Category Archives: Suffolk County Council

Woodbridge: Whats happening, February 2021

COVID-19 in Suffolk.

In Woodbridge itself there were 4 new infections in the week to 16 February. At 48.6 infections per 100,000  we are now below the national average, having been above last month.

For up-to-date data go to https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/ where you can search by postcode.

Head shot of person in blues sheepskin hat with earflaps. Her face is covered with a blue mask with white stars on it. Her eyes look apprehensive
Waiting for my jab. I had the Pfizer vaccination on Tuesday 16th

After a slow start  vaccinations in Suffolk are going very well. By Sunday 7th more than 1 in 4 residents had received at least one jab. This is a testament to the hard work and efficiency of our wonderful local healthcare teams and volunteers.

Last month I asked Public Health whether carers could not be vaccinated at the same time as the person they care for, and got what I felt to be a rather non-committal answer. Wonderfully this was not the end of the matter and, anecdotally at least, vaccination of carers along with those they care for is now beginning to happen which is very good news for community health in general.

Although the bad weather briefly closed the Woodbridge centre it was  up and running again. The latest news is that Woodbridge is opening a lateral flow testing site sjhortly.

Suffolk County Council Budget  The Suffolk County Council Budget was presented to Full Council last Thursday,  February 11th. Key points included:

  • This year’s budget strategy focuses on responding to COVID-19, delivering transformation savings, making use of the risk reserve for this year only to deal with one-off pressures, and looking ahead while continuing to adapt.
  • The net expenditure budget is £597.877m.
  • Basic council tax will be raised by 1.99%, the maximum amount allowable without a referendum.
  • The Social Care Precept will be raised by 2%, rather than the full 3% allowed.
  • £16.702m from risk reserves will be used to balance the budget.

CHart of Council Tax Band increases 21-22 SuffolkThe full detail can be found in the Cabinet papers from January 26th 2021. Link:

https://committeeminutes.suffolk.gov.uk/DocSetPage.aspx?MeetingTitle=(26-01-2021),%20The%20Cabinet

LDGI Group Budget Amendment My group constructed a Budget Amendment which was submitted alongside the administration’s Budget. Costingd and workings out were done after seeking advice from the SCC financial officers the The key change proposed by the LDGI Groupwould be to authorise the use of the full 3% social care precept, unlocking the maximum available funding without impacting SCC’s reserves. This would generate an extra £3.452m for social care at a cost of only £13.41 per year to a Band D household, freeing up general council tax funds to be spent on other projects and investments including:

  • £700k for establishing a COVID-19 grant scheme for Suffolk charities and arts & culture venues.
  • £500k for a solar energy scheme for Suffolk businesses.
  • £200k for creating an electric bike rental scheme for Ipswich and Lowestoft.
  • £500k to re-enable the use of concessionary bus passes on community transport and demand responsive transport across Suffolk.
  • £1m for a 30mph scheme to convert residential 30mph zones to a default speed limit of 20mph over four years.
  • £15k for a citizen’s assembly on how Suffolk can build back better while recovering from the pandemic.
  • £75k to enable community reviews of highways signage in the local area.
  • £50k to expand the flood management team to ensure SCC is applying for all flooding grants it is eligible for.
  • A demand-scoping exercise on where demand is for bus routes, a priority list for where future routes need to be, and a feasibility study on establishing an SCC-owned bus company to serve rural areas if commercial bus companies cannot.

The Conservative administration their budget through by a healthy margin, Labour abstaining on both the amendment and the budget vote.

WOman with earphones looking serious in front of shelves and shelves of books
Speaking on Zoom at the Budget meeting

By opting not to take the full 3% social care precept, the administration is voluntarily giving up £3.452m of funding for adult social care that must be made up from the general council tax fund, meaning that worthwhile projects such as those above cannot be pursued. I spoke specifically on the subject of bus pass usage and the inability of those entitled to them to use them on community and demand responsive transport due to a specific £300,000 cut in 2019. (The details for this are on my blog).

For full details you can watch the entire debate online on the County Council’s Youtube channel.

