Today marks the start of National Carers’ Week. Cynically, this the one week of the year when non-carers remember that unpaid family Carers exist and make encouraging noises. Yet 96% of UK care is provided in the community by unpaid carers. 96%!!!! 1 of every 2 women in their 50s is an unpaid family carer, with all the impact this has on pay, career and occupational pension. Flip a coin, is it you or me? (Men do not achieve this statistic until age 74. * )
Coincidentally, this week aspirant PM Boris Johnson has promised an extra £120pw for those earning £80k. As a tax break. Or bribe.
Guess what? From April, family carers have been able to claim £67 Carers’ Allowance per week. IF they are under pensionable age and IF they earn less than £123pw.
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.
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.
2019-20 Budget and Cuts Suffolk County Council’s 2019-20 budget was agreed on Thursday 14 February. This will see an increase in council tax of 3.99%, and savings across the council’s directorates totalling £10.1m.
A particularly concerning cut was 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). Fortunately, the CCGs 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 in 2019-20, 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 the 2019-20 financial year.
The budget also proposes staffing reductions across all directorates, totalling almost £3m. We do not currently have details of how these cuts will be distributed and which staff will be affected, but I am very concerned that this will result in less efficient services and an increase in stress amongst the remaining staff.
In terms of rural public transport, a triple whammy has occurred: the budget is saving £100,000 by not replacing any roadside timetables (catastrophic in a rural county with poor phone signal and a large elderly population); £30,000 by cutting subsidised scheduled services and providing Community Link services, while simultaneously and meretriciously “ensuring consistency of pricing through Suffolk” for Community Link provision by disallowing bus passes in all districts to save a paltry £34,000. Previously these passes were valid on Community Link transport everywhere but MidSuffolk.
These small savings will impact on the elderly, the disabled and the transport poor, as well as more generally on tourism. I suspect they will create considerably greater costs than they save.
New Suffolk County Council Leader and Chief Executive In May, the Conservative group leadership changed and Cllr Matthew Hicks became the new Leader of Suffolk County Council. Cllr Hicks brought with him a number of new Cabinet members and established cross party “Policy Development Panels” (time-limited groups tasked with looking at a particular issue or policy). There have been a number of these PDPs to date, and it has been a good opportunity for backbench and opposition councillors to be involved in policy decisions.
Towards the beginning of the municipal year Suffolk County Council also appointed a new Chief Executive. Nicola Beach joined the council from Essex County Council, where she was Executive Director of Infrastructure and Environment.
Changes to School Transport Policy Since September 2017, I and my group have been fighting against changes to the council’s School Transport Policy that would see numerous children losing free school transport. Despite two successful call-in attempts by my group and a lengthy delay to the policy change, it was finally agreed by Cabinet in July 2018.
The changes to the policy will be implemented in September 2019, and will see free school transport restricted to children who attend their nearest school only. Currently, children are also able to receive free school transport to their catchment schools, but this will no longer be an option under the new policy.
Although it is deeply disappointing that this change was made, I am glad that, through our consistent opposition to the policy, we were able to reduce the severity of the final policy change. The final policy that was agreed in July 2018 was much less damaging than the original proposal in September 2017. In particular, we were able to ensure that children who are currently attending a school will continue to receive free school transport until the end of their time at that school – thus reducing the upheaval and ensuring no child is forced to move schools in the middle of their education.
CPE and Yellow Lines Enforceable road markings are being refreshed across Suffolk in advance of CPE (Civil Parking Enforcement) – the transfer of the enforcement of on road parking from the police to the district councils. This process has been in operation for awhile.
The rationale for CPE is that it has become increasingly clear that adequate police enforcement of selfish and irresponsible parking across the region has not been possible due to the very limited number of feet on the ground.
Once parking has been decriminalized, enforcement can be put in the hands of district council ‘parking protection officers’ who will look much like the old traffic warden and can treat on street parking offences as firmly as they do those in the car parks.
However CPE cannot take place until every TRO (traffic regulation order) in Suffolk has been made watertight and enforceable. Thus it is essential that all regulatory road markings are made visible and correct. Which is why many hitherto invisible markings are now made visible. When all is in place the transfer of CPE to the new East Suffolk District Council will take place. New yellow lines recently noticed in Woodbridge are not new, they replace existing ones for existing TROs.
Many of the concerns that have been expressed are on aesthetic or heritage grounds. However there is an element of cherrypicking here. Our medieval heritage is often mentioned ! Medieval Woodbridge didn’t have tarmacked roads, let alone road signs or markings. Within living memory there was even two way traffic, including buses down the Thoroughfare.
The Thoroughfare TRO and Woodbridge 20mph and Associated Calming Change to the Thoroughfare TRO was decided by public consultation at the end of 2017. Woodbridge has since had to wait a year on account of the exigencies of CPE (above). However I have been working with highways officers since early this year, and in March was able to get their assurance that this project was now going ahead, funded with my Highways Budget (- at least to the tune of £28, 000 odd.)
As we know to the popular and sustainable Woodbridge 20mph and Associated Calming scheme failed to get CIL funding this year. However I have been talking to Transition Woodbridge about this, and I believe they may be looking to put forward a new CIL bid shortly. I hope the Town Council would continue with its support of this scheme too.
