The Jetty Lane launch at the Table, Woodbridge: There were so many people attending, we had to have the speeches outsideA year ago Suffolk thought we had seen off devolution. At the end of this year, we are once again looking at proposals for change in many arenas. A lot of things have happened in Suffolk over the last 12 months. Here are some of the most important to people locally.
Leadership changes at Suffolk County Council Following the departure of Deborah Cadman, Suffolk County Council has appointed Nicola Beach (executive director of infrastructure and environment at Essex County Council) as new Chief Executive, She will start work this summer. This is not the only change. Cabinet Member for Environment, Public Protection and Broadband Matthew Hicks challenged the hard right leadership of the Conservative leader, Colin Noble, supported by head of Scrutiny, Mary Evans – and won. The personality of the leader of the council has a strong impact on how it is run.
Last May, my party joined with the Greens and Independents to create the Lib Dem Green and Independent Group on Suffolk County Council and I had the privilege to be appointed the first (and only) Group Spokesperson for Women in the county. The group has had a number of successes in this last year: opposing the School Transport changes, calling successfully for the abolition of single use plastics in Suffolk, exposing the council’s gender pay-gap and supporting an urgent review of the transition arrangements for WASPI women. At the recent LDGI group AGM I was elected Deputy Leader.
Ex -Suffolk CC Leader Colin Noble unilaterally commissioned (expensive) report on council change Ex-leader of Suffolk County Council, Cllr Noble unilaterally commissioned think-tank Respublica to look at unitary options to run Suffolk. This greatly angered Suffolk’s seven district and borough council leaders, two of whom (Waveney’s Mark Bee and Mid Suffolk’s Nick Gowrley) are also county councillors, because the decision was taken without consultation . They wrote an open letter distancing themselves from this decision. The review was costed around £70,000. It however appears now to be on hold.
Jetty Lane CiC takes off Having been awarded a 125 year lease by Suffolk County Council in December, fundraising has started in earnest for the Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts Centre in Woodbridge. This will – as you know – provide facilities for the many local groups left homeless when the Woodbridge youth centre was pulled down last year. Apart from Just42, who currently are living in 2 shipping containers onsite, all other past users have failed to find suitable permanent accommodation in Woodbridge, because there is a clear lack of appropriate alternative facilities.
Jetty Lane directors gave up an entire week of the spring half-term to staff a public consultation at Woodbridge library to show the plans to the community and to get feedback. This showed once again the strength of support this project has from the people of the town.
The launch took place in April when the first bids for this exciting and sustainable heritage project went out.
Thoroughfare Solution? In late 2016 I regrouped the Thoroughfare Working Party to try and tackle the continuing issues of traffic in the Thoroughfare – balancing the needs of residents, visitors, traders, shoppers, pedestrians and (necessary) vehicle users. The aim was to try and find consensus to improve footfall and preserve the future of the Woodbridge Thoroughfare in all its aspects. There were two different issues with different enforcement needs (driving through and parking).Having come up with three workable potential solutions, the Thoroughfare Working Group held a public consultation on proposed changes to the Traffic Regulation Order in The Thoroughfare.
The results of this initial consultation showed that option 2b was the most popular (ie: No access at any time except permit holders and loading/unloading. This will include disabled drivers. This result has the backing of the Disability Action Suffolk Forum.) This would mean. The minimum lorry weight restriction will be removed. The new restrictions will be in force 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Parking will only be allowed in signed bays, which will be better marked. The signage both on the approach to the Thoroughfare, and in the road, will be much simpler and will show it as a pedestrian zone.
The next stage of the consultation will ensure that all those that may be affected by the proposed changes can have their say before we move to the final stage formal TRO consultation next year by Suffolk County Council.
I wish here to pay tribute to the late Tony Buckingham Woodbridge’s community engineer, who worked hard and productively with the group throughout the year , and who was working on the next stage when he sadly died tragically young earlier this year. His work was greatly appreciated and he will be greatly missed.
