Category Archives: Woodbridge

SUFFOLK: What’s been going ON, Feb-March 2019

Suffolk CC 2019/20 budget. Suffolk County Council’s 2019/20 budget was agreed on Thursday 14 February, voted in by the Conservative majority despite significant opposition concerns. This will see an increase in council tax of 3.99%, and savings (cuts) across the council’s directorates totalling £10.1m.

I am concerned by a number of these cuts, in particular:

  • 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);
  • Reducing the amount spent on Housing Related Support, which supports those at risk of homelessness (£0.45m);
  • Reduced funding for sponsored bus services (£0.34m) and cessation of the provision of roadside bus timetables (£0.1m);
  • Reduction in highways maintenance, including no road sign cleaning (£0.1m), only maintaining mandatory road markings (£0.075m) and less frequent weed treatments in rural areas (£0.055m);
  • Staffing reductions across all directorates, which may result in less efficient services (£2.968m).

Suffolk CCGs to pick up Citizens Advice funding for 2019/20 As mentioned above, the budget includes a cut to the grant funding provided by Suffolk County Council to Citizens Advice. This grant will be cut by 50% in 2019/20 (£184,000) and removed entirely in the 2020/21 budget.

Thankfully, the CCGs have 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 this year, 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 2019/20.

Reduction in Suffolk’s 2018/19 predicted overspend Suffolk County Council’s latest budget monitoring report suggests the 2018/19 budget will be overspent by £5.9m – an improvement on the overspend of £7.5m predicted after quarter 2.

The £5.9m overspend is 1.2% of the net budget and is made up of £3.8m on base budget and £2.1m on Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) spend.

Although it is positive to hear the overspend is reducing, I am concerned by where these savings are being achieved. The majority are due to ongoing staff vacancies at the council, particularly in social work teams. This is clearly not a long-term solution and is a dangerous false economy. Without adequate staff, the county council will struggle to properly and efficiently provide services in Suffolk.

Respublica report into housing costs Suffolk County Council £66,000. Last year Suffolk County Council commissioned the thinktank Respublica to undertake a study into housing growth in Suffolk at a cost of £66,000. The final report was published on 21 February. At just 14 pages long, it cost the authority almost £5000 per page and failed to discuss the issues in any great depth.

Ofsted inspectors conclude Suffolk’s SEND service is inadequate Inspectors from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) returned to Suffolk in January to see how SEND services had progressed since their inspection in December 2016.

Following that visit, inspectors ruled Suffolk was not effectively meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND.

In their report last week, the inspectors acknowledged that some improvements have been made, but say children and young people relying on SEND services have not yet felt the benefit.

The inspectors concluded that while sufficient progress had been made regarding governance and leadership of the strategic planning and delivery of the 2014 national SEND reforms, they ruled that insufficient progress had been made in the three other areas requiring improvement.

These were:
• the poor timeliness, integration and quality of SEND statutory assessments and plans and the delivery of subsequent individual packages of support
• the lack of understanding among parents and carers of the support available, and the inadequate quality of the local offer, including access to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), and
• lack of joint working to monitor, quality assure and maximise the effectiveness of work undertaken to improve outcomes for children.

Suffolk Free School Travel – new opt-in for funded transport Following changes to the school travel policy, which will take effect in September 2019, eligible families must now “opt-in” to receive free school transport – pupils will no longer be automatically signed up.

If a child is eligible for free transport, parents will need to apply this year and each subsequent year, even if they have never needed to apply in the past. The application window for this year is 1 March 2019 to 31 May 2019. There is more information available at www.suffolkonboard.com/optin.

I must emphasise that pupils’ eligibility for free travel is statutory, and restricted to under 8s living more than 2 miles and over 8s living more than 3 miles from their nearest school, together with some pupils eligible on grounds of disability, safety and special circumstances.

Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts Centre gains planning permission At the end of February Suffolk Coastal District Council planning committee unanimously granted planning permission for the proposed Woodbridge Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts Centre on 21 February. They have already awarded it £188,000 CIL funding.

When the previous Community Youth Centre was pulled down in 2017, many local groups were forced to move out of Woodbridge simply because there was nowhere to house them. The Jetty Lane site (Jetty Lane being the original name of The Avenue) – has been used uninterruptedly for Youth and Community clubs and meetings since 1949: that’s SEVENTY years! It is now the last site suitable for such a centre in Woodbridge, designed to serve the needs of the community in and around Woodbridge, designed to be sustainable, selfsupporting and affordable for community groups – and funded hopefully by charity bids.

