I was delighted at the time to discover that Suffolk Coastal bus pass holders together with most other districts would not lose entitlement, though very concerned that Mid-Suffolk bus pass holders would. I was also concerned that this loss of entitlement might spread. I was right!
Hidden in this year’s budget (Appendix E p5 Table 1.3: Tactical Savings – Cost Reductions) is the following: COST-GHI-4 Passenger Transport: Removal of Concessionary Fares from Connecting Communities “to ensure consistency of pricing through Suffolk.”
These are weasel words. “Consistency of pricing” could more fairly be achieved by restoring concessionary fares to Mid Suffolk than taking them away from everywhere else. This decision is expected to save £30,000. Less than half of what our fiscally prudent administration wasted on the recent 14pp ResPublica report on Housing. Talk about inappropriate priorities.
Put this together with the budget cut advertised on p7 of the same Appendix E (Table 1.6: Tactical Savings – Service Reductions): SER-GHI-12 Passenger Transport: Net savings achieved through a reduction in funding for sponsored bus services combined with an investment in the Connecting Communities demand-responsive community transport service) you can see the administration are creating a perfect storm for those least able to manage: the elderly and disabled with few otherchoices. All to save another £34,000 – literally both sums added together are not equivalent to the money thrown down the gurgler for that 14pp Respublica report).
So why does this matter? The issue is one of equality. If you are unable to use your bus pass and are entitled to one, you can swap your entitlement for (I think) £100.00 of travel vouchers annually. This is useful if you are eg so disabled you cannot access buses, and therefore cannot make use of them.
However in the situation where a bus pass holder is not offered any local buses, they may be very enthusiastic users. This decision means such people have to choose between the vouchers for very local transport- and a bus pass that can be used on every scheduled bus service going throughout the UK, but not locally.
These two linked budget decisions therefore represent a huge loss specifically to elderly and disabled rural people with few transport choices – either financially, or in terms of transport freedom.
Only an administration which has no understanding or reliance on a bus pass would have considered or enacted it…
Apart from my own health, last month my principal concerns were to do with Broomheath, Woodbridge gritting, social care, period poverty and the ongoing issue of my challenge to Woodbridge Town Council’s Annual Governance and Accountability report.
I am currently off work after a total knee replacement which has left me significantly incapacitated and still largely bedbound. I am not expecting to be able to work this month, but. I hope to be able to return in December.
As I was unable to attend the centenary Armistice Day parade, my place was taken by Mr Rockey Singh who has seen active service in a Commonwealth country.
I will regretfully be cancelling my November surgery.
Highways Improvement – SCC trials new approach to pothole repairs etc The county council established a Highways Improvement and Innovations Board in June which recently announced that Suffolk Highways will be piloting a new approach to prioritising pothole repairs over the winter, but only for those divisions served by the Ipswich Phoenix House depot. If successful, it will be rolled out to other depots.
The new approach will mean more potholes in a single area will be repaired together, and potholes of 200mm width will also be included.
The pilot aims to tackle more potholes at once, rather than later returning to the same area to repair nearby potholes. It will also aim to reduce the number of temporary repairs, which also have to be returned to at a later date. This should reduce the travelling time of maintenance crews, and result in more potholes being filled.
The Board looking into improving the coordination of road closures, reducing the number of roadworks which overrun, and exploring ways for Suffolk Highways to work closer with town and parish councils.
Broomheath resurfacing mystery However, I have had little luck in trying to establish why Broomheath was unexpectedly resurfaced without official notification over the summer.
I have had complaints raised by residents in other parts of Woodbridge, who were at a loss to understand why this no through road of no strategic importance was resurfaced quietly over the summer without apparent need, notice to local councillors, or public appetite – although many other roads and culs de sac in Woodbridge are overlooked. (I am thinking particularly of Naverne Meadows and Grove Gardens, where the need is high and public concern has been loud, protracted and prolonged).