County Council Budget 2018-19 hits the most vulnerable Despite increasing council tax by 4.99% in 2018-19, Suffolk County Council will still be facing a budget gap and is responding with cuts of £23.9m. The majority of this will come from the Adult and Community Services budget, with an £11m cut achieved through “mitigation of care purchasing demand increases” and a £1m cut to the Sheltered Housing Grant. Other damaging cuts include reductions in funding to Citizens Advice and reduced subsidies for rural passenger transport, both of which impact most upon the most vulnerable.
Local Planning Development Controversies Various developments have been concerning local residents this year, not least because many are finding it harder and harder to afford to live in the town while most people are reporting driving and parking problems.
The two most egregious examples highlighted different problems: the infamous so-caĺled ‘Cheese Wedge’ development of the ex-Suffolk Coastal District Council offices showed that the district council planning department has a degree of power that has so far appeared to trump reasoned and strong objections from both County and Town Council, and many interested and well-qualified groups and individuals, as well as local opinion. The Woods Lane development showed how development outside the town – and about which residents could have no say – could impact heavily upon the town in order to build housing that was in no sense ‘affordable’.
An additional point: Woodbridge has recently agreed a 20mph zone and additional calming for the entire town. One of the principle rationales was the impact of heavy traffic on our medieval town and to discourage rat-running on the B1438 which separates the town from the riverside. The problems encountered during the Woods Lane diversion only underline why the scheme is needed. The scheme however needs funding. I would therefore urge SCDC and SCC Highways to work together, using development money earmarked for community benefit, to benefit that community most harmed by these works – ie Woodbridge itself.
Highways Operation It was recently reported that Suffolk County Council had repaired 6500 potholes since the start of the year. However, there are still a number of issues with the way Highways carry out their repairs, and this headline figure does not paint an accurate picture of the situation in Suffolk. In 2016 Suffolk’s administration agreed a new Highway Maintenance Operational Plan with contractors, Kier, and towards the end of 2016 extended their contract early – despite their record of appalling performance.
We were promised that this would result in a much more unified and strategic way of working between SCC and contractors Kier to try and make things work more efficiently, meaning that the Highways small schemes backlog – created solely by this administration’s ideologically driven decision to outsource the contract in the name of efficiency savings – would clear at long, long last. This has not occurred.
Indeed the design for Woodbridge’s 20mph and calming plan – which I asked for following its approval back in February 2017 – did not occur or even begin to get started over this entire year. Indeed they now seem to be endeavouring to forget that the decision has been made! Fortunately I put all the paperwork on my blog the moment the decision was made so that I am able to refer people there when they suggest they do not know, have access to, or remember details of the decision makingf.
The roads are currently worse than they have ever been, county and government funding is ever less, and the Highways team are currently struggling to keep up with the need for repairs across the county. They are therefore resorting to temporary repairs which are quicker to complete than permanent repairs. They have recently introduced a more expensive temporary material that is supposed to last slightly longer. However, these pothole repairs will undoubtedly need to be repeated in the coming months as the temporary material deteriorates. Whether this represents value for money for Suffolk residents is an important question.
Suffolk Highways have also stated that they are “blitzing” whole areas of the road at once, rather than making multiple trips to the same area. However, it is important to note that they are only ‘blitzing ‘ those potholes that meet their intervention criteria which means that the blitz might not look much like a blitz to the external eye..
Swallows Nesting Restored to Woodbridge Station After I put our residents’ concerns about the destruction of swallow nesting at Woodbridge station to Greater Anglia, the issue was taken up by BBC Radio Suffolk, the EADT and social media. And the company listened and took the matter seriously.
On March 19 Greater Anglia installed two RSPB clay swallow boxes at the very places where the swallows have traditionally nested.
County Councillor’s Surgery My regular monthly open access County Councillor’s surgery in the library, is now in its 8th year, continues to bring in more and more people from across an ever-wider sector of Suffolk Coastal. It is clear that residents would be grateful if their own county councillors held open-access monthly surgeries. Overwhelming issues are parking, speeding, road surfaces, and pedestrian problems. However I deal with problems as diverse as deportations, youth issues, special educational needs, disability needs, social care crises, homelessness, and charitable organisation support.
