Category Archives: Suffolk County Council

Suffolk fights FGM

I asked the following question about FGM  at last full council (9th July 2020).

“I’m sure you will join me and all councillors in congratulating our social work team and the lawyers in their last-minute success in preventing the home secretary, Priti Patel, from having an 11year girl deported , with the risk of being subject to Female Genital Mutilation in her home country. FGM is illegal in this country. Please can you tell us what processes the council has in place to make sure any girl in Suffolk threatened with FGM will be protected.”

Plenty, it seems.

And just as as well. The situation is scandalous. As  Cllr Penny Otton, LDGI Group Spokesperson for Children and Young People, said:

It was shameful that the home secretary Priti Patel was intending to deport a very young girl who risked FGM if sent back to Sudan. This child has been thriving at school in Suffolk and speaks no other language than English.  It was only due to the fantastic work of Suffolk County Council’s care team and lawyers that this girl was able to stay in the UK and the home secretary was forced to back down. We congratulate them all for their urgent actions to stop the deportation, which would have put this girl at extreme risk.”

FGM is a crime in the UK and the home secretary’s attempt to deport this child would fly in the face of this. Suffolk County Council officers were only just in time: one day later and the child would have been on the plane. 97.7% of girls and women in the part of Sudan she comes from suffer FGM: the judge considered the risk to be extreme. After a series of hearings , Justice Newton concluded: “It is difficult to think of a more serious case where the risk to [the girl] of FGM is so high.”

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jul/03/priti-patel-accused-of-shameful-bid-to-deport-girl-at-risk-of-fgm

Suffolk County Council has shown that its officers are alert, aware,  and effective in crisis – and that it takes FGM protection extremely seriously. I am very proud of my colleagues, and I think they have set an superb example to other councils to take similar action in order to protect young girls from a practice that is inhumane, unnecessary and  causes lifelong damage.

The issue  the child’s mother,  herself a victim of type 3  FGM -infibulation: the most serious variation of the mutilation – had her asylum claim rejected  when citing fears that her child would face the same mutilation if returned to Sudan or Bahrain. As her barrister put it: “They don’t have children’s guardians in the immigration courts and this girl’s vulnerabilities were not properly considered. If it weren’t for Suffolk county council she would have been on a plane.

She added: “I work on a lot of these cases and not all local authorities are this proactive. This case shows how dangerous it is relying on the immigration courts to make decisions about the risk of FGM.”

The child was later granted an FGM protection order via the family court  which ruled that  the 11-year-old  should be prevented from being deported to a location where she is deemed at risk of FGM. (In fact, the family court judge ruled that the child would be at an extremely high risk of suffering the abusive practice if deported because her wider family support FGM although her mother opposes it.)

It is clear that asylum applications need to be more aware of  the impact of a deportation on the physical wellbeing of children.

The child’s mother “has PTSD and has been in and out of courts for eight years, she should not be put through the gruelling process of making a further application for asylum on behalf of her daughter. And Xxxx, at the age of 11, should not be compelled to make her own asylum claim, a daunting prospect for any child,” reads an  open letter signed by prominent lawmakers including  Ed Davey and Jeremy Corbyn.

There is overwhelming evidence to support this child being granted refugee status. In the case of Fornah in 2006, it was established that risk of FGM is a sufficient ground to grant refugee status.

If this at-risk child is not granted refugee status, then what child would meet such a high test?

Which leaves us with the worrying question: is she yet safe?

Suffolk County: LibDems and Greens lone voices against Sizewell

Conservative and Labour councillors at Suffolk County Council yesterday chose to not oppose the development of Sizewell C, despite acknowledging the irreparable harm it could cause to the Suffolk coastline and economy.

The Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group had proposed a motion asking Suffolk County Council to oppose the development of Sizewell C and set up a cross-party panel to consider whether the council should maintain its current ‘in-principle’ support for nuclear power.

However, the motion was lost after both the Conservative and Labour groups stated that they would not support it. There were just 12 votes in favour, 50 against and 4 abstentions.

