Tag Archives: Audit

What’s been happening 2018-19 Woodbridge & Suffolk

2019-20 Budget and Cuts Suffolk County Council’s 2019-20 budget was agreed on Thursday 14 February. This will see an increase in council tax of 3.99%, and savings across the council’s directorates totalling £10.1m.

A particularly concerning cut was 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). Fortunately, the CCGs 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 in 2019-20, 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 the 2019-20 financial year.

The budget also proposes staffing reductions across all directorates, totalling almost £3m. We do not currently have details of how these cuts will be distributed and which staff will be affected, but I am very concerned that this will result in less efficient services and an increase in stress amongst the remaining staff.

In terms of rural public transport, a triple whammy has occurred: the budget is saving £100,000 by not replacing any roadside timetables (catastrophic in a rural county with poor phone signal and a large elderly population); £30,000 by cutting subsidised scheduled services and providing Community Link services, while simultaneously and meretriciously “ensuring consistency of pricing through Suffolk” for Community Link provision by disallowing bus passes in all districts to save a paltry £34,000. Previously these passes were valid on Community Link transport everywhere but MidSuffolk.

These small savings will impact on the elderly, the disabled and the transport poor, as well as more generally on tourism. I suspect they will create considerably greater costs than they save.

New Suffolk County Council Leader and Chief Executive In May, the Conservative group leadership changed and Cllr Matthew Hicks became the new Leader of Suffolk County Council. Cllr Hicks brought with him a number of new Cabinet members and established cross party “Policy Development Panels” (time-limited groups tasked with looking at a particular issue or policy). There have been a number of these PDPs to date, and it has been a good opportunity for backbench and opposition councillors to be involved in policy decisions.

Towards the beginning of the municipal year Suffolk County Council also appointed a new Chief Executive. Nicola Beach joined the council from Essex County Council, where she was Executive Director of Infrastructure and Environment.

Changes to School Transport Policy Since September 2017, I and my group have been fighting against changes to the council’s School Transport Policy that would see numerous children losing free school transport. Despite two successful call-in attempts by my group and a lengthy delay to the policy change, it was finally agreed by Cabinet in July 2018.
The changes to the policy will be implemented in September 2019, and will see free school transport restricted to children who attend their nearest school only. Currently, children are also able to receive free school transport to their catchment schools, but this will no longer be an option under the new policy.

Although it is deeply disappointing that this change was made, I am glad that, through our consistent opposition to the policy, we were able to reduce the severity of the final policy change. The final policy that was agreed in July 2018 was much less damaging than the original proposal in September 2017. In particular, we were able to ensure that children who are currently attending a school will continue to receive free school transport until the end of their time at that school – thus reducing the upheaval and ensuring no child is forced to move schools in the middle of their education.

CPE and Yellow Lines Enforceable road markings are being refreshed across Suffolk in advance of CPE (Civil Parking Enforcement) – the transfer of the enforcement of on road parking from the police to the district councils. This process has been in operation for awhile.

The rationale for CPE is that it has become increasingly clear that adequate police enforcement of selfish and irresponsible parking across the region has not been possible due to the very limited number of feet on the ground.

Once parking has been decriminalized, enforcement can be put in the hands of district council ‘parking protection officers’ who will look much like the old traffic warden and can treat on street parking offences as firmly as they do those in the car parks.

However CPE cannot take place until every TRO (traffic regulation order) in Suffolk has been made watertight and enforceable. Thus it is essential that all regulatory road markings are made visible and correct. Which is why many hitherto invisible markings are now made visible. When all is in place the transfer of CPE to the new East Suffolk District Council will take place. New yellow lines recently noticed in Woodbridge are not new, they replace existing ones for existing TROs.

Many of the concerns that have been expressed are on aesthetic or heritage grounds. However there is an element of cherrypicking here. Our medieval heritage is often mentioned ! Medieval Woodbridge didn’t have tarmacked roads, let alone road signs or markings. Within living memory there was even two way traffic, including buses down the Thoroughfare.

The Thoroughfare TRO and Woodbridge 20mph and Associated Calming Change to the Thoroughfare TRO was decided by public consultation at the end of 2017. Woodbridge has since had to wait a year on account of the exigencies of CPE (above). However I have been working with highways officers since early this year, and in March was able to get their assurance that this project was now going ahead, funded with my Highways Budget (- at least to the tune of £28, 000 odd.)


Woodbridge has been asking for 20 mph zoning for years but my work over the last years has been required to make it possible

As we know to the popular and sustainable Woodbridge 20mph and Associated Calming scheme failed to get CIL funding this year. However I have been talking to Transition Woodbridge about this, and I believe they may be looking to put forward a new CIL bid shortly. I hope the Town Council would continue with its support of this scheme too.

Sizewell C Consultation Suffolk County Council responded to the latest consultation, expressing reservations.

I also wrote , expressing my significant concerns about the impact of Sizewell C on the whole area, and also articulating my concerns about its impact on Woodbridge in particular. I copied my response to the Clerks of both Woodbridge and Martlesham councils. For non-councillors, my response is publicly available here. https://suffolklibdems.org/carolinepage/2019/04/02/sizewell-c-consultation-my-response/

Women In Suffolk Women are more than 50% of Suffolk’s population and the major users of council services, yet their interests are not necessarily much considered in policy making.

Following International Women’s Day I put in a motion at a full meeting of Suffolk County Council calling 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 – with potential disbenefit to both sexes. The motion recognised IWD ‘s #BalanceforBetter campaign

Unfortunately Suffolk’s administration while claiming they backed the principal of the motion – voted against it on the specious grounds that “positive discrimination” would not help – “establishing facts” has clearly been confused with “positive discrimination”.

