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Caterpillar Children’s Centre lost, despite our best endeavours

The LibDem, Green and Independent group joined forces with Labour to “call in” to Scrutiny  Suffolk’s recent decision to close or alter Childrens Centre provision throughout Suffolk. The 4 opposition members (I was one) asked probing and important questions to back the points made by our call-in speakers: LibDem Penny Otton and Labour’s Jack Abbott. Additionally there was an excellent statement from LDGI group leader, Elfrede Brambly Crawshawe.

However Scrutiny is a numbers game: there are double the number of Conservative members to opposition ones on the committee – most of the latter being obedient silent sheeple who ask no questions at all – but vote as they are told to. The vote therefore went against us.

As the public meeting was recorded (like Cabinet and Full Council), I would like to say to you “Watch the questions, observe for yourselves the Conservative members complete silence, notice the fumbling, incomplete attempt at explanation when anomalies were brought to light – and then ponder the majority vote which went against reason (but not against Conservative party policy).

Sadly, SCC seems to have destroyed the recording, leaving very minimal minutes. Could it be that Scrutiny is THE one remaining public meeting where the Conservatives are publicly held to account, without the chance of wriggling off the hook with a series of grandstanding speeches?

I think we should be told.

In the meantime – I did my best, but the Caterpillar goes.

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The questions I and fellow LibDem John Field asked are below:

  • This Scrutiny report actually contradicts the report given to Cabinet, on which the decision was made. Here it says that outreach will cost an average of £4300 per centre per year, which will provide 4 group sessions per week (term-time only) at £30 per session. By contrast, in Appendix I of the Cabinet report it stated that outreach sessions for Caterpillar would cost £23,500 a year – not £4,300. It said this sum eould cover at least 11 two-hour sessions per week (for 52 weeks a year) at a cost of £20 per hour, or £40 per session. If only £43,000 is available for outreach, that would leave just £19,500 for the other 9 centres – or an average of just £2167 each. Can you please explain why we have got completely different information than what was given to the Cabinet, and what the actual budget for outreach is per centre? Were the Cabinet given incorrect information, or have the Scrutiny Committee been given incorrect information?I
  • In paragraph 8 you outline the various costs associated with each centre that is being closed or repurposed, and then state the amount that will be saved by closing each one. However, we will still own the buildings – so surely SCC will continue to pay for costs such as security, utilities and maintenance, even if it comes from a different department’s budget. Is this really a saving, or are you just moving the cost over to another budget in SCC?
  • If the early help budget is so severely underspent by £1.4m for each of the last 5 years (according to Scrutiny paragraph 9) it is very hard to understand why it was deemed necessary to close the 10 children’s centres in the first place. Why was this spare budget not used to pay for additional outreach and staff, whilst also maintaining the current number of children’s centres?o
  • How hve you calculated that the average cost of hiring a village hall is £30 per session, and why is this evidence not included in the response? Have you undertaken a desktop study of the rates and availability of village halls in the outreach areas for all the centres that are being closed? From my experience, £30 is at the very low end of the scale for hiring costs. Woodbridge I am having to raise £3.5m for Jetty Lane, because SCC failed to maintain and then pulled down a youth centre that could have provided this hire. In addition, many of the cheaper venues are likely to be in isolated rural locations and may not have accessible facilities such as disabled toilets/access or baby changing rooms.u
  • Suffolk libraries are being encouraged by SCC to run as an independent business and will increasingly need to generate their own funding. What evidence do you have for your assertion that any future outreach sessions in libraries will be free of charge? Has this been agreed with Suffolk Libraries? For how long? Whilst they may currently offer one free session a week, I think it is very likely that they would start charging if we were wanting to use their premises more often. It also may not be viable for there to be frequent outreach sessions in libraries. Eg do you have any evidence to suggest that libraries would be happy with the idea that there could be 4 outreach sessions a week?
  • I’m very concerned by the lack of analysis over safeguarding issues within this outreach model, particularly with regards to the use of public libraries as venues for outreach sessions with young children. Have safeguarding issues been analysed by officers ,and if so why wasn’t this included in the report to Cabinet?a
  • You state that the outreach budget will be increased if necessary. Is there an upper limit to this, and where will the additional funding come from? (I asked this twice as I got no answer the first time. Not the second time either)
  • You have suggested that the outreach funding would allow there to be 4 group sessions run per week. How does this compare to the number of group sessions that are currently provided by these centres?
  • You dismiss the chances of “clawback” of significant sums the govt invested in two centres Caterpillar being one). As member for Woodbridge, why was this money not invested in keeping the old Youth Centre in good repair? You would then have an appropriate venue you could also hire out. Instead you tore it down, left 30 groups homeless,and invested govt money in a lease for an inappropriate building which you say is not fit for purpose. (You wouldn’t believe the patronising inaccuracies I was fobbed off with as a response to this. Disgraceful)

