Category Archives: Your councillor

Latest County and Town News May 2020

Walking and cycling are now the recommended forms of transport

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/

News is changing daily. I also put  information on Facebook and Twitter:

https://www.facebook.com/Caroline.Page.Woodbridge/
https://www.facebook.com/CllrCarolinePage/
https://www.twitter.com/Cropage/

Virtual SCC meetings   SCC is now holding some meetings virtually – including school transport panel appeals. Public meetings, or public sections of meetings  can still be attended by members of the public. The link to the virtual meeting will be included on the agenda for the meeting. I have already sat on one  virtual  appeal panel.

If meetings are cancelled, the Chief Executive uses her emergency powers to make any necessary decisions on behalf of the Cabinet/Council through the delegated decision-making process. Details of any decisions made will be published on the SCC website.

Supply of PPE   In light of increasing concerns about care home transmission/ infection, it is worth noting that SCC  is supplying emergency PPE to primary care and other service providers who are unable or struggling to source their own supplies. This includes:

  • Adult residential and domiciliary care: care homes, personal assistants or homecare
  • Children’s Homes
  • GP surgeries
  • Secure Children’s Homes
  • Residential Special Schools
  • Court
  • Funeral Services
  • Local Authority: childrens social care, adult social care or healthy child services
  • Mental Health community/adult social workers
  • Hospices and Palliative Care
  • Primary Care
  • Pharmacists
  • Emergency Dentists

I have been assured by the director of Adult and Community Services that where taxi drivers are undertaking hospital transfers, they can also apply for PPE from the above source.

More information on how to make an order, is available at: https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/suffolks-response/personal-protective-equipment-for-frontline-workers/       Questions about ordering PPE should be sent to PPE@suffolk.gov.uk

Donation of EU-compliant masks to Woodbridge from Xi’anGift of PPE from Xi’an, China
I was able to hand a gift of EU-compliant medical masks to Deben View as a gift from concerned friends in China.

Covid Funding  from Government  Suffolk County Council has received £34.7m from the government to help with the council’s coronavirus response.

However, the council is currently forecasting that the financial impact of the crisis will be at least £56m (due to both extra expenditure and lost income) by the end of March 2021, and so more support from the government will be needed.

Finally, my group is having regular q&a sessions with the heads of highways, children’s services, adult services and public health. If you have anything you want to ask, I am happy to pass on your questions and ensure they get answered.

Street closures to protect walkers/cyclists exercising outdoors My LDGI group are encouraging Suffolk County Council to close roads that are used by residents to get their daily exercise, to ensure that walkers/cyclists can exercise safely and maintain social distancing.

The county council have indicated that they are willing to consider these closures and have already closed Ipswich Waterfront to through-traffic for 3 weeks.

If you have suggestions for roads that could benefit from a temporary closure, please let me know and I will pass it on to the Cabinet Member, along with suggestions for measures to encourage cycling and walking , especially as the Government has just announced  emergency  funding for this.

I have also raised my concerns about residents unilaterally deciding to block public Rights of Way, citing Covid as an excuse. At Martlesham Creek, the residents alongside PROW13 have coned off the Right of Way and are denying walkers access, because they are ‘self-isolating.’

Public rights of way are paths which the public have a legal protected right to use, and the County Council a legal duty to protect. They provide a healthy, safe and sustainable way to access the countryside and other local services. I have reported this to the County Council  as one of several local attempts to prevent local walkers from enjoying legitimate and government sanctioned exercise.

Review of Suffolk ‘s County Council boundaries  delayed The Boundary Commission has announced that it will be delaying its review of Suffolk County Council’s electoral arrangements and division boundaries. The Commission was due to publish its draft recommendations and consult on them in May-July 2020, with the intention of implementing the new electoral arrangements (including , we believe, a reduction in councillor numbers) at the 2021 local elections.

Given the delay to the consultation on draft recommendations, the new arrangements will now not be implemented until  the 2025 elections. Given the situation we are currently in – and the uncertainty as to how or when it will end –  to consider any current reduction in local representation would seem  a very poor idea).

 

Cost of post-16 Home to School transport increases by £90   Plans to increase the price of post-16 school transport were approved by the Chief Executive using delegated decision-making powers, because the Cabinet was unable to meet.

The price of mainstream post-16 school transport has been increased by £90, whilst the price of post-16 transport for SEND students has increased by £30. This is despite the fact that a consultation on the proposed increase indicated that 75% of parents who responded felt that the increase would have an adverse impact on them.