Sizewell C Consultation Suffolk County Council responded to the latest consultation, expressing reservations.
Women In Suffolk Women are more than 50% of Suffolk’s population and the major users of council services, yet their interests are not necessarily much considered in policy making.
Following International Women’s Day I put in a motion at a full meeting of Suffolk County Council calling to improve outcomes for girls. The motion also called for more detailed data by gender. Suffolk has an embarrassing gender gap and much useful information is either not stored or not collated by sex – with potential disbenefit to both sexes. The motion recognised IWD ‘s #BalanceforBetter campaign
Unfortunately Suffolk’s administration while claiming they backed the principal of the motion – voted against it on the specious grounds that “positive discrimination” would not help – “establishing facts” has clearly been confused with “positive discrimination”.
Suffolk County Council currently has 29% women councillors, less than the 33% national average. The percentage of Conservative women councillors is smaller than the total average. This may also in part explain the reluctance of the Conservative administration to support my motion earlier in the year asking for £30,000 to help alleviate period poverty in all Suffolk schools. They voted it down. Luckily it turns out that central government is more enlightened.
Jetty Lane: Progress The proposed Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts centre in Woodbridge is continuing to meet its development targets. In February the district planning committee voted unanimously to give permission to , and said some very complimentary things about the Jetty Lane plans and intentions. We couldn’t be better pleased. This is another real vote of confidence in the project
When the Woodbridge Community Youth Centre was pulled down in 2017, many 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. The County Council have such faith in the need for this project to have offered a 125y lease on the land. Jetty Lane was lucky enough to benefit from a CIL grant of £189,000. The cic is now converting to a charity and fundraising is beginning in earnest.
Challenge to Woodbridge Town Council’s audit 2017-18 – ongoing This has occupied a great deal of1 last year.
My concern was that – however mistakenly – Woodbridge Town Council did not follow their own financial regulations. In July I exercised the legal right that all electors have to examine the Council’s accounts (during a specified period) together with a politically independent accountant. 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 -are available from the Town Council.
I was finally able to obtain a meeting with the Town Clerk, a representative from SALC and a local resident (Ms Thompson, now a newly elected town councillor) on 14/1/19. We discussed the four questions that constitute my objection. (As you recall, I withdrew 5 of my original 6 objections, not because I felt they could not be sustained, but because either the sums were small, or I felt the intentions were good even if due process had not been followed). The SALC representative present discussed the various options open to the Council, including restating the AGAR.
Nothing we discussed in the meeting made me feel I could withdraw this final objection.
I subsequently attended a Town Council meeting on 12/2/19 at which councillors discussed a motion asking the external auditors for an adjudication on my objection to the council’s AGAR for 2017/18. No motion was proposed for them to restate their own AGAR.
OFSTED rates Suffolk SEND service inadequate after second inspection 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 and subsequent improvement notice issued in January 2017. Following their visit, they ruled Suffolk had not made sufficient progress to improve the serious weaknesses identified at the initial inspection and was not effectively meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND.
I am very concerned that the council’s SEND service needs to be dramatically and quickly improved. Along with the Labour group, we have called for an independent review to determine what needs to be done.
We have received assurances from the Cabinet member for Children’s Services that an oversight board will be set up imminently, made up of councillors from all parties, as well as CCG staff and user organisations.
Review into abandoned Upper Orwell Crossings project The Upper Orwell Crossings project in Ipswich was abandoned in January due to rising costs and fears the project would go well over the original budget. The county council attempted to find additional funding for the project but were unsuccessful.
Despite no building work having started, Suffolk County Council still spent over £8m on the project before it was abandoned, most of which was on consultants’ fees. In terms of some of the cuts that have been made in the budget – and their impact – this is an unimaginable amount to waste.
Nicola Beach (Chief Executive of Suffolk County Council) has confirmed that she will be undertaking a review of the project to determine what went wrong.
Suffolk Highways – new Cabinet member and Director appointed After a long search, Mark Ash was appointed as the new Director of Growth, Highways and Infrastructure in January. He joined Suffolk County Council in February, having previously been the Director of Waste and Environment at Essex County Council.
In addition, Cllr Mary Evans took over as Cabinet member for Highways in May 2018. Response times for pothole repairs do seem to have improved, and a new policy for repairing potholes has been implemented that should improve efficiency.
The Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group For the last year I have been Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent party. Our group promotes inclusivity by leadership change every year, so I have just proposed LibDem Penny Otton for Leader and Green Elfrede Brambley Crawshaw as deputy, and Andrew Stringer and I retire to the back benches.
We are therefore for the next year, a group led entirely by women and with the only group spokesperson for Women on it.
During the last year, my political group proposed a number of successful motions to council. These included:
-Developing a strategic, costed five-year cycling plan to improve investment in cycling infrastructure in the county;
– Committing to reducing single-use plastic waste in Suffolk;
– Declaring a climate emergency and pledging to make Suffolk carbon neutral by 2030.
We are proudest of this last, declaring a climate emergency in Suffolk , which was passed almost universally, cross party, with 1 against, and 1 abstention.
Caroline Page, LibDem County Councillor for Woodbridge