The LDGI Stop Sizewellc speakers: Cllrs Caroline Page, David Wood (Proposer), Andrew Stringer (Seconder, replacing Elfrede Brambley Crawshaw), Penny Otton, Robert Lindsey, Inga Lockington Note their names & faces.Together with John Field  they made a stand for our future

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My speech:

Colleagues, we represent the people of Suffolk. But, in supporting Sizewell C it is as if their concerns and objections did not exist. 

Why would anyone support it?

Economic benefit?  We’re told Sizewell C will bring in £100m annually.  But the tourist benefit of the Suffolk Coastal AONB, coastal heaths – plus all  the natural environment around is £240m annually. Who will visit a building site?  Sizewell C will lose us money.

We’re told SIzewell will bring local jobs? Yet 75% of the workers will need purpose built accommodation. So, not very local.

Not forgetting Sizewell C will lose Suffolk Coastal  jobs by inflicting permanent damage to the tourist industry the Suffolk coast relies on – and for which it is famed.  Sizewell will trample over an AONB,  damaging a vital resource: the age-old countryside in which it sits.  What an own goal. 

As the sheriff says in Fargo: “All for a little bit of money.”

Our beautiful Suffolk coast is now rebranded the Energy coast. 7% of UK electricity will come from Sizewell. Yet the impact of building and running it will have a 100% impact on the Suffolk coast and its residents. And that impact is negative.

Do remember, the waste from Sizewell C will be stored “temporarily onsite” – just as the waste from Sizewell B is still being stored “temporarily onsite”. They’re still looking for solutions.  What will it cost? Who pays?

So, Suffolk gets to lose maybe £140million a year, for loss of AONB and ancient countryside, while gaining many years’ impact of building works, much additional traffic despite our green commitments, and the longterm problem of nuclear waste.

This is for a power plant that is already obsolete before it is built. With the advance of wind generated energy, the financial case for  nuclear power no longer adds up.

Sizewell does not make economic sense, environmental sense, common sense

Words like ‘mitigation,  compensation’ fall very short of addressing the destruction of an historic way of life for people and environment. When these words get used to describe the wholesale destruction of our countryside and way of life for no apparent gain whatsoever, it is time to halt this idiocy.

Colleagues, we all know Sizewell is a dinosaur. There is no need for us to play Jurassic Park.

News from the Woodbridge County Councillor for June 2020

COVID-19 Update

Latest Government advice is available here: www.gov.uk/coronavirus 

Latest SCC information is available here: https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/

As of 17 June, confirmed Covid deaths in Suffolk are:

Ipswich 351 255.2 per 100,000 resident
East Suffolk 623 251.0 per 100,000 resident
Mid Suffolk 183 178.5 per 100,000 resident
Babergh 153 167.4 per 100,000 resident
West Suffolk 235 131.4 per 100,000 resident
Suffolk 1,545 203.7 per 100,000 resident

This puts deaths in East Suffolk  significantly above the Suffolk average. It has the highest Covid death rate of any Suffolk  rural district.

Further opening of schools  From 1 June it was expected that school s would gradually begin to reopen to more pupils, in addition to accommodating children of key workers and vulnerable pupils.

The phased opening of schools was to start with pupils in nurseries, reception, year one and year six. Secondary schools and other schools such as pupil referral units and special schools will also gradually increase the number of children and young people they can accommodate. For secondary schools this will start with year 10 and year 12.

Suffolk County Council has been supporting schools in preparing for the possibility of increased pupil numbers and have provided all schools with a risk assessment checklist.  Schools did not uniformly open for more pupils from the first of June. The council has been clear from the outset that it supports school leaders in making their best endeavours to meet the government’s ambitions for wider opening, based on robust local risk assessment. Schools in Suffolk are very diverse and for some, opening to more pupils will be dependent upon staff availability, physical space and the logistics of social distancing and other issues that might emerge from school leaders’ risk assessments. Some schools have also chosen to delay opening to more pupils based upon their local interpretation of the SAGE advice and the position of some unions.