The County Council have had such faith in the need for this project to have offered a 125y lease on the land at peppercorn rent. As Chair of Jetty Lane we are thrilled that the district council has demonstrated similar faith!

Come support Jetty Lane planning decision, Thurs 21 Feb!

In the early 60s, the Woodbridge Club was long established, and clearly popular with both the young people of Woodbridge and the older residents who lived nearby. Note – this dancing was till 11pm, under the aegis of the magnificent Mike Warden and the late, much lamented, Don Spall! And as the article puts it “And those of the older generation must say ‘and why not?'”

Update: The district planning committee voted unanimously to give permission, and said some very complimentary things about the Jetty Lane  plans and intentions. We couldn’t be better pleased! This is another real vote of confidence in the project

The vital planning meeting  for  Woodbridge ‘s proposed Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts Centre is being held tomorrow, Thursday 21 February, at Suffolk Coastal’s new headquarters in Riduna Park.  It’s a public meeting – do come and support us and the community of Woodbridge. We’re expecting the discussion to take place early – around 9am – so please get there before 9.

When the Community Youth Centre was pulled down in 2017, many groups were forced to move out of Woodbridge simply  because there was nowhere to house them. The Jetty Lane  site (Jetty Lane being the original name of The Avenue) – has been used uninterruptedly for Youth and Community clubs and meetings since 1949 : that’s SEVENTY years!  It is now the last site suitable for such a centre in Woodbridge.

The County Council have such faith in the need for this project to have offered a 125y lease on the land. We are really hoping that the district council will have similar faith!

It is clear that Jetty Lane has a great deal of community support. However, despite a number of community consultations (still ongoing) a few residents still have personal concerns about this project. This is understandable. As chair of Jetty Lane I would like to assure them that the cic – soon to be a charity – will work with them at all times to endeavour to allay their concerns . After all,  this site has been occupied for the same purposes for seventy years. It’s not exactly new.

Slightly more startling however,  are the two letters of objection sent to the Planning department  from a central London-based planning consultancy on behalf of unnamed and unknown ‘local interests’.  We do not know whether these ‘local interests’  are people, or companies, or even people who are associated with companies.  What, do you think, is their agenda?  Is it to benefit the community of Woodbridge?

What’s been happening in December

“The local authority is a servant not a master, a truth which on occasions is too easily overlooked.” All local authorities, whether town, district or county, should remember Lord Justice Mumby’s maxim – and abide by it

Why you haven’t seen much of me Some of you many have wondered why you have seen less of me than usual over the last few weeks. The reason is that I have been off work recuperating after a major operation. This unfortunately has been complicated by my other underlying health conditions.

Additionally, my mother (for whom I have been a weekly carer for many years) died in late November. Her funeral was at the beginning of December.
I have missed attending some meetings and have had to cancel two of my regular monthly surgeries for the first time ever.

 

I will now be gradually returning to work – slowly at first – but expect to be functioning as normal in January 2019.

Challenge to Woodbridge Town Council’s audit 2017-18 – ongoing       This is a long tale and still continuing. I have yet to have any direct response from Woodbridge Town Council regarding my objection, five months ago, to certain points they signed off as correct in their last year’s Annual Governance Statement in May 2018. This governance statement (AGAR) is a formal legal obligation which is taken very seriously indeed. You can see what the council asserted here : http://www.woodbridge-suffolk.gov.uk/assets/Town-Council/Finance/Annual-Return/Notice-of-audit-of-AGAR-17-18.pdf, page 2.

My concern was that – however mistakenly – Woodbridge Town Council did not follow their own financial regulations. In July, after  concerns articulated on this blog had been dismissed by councillors in the rudest – nd least disciplined – full council meeting I have ever attended,  I exercised the legal right that all electors have to examine the Council’s accounts (during a specified period). As a result, I sent a list of objections to the external auditor and copied them to the Town Council on July 13.

Full details of my concerns –and the Council’s initial responses –were briefly on the Town Council site in early October but are now taken down. Apparently, they are available on application to the Town Council (for a small payment).

Unfortunately this has not been a subject the Town Council seems willing or able to engage with as a full council . I believe it has yet to be on the agenda for discussion at any full council meeting, although it is an issue that can only be decided BY the full town council. (And, as I said, the querying of one’s town’s annual audit is every resident’s legal right.)

Additionally, from the start, I noticed certain comments on my social media, made within a few days of my original objection – eg https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1776255192439524&id=100001651809340 and https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1766416283423415&substory_index=0&id=100001651809340 which in retrospect might suggest predetermination on behalf of some councillors NOT to want to engage with my objections.

