Category Archives: women

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 COUNCIL VOTES TO FAIL WOMEN!

EADT coverage of SCCs failure to address gender data gap

Following International Women’s Day I put a motion at a full meeting of Suffolk County Council calling for a pdp*  to be formed to improve outcomes for girls. The motion also called for more detailed data by gender. Suffolk has an embarrassing gender gap and  much useful information is either not stored  or not collated by sex.

The motion recognised IWD ‘s  #BalanceforBetter campaign

Unfortunately Suffolk’s Tories – while claiming they backed the principal of the motion – voted against it on the specious grounds that “positive discrimination” would not help.

Er?  Since when was “establishing facts” confused with “positive discrimination”? Only in the woolly minds of those predetermined to pretend such discrimination exists.

Suffolk County Council currently has 29% women councillors, less than the 33% national average. The percentage of Conservative women councillors – 22% – is smaller than the total average.

This  off-beam decisionmaking  above demonstrates in all its inglory Suffolk’s Tory party insistance on deciding  – and whipping – their vote before listening to the argument.  Since when was equality and balance the same as positive discrimination?

Failing to support this motion is a major step backwards for gender equality. During the meeting  I said it was “disheartening and shameful” that the motion was voted down, and expressed my disappointment that my Tory colleagues opposite were so reluctant to look reality in the face.

The motion was talking about #BalanceforBetter which is a gender neutral term. Modern Suffolk has a high gender pay gap, high violence against women.

It seems that Suffolk’s Tories are  yet to fully engage with women and what they have to offer

*Policy development panels (PDPs) are formed of a crossparty selectionof councillors who meet to examine data, and look at ideas and solutions to tackle a specific problem, and present recommendations to cabinet.

What’s been happening: June 2018

  •  School Transport consultation: Suffolk County Council Cabinet will be only discussing a single (non-preferred) option On 19 June  the controversial changes to entitlement to school transport are being discussed by SCC’s Cabinet. Supporting documents from the consultation show overwhelming public opposition to proposed school transport change Options 1 and 2 (1 = immediate change of entitlement to nearest school only, and 2 = a staggered change); and overwhelming support for Option 3 (Make no changes and carry on as before, allowing travel to nearest and catchment and transport priority schools) . Entitlement is only if the eligible child is more than 2miles (under 8yo) and more than 3miles (8-16) from school and is attending. (There is not and has never been an entitlement to school transport for students living under this distance unless the route has been declared not safe to walk/ or over this distance if they attended through parental choice rather than place-entitlement)

Of the 3600 responses to Suffolk County Council’s home-to-school transport consultation, 85% “strongly oppose” and a further 5% “oppose” Option 1; 70% “strongly oppose” and a further 12% “oppose” Option 2. In contrast 73% of respondents strongly support, and another 10 ‘support’ retaining the status quo: Option 3. Option 3 is therefore very clearly the will of the people.
3.600 is the most responses received by any Consultation in recent years, and it is clear that parents, teachers and communities across Suffolk have very serious concerns.

Despite this, cabinet has decided on, and will only be discussing Option 2.

Back in March, the Conservative majority at Suffolk County Council voted unanimously against an opposition motion that would have allowed all councillors the chance to vote, unwhipped, on all the final school transport proposals, before the Cabinet makes a decision in June. This was unfortunate to put it mildly.

These proposals have been causing considerable concern to the county at large. They may also have a significant impact on Woodbridge – because it is a town containing 8 schools. Woodbridge Town Councillors will recall I raised this as a significant concern in previous reports to you (2018: March, February, January and passim). In these, I urged Woodbridge Town Council to respond to the consultation, both individually and as a formal body. I was particularly concerned because I had heard from SCC that there had been a low response rate from the East of the County. I have had neither acknowledgement nor confirmation as to whether Woodbridge Town Council did this, which is disappointing.

I also contacted Farlingaye High School to ask it to ensure parents were wholly aware of a need to respond, and gave up one Saturday morning just before the end of the consultation to hold an awareness-raising stall in Woodbridge Thoroughfare where local people could respond directly. We were responsible for about thirty responses from that morning alone.

It was clear that the people of Woodbridge had very little understanding of the impact Options 1 and 2 had to the town – a town with 7-8 local schools. Reducing eligibility for buses means that there will be significantly more cars driving on our streets and parking near our schools during the school rush.