In Woodbridge, as of 20 June, Kyson, Woodbridge and St Mary’s Primaries have a bespoke offer for eligible pupils, as has Farlingaye High School. Contact the schools for details. The Caterpillar Childrens Centre remains closed but the clinic is being run at Framfield. As regards Childrens Centres in general, Cabinet will be looking at  their future on 6 July.

As I may remind you, they looked bleak in thre consultation, which gave no option except for closure.

Important: It is not compulsory for parents to send their children to school at this time and there will be no penalties for families who choose to keep children at home.

More information is available at: https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/parent-guidance-about-schools-during-covid-19-pandemic/

Mask wearing which I’ve been promoting from the start, despite some opposition, is becoming more and more de rigeur in public places, as people finally realise it was never about infection, but about transmission.. Essential on public transport, it is becoming an issue on school transport I have asked particularly what the county’s responsibilities are to the drivers of this transport – bearing in mind the London bus-driver mortality rate – but was told this was an issue for the contractors who provide the service.

Cycling and Pedestrian schemes This brings us on to cycling and pedestrian schemes. Country realises that it cannot afford the impact of the single use car usage that is is the outcome of the likely post-lockdown reduction in both public transport and public transport usage. In particular, having done their sums, county realises it is going to have significant problems with covid-secure school transport and is promoting walking and cycling as the way forward. Unfortunately not easy options in the countryside unless better provision is made for cyclists (and pedestrians, come to that). Yet currently the emphasis on spending the government’s cycling & pedestrian funding is on town schemes. I was on the cycling policy development panel and made a plea for rural dwellers and the need for inter small-town cycling. In Cabinet we were told that the programme is rolling and ears are open to new schemes.

My group have also been encouraging the county council to make more radical changes to the road layout to support cycling and walking. The Department for Transport has announced a £2bn package to boost cycling and walking capacity in the UK, and this is an opportunity for councils to tackle historic congestion problems by encouraging a change in the behaviours of their residents by giving a fairer share of road space to walkers and cyclists. I recommend that Woodbridge proposes the 20mph and calming  scheme  which is ready, agreed, designed, , supports both the towns pedestrians and cyclists, will take pressure off school transport if issues  occur later in the year, and may help take illegal cyclists off footpaths https://suffolklibdems.org/carolinepage/20mph-woodbridge/.

I am urging  Woodbridge Town Council to put forward the existing designed  20mph and calming scheme for Woodbridge if it has not already done so. Not only does it support pedestrians and cyclists within town, to school and to shops, but it will improve air quality: helpful, as air pollution is proven to be a factor in higher rates of covid deaths. As such, it will tick a lot of funding boxes.

I have just also put in a call for the A12 pedestrian/cycle path from near Ufford to join up with the new Woods Lane crossing.

Changes to pavements/roads to aid social distancing    Suffolk County Council has confirmed that local councils and communities can make some small-scale temporary changes to pavements without needing to seek consent from the county council. These will be local safety measures on pavements that outline queuing areas, social distancing reminders or simple painted markings on pavement surfaces for pedestrians. I congratulate Woodbridge Town Council on its work to provide a temporary closure in the Thoroughfare.

This will bridge the short gap until the long-delayed TRO agreed by the community two years ago but held up by CPE is put in place, as an emergency TRO. This will prevent all vehicular access to the Thoroughfare except for access to resident parking or delivery. Delivery  is limited to 15 minutes. As it is an emergency TRO we will have some months to decide whether this still fits the bill  for businesses, residents and shoppers -and to tweak it if it does not.

EDF submits application for Sizewell C DCO  On 27 May, EDF submitted an application for a development consent order for Sizewell C to the Planning Inspectorate. My group had written to Alok Sharma MP (Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), urging him to delay EDF Energy’s application for development consent for Sizewell C until after the Covid-19 crisis. We were very concerned over the ability of stakeholders to fully engage in consultations during the current crisis: professional bodies are coping with staff sickness and redeployment; members of the public are preoccupied with looking after ill friends and relatives and/or grieving; and local authorities are rightly focusing on keeping residents safe. It therefore does not seem appropriate to start a consultation on Sizewell C until social distancing restrictions are lifted.