I have found it hard to get any information as to the whys and wherefores of this operation from Suffolk highways. After some weeks’ persistence, I received the following rather opaque remarks:
“Broomheath was resurfaced using TO15 traffic management, legally we are unable to close a no through road, so this traffic management allows us to delay traffic for up to 15 minutes whilst materials are laid on the ground. This is the safest way of working on site for resident and members of staff. This would have been the reason that you weren’t informed due to the fact that this was not a full road closure, however residents that were immediately affected received a letter from the team on site directly.. The previous resurfacing programmes were governed by formal condition surveys. This site was identified due to its condition and suitability for preventative treatment. Preventing pot holes forming is a far more cost effective approach to maintaining our asset, this is in keeping with national best practice”
I have to say I do not find the explanation compelling.
In fact the entire situation makes the county council look very bad indeed in the eyes of the people of Woodbridge. I have therefore put my concerns in the hands of deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Highways, Mary Evans.
Woodbridge Gritting Scheme Just before I went into hospital I reminded Highways of the requirements of the Woodbridge Gritting scheme, and told them that the Town Council should hold the lists of past volunteer gritters and the master list of bin sites. These names need to be confirmed annually to ensure the volunteers are covered by Highways insurance.
So far I have not had a request for funding for additional bins/equipment from Woodbridge town council, nor do I know if the volunteers have been contacted so far this year, or whether any call has been put out for new ones?
We have had some warning that this year might be colder than the last two, and the gritting scheme has been a very efficient way of enabling mobility and reducing falls among the older people of the town. I will not be able to do my regular mile of pavement this year for obvious reasons!
My Official objection to Woodbridge Town Council’s Annual Governance and Accountability Return 2017-18 As I reported at last Town Council meeting, I regretfully had to challenge WTC’s Annual Governance and Accountability Return on the grounds of some anomalies between what the town council declared had been done in 2017-18, and the actuality. Please note these are concerns about process, not about final figures, and they concern the Annual Governance Statement (AGAR) section1 that Woodbridge Town Council confirmed and signed on 15 May.
Although unfortunate, the external auditors are apparently not unused to small councils needing to amend their AGAR, and they confirm they can do so. All they require is for WoodbridgeTC to amend some of the incorrect assertions made in its response to section one of the AGAR (there are several, but most importantly, is failure to follow own financial regulations, included in eg statements 2 and 3 of Section 1) and to elucidate.
The 15th May AGAR statement was voted on by all attending councillors and signed on their behalf by the chair.
The cost of issuing a new letter is £40.00, according to the external auditor’s website. I mention this because the sum of £14,000 was being plucked out of the air and stated as fact by at least one councillor at the last Town Council meeting. It is very important to be accurate in these matters.
One of my formal roles as County Councillor is, as Community Leader, “to participate constructively in the good governance of the area” and “to act as an informal local scrutineer.” I continue to be surprised that Woodbridge Town Council should seem to be reluctant to put right what they know to be wrong, and demonstrate transparency to those they represent.
SCC refuses funding to help end period poverty On 18 October, my group were happy to support a Labour motion asking the county council for a budget commitment of £15,000 to help tackle “period poverty”. Many girls suffer and frequently miss school because they are unable to afford sanitary products. The motion therefore asked the Council to fund free sanitary products in all local authority maintained schools in Suffolk, which would encourage academies to implement similar measures.
Unfortunately, the Conservative administration once again amended the motion, removing all funding commitments. Their claim was that this was because the level of funding in the original motion was too small and unfairly favoured girls at maintained schools.
However, this claim did not hold water. I immediately put in a later amendment on behalf of my LDGI group which proposed increasing the funding commitment to a still notional £30,000 to include all schools in Suffolk. This was voted down by the Conservative majority without explanation.
New Home Care operating model At Cabinet on 9 October a new Home Care operating model was agreed. It was acknowledged that the previous model had not been a success and had caused unnecessary stress to both care providers and residents receiving home care. We were assured that “lessons had been learned” from this previous experience, and that greater care had been taken to develop the operating model in partnership with stakeholders.
I raised – here and later in full council – the problem of the combined impact of Suffolk’s free market housing policy (which is losing us our young people) and Brexit on care in Suffolk. Currently 1in 5 people are over 65. In twenty years it will be 1 in 3. Yet Suffolk hasn’t enough carers now. What will happen to people’s care needs, I asked? Substantive answer came there none.
After a call-in the model went to the Council’s Scrutiny Committee. However, the majority of the Scrutiny Committee voted to proceed with the new model rather than asking Cabinet to reconsider their decision.