Dark figure of a woman holdong a red snow scraper with which she has scraped the pathe through the snow in the forground. Behind her is all white: a fairyland tunnel of snow covered branches with a little blue wheelbarrow in the distance
Clearing a path in the snow

Woodbridge Gritting: Although I started and funded the Woodbridge pavement gritting scheme 11 years ago and continued adding bins in subsequent years, the last few years have given us such mild winters that  people have dropped their guard a little.

In this last cold spell there were magnificent efforts from councillors of all parties plus a number of volunteers to make key pedestrian routes less lethal but I suggest that we need to feed in immediately all the areas people noticed as having a significant problem, a lack or bins or volunteers or all three. We also need to alert people as to the purpose of these bins. I was told off by one woman for taking sand from a bin because it was for ‘our hill’.

A12 scheme proposal: Seven Hills to Woods Lane Consultation The county is consulting on whether to spend £60million on various improvements to the We A12 between the A14 at Seven Hills and the A1152 at Woods Lane which will include dualling the section between the Seckford and Dobbies roundabouts and adding traffic lights at most roundabouts. This is a scheme which will have a great deal of local impact and on which there are likely to be many views so I would be grateful if to ensure as many residents as possible respond.

The consultation started on 9th February and will l continue until Friday 19 March.  All details are  available at  www.suffolk.gov.uk/A12improvements  During the consultation there will be two public virtual events to be held where people can hear a presentation on the proposals and then ask questions – details and link on the webpage.

Census 2021- next month The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have confirmed that the 2021 Census will go ahead as planned on Sunday 21st March 2021.

This is the first “digital-first” census, with people being encouraged to respond online on mobile phones, laptops, PCs or tablets. People can also complete the census over the phone, with the help of ONS trained staff, or by using the traditional paper form.

As  some individuals and communities may need support with the ‘digital-first’ approach, field officers will give help and encouragement to those who have not yet filled in their census questionnaire online or on paper after Census Day. They will be operating in the same way as a postal or food delivery visit. Field staff will never need to enter people’s houses; they will always be socially distanced, wear PPE and work in line with all government guidance.

The information the census collects is vital –  it helps plan and fund services in Suffolk:  transport, education and healthcare amongst other things. Charities also use census information to help get the funding they need. Businesses use it to decide where to set up, which creates job opportunities. It is important to take part.

A total of 94% of people took part in the last census in 2011, helping each county receive its share of public funding. Please help us beat that figure in 2021

Please see attached a Census Handbook designed specifically for Councillors. Links to this and other information are below:

Census 2021 and coronavirus – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/consultations-petitions-and-elections/census-2021

About the census – Census 2021

https://www.suffolkobservatory.info/

 

 

What’s been happening: my December report

I apologise that I continue unwell, after contracting Coronavirus at the beginning of November and am not yet back to normal working.

As  local Coronavirus figures are of especial interest to local residents, you can find regularly updated figures here:

https//digital.nhs.uk/dashboards/coronavirus-in-your-area

Suffolk Coronavirus update to 10 December
As of the 8 December there have been 8,103 total lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Suffolk of which I am one. In total there have been 1,064 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people. This is the lowest overall COVID-19 case rate in the East of England.

District case rate as of 8 December 2020

 

 

I am told that from 2 July, the number of lab-confirmed positive cases now includes those identified by testing in all settings (pillars 1 and 2). Pillar 2 refers to tests in commercial labs working in partnership with the NHS. Previously, only Pillar 1 confirmed cases were included (tests completed in NHS labs). Due to this change many cases previously not attributed to any area are now included in area totals. This is not a recent surge in cases – the cases now being reported occurred from April onwards. As the quality of this data continues to improve, these numbers may continue to fluctuate over time, but overall, case numbers and case rates in Suffolk remain low compared to the East of England and England as a whole.

Following the lifting of the four week national lockdown in England that ran from 5th November to 2nd December, all districts within Suffolk are in Tier 2.

In the 7 days up to the 8th December there have been 665 new cases of COVID-19 in Suffolk. This is an increase on the numbers in the previous week.