One Councillor was very keen to explain that there were ‘items that would not benefit from being made public’. But not why. (And we need to know why: councillors are public servants, not masters!) Another councillor immediately started shroud-waving about a ‘very expensive’ re-audit – and this was before any councillors had been officially informed of any objections to the internal audit at all. It was almost as if an unofficial cabal  were aware of things that were  kept from other councillors…

Such attitudes are strange and disappointing. These also showcased extraordinary suggestions that any public examination of the town’s audit is slanderous and inferred that anyone doing so is not undertaking a democratic right legally advertised as available to every elector, but is somehow behaving improperly . It was almost as if the Town Council wished to deter any resident from doing so in the future.

It is hard to think of a more arrogant example of the tail thinking it existed to wag the dog!

The Town Council’s continued silence to me is even more disappointing, because the external auditors specifically recommend that there is dialogue between council and objector specifically in order to save public money. And also because I had made clear and specific suggestions in a formal letter back in September as to how to resolve this matter effectively and cheaply.

I am sure many people will be as puzzled as I am that Woodbridge Town Council is making such heavy weather of this matter, particularly as councillors’ decisions – or lack thereof – run a risk of costing the town (us!) significant sums of money.

I have therefore sent all town councillors the full set of letters and emails exchanged on this subject. As this is vital public information concerning the running of our town, I am also offering to share these with any Woodbridge resident who is interested.

Proposed Suffolk County budget cuts for 2019/20 On 22 November, Suffolk’s scrutiny committee discussed proposals for the 2019/20 budget. These will be finalised and presented to the Cabinet in January, before being debated by the full Council in February.

Council tax will increase by a total of 3.99% in 2019/20 – this will be made up of a 2.99% increase in general council tax and a final 1% increase for the Social Care Precept. The proposed “tactical savings” total £11.2m. These are spread across the Council’s directorates (as shown in the table below), with Growth, Highways and Infrastructure, Adult and Community Services, and Health, Wellbeing and Children’s Services seeing the greatest cuts.

  • Remove the full Citizens Advice Grant (however the Council have since announced that this will be phased in rather than immediate, with 50% of the grant being cut this year and the remaining 50% being cut in the 2020/21 budget)
  • Staffing reduction (totalling £3m) across all directorates
  • Reduce Housing Related Support and the provision of hostel beds
  • Negotiate care pricing
  • Stop displaying bus timetables at the roadside
  • Reduce spend on sponsored bus services
  • Reduce out-of-hours stand-by service and winter support fleet for Suffolk Highways
  • Stop road sign cleaning and only maintain mandatory road markings
  • Turn more streetlights off overnight
  • Cease accreditation of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme (the scheme will continue, however organisations will license themselves directly with the charity rather than through SCC)

As you can see, many (if not most) of these cuts will cause significant hardship to people in Suffolk.

Unfortunately, I have not been informed of the savings associated with each of the above proposals, and instead have only been told how much each directorate is expected to save in total. The final proposals, along with the savings associated with each of them, will not be made available until January.

U-turn on support for period poverty In October, a motion asking for a commitment of £15,000 in the budget to help tackle “period poverty” was unfortunately rejected by the County council on the grounds that it was not inclusive. My amendation to £30,000 to include all schools was rejected without appropriate reason.

However, the administration have since announced that they will be undertaking an audit of the services in Suffolk that are aimed at tackling period poverty, to identify gaps and assess how provision can be improved.

“I am cautiously hopeful that this review will result in proper support and funding for those wonderful voluntary organisations that are currently providing free sanitary products. They cannot provide that service all on their own, and a commitment of funding from Suffolk County Council will be vital to ensure we eradicate period poverty across the whole county.

Significant increase in insurance pay-outs for cars damaged by potholes Data published under Freedom of Information laws has shown that, between 1 January and 16 October this year, Suffolk Highways have already paid out £67,819.07 for vehicle damage (including insurance pay outs, costs and legal fees). This is a significant increase from the previous year, when pay-outs for the whole of 2017 totalled £26,004.63.

“The number of claims has also more than doubled, from 598 in 2017 to 1,265 so far in 2018.

Work on on Upper Orwell Crossings delayed Work on the Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich has been suspended since August 2018, due to concerns that the costs of the project were no longer sustainable.

In October, the administration announced that they would need an additional £43m of funding in order to continue with the project. It was agreed by Cabinet that officers and councillors would have until December to try and find this additional funding. However, this deadline has now been pushed back to January 2019. We are therefore expecting an announcement in the new year about the future of the project.