Budget consultation and reduction in overspend Suffolk County Council is currently consulting on the 2019/20 budget and is asking the public to share their ideas for potential savings. The consultation runs until 5pm on Friday 16 November, and can be found at: https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/consultations-petitions-and-elections/consultations/a-tough-call-to-make-budget-20192020/. We will get our first look at the 2019/20 budget proposals on Thursday 22 November, when they are presented to the Scrutiny Committee. I would encourage everyone to put in their suggestions and pass on this link.
At the end of Quarter 1 the council was predicting an overspend on the 2018/19 net budget of £8.6m. This prediction has now reduced, at the end of Quarter 2, to a £7.5m overspend. Although an improvement, it is unlikely that the overspend will be reduced completely by the end of the financial year, and the council will still need to make use of reserves to cover the funding gap.
School admissions consultation Suffolk County Council is consulting on its school admissions policy for 2020/21, available at: https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/children-families-and-learning/schools/school-places/consultation-on-admissions-to-schools-in-suffolk-for-the-20202021-school-year/. The consultation is open until 12 November 2018.
No significant changes are proposed for 2020/21. However, the council are also seeking views on potential future changes to the oversubscription criteria, in terms of the removal of catchment area priority. If they decide to progress with this change, there would be another consultation October 2019 and any changes would then apply from 2021/22.
Second Suffolk children’s home judged “inadequate” A children’s home run by Suffolk County Council has been judged “inadequate” by Ofsted, following an inspection on 3 October 2018. This is the second council-run children’s home to receive an inadequate rating in the past 2 months.
Ofsted expressed particular concern over unsafe behaviour management techniques used by staff in the home, and noted a significant increase in the number of physical interventions.
Council signs up to 100% nuclear energy deal At the Council meeting on 18 October, members of my political group put forward a motion calling on the Council to recognise the benefits of renewable energy, commission a report into smart grids, and commit to ensuring at least 50% of the Council’s energy comes from renewable sources by 2025. Unfortunately, the Conservative administration amended the motion to remove any clear actions or targets.
It was also revealed that the Council have recently signed off on a 100% nuclear energy deal for the next three years, to commence in March 2019. This represents a major step backwards for Suffolk County Council, whose current energy contract includes 18.7% renewables.
SCC predicts financial shortfall Last week, SCC admitted that it is not managing to control spending against the budget agreed by councillors in February 2018. Projections show the council will overspend by £8.6 million this financial year unless it is successful in reducing costs and making savings between now and 31 March 2019. This would mean that the council would have to dip into its reserves to balance the books.
We are told that rising demand for services and increased costs in Children and Young People’s Services account for almost £5 million of the projected overspend. This includes services for looked-after children, specialist social care for children and home-to-school transport. It is hard to see how any further savings can be made in statutory responsibilities.
There are also smaller, but significant, overspends in other council departments, including Adult Care and Corporate Services. Staff have been told by the new CEO that while SCC is committed to the pay and reward agreement agreed in April, it is currently at risk unless creative ways can be found to save money.
SCC agrees costed five-year cycling plan – but not ringfenced money! At the Suffolk County Council full council meeting on 19 July, I seconded two motions asking for a commitment to investing in Suffolk’s cycling infrastructure.
The first motion asked the council to set up a cross-party group tasked with drawing up a costed five-year cycling plan, whilst the second motion asked the council to commit to ring-fencing at least 5% of its annual Integrated Transport Block for cycling infrastructure. In total 896 emails were sent from residents to councillors in support of this motion – which is apparently a phenomenal amount for a local authority area! (To put it in perspective, In Warwickshire, with a similar motion, 420 emails were sent). There were, unsurprisingly a significant number from Woodbridge.
Whilst there was unanimous support for motion 1, the administration would not support a commitment of funding for cycling infrastructure, and so unfortunately motion 2 was rejected.
Although the two motions were voted on separately, they are intrinsically linked: without a minor commitment of council funding, any future bids to the Department for Transport are likely to be unsuccessful. This has been the case for the past seven years, during which Suffolk has missed out on five opportunities to receive funding for cycling from the DfT. Currently, SCC spends approximately 10% of its Integrated Transport Block on cycling infrastructure, so the motion was not asking for additional money – just a firm commitment that a minimal level of funding would be available each year.