 

News from the County Councillor: August 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/

I am unable to say at the time of writing (16 August) what impact the sudden abolition of Public Health England on 15 August will cause to local services.

Sudden closure of Age UK Suffolk  Age UK Suffolk ceased operations from Friday 24 July. This is a huge loss for our county, and I know that many residents will be concerned about the loss of vital support for themselves or elderly friends/relatives.Age UK stated that it had faced a number of financial challenges in recent years, and the impact of the pandemic on fundraising was the final    straw.  My group expressed public concerns about Suffolk’s vulnerable elderly residents who may struggle to cope, particularly given the current Covid-19 pandemic.We warned Suffolk County Council that this highlights the need to continue financially supporting charities and community organisations who provide support to vulnerable Suffolk residents.
Suffolk County Council  needs to remember it relies on such organisations and the care they provide to our residents, which prevent many people needing more intensive support from the council.
Suffolk County Council has published details of alternative sources of support:

https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/age-uk-suffolk/

Proposed changes to Highway Code to improve road safety will benefit cyclists and pedestrians  Wonderfully, the Department for Transport is currently consulting on amendments to the Highway Code to improve safety for vulnerable road users. The changes include the introduction of a “hierarchy of road users”, making clear that those road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others. Other amendments include guidance on pedestrian priority when crossing roads and guidance on safe passing distance when overtaking cyclists.

Road safety issues are an increasing problem on Suffolk roads, especially in rural areas. They form a significant part of my own increasingly heavy workload as Vice Chair of the Education Transport Appeals Panel, which now sits for a full day, twice a month hearing school transport appeals. For many Suffolk children, it simply isn’t an option to walk or cycle to school because it isn’t safe.

These proposed changes to the Highway Code will do much to protect pedestrians and cyclists. Most importantly, the new hierarchy of road users makes it clear that those road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others. I will have been on local radion this weekend on a prerecord putting this message out. Please could everyone respond and encourage others to do the same.

The government’s consultation ends on 27 October 2020 and is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/review-of-the-highway-code-to-improve-road-safety-for-cyclists-pedestrians-and-horse-riders

Delay for children’s centre cuts after error spotted in report  I am reminding you of this, remind you of this, which I touched on in my last month’s report. The Cabinet was due to approve changes to children’s centres on 14 July. However, an error was spotted in the report at the last minute, which resulted in the Chief Executive pulling the report from the meeting. It will now be discussed at the Cabinet meeting on 25 August.

There are currently 38 children’s centres in Suffolk. Under the proposed changes, this would be reduced to only 17 full-time and 11 part-time family hubs. Family hubs provide services for 0-19 year olds, whereas children’s centres currently provide services for 0-5 year olds. 8 centres would be repurposed for nurseries or SEND facilities, and another two centres will close completely, one of which is the Woodbridge Caterpillar. To remind you, Woodbridge Caterpillar centre was to be closed because, according to the report there were ample other venues in Woodbridge. The Caterpillar will remain open, as planned, to the end of its lease (2022), however no venues in Woodbridge had been identified beyond the GP surgery and the Library

As you recall, this was particularly contentious, as the closure seemed to reflect more about the length of the lease and quality of housing than local need for provision. None of which would have been an issue if SCC had not deliberately run down and then pulled down the pre-existing Youth Centre (now being rebuilt as Jetty Lane).

The Jetty Lane Centre boost The Jetty Lane Centre project in Woodbridge was given an amazing boost last month by the sudden, unexpected and very generous donation of 2 cabin classrooms by Eric Reynolds, of Woodbridge Boatyard. These can act as temporary activity spaces while the charity continues to raise the £3.5million required for the final building work.

The Jetty Lane Youth, Community and Arts Centre has been urgently required to fulfill unmet needs in Woodbridge since the previous longstanding Youth and Community Centre was demolished. And of course though the youth centre went, the need didn’t go away. Indeed, in cases  as with the proposed closure of the Caterpillar Centre (above), and the actual closure of AGEUK Suffolk (also above), the need has grown.   The social impact of coronavirus has made this need even greater.

