Tag Archives: childrens centres

Caterpillar Children’s Centre lost, despite our best endeavours

The LibDem, Green and Independent group joined forces with Labour to “call in” to Scrutiny  Suffolk’s recent decision to close or alter Childrens Centre provision throughout Suffolk. The 4 opposition members (I was one) asked probing and important questions to back the points made by our call-in speakers: LibDem Penny Otton and Labour’s Jack Abbott. Additionally there was an excellent statement from LDGI group leader, Elfrede Brambly Crawshawe.

However Scrutiny is a numbers game: there are double the number of Conservative members to opposition ones on the committee – most of the latter being obedient silent sheeple who ask no questions at all – but vote as they are told to. The vote therefore went against us.

As the public meeting was recorded (like Cabinet and Full Council), I would like to say to you “Watch the questions, observe for yourselves the Conservative members complete silence, notice the fumbling, incomplete attempt at explanation when anomalies were brought to light – and then ponder the majority vote which went against reason (but not against Conservative party policy).

Sadly, SCC seems to have destroyed the recording, leaving very minimal minutes. Could it be that Scrutiny is THE one remaining public meeting where the Conservatives are publicly held to account, without the chance of wriggling off the hook with a series of grandstanding speeches?

I think we should be told.

In the meantime – I did my best, but the Caterpillar goes.


The questions I and fellow LibDem John Field asked are below:

  • This Scrutiny report actually contradicts the report given to Cabinet, on which the decision was made. Here it says that outreach will cost an average of £4300 per centre per year, which will provide 4 group sessions per week (term-time only) at £30 per session. By contrast, in Appendix I of the Cabinet report it stated that outreach sessions for Caterpillar would cost £23,500 a year – not £4,300. It said this sum eould cover at least 11 two-hour sessions per week (for 52 weeks a year) at a cost of £20 per hour, or £40 per session. If only £43,000 is available for outreach, that would leave just £19,500 for the other 9 centres – or an average of just £2167 each. Can you please explain why we have got completely different information than what was given to the Cabinet, and what the actual budget for outreach is per centre? Were the Cabinet given incorrect information, or have the Scrutiny Committee been given incorrect information?I
  • In paragraph 8 you outline the various costs associated with each centre that is being closed or repurposed, and then state the amount that will be saved by closing each one. However, we will still own the buildings – so surely SCC will continue to pay for costs such as security, utilities and maintenance, even if it comes from a different department’s budget. Is this really a saving, or are you just moving the cost over to another budget in SCC?
  • If the early help budget is so severely underspent by £1.4m for each of the last 5 years (according to Scrutiny paragraph 9) it is very hard to understand why it was deemed necessary to close the 10 children’s centres in the first place. Why was this spare budget not used to pay for additional outreach and staff, whilst also maintaining the current number of children’s centres?o
  • How hve you calculated that the average cost of hiring a village hall is £30 per session, and why is this evidence not included in the response? Have you undertaken a desktop study of the rates and availability of village halls in the outreach areas for all the centres that are being closed? From my experience, £30 is at the very low end of the scale for hiring costs. Woodbridge I am having to raise £3.5m for Jetty Lane, because SCC failed to maintain and then pulled down a youth centre that could have provided this hire. In addition, many of the cheaper venues are likely to be in isolated rural locations and may not have accessible facilities such as disabled toilets/access or baby changing rooms.u
  • Suffolk libraries are being encouraged by SCC to run as an independent business and will increasingly need to generate their own funding. What evidence do you have for your assertion that any future outreach sessions in libraries will be free of charge? Has this been agreed with Suffolk Libraries? For how long? Whilst they may currently offer one free session a week, I think it is very likely that they would start charging if we were wanting to use their premises more often. It also may not be viable for there to be frequent outreach sessions in libraries. Eg do you have any evidence to suggest that libraries would be happy with the idea that there could be 4 outreach sessions a week?
  • I’m very concerned by the lack of analysis over safeguarding issues within this outreach model, particularly with regards to the use of public libraries as venues for outreach sessions with young children. Have safeguarding issues been analysed by officers ,and if so why wasn’t this included in the report to Cabinet?a
  • You state that the outreach budget will be increased if necessary. Is there an upper limit to this, and where will the additional funding come from? (I asked this twice as I got no answer the first time. Not the second time either)
  • You have suggested that the outreach funding would allow there to be 4 group sessions run per week. How does this compare to the number of group sessions that are currently provided by these centres?
  • You dismiss the chances of “clawback” of significant sums the govt invested in two centres Caterpillar being one). As member for Woodbridge, why was this money not invested in keeping the old Youth Centre in good repair? You would then have an appropriate venue you could also hire out. Instead you tore it down, left 30 groups homeless,and invested govt money in a lease for an inappropriate building which you say is not fit for purpose. (You wouldn’t believe the patronising inaccuracies I was fobbed off with as a response to this. Disgraceful)


Whats happening in Suffolk Nov 2014

Care UK   There is serious concern at the way Care Uk is running some of the care homes in Suffolk. Councillor Alan Murray has been challenged as to what the council is doing to rectify these problems. The firm took over SCC’s 16 care homes in 2012 and is in the process of building 10 purpose-built replacements

A CQC inspection last month found Mildenhall Lodge below standard in four of five categories while a safeguarding inspection raised concerns about another home, Asterbury Place.

