Woodbridge: What’s been happening in Suffolk, Jan and Feb

End of Ipswich Northern Route project?  County Council  Leader, Matthew Hicks,  has announced that he will be recommending to  Cabinet that the Ipswich Northern Route should not proceed to the next phase  when it meets to decide the future of the project on 25th February. He had a very uncomfortable time at  February full council when  his plans  (Interim Study, and a Strategic Outline Business Case) and the public  consultation were publicly and comprehensively roasted by Nick Green of the Stop campaign.

To remind you – because so many county councillors seem very keen to forget –  Suffolk’s Conservative and Labour County Councillors spoke in favour of the route, and voted  en masse against my group’s motion (last July  -click for my seconder’s speech)  to abandon thoughts and costs of this route in favour of a sustainable transport strategy. However the public consultation found that over 70% of respondents were  also against the route. The sums just didn’t add up.  Both I and Woodbridge Town Council engaged in the prominent “Stop the Route”  campaign organised by residents of the Fynn valley, and supposted by both local MPs.

Following the publication of the Strategic Outline Business Case on 28 January, Babergh District Council, Mid Suffolk District Council and East Suffolk District Council all withdrew their support.

Children’s Centres consultation launched   On 10 January, Suffolk County Council finally launched  their long-promised  consultation looking at the future of Children’s Centres in the county, six months after it was announced.

Woodbridge Resident Ashley Meyer and County Councillor
Caroline Page are deeply concerned about the threarened closure of Woodbridge’s Caterpillar Children’s centre

Currently there are 38 Children’s Centres in Suffolk supporting children 0-5. The council is proposing to convert 16 of these into full-time Family Hubs and 11 into part-time Family Hubs. (A Family Hub will provide a wider range of services for families with children aged 0-19. A further nine centres will be repurposed for nursery or SEND provision, and the remaining two centres will be closed permanently. One of these is our Caterpillar Centre in Woodbridge.

I asked last summer for the – then – Cabinet member to assure me that Woodbridge residents would have options in the consultation beyond the offered three identical options – all to for the Caterpillar to close,  pointing out that this was hardly a consultation. I was fobbed off with the remark that everyone would have a chance to contribute to the consultation. As you see, those of us in Woodbridge and its surrounds who are interested in the Caterpillar can only contribute to the consultation by saying we have been given no options to contribute.

The proposals also rely on greater investment in outreach, with any savings from the closures or reduction in hours of centres being reinvested back into outreach services for a larger group of young people. More details about the proposals and a link to the consultation are available at: www.suffolk.gov.uk/ccconsultation The consultation closes at 5pm on Sunday 1 March.

Racism  Unfortunately, as you will have read in the national press, there has been a resurgence of white supremacist racism in Ipswich last week, with unpleasant stickers put up in bus-stops and such places. There was also a very unpleasant incident of racist abuse in Woodbridge. I attended and spoke at a cross-party rally arranged by ISCRE in Ipswich on 8th February.  It was well attended – and I was pleased to see Woodbridge faces from across the political spectrum.

School Transport  County’s internal review of Suffolk County Council’s controversial new School Transport policywhich led to a 450% increase in applications, many children without travel passes at the beginning of term, and a six-fold increase in appeals (71% of which were upheld) – was finally published. The review concentrated on the implementation of a policy that had been flagged up by many as having significant practical weakness. Sadly it did not look at the policy. This was ridiculous because the implementation and the policy were so closely linked.

The review identified 19 shortcomings – simply in implementation.   School transport was scrutinised on Wednesday 12th, and although generally questions are not accepted from the floor, in this case the Chair made an exception. , and I was able  to raise various concerns that  had occurred to me in my decade as VIceChair of the Committee (Opposition members can never be made Chair.). This included a plea that there could be delegated powers that made it possible to abort appeals  if halfway through the proceedings it became clear that the county had no case.

Fen Meadow Black Pine Having taken a personal interest and role in endeavouring to preserve the vandalised and now felled black pine  at the top of Fen Meadow,  (click here ) I would just like to put on record my verbal offer to fund tree planting, in some way to restore the status quo.

County Sets Budget   Following its approval on 13 February by an overwhelming majority,  Suffolk County Council will increase its spending again this coming financial year . This is the year before the next County Council elections.

For 2020/2021, the council’s budget will rise to £556million which represents an increase of £37m (7.1%) from 2019/20. Children’s and Adults Services represent around 70% of the council’s overall spend. This year’s budget is based on a 12-month financial settlement from government, rather than the 3 or 4 year agreement which is usually offered.

As well as addressing the need to maintain funding for key services, the council will invest an additional £3.5m into one-year programmes, including the Suffolk 2020 fund (£3m) and a highways investment  fund (£500k) to support the renewal of road markings and road safety around schools.

Our LibDem, Green and Independent  group budget amendments included:

£1m for school transport, to end split villages/siblings
Recruit extra Health Visitors to support families
Increase social worker salaries
Investment in electric vehicle infrastructure
Free companion bus passes for carers where care is needed

Modest proposals. Costed by Suffolk’s own council officers. But all defeated – sadly.  The Conservatives opposed, and Labour, strangely, abstained (!) ( With a certain amount of wholly predictable rudery – eg bog-standard and untrue accusations of ‘back of a fag packet’ which deeply denigrated the capacities of the hard-working  county officers in question. I sincerely hope that, in retrospect the  Conservative Councillors in question feel ashamed of themselves.)

I spoke on the huge gain at small cost that a companion carer pass would provide some (a few) disabled people. It seemed to be not worthy of a reply and was not even covered in the press. It’s like carers and disability just doesn’t matter to Suffolk.

Introduction of permit scheme for roadworks The Cabinet has also finally approved the introduction of a permit scheme, which will require utility companies to apply for a permit from Suffolk Highways before digging up roads in Suffolk. This is some years after this was first suggested by opposition parties and rejected by the administration as impractical.

Currently, utility companies only have to inform Suffolk County Council of their intention to conduct work on the highways. The introduction of a permit scheme will ensure that motorists have more notice of planned roadworks and will provide the council with more powers: the council can approve or refuse a request for a permit, and can also place conditions over the work carried out.

It is expected that a permit scheme will also result in less disruption for road users, as the council will be able to coordinate and plan works to ensure there are minimal road closures.

We are told any costs incurred by the council for running the scheme will be recovered through fee income from permit applications, so the scheme will be cost neutral.

 

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