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 £340,000 ( a seemingly large sum till you remember the £8million they wasted on the Orwell Crossing). Previously these passes were valid on Community Link transport everywhere but MidSuffolk.
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
On Thursday 19th I was due to second two motion proposed by the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group to develop a strategic costed cycling plan for Suffolk. The motion was proposed by my colleague Robert Lindsay, and – as I was unable to reach the meeting from my son’s graduation in Liverpool – seconded by another colleague, Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw (both Greens).
The first motion asked for a strategic, costed five-year cycling plan to be drawn up for Suffolk; secondly we asked for a commitment of 5% of the annual Integrated Transport Block (the equivalent of £160,000).
Both motions were vital: without a commitment of funding, it will be impossible to implement a cycling plan.
However, the Conservatives refused to commit any funding whatsoever to cycling infrastructure – thus managing to have their fiscal cake and eat it. Affordability is clearly a state of mind.
In the past, in the days when SCC was run by a Labour/LibDem coalition, SCC used to have a cycling team and a costed cycling infrastructure plan – which was allocated funds from the Transport budget every year. In 1995 the then Country Councillors voted to fully support plans to develop the Sustrans’ National Cycle Network routes in Suffolk and steady progress was made with this for several years.
Cycling budgets don’t just benefit cyclists. They assist other forms off travel. other modes of travel:
1) Most off-carriageway cycle infrastructure is designed to be of equal benefit to pedestrians e.g. shared use cycle paths; Toucan crossing; bridges – therefore ‘Safe Routes to School’ (for both cycling and walking).
2) More cycle commuters means less traffic on roads, leading to better journey times for those who really need their vehicles.
Since 2011, Suffolk and Ipswich were eligible for six sustainable travel grants from the Department for Transport, yet did not win a single one of these. By failing to commit a minimal amount of funding, it is likely that any future bids for funding will likewise fail.
Caroline Page, LibDem County Councillor for Woodbridge