And indeed, EDF’s decision to go ahead with an application during the current crisis, will be much more difficult for the public and stakeholders to fully scrutinise the plans and participate in the consultation process. 

I am particularly concerned in view of last minute changes made to Suffolk Coastal Local Plan which appear to make it significantly easier for the large energy companies to  develop our countryside with significantly smaller penalty or hindrance. There is still time to consult on these changes to the local plan. They are being consulted on, I believe, until  the first week of July. I urge both the council and individuals to read them and respond.

Suffolk coast  just before sunrise on midsummers day black foreshore and a blush of peach in the sky over the sea. in the distance you can see Thorpeness on a spur sticking out into the sea, and behind it, to the left, SizewellThe development of Sizewell C will have a catastrophic impact on the Suffolk countryside, particularly the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB (seen here at sunrise, on midsummers day. Sizewell can be seen to the left) . As well as the environmental damage, there are countless other problems with nuclear power as an energy source, including the risks of storing waste material. It is deeply disappointing that the Planning Inspectorate have approved EDF’s plans for Sizewell C and progressed them to the next stage. Given the current situation with coronavirus, it will be difficult to ensure proper engagement with local residents and stakeholders.”

The Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group will be submitting a motion for the 9th July Council meeting, calling on Suffolk County Council to publicly oppose the development of Sizewell C and retract any ‘in principle’ support for nuclear power. Suffolk County Council agreed to support the principle of nuclear power back in 2007 and hasn’t reconsidered its position since. We are calling on the current Council members to recognise that the world has changed since then – and its time our position changed too.”

Carers Week 2020. Carers week, two weeks back came and went with absolutely no interest from either county, the media or the public, with the sole – and noble – exception of BBC Radio Suffolk , who gave me a 10 minute interview on the subject.  I cannot tell you how shocking this is. There are at least 100,000 unpaid carers in Suffolk – 13% of the population. Looking after another 13%. It is clear  that most people, from our PM down are  either unaware or plain uncaring of the void of of difference between care workers (staunch, hardworking, poorly paid – but, crucially, paid) and unpaid carers , whose invisible lives are poorer, bleaker and seven times lonelier than other people’s.The lockdown has given the rest of the country a small taste of the isolation and sheer despair that is many carers’ lives for literally years on end.  Yet every unpaid carer becomes one in a heartbeat:  by a roadside, in a bedroom,  in a hospital – me as i was baking a cake. Carers are not other people. Thy could be you – at any moment.

Black Lives Matter: after a disturbing video shot in the centre of Woodbridge went viral, became  aware that  racism was well esconced in its midst and that it needed to change. More details here  https://suffolklibdems.org/carolinepage/2020/06/24/black-lives-matter/

Track & Trace Testing in Suffolk  The national failure to provide a service is a problem as our local service was planning on piggy-backing on the back of it.

However, for individual tests, there’s a regional testing centre for Suffolk and surrounding areas at the London Road Park and Ride, Copdock, Ipswich. It is open from 8am to 7pm, every day. I have had personal experience of being tested there and can assure you it is efficient – even if they are surprised if somebody turns up in a 2cv (no electric windows). There are also various mobile testing units across Suffolk. In addition, home testing kits can be requested. We have yet to hear however of any improvement on the 20- 25% false negative results.

More information on how to access a test in Suffolk is available at  https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/covid-19-testing-in-suffolk/

Domestic Abuse helpline available 24/7    The existing Domestic Abuse Outreach Service, run by Suffolk County Council and Anglia Care Trust, has extended its 0800 977 5690 freephone number to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Anyone with concerns including professionals who may be supporting clients, as well as friends and families who are concerned for loved ones, can access this local support.

Registrars & Coroners It has turned out that while County has made provision for providing both birth and death certification during lockdown, unfortunate wording on the website has left people under the impression they will have to wait 10 months to get a ‘Notice of Marriage’ for a civil marriage. I have investigated, and although these have been on hold for three months because each certificate requires a face-to-face meeting with both parties, all should now be (shortly) back on track. The minimum time is four weeks of working days, not 10 months.