The rate of new weekly cases in Suffolk has increased and is now, at 76.6 cases per 100,000 people. This is below the rates for the East of England region (135.8 / 100,000) and for England as a whole (151.0 / 100,000).

In total, up to the 27th November, there have been 632 deaths in Suffolk where COVID-19 was recorded on the death certificate. There have been 20 COVID-19 related deaths in the last 7 days.The estimated ‘R’ value for the East of England is between 0.9 and 1.0 which has decreased in the last week, but remains slightly higher than the ‘R’ value for England (0.8– 1.0).

Pavement Parking Consultation Following the Government’s announcement of a consultation on potential reforms to the law on pavement parking – which I have mentioned in a previous report – I responded as Councillor for Woodbridge supporting option 3. I recommended other councillors and members of the public did the same. Like me, my group submitted a response supporting Option 3: a nationwide roll-out of a London-style ban on pavement parking.

Local Government Boundary Commission consultation on draft recommendations
My SCC LDGI Group submitted a response to this consultation, objecting to the proposed reduction in councillor numbers, which makes little sense given Suffolk’s growing population and the increase in councillor workload.
The Group also registered concern that the proposals from the boundary commission adhered too closely to suggestions received from the Conservative administration at the County Council. Some of the proposed division boundaries appear to divide traditionally non-Conservative communities and attach them to strongly Conservative areas. This means that the five council seats lost will largely impact non-Conservative councillors and increase the hegemony of the Conservative administration even further.
Finally, the Group objected to multiple instances of cohesive communities are being divided and lumped into divisions with other towns and villages with which they are not closely connected.
I as County Councillor, together with other persons and groups have put in co-ordinated revisions for Woodbridge, and the larger part of east Suffolk, in the hope of persuading the Boundary Commission to provide a more logical solution than the previous bizarre East Suffolk proposals.

County Councillors Local Highways budget As you know I have been saving my highways budget so that it could be used for the much needed calming and speed reduction measures to protect Woodbridge residents now, and so save from increased traffic in the future (particularly with the impact of Sizewell and Brexit). It has been a bone of contention with Suffolk Highways for the least years. Councillors were recently told that their budgets had to be committed by 10 December, or be lost by 31 December, but I have agreed with Highways that the Local Highway Budget funds set aside for this project are moved from the Suffolk Highways LHB team into the Transport Strategy team and be ring-fenced for my control.

Roadside sensors installed As part of the Live Labs trial project for ‘A Smarter Suffolk’, two roadside sensors will be installed during December:
• A roadside temperature sensor on a streetlighting column on the A12 near Woodbridge
• A salt use sensor inside a grit bin on Burkitt Road, Woodbridge (outside Woodbridge School)
Sensors are being deployed at different environmental conditions in urban, rural and coastal locations. It is hoped that these sensors – two of a variety the project is trialling: cameras with radars to measure vehicle classifications and volumes; road surface temperature sensors; air quality monitors; wind speed / direction gauges and gully monitoring sensors.
could revolutionise the way services are delivered by local authorities through the collection of more localised data from across the county.The two-year £4.4m ‘Smarter Suffolk’ research project (funded by the Department for Transport) will run until the end of 2021, supported by BT Adastral Park and the University of Suffolk as well as various sensor technology providers.

Successful biodiversity motion At Full Council on the 3rd December, the LDGI Group proposed a biodiversity motion, asking for:
• Delivery of an SCC biodiversity strategy.
• Assessment of how SCC can lead partner organisations in this field.
• Adoption of biodiverse land management options on SCC land.
• A letter to the Secretary of State calling for a clear and ambitious national biodiversity strategy
This was unanimously passed, which is excellent news for Suffolk.