We’ve been told that “Care UK have committed additional support to both Mildenhall Lodge and Asterbury Place in Ipswich until all of the improvements are completed.  SCC officers continue to monitor improvements…  and will continue to have regular contact with any relatives who wish to discuss any concern whilst final improvements are made in both homes”.

SCC Health Scrutiny looked at current arrangements for ensuring the quality of care in residential homes in Suffolk in October concluded that:

a)        It was not fully satisfied that lessons had been learned from the findings of the recent CQC inspection of Mildenhall Lodge. Further, that the Committee was not yet satisfied that all the appropriate steps had been taken to improve the quality of care at Mildenhall Lodge and in the other Suffolk homes run by Care UK.

b)         that at its meeting on 20 January 2015 it wished to receive a further report, providing an update and including detailed evidence about:

i)          what had been done to ensure that all Suffolk homes run by Care UK were meeting the essential standards monitored by the CQC;

ii)         the current ratings of all Suffolk homes run by Care UK;

iii)        the views of residents and their families, gathered in a systematic way;

iv)        what steps had been taken within the County Council to strengthen contract management arrangements within Adult and Community Services;

v)         the findings of a recent ADASS (Association of Directors of Adult Social Services)  national benchmarking exercise in relation to contract management arrangements in neighbouring authorities and how Suffolk compared

Civil Parking Enforcement  SCC Cabinet are looking to extend an agreement with Ipswich Borough Council to enable IBC to continue undertaking Civil Parking Enforcement in Ipswich for another 5 years. ALthoough this is Ipswich-specific, it is interesting because the arrangement has been in place for 9 years and  the key benefits, perceived at the start are still held to be true today.

These are:

  • Most cost effective  management of on- and off-street parking enforcement
  • Safer traffic conditions and improved traffic floe
  • More locally accountable

The suggestion is that CPE may be extended beyond Ipswich. Officers make the point that it will always be an easier option in an urban than a rural setting.

Revised Guidance for Parking  Suffolk County Council Cabinet is looking today at adopting a revised “Suffolk Guidance for Parking’. It has been updated to support the next generation of green transport, eg supporting electric vehicle charging points, minimum bicycle parking requirements and priority Car Club parking spaces in planning decisions. A rather more contentious section states:

“In line with national policy, the guidance includes a minimum of car parking spaces for new residences to replace the maximum limit contained in the previous standards. The absence of such a minimum standard has led to many cases of inadequate residential parking on new developments leading to unsightly and unsafe on-street parking congestion. The implementation of a minimum standard provides an opportunity to provide an appropriate level of parking that meets the day-to-day needs of occupiers.” It also gives specific minimum dimensions for car parking spaces.

Although the 2011 Census revealed that 14% of households in Suffolk Coastal were carless, it also revealed there were 3% of households with 4 cars or more!

If this policy is adopted centrally, it would be up to Suffolk Coastal District Council to adopt this policy although SCC recommends that they adopt it as a supplementary planning policy.

Recommendations on parking design are also made in an appendix, to ameliorate the ugliness of parking areas. Again, whether individual district councils sign up to this is individual!

0345 numbers for Suffolk County Council

From last month the county council has changed all of its 0845 telephone numbers to 0345. The remaining seven digits of the telephone numbers are remaining exactly the same. This includes the telephone numbers for people wanting to apply for a school place for their child, reporting a pothole or road defect and the Families Information Service.

Calls to 0345 numbers from landlines and mobiles are included in free call packages. For customers with these packages, it will mean calling the council on these numbers, does not incur any additional costs. For people not on free call packages, a call to a 0345 number costs no more than a geographical number (eg: 01284, 01787 and 01473).

Existing 0845 numbers are not being switched off overnight. There will be a period of time where the 0845 number, and its replacement 0345 number, will both be live. This is to ensure people can still access the services they need whilst getting used to the new numbers. It will also mean the county council only replaces printed materials and liveries when current stocks run out.

All Freephone numbers starting 0800 will also remain unchanged.

Childrens Centres There was an attempt to halt the current consultation and possible closures, but unfortunately this failed. The results of the consultation will be presented to SCC cabinet on 9th December.

Surgery  My surgery is on the third Saturday of the month, as ever. 10-12, in Woodbridge Library