’s been going ON, Feb-March 2019

Suffolk CC 2019/20 budget. Suffolk County Council’s 2019/20 budget was agreed on Thursday 14 February, voted in by the Conservative majority despite significant opposition concerns. This will see an increase in council tax of 3.99%, and savings (cuts) across the council’s directorates totalling £10.1m.

I am concerned by a number of these cuts, in particular:

  • The decision to remove all grant funding from Citizens Advice. This will be phased over two years, with a 50% reduction in the 2019/20 budget (£0.184m);
  • Reducing the amount spent on Housing Related Support, which supports those at risk of homelessness (£0.45m);
  • Reduced funding for sponsored bus services (£0.34m) and cessation of the provision of roadside bus timetables (£0.1m);
  • Reduction in highways maintenance, including no road sign cleaning (£0.1m), only maintaining mandatory road markings (£0.075m) and less frequent weed treatments in rural areas (£0.055m);
  • Staffing reductions across all directorates, which may result in less efficient services (£2.968m).

Suffolk CCGs to pick up Citizens Advice funding for 2019/20 As mentioned above, the budget includes a cut to the grant funding provided by Suffolk County Council to Citizens Advice. This grant will be cut by 50% in 2019/20 (£184,000) and removed entirely in the 2020/21 budget.

Thankfully, the CCGs have stepped in and agreed to provide Citizens Advice with £184,000 in funding this year, to make up for the 50% funding cut from Suffolk County Council. Although this means Citizens Advice will not lose funding this year, it does not address the longer-term problem of funding in the future. The CCGs have been clear that this funding is only available for 2019/20.

Reduction in Suffolk’s 2018/19 predicted overspend Suffolk County Council’s latest budget monitoring report suggests the 2018/19 budget will be overspent by £5.9m – an improvement on the overspend of £7.5m predicted after quarter 2.

The £5.9m overspend is 1.2% of the net budget and is made up of £3.8m on base budget and £2.1m on Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) spend.

Although it is positive to hear the overspend is reducing, I am concerned by where these savings are being achieved. The majority are due to ongoing staff vacancies at the council, particularly in social work teams. This is clearly not a long-term solution and is a dangerous false economy. Without adequate staff, the county council will struggle to properly and efficiently provide services in Suffolk.

Respublica report into housing costs Suffolk County Council £66,000. Last year Suffolk County Council commissioned the thinktank Respublica to undertake a study into housing growth in Suffolk at a cost of £66,000. The final report was published on 21 February. At just 14 pages long, it cost the authority almost £5000 per page and failed to discuss the issues in any great depth.

Ofsted inspectors conclude Suffolk’s SEND service is inadequate Inspectors from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) returned to Suffolk in January to see how SEND services had progressed since their inspection in December 2016.

Following that visit, inspectors ruled Suffolk was not effectively meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND.

In their report last week, the inspectors acknowledged that some improvements have been made, but say children and young people relying on SEND services have not yet felt the benefit.

The inspectors concluded that while sufficient progress had been made regarding governance and leadership of the strategic planning and delivery of the 2014 national SEND reforms, they ruled that insufficient progress had been made in the three other areas requiring improvement.

These were:
• the poor timeliness, integration and quality of SEND statutory assessments and plans and the delivery of subsequent individual packages of support
• the lack of understanding among parents and carers of the support available, and the inadequate quality of the local offer, including access to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), and
• lack of joint working to monitor, quality assure and maximise the effectiveness of work undertaken to improve outcomes for children.

Suffolk Free School Travel – new opt-in for funded transport Following changes to the school travel policy, which will take effect in September 2019, eligible families must now “opt-in” to receive free school transport – pupils will no longer be automatically signed up.

If a child is eligible for free transport, parents will need to apply this year and each subsequent year, even if they have never needed to apply in the past. The application window for this year is 1 March 2019 to 31 May 2019. There is more information available at www.suffolkonboard.com/optin.

I must emphasise that pupils’ eligibility for free travel is statutory, and restricted to under 8s living more than 2 miles and over 8s living more than 3 miles from their nearest school, together with some pupils eligible on grounds of disability, safety and special circumstances.

Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts Centre gains planning permission At the end of February Suffolk Coastal District Council planning committee unanimously granted planning permission for the proposed Woodbridge Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts Centre on 21 February. They have already awarded it £188,000 CIL funding.

When the previous Community Youth Centre was pulled down in 2017, many local groups were forced to move out of Woodbridge simply because there was nowhere to house them. The Jetty Lane site (Jetty Lane being the original name of The Avenue) – has been used uninterruptedly for Youth and Community clubs and meetings since 1949: that’s SEVENTY years! It is now the last site suitable for such a centre in Woodbridge, designed to serve the needs of the community in and around Woodbridge, designed to be sustainable, selfsupporting and affordable for community groups – and funded hopefully by charity bids.

The County Council have had such faith in the need for this project to have offered a 125y lease on the land at peppercorn rent. As Chair of Jetty Lane we are thrilled that the district council has demonstrated similar faith!

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