What’s been happening, May to June 2019

Concerns about Kier – Suffolk’s Highways Maintenance Contractor    After Kier shares tumbled 41% last week concerns have been raised about the longterm viability of Suffolk’s outsourced Highways Maintenance department, whose share  value is now down 85% over the last year.

As you may remember, the Council’s Conservative administration outsourced its entire roads maintenance team to Kier in a five year contract back in 2013, maintaining, despite opposition concerns ,that the private sector could do the same work more efficiently for less money. Despite significant continuing problems with the contract, they renewed it early, in 2015, for another five years.The administration tell us County has “reviewed business continuity plans and processes in the event of a sudden crisis” and pointed out that as all of our contractual payments are paid in arrears, financial exposure is mitigated. However this  cannot be other than a concerning situation.

My party has been maintaining since this contract started that outsourcing is not the most efficient way of running highways maintenance. We are suggesting that its now  time to review a policy that insists that we must outsource-at-all costs on the grounds that the private sector is better.

Rise in the numbers of care-leavers housed in unregulated accommodation    BBC Newsnight has reported a large rise in the number of care-leavers being housed in unregulated accommodation. Whilst this is a national issue, the figures for Suffolk were the fourth largest of all English authorities. Furthermore, in Suffolk the numbers of children living in unregulated accommodation has risen from 24 in 2009 to 113 in 2018.

Children in care may move to supported accommodation once they are over the age of 16, to encourage independent living. There are support workers living on site or paying regular visits, but the accommodation is not subject to the same checks and inspections as regular children’s homes.

Before and After – the timetable is highlighted in yellow. As you can i, until the adjustment was made (right) you had to be 7ft tall to read the timetable!

Suffolk Cuts All Roadside Timetables from June 12   As I mentioned back in February, Suffolk County Council is saving £100,000 by no longer providing printed copies of roadside bus timetables. The cut starts from 12 June. Instead “the timetables will be replaced by generic information pointing passengers to where to access the timetables by other methods such as online or via telephone.

I am told that paper timetables will be removed on a phased basis and only be removed when there’s a service change that makes it out of date. All valid roadside timetables will continue to remain in place. What happens with the newstyle integrated bus timetables if a single bus service is withdrawn is, I suppose, that the entire timetable goes. I don’t suppose a single person who made this decision has ever been reliant on the bus fore transport, or has any idea how these timetables present.

I am also told that printable pdf versions of timetables for every bus stop will be available on the SuffolkOnboard website. “This will allow local communities to display the timetable at bus stops themselves or distribute timetables through their local communication channels such as parish magazines, noticeboards, or community websites.”

Apparently “Many operators have expressed interest in producing their own publicity to go in the existing timetable cases. Some are aiming to produce information at the majority of stops they serve; others propose to target key bus stops only. If operators wish to display timetables at bus stops, we will make the timetable cases available for this purpose.

I am deeply concerned that both the elements of organisation and responsibility are missing from these proposals and that the biggest impact will be felt by those that need it most. I call for Woodbridge Town Council to work with me to mitigate the issues that may arise.

New system for funding sponsored bus services  A new system has been agreed for allocating funding to County-sponsored bus services, following a cross-party policy development panel (PDP) of which I was a member.

In the past, decisions on allocating funding were made on a rather crude subsidy per passenger figure, rather than factoring in things like need, usage and availability. It was done on the recommendations of officers within the Passenger Transport Unit, with no formal scoring.

The new system sets out a clear framework for allocating resources, to ensure this process is consistent and transparent.

Factors that will be taken into account include:

  • Average single passenger journeys per day of operation
  • Percentage of English National Concessionary Travel Scheme journeys for both age related and disabled passengers
  • Number of entitled students on bus route (additional weighting of 1.5)
  • Type of service, days operated and consideration of alternative services
  • Integration of service with bus services that operate on a commercial basis
  • Average cost per passenger journey

Energy From Waste and Recycling   Suffolk is applying to amend planning permission and environmental permit to increase the amount of waste accepted at the Great Blakenham energy from waste facility from 269,000 to 295,000 tonnes tonnes per year. This is partly because there is the capacity, and partly because the energy content of the waste is gradually reducing as more plastics are recycled, meaning more waste needs to be processed to maintain the level of electricity provided to the grid. However this increase will not affect recycling as the facility takes the rubbish left after recycling. Currently Suffolk residents recycle and compost around 50% of their waste.

75% of the waste  burned comes from Suffolk, with the remainder coming from Norfolk and Essex. Accepting additional waste will result in around an extra eight trucks visiting the facility per day, up to 95 from an average of 87 per day.

However, the variety of goods that can be recycled in Suffolk has reduced, with TetraPak cartons and metal items such as pots and pans no longer being accepted in recycling bins. This decision was made by the Suffolk Waste Partnership following a refurbishment of the Material Recycling Facility, because the new sorting equipment that is being installed will not be able to separate out cartons.

Cartons and metal items will now need to be taken to household recycling centres. In addition, new restrictions on composting mean that households can no longer put kitchen waste into green bins.

Poverty Motion voted down by Council   At the Council AGM on 23 May, my group proposed a motion asking the Council to acknowledge the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty following his visit to the UK in November last year. It asked to set-up a cross-party policy develop group tasked with investigating actions that Suffolk County Council could take to reduce poverty in the county. Unfortunately, the Conservative administration decided to vote against the motion.

The UN report found that 14 million people in the UK are living in poverty. Suffolk has not escaped the national crisis. Earlier this month, End Child Poverty published its 2019 statistics which revealed that over 50,000 children (28.5%) in Suffolk are being brought up in poverty.

Ofsted rates Suffolk County Council Children’s Services “outstanding”   After a week-long inspection in April, Ofsted have given Suffolk County Council Children’s Services an “outstanding” rating, an improvement from the previous rating of “good” in 2015. Suffolk County Council is one of only seven in the country to achieve this rating, and the positive report is testament to the hard-working frontline staff at the council.

However, the council does still struggle to fill social worker vacancies, particularly given it does not pay social workers as much as some neighbouring councils. Staff at the council are hopeful that this Ofsted report will help in attracting social workers to Suffolk.

Furthermore, this is in stark contrast to the inspection of Suffolk SEND services earlier this year, which Ofsted rated “inadequate”. Although a SEND oversight board has been set up, this is only meeting four times per year and we do not have a representative on the board.

New “task and finish” groups to scrutinise education    Suffolk County Council has pledged to set up “task and finish” groups to scrutinise education issues, such as home-to-school transport and SEND placements. The council previously had a dedicated Education Scrutiny Committee, but this was dissolved in 2017.

My group has requested that any meetings should be open to both the public and the press, to ensure the scrutiny process is transparent.

2 thoughts on “What’s been happening, May to June 2019”

  1. The situation regarding outsourcing has been disastrous in Sheffield (trees). It should be seen as a dire warning by other authorities. All the men in my maternal family worked in public works and private businesses will never inspire the pride and conscientiousness that they had in their work.

  2. I was once on a bus from Woodbridge to Felixstowe when the driver kindly gave all the passengers a copy of the timetable he had taken it apron himself to print as he realised that the, mostly, elderly passengers neither used a computer or mobile phone and had no way of accessing the, recently changed, timetable and his bus company were not concerned.
    A rare act of kindness.

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