Tag Archives: Colin Noble

Democracy in Suffolk: SCC Conservatives – what’s going on?

A game of Tug of War with Suffolk in the middle? While other elections go on, Suffolk’s county Conservatives quietly continue to tear themselves asunder…

A couple of weeks ago came the news that  Conservative councillor for Hadleigh, Brian Riley, planned to continue holding his seat as county  councillor (and drawing his councillor’s allowance)  from North Carolina. This was particularly galling to the Lib Dems  as the Hadleigh seat had been occupied – and occupied  well- for over twenty years  by indefatigable LibDem councillor David Grutchfield, who only stood down at the last election  due to ill health.

(It also  suggests the pointlessness of a protest vote.  People in Hadleigh who changed voting allegiance to show  Nick Clegg a thing or  two have rather cut off their own noses to spite their faces, haven’t they?  Showed Nick Clegg a whole lot, haven’t you, folks? – and really really helped make sure you get your buses back and your old folk looked after and your schools and social care problems adequately looked at!

Well, its worth pointing out…)

NOW we have the news that Suffolk County Council Leader Mark Bee is standing down, after what has seemed from the outside rather like a year of overt and covert party infighting following the failed putsch of former New Strategic Direction cheerleaders Guy MacGregor and Colin Noble last April.

Was he pushed or has he left of his own free will?

Regardless of one’s political beliefs, Bee came in and steadied a very rocky boat in the wake of the Andrea Hill fiasco.  And we may well wonder, in failing to support this decent and honourable man  whether the Suffolk Conservative party are – yet again – prioritising party factions and personal ambitions over the needs of the county they are elected to represent!

The Conservatives are playing their cards close to their chest – but it looks like the battle will be between Colin Noble, hoping to be third time lucky, and Bee’s nomination,  Jenny Antill.

Mrs Antill has degrees in Law and Russian Studies from London University and was an investment analyst in the City of London until she retired in 1999. She worked for a number of institutions, including James Capel, Merrill Lynch and Putnam Investments.

Colin NobleSuffolk Circle
March 2012: SCC’s first year funding for Suffolk Circle was £350,000: at the year end it had only recruited 362 members (who, despite paying a minimum subscription £30 each, had also cost SCC £1000 a head!) And Cllr Noble STILL has the temerity to talk about wasting public money!

In public debates Colin Noble is fond of making reference to an 18.5% council tax rise raised by the Labour & Liberal Democrat administration in 2003. He never mentions whether it provided value for money. Maybe for him, that isn’t an issue.  He is, however strangely silent on the subject of Suffolk Circle  a “Pay-annual-subscription-to-get-a-good-neighbour-scheme”  that Cllr Noble and his then Conservative Cabinet colleagues unilaterally decided to give just under £700,000 to, sight unseen, in camera, as a three year start-up – for reasons it is hard to understand, very much more recently.  Based on the premise that every person over 50 in Suffolk was ‘old’ and neglecting to recognise the many many groups that provide similar services for free,  even a person who did sums on eight fingers and two thumbs could see that Suffolk Circle, as a scheme, was doomed to financial failure.  And indeed this baby was a baby which circled the plughole and sank without remark a year ago the moment that SCC’s seed funding ran out (and with ab-so-lute-ly total silence from Cllr Noble) -having cost every man woman and child in Suffolk – council tax payer or no –  a little over a pound a head. 

Next week’s winner? We wait and see.  We, the people of Suffolk, will need persuading that we are not losers whichever way things pan out.

The short life of Suffolk Circle- and what it cost us Suffolk taxpayers!

SuffolkCircle 21April2014

In March – just as I left the country – Suffolk Circle folded and Suffolk Tories quietly wrote off nearly three quarters of a million pounds of our money.  What a surprise!

Even back in 2010 when SCC’s Conservative Cabinet unilaterally decided to give just under £700,000 sight unseen to produce a “Pay-annual-subscription-to-get-a-good-neighbour-scheme” you could see there were potential problems (see blogpost July 2011) .

The notion was ‘spun’ to the people of Suffolk as long-term assistance to the council’s social care budget by supporting the vulnerable elderly. But as the Circle defined ‘the elderly’ as anyone aged over 50, this included over a third of Suffolk’s population. Such a ludicrously long-term ‘long-term solution’ should have raised alarm bells with anyone of even average mathematical ability. Unfortunately it seems there was no such person overseeing Suffolk Circle.

Furthermore, despite spending a year and £100,000 of taxpayers’ hard-earned money on a ‘scoping exercise’ – neither the (then) Cabinet Member for Adult and Continuing Services – Colin Noble – nor Suffolk Circle itself appeared to be aware of the huge number of pre-existing interest groups and services for both the over-50s and the ‘frail elderly’ that were already operating in Suffolk * (I know, I know. You couldn’t make it up.)

Colin NobleSuffolk CircleSo unsurprisingly Suffolk Circle missed its modest targets from the beginning.

In the first year it spent £350,000  and only got 362 members. These members had paid a minimum subscription of £30 each and STILL cost the council £1000 a head. Nice going! (362 people make up 0.16% of Suffolk’s over-50s, by the way).