We are awaiting further information regarding the cross-party group that will draw up a cycling plan, and will keep you updated as this progresses.
Additional £6m borrowed to improve recycling centres Suffolk’s administration has decided to borrow an additional £6m to fund improvement works for four of Suffolk’s recycling centres. The priority works are to:
• Deliver urgent improvements to the Foxhall (estimated cost £3 million) and Haverhill (estimated cost £1 million) recycling centres; and
• Secure sites for replacement recycling centres for Ipswich (estimated cost £1 million) and Stowmarket (estimated cost £1 million).
I have had contact from various residents unhappy with operations at the Foxhall site. My group has highlighted to the cabinet member responsible for waste services the importance of working with local councillors and residents when attempting to improve recycling centres.
Melton Hill ‘Cheesewedge’ development withdrawn, resubmitted After my blog piece of 24 July articulating the benefit to the proposed erstwhile SCDC Melton Hill developer of replacing affordable housing with comparatively nugatory commutated payments – they withdrew their application to develop the site. It was swiftly replaced with another proposal , reducing affordable housing units from 33 to 15 on the spurious grounds of Vacant Building Credit. As you know, I spoke against this at the Woodbridge TC planning committee meeting of 4 Sept, and have written to the District articulating my concerns (attached). I would advise all interested individuals to do the same.
“Staying Close” scheme launched to support Suffolk care leavers Suffolk County Council have been awarded funding by the Department of Education for a three-year pilot scheme to support young people leaving care in Suffolk. The “Staying Close” scheme intends to young people to start planning for independent living with the assistance and support of residential care workers from the age of 15.
Up till now, planning has often been left until close to the time a young person is due to move out, causing anxiety and distress. Early intervention and detailed planning from a younger age should help to alleviate this. Young people will then also continue to receive emotional and practical support from their children’s home and residential workers after they have moved out and started living independently.
The pilot scheme is being delivered in partnership with The Ryes Children’s Home in Sudbury, to test how this move-on care can be provided for young people who want to remain living close to their home.
Reduction in recycling rates harm “Greenest County” ambitions Recycling rates in Suffolk have dropped over the past 4 years, from 51% in 2013 to just 47% in 2017. Meanwhile, over 50% of waste in Suffolk is incinerated – much higher than the national average of 38%.
Although incineration may be a better option than landfill, it is still less environmentally-friendly than other methods of waste disposal. Furthermore, there are concerns that the level of harmful particles released by incinerators could pose a serious threat to public health.
The Suffolk Waste Partnership, as part of the Greenest County Partnership, set a target of recycling at least 60% of municipal waste by 2020. These latest figures suggest we are moving further away from this target. If Suffolk County Council truly wants Suffolk to be the “greenest county”, we need to start focusing on environmentally-friendly methods of waste disposal and ways to increase recycling levels in the county.
Jetty Lane Planning Application submitted The planning application for Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts Centre has been submitted successfully. Community consultation takes place until 17 September.
It is not listed as Jetty Lane, but as,
DC/18/3456/FUL | Ground, Mezzanine and First floor Community centre and carparking. (Including accommodation for Art Studios / Art Exhibition Hall (Kingston Hall), Scout facilities (scout hall- Deben Hall and ancillary accommodation, Co-working office
It is not listed as Jetty Lane, but as,
DC/18/3456/FUL | Ground, Mezzanine and First floor Community centre and carparking. (Including accommodation for Art Studios / Art Exhibition Hall (Kingston Hall), Scout facilities (scout hall- Deben Hall and ancillary accommodation, Co-working office accommodation on the upper floor to generate revenue to sustain the other facilities offered to the community. Carparking, Vehicle crossover (existing location) | Woodbridge Community Resource Youth Centre The Avenue Woodbridge Suffolk
Please support this application and encourage others to do the same before 17 September, either via the district planning portal https://publicaccess.eastsuffolk.gov.uk/online-applications/ (and search for DC/18/3456/FUL)
Or by emailing comments directly to firstname.lastname@example.org making sure DC/18/3456/FUL is in the subject line
Appendix: My Letter to Suffolk Coastal re latest Melton Hill Development Application