The Spaces themselves were originally part of Trinity Buoy Wharf Jubilee Pier and are constructed from four 20 ft shipping containers. They will be ideal for small groups of people to meet in, they’re quirky, fun and centrally-located and will be an asset to our project and the wider community. Jetty Lane’s priority has always been to provide space for people to meet and use in Woodbridge at a cost that they can afford. These cabins will enable the charity to start doing that.

Climate emergency recommendations published  On 14 July, the Cabinet approved the recommendations of a cross-party policy development panel outlining how the council should respond to the climate emergency and reduce emissions. This follows a motion from my group in March 2019, which declared a climate emergency and committed the council to be carbon neutral by 2030.

Key recommendations include:

  • All future decisions must take into account carbon emissions
  • Annual publication of a carbon budget alongside the financial budget
  • Publish a cross-council action plan by the end of 2020 for net zero emissions across Suffolk
  • Changing to a 100% renewable energy tariff
  • Replacing all pool cars and service vehicles with fully electric vehicles by 2025
  • Develop an investment programme for renewable energy generation on the county farms estate
  • For all existing council buildings (including maintained schools), switch away from oil, LPG and natural gas use by 2030 and invest in onsite renewable energy generation
  • Provide advice for academies/free schools to develop their own net zero emissions plans

 

Trinity Buoy Wharf Cabins: big boost for Woodbridge’s Jetty Lane

Due to the generosity of Eric Reynolds, ( owner of Woodbridge Boatyard and founding director of Urban Space Management) Jetty Lane have been gifted cabin classrooms from Trinity Buoy Wharf so the charity can start addressing the huge pool of unmet need in greater Woodbridge, while  continuing to fundraise for the building.

The Jetty Lane Centre project in Woodbridge was given an amazing boost last month by the sudden, unexpected and very generous donation of 2 cabin classrooms by Eric Reynolds, of Woodbridge Boatyard. These can act as temporary activity spaces while the charity continues to raise the £3.5million required for the final building work.

“The Jetty Lane Youth, Community and Arts Centre has been urgently required to fulfill unmet needs in Woodbridge since the previous longstanding Youth and Community Centre was  of course demolished.And though the youth centre went, the need didn’t go away. In fact, as Woodbridge has become more expensive there has been much less affordable and available accommodation for community groups. Now, the proposed closure of the Caterpillar Childrens Centre, the sudden closure of Age UK and therthe effects of the pandemic have increased this problem.  We could not have received a better gift at a more appropriate time!

The Spaces themselves were originally part of Trinity Buoy Wharf Jubilee Pier and are constructed from four 20 ft shipping containers. “They will be ideal for small groups of people to meet in, they’re quirky, fun and centrally located and will be an asset to our project and the wider community,” says ViceChair Caroline Rutherford. “Jetty Lane’s priority has always been to provide space for people to meet and use in Woodbridge at a cost that they can afford. These cabins will enable us to start doing that  – and people will be able to see we are doing it.”

 

“When we were fortunate enough to get a phone call offering us these cabins, we jumped at it” says Cllr Page. “Eric Reynolds is definitely Renaissance man: both Man of Thought and Man of Action. He thought we would find them useful, and when we said yes please, they were on our site -practically before we could blink – with Eric, in his overalls, very much at the forefront of getting them installed. We cannot thank him enough.”

Eric has set up and ran/runs some of the most important people places in London since the early 1970’s including Camden Lock Market, Spitalfields Old Fruit and Vegetable Market, Gabriels’ Wharf, and Trinity Buoy Wharf and winner of the Regeneration & Renewal “Lifetime Achievement Award” for Regeneration in 2012.

Project Manager Cordelia Richman confirms: “Jetty Lane has achieved so much since 2017 but it hasn’t been visible. Now that we have the Activity Spaces everyone can see where Jetty Lane will be and our vision for the site is clear. As soon as we’ve completed a basic refurbishment of the Activity Spaces we will start putting them to use providing facilities for our community.”

MAKE A DONATION
Will you help build Jetty Lane to make a positive and lasting difference for local people?
Go to www.jettylane.org and click on DONATE or Telephone 01394 383128 or Email info@jettylane.org