The  modest target-setting continued. Suffolk Circle’s target membership was supposed to be 1630 members by March 2013 and 3500 by March 2014 when the funding finished and the scheme could soar to dizzy heights without it. As it was, Suffolk Circle ground to a halt in March the moment the money ran out, admitting it had achieved no more than 2000 members in its entire existence.  Paid for by the hardworking Suffolk taxpayer, who had had this scheme foisted on them – without consultation and in secret – by a set of ideological nitwits who had picked up the notion from goodness knows where.

No oversight, no claw-back, no responsibility taken. Let’s just pretend it didn’t happen, shall we?

But don’t you think the frail elderly of Suffolk deserve more? and all the local groups, from Age UK Suffolk to Wickham Market and District Family Carers who could have taken that money and spent it wisely and responsibly?

I do.

Colin Noble – until last week Cabinet member for Finance at SCC – has suddenly (and perhaps in view of the above, inexplicably) become rather passionate about debate in policy-making:

 “We believe that the members of the council should debate policy and come up with proposals that are taken up by the cabinet and then implemented by the senior officers,”  he is quoted as saying last week. “At present we feel it is developed by the cabinet and senior officers, and then given to the backbenchers for them to approve. I believe it is best when policy is robustly debated before being adopted and taken forward to be implemented.”

Cllr Noble, we members of the council would have loved to debate the issue of Suffolk Circle if the decision hadn’t been made by you and your colleagues in camera. As it was, non-Cabinet members first saw the briefing documents for Suffolk Circle when we scrutinized its shoddy performance one year on.

Don’t you think it’s a bit rich to start talking about debating policy now, after you threw the better part of a million pounds of Suffolk taxpayers’ hard-earned money down the gurgler?

 

*Just in the area local to Woodbridge this could be taken to include: Church groups, Suffolk Carers, Royal British Legion, WI, English Country Markets, Library groups, writers groups and book groups, amateur dramatics and play readings, Good Neighbour Groups, Tea dances, Ramblers, Age UK (including their telephone befriending scheme), Wickham Market Family Carers Support Group, political parties, WRVS, lunch groups, charity work, NADFAS, WAMRAG, and groups for those interested in art, photography, music, opera, ballet, the theatre – to name but a few.

 

Suffolk & Southwark – the non-identical twins

What do these two graphs have in common?

Above is a demographic diagram of the population of Southwark, London. It shows the population by age divided up into 5 year slices. Below is the same for Suffolk.

Wherever you see the bulges, that’s the age group where the biggest slice of the population is found. And where they go inside the line, it means they are less than the national average. Southwark is like an arrow head, Suffolk more like a vase!

They really are not very similar, are they?

The largest age-group in Southwark is aged between 25 and 35, with fewer and fewer over the age of 50 and upwards.  In complete contrast , in Suffolk the 50-64 age group is the biggest age group in the county. A significan proportion of Suffolk residents are over 50.

Whereas the bulk of Suffolk residents have lived in the same place for generations, nearly half of Southwark residents are communities  from Africa, the West Indies, Ireland, China, Vietnam, Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Indian subcontinent, and Turkey  to name just some.  Over 170 languages /dialects are spoken. Life expectancy is substantially lower for people living in more deprived areas in the borough, especially males. Four out of ten people live on their own.

In other words, Southwark is a racially diverse, densely populated, and young urban community with significant social deprivation, where the older people may find  neighbours move in and out frequently,  have little knowledge of  who lives next door – and may not even speak the same language. This is the background against which a social enterprise company (Participle) set up Southwark Circle, ‘a membership organisation that helps older people make the most of their retirement.’  NB the definition of ‘older people’ is 50-plus – the age when the numbers of people in Southwark  tail off sharply.

The demographic  profile of Southwark does indeed bring with it a risk of social isolation for older people, and you  could make a good case for the Southwark Circle being a perfectly good idea.

However, Suffolk couldn’t be more different from Southwark.

Most  Suffolk residents  have lived here for many years,  and many residents for generations. Suffolk is NOT mixed, NOT densely populated, and (whilst there is plenty of social deprivation)  NOT  deprived in the way  Southwark is. Far from being lonely and isolated, the 50-pluses are embedded in the community,  running the county – and practically everything else.

Which is why, many months later, I am still pondering why Suffolk County Council thought Southwark such a close match for our county. Why at a time when SCC are cutting staff and  frontline services did they decide to spend £680,000 on Participle  transferring a Good Neighbours scheme (which you have to pay to join) from isolated inner London to a rural community packed with good neighbours who have a long tradition of helping each other for free.

I am not criticising Southwark here, its just that Southwark and Suffolk are chalk and cheese.

I asked Colin Noble, portfolioholder  Adult and Community Services,  what he considered to be the key similarities between the two areas. His only reply was “there was a great deal of work done by the people who set up the Southwark Circle as a scoping exercise..

In response to the same question they tell me ”the research work is a bit too large to email without clogging up yours and my inboxes” and offer to send me a copy.

But surely the scoping exercise could only have been undertaken after Suffolk had decided that the Southwark project had merit and that there were enough similarities between the areas for the same approach to work?

Look again at the graphs. What similarities can you see?

Update 4 April 2012: I have recently been informed that the Suffolk Circle is costing Suffolk taxpayers ‘only’ £680,000 over three years, including £100,00 up front for scoping and planning. As of April  this means £350,000 has been spent on the project and this has  attracted 362 members,. You couldn’t make it up…