Suffolk County Council currently has 29% women councillors, less than the 33% national average. The percentage of Conservative women councillors is smaller than the total average.  This may also in part explain the reluctance of the Conservative administration to support my motion earlier in the year asking for £30,000 to help alleviate period poverty in all Suffolk schools. They voted it down. Luckily it turns out that central government is more enlightened.

Jetty Lane: Progress The proposed Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts centre in Woodbridge is continuing to meet its development targets. In February the district planning committee voted unanimously to give permission to , 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
When the Woodbridge 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. Jetty Lane was lucky enough to benefit from a CIL grant of £189,000. The cic is now converting to a charity and fundraising is beginning in earnest.

Challenge to Woodbridge Town Council’s audit 2017-18 – ongoing This has occupied a great deal of1 last year.

In brief, I made an objection (as any elector can do, whatever their status) within the legal period to certain points Woodbridge Town Council signed off as correct in their last year’s Annual Governance Statement, May 2018. 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 I exercised the legal right that all electors have to examine the Council’s accounts (during a specified period) together with a politically independent accountant. 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 -are available from the Town Council.

I was finally able to obtain a meeting with the Town Clerk, a representative from SALC and a local resident (Ms Thompson, now a newly elected town councillor) on 14/1/19. We discussed the four questions that constitute my objection. (As you recall, I withdrew 5 of my original 6 objections, not because I felt they could not be sustained, but because either the sums were small, or I felt the intentions were good even if due process had not been followed). The SALC representative present discussed the various options open to the Council, including restating the AGAR.

Nothing we discussed in the meeting made me feel I could withdraw this final objection.

I subsequently attended a Town Council meeting on 12/2/19 at which councillors discussed a motion asking the external auditors for an adjudication on my objection to the council’s AGAR for 2017/18. No motion was proposed for them to restate their own AGAR.

OFSTED rates Suffolk SEND service inadequate after second inspection 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 and subsequent improvement notice issued in January 2017. Following their visit, they ruled Suffolk had not made sufficient progress to improve the serious weaknesses identified at the initial inspection and was not effectively meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND.

I am very concerned that the council’s SEND service needs to be dramatically and quickly improved. Along with the Labour group, we have called for an independent review to determine what needs to be done.

We have received assurances from the Cabinet member for Children’s Services that an oversight board will be set up imminently, made up of councillors from all parties, as well as CCG staff and user organisations.

Review into abandoned Upper Orwell Crossings project The Upper Orwell Crossings project in Ipswich was abandoned in January due to rising costs and fears the project would go well over the original budget. The county council attempted to find additional funding for the project but were unsuccessful.

Despite no building work having started, Suffolk County Council still spent over £8m on the project before it was abandoned, most of which was on consultants’ fees. In terms of some of the cuts that have been made in the budget – and their impact –  this is an unimaginable amount to waste.

Nicola Beach (Chief Executive of Suffolk County Council) has confirmed that she will be undertaking a review of the project to determine what went wrong.

Suffolk Highways – new Cabinet member and Director appointed After a long search, Mark Ash was appointed as the new Director of Growth, Highways and Infrastructure in January. He joined Suffolk County Council in February, having previously been the Director of Waste and Environment at Essex County Council.

In addition, Cllr Mary Evans took over as Cabinet member for Highways in May 2018. Response times for pothole repairs do seem to have improved, and a new policy for repairing potholes has been implemented that should improve efficiency.

The Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group For the last year I have been Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent party. Our group promotes inclusivity by leadership change every year, so I have just proposed LibDem Penny Otton for Leader and Green Elfrede Brambley Crawshaw as deputy, and Andrew Stringer and I retire to the back benches.

We are therefore for the next year, a group led entirely by women and with the only group spokesperson for Women on it.

During the last year, my political group proposed a number of successful motions to council. These included:

-Developing a strategic, costed five-year cycling plan to improve investment in cycling infrastructure in the county;
– Committing to reducing single-use plastic waste in Suffolk;
– Declaring a climate emergency and pledging to make Suffolk carbon neutral by 2030.

We are proudest of this last, declaring a climate emergency in Suffolk , which was passed almost universally, cross party, with 1 against, and 1 abstention.

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.

Speak Up for Epilepsy – end avoidable deaths

EpilepsyJust having epilepsy takes as much as ten years off your life. People with epilepsy die young or younger – and 4 out of 10 deaths are avoidable. That’s the heartbreaking thing!

Epilepsy is all around us, but because its a hidden condition you do not notice it.

Statistically, there will be about 20 students with epilepsy at Farlingaye, 110 people in Woodbridge, 1250 in Suffolk Coastal, 7,300 in Suffolk…

Everybody knows someone – and all of you know me!

I’m asking our MP Therese Coffey to support a new National Sentinel survey from the DoH to record and audit all epilepsy deaths in the UK (as epilepsy deaths for starters – you wouldn’t believe how often they aren’t even recorded!)  and act on the findings – to ensure that in the future nobody with epilepsy will die needlessly & before their time.

I’ll tell you how I get on!

UPDATE:   19-03-2016

Yesterday I met my MP, Therese Coffey and persuaded her of  the need to commission an up-to-date National Audit of Epilepsy deaths and act upon it.  Dr Coffey, currently deputy-Leader of the House of Commons, has agreed to speak to the most appropriate minister, and hopefully arrange a meeting of MPs to talk to Jeremy Hunt. I know a lot of people over the country have already contacted their MPs.

If you think this is as important as I do,  you can email your MP  in this nationwide campaign (- even if its Dr Coffey again) .It will make this VITAL audit more likely to happen!Speak Up for Epilepsy – and help save lives please!