Locality Spending My Locality budget spending this year has covered such diverse grants as: new sessions for the New Horizons Lunch Club, a grant towards the defribrillator in Warwick Avenue, leafletting the entire town on behalf of both our local doctors’ surgeries’ PPGs on the benefits of Social Prescribing, in addition to a grant for preplanning work for the Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts centre
Suffolk County Council revealed its Gender Pay gap last week, days before the legally required deadline of 30 March. It showed that although the Council employs nearly three times as many women as men, there’s still a significant Gender Paygap in favour of men.
The County Council’s mean Paygap is 14.8% (2.6% below the national average) , the median, at 18.6%, above the national average. In other words SuffolkCC employs very few men but they are overrepresented in the better paid sectors and underrepresented in the less well paid sectors. (All the statistics refer to the hourly pay rates of full-pay employees so part-time status does not explain the gap).
As LDGI Spokesperson for Women, I asked Suffolk County Council’s Deputy Leader Jane Storey in full council last week whether this gap may be because Suffolk also has a gender data gap? My questions may sound illogical coming from a Spokesperson for Women, because they concerned the rights of men.
“We say we have an occupational maternity scheme. Do we have an occupational paternity scheme? Do we actively promote paternity leave? We say we encourage flexible working – is that for men as well as women? What are the outcomes? We say we run positive recruitment campaigns to encourage women into roles in traditionally male areas. Are there campaigns to encourage men into traditionally female areas? “ I asked.
The bottom line is, “Unless we take a gender-neutral attitude and support everyone at work equally, women tend to be the ones who generally sacrifice fulltime work, career and salary and end up paid less – and the gender paygap will continue. Men will also lose out – but in other ways. They too need support to prevent this happening. “
I also queried the comments of the SCC spokesperson who attributed our Gender Paygap to women working part-time. This comment shows a complete misunderstanding of the figures we had been given. “Does SCC understand its own stats?” I asked.
The Deputy Leader’s response was confused and also suggested a profound misunderstanding of the subject. “I struggle to point out how good an employer we are in terms of women,” she told us – with uncanny prescience – adding “The only way to reduce the gender paygap is to not employ women and to employ men.”
(Can anyone see the fault in this logic?)
According to Cllr Storey, the issue was not – as one might suspect – that SuffolkCC employs too many women on too low a wage, but that “we employ women because that is probably better suited to their characteristics…. Most women are naturally caring,” she claimed. (And therefore don’t want to be paid or promoted to their capacities? Stands to reason! Of course).
Such a response is very concerning. Resorting to talk of “nature” and so-called essential differences between men and women as an explanation for the gender pay gap obscures the real problem and makes it much more difficult to resolve: we need to be confronting these gender stereotypes, not reinforcing them.
Digging herself ever further into a slough of sexist stereotypes, Cllr Storey then gave the chamber the example of Virgin Atlantic Airline where “figures are very much skewed towards men because they tend to employ male pilots, male engineers…”
All this shows (apart from suggesting interesting employment practices on the part of Virgin Atlantic Airlines) is that Suffolk county council’s administration does not understand the Suffolk Gender Paygap problem – they therefore cannot be the best people to put it right.
Suffolk’s School Transport Consultation This finished at the end of February. I hope that Woodbridge Town council put in a response, as I aAsuggested in my report last month, bearing in mind the impact these proposals will have on everybody in the town.
I obviously responded with my own concerns, and held an awareness-raising stall in the Woodbridge Thoroughfare the Saturday before the consultation finished. This resulted in 25-30 new submissions. Additionally, Suffolk County’s LibDem Green & Independent Group put in a group response, which I attach (below).
Concerns raised over accountability and transparency of Suffolk Public Sector Leaders Board The Suffolk Public Sector Leaders Board (SPSLB) is made up of council leaders and chief executives from across Suffolk, as well as the PCC, chief fire officer and representatives from Suffolk’s Clinical Commissioning Groups. Some of these are elected and some, as you can see, are not. The SPSLB controls a large pot of money, made up of £7.447m from the Suffolk business rates pool and £3.23m of central government funding received as part of the Transformation Challenge Award. Continue reading March: what has been happening in Suffolk