Essentially, this is despite the fact that there is now a de facto SSLA (statutory school leaving age) of 18 as the law now requires all young people in England to continue in education or training until at least their 18th birthday. This places a particularly unfair financial burden on low-income families, most particularly in rural areas.

County claims that if families are concerned about their ability to pay for school transport, they can apply for the 16-19 Bursary Fund which is managed by post-16 provisions and may be able to support eligible disadvantaged young people by up to £1,200.. It is a limited budgett.

Increase in social worker pay   Suffolk County Council has (finally) agreed to increase the pay of children’s social workers to match the remuneration offered by neighbouring councils, in order to attract and retain skilled social workers in Suffolk. It is estimated that this pay increase will cost £1.4m and will be funded from council reserves.  I am pleased that the council has taken this step, because my group proposed this exact policy as part of our budget amendment in February.

 

Woodbridge Town Council Audit – the truth comes out


“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

On Tuesday I was given a full apology and thanks from the current Woodbridge Town Council for all the difficulty and sheer unpleasantness I was put through simply because I exercised the right of any concerned Woodbridge resident and asked to see and comment on the Town’s accounts 2017-18. Having seen them, I made an objection to the external auditors, because I was concerned about significant inaccuracy in Woodbridge Town’s AGAR (Annual Governance and Accountability Return). This happened back in July 2018.

It was nice to see this matter finally being discussed openly and proactively and with an intention of reaching a conclusion after so long.

You will be interested to know the external auditors upheld my simple factual objections to the Woodbridge Town 17-18 audit, which were that the past council failed to follow its own financial regulations. I had simply asked for the council to restate its AGAR and to say No to some statements where they had previously incorrectly said Yes.

I was told by the past council – and past council’s Mayor – that this could not be done and should not be done.   It was impossible – and impossibly expensive they declared. (At the time I had discovered from the external auditors that  it would cost the council less than £100 to conform to their own regulations in managing our money by restating their incorrect AGAR.)

This last Tuesday the locum Woodbridge Town Clerk confirmed it could easily have been done, and should have been done when new facts had been brought to the council’s attention.

The official External Auditors  have now delivered their final report. You can find it here https://www.woodbridge-suffolk.gov.uk/home/SearchForm?Search=Audit+2018&action_results=Go  This is a long document: their findings are at the end, Section 3: Auditors’ Final Certificate. They agreed with me:  the first three of the nine statutory AGAR assertions were incorrect: the Town Council said they had followed their own financial regulations, when they had not.  This report has, by law, to stay on the Woodbridge council website for 5 years.

That 18 month refusal to look reality in the face and act transparently has cost OVER THREE  AND A HALF THOUSAND POUNDS of your money. It has wasted many tens of hours of my own time. All because certain councillors (several now departed) could not bring themselves to admit they were wrong.

I was immensely surprised by the sheer anger my objection caused in some quarters. After all, it is perfectly possible for councils to make mistakes, and it is wonderful that people give up their time to volunteer as town councillors.

However, all that I asked for – and all that was needed – was that the past council corrected the assertions that they had signed off in May 2018, when they incorrectly said that the council had  followed their own financial regulations. And the council had not! 

Instead, I had to face months of deeply unpleasant language, behaviour and ad hominem remarks (both inside and outside council meetings and on-and offline). Never, in my 12 years as a County Councillor have I been treated as I was by (the past) Woodbridge Town Council in the year 2018-19. My GDPR was breached, my probity was brought into question. My status as a local resident was challenged – I who have lived and worked (and brought up a family) in Woodbridge for nearly 30 years. Emails remained unanswered. It was surprising, unprofessional, and truly shocking.

I felt this behaviour was intended to ensure that I withdrew my objections. It would also scare off anyone else from being brave enough to raise concerns in the future.

This attempt to silence objectors is not democracy – and is in itself a breach of our rights as voters.

Under the last council, too much was discussed behind closed doors.

Great thanks are owed to the current council for having the moral courage to bring such matters out into the open without fear or favour.

(You can find further details about this challenge in my blog December 2018 https://suffolklibdems.org/carolinepage/2018/12/16/whats-been-happening-in-december-2/ and in my annual report https://suffolklibdems.org/carolinepage/2019/05/09/whats-been-happening-2018-19-woodbridge-suffolk/ )