OFSTED initial report on SCC’s SEND services released An initial report has been published by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) looking into the support for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Suffolk was one of eighteen local authorities taking part in the study to gather evidence to inform future national improvements for children and young people with SEND across Education, Health and Care.
The initial findings of the report suggest that SEND services were maintained during lockdown in Suffolk, and workers have increased collaboration and co-production. The stress level of young people and families had risen, but the County Council has established dedicated services to provide support, including distributing family support boxes to over 2000 families, and running a campaign called Back to School, aimed at helping SEND children transition back into school life.The findings of the initial report can be read here: https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/assets/council-and-democracy/council-news/Area-SEND-Interim-visit-summary-note.pdf

Carers Rights Day took place on 26 November with even less than Suffolk’s usual lack of official concern. This year the Covid pandemic has made the situation for Britain’s unpaid carers – statistically more often women than men – worse than ever. New research published by charity Carers UK shows that unpaid carers provided support valued at £530 million for every day of the pandemic. Some was due to the increase in those needing care because of the pandemic but part of this increase was because much of the limited support enjoyed by carers evaporated in lockdown.
As I am sure fellow members of the Woodbridge Emergency Response Group can testify.

 

What’s happening – Woodbridge, Sept 2020

Caterpillar Centre closure & other changes to go ahead, despite opposition challenge  On 25 August, County Cabinet agreed to reduce the number of Children’s Centres in Suffolk from 38 to 17 full-time & 11 part-time Family Hubs. 8 centres will be repurposed for nurseries or SEND provision, whilst 2 will close permanently (Chatterbox in Ipswich and Caterpillar in Woodbridge).

The council has said that this is not a cost-saving exercise and that any savings will be used to fund additional staff for outreach work.
My group worked with the Labour group to collectively challenge the Cabinet’s decision at Scrutiny. We were given leave to question only the finance and the outreach proposals. I substituted for one of our group’s two regular scrutiny members. You can find our questions here https://suffolklibdems.org/carolinepage/2020/09/20/caterpillar-childrens-centre-lost-despite-our-best-endeavours/

Trading Standards I want everyone to make local residents aware of the ‘you must renew your washing machine (or some such appliance ) insurance’ scam that is doing the rounds by telephone. Recently an elderly Woodbridge resident was very nearly coerced into believing she should pay a significant sum of money by direct debit, because these heartless scoundrels insisted she had made a verbal agreement over the phone. The line is “they are renewing your insurance.” This is not the case.

Current Suffolk school transport arrangements, and other issues Suffolk County Council has confirmed that it will initially not be offering spare seats on school transport. This is due to social distancing requirements, which have reduced the capacity on school buses. However, parents may be able to apply for a spare seat from October half term.
The council has also confirmed the arrangements for masks and social distancing on school transport. The rules vary depending on the type of transport used:
• Dedicated closed routes (vehicle only carries school children) – social distancing will not apply, face coverings are recommended for children aged 11+
• Shared routes (most passengers are pupils, but may be some members of the public) – pupils should observe social distancing guidelines with members of the public but they can sit next to members of their family or school, face coverings are mandatory unless a child is exempt from wearing one
• Public transport – social distancing will apply, face coverings are mandatory unless a child is exempt from wearing one
There continue to be concerns and anxieties about schooling. At the end of Sept I asked  the Director for Children and Young People’s services the following questions:
• How many Suffolk schools have reported Covid infection or potential Covid contact incidents since the beginning of Autumn term 2020?
• What % children returned to school? Have they stayed there? Is full-class teaching the norm?
• What planned educational support is offered to children in care if their school locks down?
• Was there a Suffolk increase in reported child abuse stats after lockdown lifted?
• Given the numbers of schools outside local authority control, how can we best (or can we?) get a picture of children’s health and educational engagement across the county?
• Can you confirm the government’s statement that in the event of a second lockdown, schools will stay open?
• It became clear the care home infections were largely caused by peripatetic staff. As I asked before, is Suffolk tracking the movements of peripatetic school staff (music, language teachers, supply teachers etc?) If not why not?