Cabinet makes this decision on June 19th. I, along with my Group, have opposed the proposed changes since they were first announced in September and we will continue to raise our concerns at the Cabinet meeting.

New Council Leaders: Following a leadership challenge in the Conservative Group at the Council, Cllr Matthew Hicks has been elected as the new Leader of Suffolk County Council, replacing Cllr Colin Noble. His Deputy will be Cllr Mary Evans, former Chair of Scrutiny.

Cllr Hicks has promised a “new era” of politics at the Council, with a focus on mutual respect, collaboration and co-operation. We are hopeful that he might be more open to working with, and listening to, councillors from other parties (although the School transport paperwork is not encouraging).

The first major change has been the removal of the unwieldy and untransparent Cabinet Committees, only established in September 2017. They will be replaced by Policy Development Panels (although we do not currently have the full details on how these will operate.) These worked very well in the past: I worked with Mary Evans on the former Transport PDP where we created the new speed panel frameworks were created. This may be a hopeful sign for the 20mph and associated calming in Woodbridge.

In other news there has been a change in Leadership in my group. 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, in addition to Spokesperson for Transport and Adult Care. 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, the Leadership moved to Green Cllr Andrew Stringer, and I was elected Deputy Leader.

Woodbridge 20mph zone and Thoroughfare scheme are both now finally showing signs of progression. I have had an outline design for the 20mph and associated calming scheme created and costed; the Town Clerk has applied for £100,000 CIL money to help fund this. Cllr Patricia O’Brien wants to be involved at the Martlesham end. I have asked her to inquire of our colleague Cllr Nicoll if he has any interest in forwarding the part of the scheme that is on the Melton Woodbridge division border. We are meeting with officers in a couple of weeks.

Bollards in the Thoroughfare We have been advised by Disability Action Suffolk that these need painting in order to make them more visible to visually impaired pedestrians. I have talked to Quay Church who have kindly put this on a programme of community work they are doing this month. I will be funding the paint: black as before but wit bright bronze stripes and tops

Outstanding’ schools in Suffolk have not had Ofsted inspections for years
Astonishingly, the National Audit Office has revealed that over 1600 schools in the UK have not been inspected by Ofsted for 6+ years. In Suffolk, 23 outstanding schools – almost half of those rated ‘outstanding’ – have not been inspected for at least 6 years. For 6 of these schools, their last inspection was over a decade ago. This means that whole cohorts of students have gone through school without a single Ofsted inspection.

My Group’s Spokesperson for Education, Cllr Penny Otton, raised the issue and her concerns at May’s Council meeting. The Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Education, Gordon Jones, assured her that he shared her concerns and would raise it with the head of Ofsted.

Ofsted response is that the majority of ‘outstanding’ schools are exempt by law from inspections. However, if a number of concerns or complaints are raised against a school, they would have the power to carry out an inspection. This is worrying because it is external inspections which define

Unitary discussions on hold In March, it was announced that then-leader Colin Noble had unilaterally commissioned the think-tank Respublica to produce a report outlining the options for a unitary council in Suffolk. This news was not well-received by the District and Borough Councils, who had not been consulted by Cllr Noble.

However, in the lead-up to the Conservative Group leadership election in May, Cllr Noble announced that work producing the report had been suspended. It is not yet clear whether this work will resume under the new leader, Cllr Hicks.

Millicent Fawcett Statue and women in government: As Suffolk LDGI Group Spokesperson for Women, I made it my business to attend the unveiling of Millicent Fawcett’s statue in Parliament Square, carrying a banner to remind onlookers: “Suffolk Women Lead the Way.”https://twitter.com/CroPage/status/988686126239174656 It was a point needing making!
Aldeburgh sisters Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Agnes Garrett were all strong supporters and advocates of women’s suffrage. Suffolk, not London, is its birthplace. However, 150 years on, women make up only 29% of councillors elected to Suffolk County Council – significantly below the low 33% UK average (the exact % women on Suffolk Coastal District Council). 2 Suffolk MPs are women, out of 7
Modern Suffolk has a high gender pay gap, high levels of violence against women, specifically poor outcomes for girls (particularly in rural areas). Suffolk is yet fully to engage in recognising the importance of its own women and what they have to offer.

I was recently invited to appear on BBC’s Sunday Politics to stand in for Norman Lamb – specifically to talk about women in politics and the local elections.