(Do contact if you want the answers)

SizewellC – SCC withdraws support – but you must register to continue protesting In an amazing and welcome volte face Cabinet managed to approve a paper on Tuesday, recommending that ‘while the Council was always minded to support a new power station in principle – it cannot support the proposals as they stand today. “(Strangely, this is what my group asked of them in July but they voted en masse against https://suffolklibdems.org/carolinepage/2020/07/10/libdem-green-sizewell-vote-lost-suffolk-tories-and-labour-join-forces-to-vote-it-down/)

A reminder: If you want to continue commenting – or indeed objecting – to Sizewell C you must register with the planning inspectorate by 30 September, with a brief outline of your concerns . I have registered my objections as elected county councillor for a division affected by this proposed development. https://suffolklibdems.org/carolinepage/2020/09/17/register-fast-to-protest-sizewellc/

2025_Extraordinary Proposed New County Council divisions
Key to proposed new division names

New Boundaries proposed for Suffolk County Council seats
Despite having said it had abandoned the project, the boundary commission has now come up with its new slimline county council boundaries – and they bear no resemblance to those proposed by me or by Woodbridge Town Council. These will not be implemented till 2025 but will be decided on relatively soon.

They are bizarre in the extreme.

Proposed new Woodbridge division (32) loops neatly around Melton to take in Ufford on the other side. Why do the Conservatives, who proposed this, fear linking Melton to Woodbridge? Rhyme or reason is there none

The new Woodbridge boundary (32) would continue to have the boundary division down the middle of Pyches Road, dividing the community in half. It then skatesneatly around the whole of Melton but loops back to include Ufford!

The multiple Woodbridge community connexions with Melton (including having the Woodbridge CP IN Melton Parish , has been ignored.The Boundary Commission tells us that this extraordinary and  unreasonable proposal is the local Conservative group proposal. It has neither rhyme nor reason. Of course Melton has an identity of its own – but surely it is closer to Woodbridge  than Hollesley, Bawdsey, Rendlesham and the other Wilford parishes to which they are proposing it should be joined instead.

It  excludes  many people who consider themselves residents of Woodbridge excluded by the completely bonkers line down the middle of Pyches road, which makes them now Wilford  residents – linked  with the division across the Deben – to Hollesley, Bawdsey and all the land up to just below Aldeburgh.

It includes people who would not define themselves as residents of Woodbridge –  the residents of Ufford for example, who are geographically on the same Old Yarmouth Rd as excluded Melton – but further away. It’s crazy.

It is almost as if the Conservatives designed this,  hoping that this topsy turvy division might finally deliver Woodbridge back into their hands.  (But of course no party would be so inappropriate.)

Sadly they appeared to have misread the conditions. “You cannot split a parish,” declared a longstanding ex-District Councillor. He had clearly forgotten  that the Woodbridge county division already contains a section of Martlesham parish (one side of California, Dukes Park and the whole of the Fynn estate…)

Among the many additional issues of this whole unnecessary exercise I must point to the utter fatuity of division 19 created out of much of Carlford and Wickham (to be called Grundisburgh and Wickham Market.) In reality this stretches from Tuddenham St Martin and Westerfield next to Ipswich to Stratford St Andrew and Farnham at the other end. Again, an exercise in creating a division that cannot be reasonably represented and is not representative.

This at a time when county councils are already being asked by government to do more for less, and people are losing touch with who represents them.

The final consultation for the next stage of the boundary review is here: Look at the map, read the justifications, and respond before NOVEMBER – please – in the name of local democracy. https://consultation.lgbce.org.uk/have-your-say/18495

Infrastructure Board established to oversee costs of large projects It has emerged that Suffolk County Council established an Infrastructure Board in November 2019 to oversee large infrastructure projects and ensure they remain within budget. This is in response to a number of recent projects where costs have increased dramatically, including the Upper Orwell Crossings which was eventually abandoned after costs increased by £43m.
The board is currently only made up of officers.
Co-incidentally, though Cabinet has recently given final approval for the Lowestoft Lake Lothing Third Crossing, the cost of the bridge is now much higher than originally estimated. The report prepared for Cabinet estimated that the total cost of delivering the bridge is £126.75m, with an additional £19m allocated as a contingency for any unforeseen risks. The original estimate was £91.73m.