Concerns about Kier – Suffolk’s Highways Maintenance Contractor After Kier shares tumbled 41% last week concerns have been raised about the longterm viability of Suffolk’s outsourced Highways Maintenance department, whose share value is now down 85% over the last year.
As you may remember, the Council’s Conservative administration outsourced its entire roads maintenance team to Kier in a five year contract back in 2013, maintaining, despite opposition concerns ,that the private sector could do the same work more efficiently for less money. Despite significant continuing problems with the contract, they renewed it early, in 2015, for another five years. Continue reading What’s been happening, May to June 2019→
On Tuesday, Suffolk County Council’s Conservative Cabinet passed an undemocratic proposal limiting access to free school transport.
I put it like this because the media narrative is that “Councillors voted unanimously.” Er… No. While any councillor could question, only the wholly Conservative Cabinet could vote. And while the Cabinet members opened their mouths, it was not to question. They spoke in turn uncritically, to offer support.
Undemocratic because – having gone to public consultation and the public having made their feelings abundantly clear – Cabinet voted on an option that was universally unpopular. It did not even consider the option supported by 90% of respondents.
If the public relied on the media to inform them, they would not have been aware of what happened at the meeting. The media conscientiously reported the flavour of the many excellent tabled questions from the public. However, they totally ignored the literally hours of forensic questioning from the opposition – LibDem, Green and Labour councillors – which teased out many problems and concerns with the favoured proposal.
In other words the situation was framed as ‘councillors v public’ instead of ‘Conservative Cabinet fobbing off the questions of their opposition colleagues’. You might want to query this narrative and what purpose it serves.
In my particular case, I travelled as fast as I could on public transport to and from an emergency surgical appointment at Addenbrookes to be there in time to hold the Cabinet to account along with my Lib Dem, Green and Labour colleagues. We all asked many questions. (I must do new Leader Matthew Hicks justice and say he chaired the meeting with justice and impartiality, allowing the opposition all the questions they wished to ask and cutting short members of his own party who merely wished to make eyewateringly inappropriate declarations of loyalty, instead of questioning Cabinet. Another issue the media could have picked up on, ‘an if it would’.).
In my own questions I queried the administration’s terms of reference. Was Suffolk’s offer really “more generous” than the government minimum, when the government minimum covered urban and rural students indiscriminately? City students do not have 3 mile walks to their catchment school: city schools are closer and public transport is plentiful and cheap.
We were told how expensive our spend was- over £100 a student head as opposed to Salford’s £2.
However, as I pointed out, Salford has a total area of 8 sq miles. It would actually be well-nigh impossible for a child to live more than 3 miles from their local school in Salford! Suffolk, in comparison, has an area of 1466sq miles, used to grow the food and provide the electricity that places like Salford rely on. We are not comparing like with like.
I also asked, bearing in mind we were removing entitlement to bus travel, why there was no Traffic Impact Assessment for the county – and while the very limited (Thurston area only) TIA failed to consider issues such as pollution and air quality? (Answer: too expensive/work in progress. Hardly a scientific answer)
And, bearing in mind over 70% of respondents were women , and local government cuts disproportionally affect women, l asked whether Cabinet could be genuinely satisfied that the IA’s conclusion that “impact on women would be minimised by phasing in the changes”, fully addressed the actual impact these changes would have on women. Ominously – but unsurprisingly -this question was not answered at all.
Suffolk County Council’s budget forecast paints worrying picture A Cabinet paper last week revealed that Suffolk County Council is forecasting an overspend of £10.2m on their 2017/18 revenue budget. The majority of this overspend is within Adult & Community Services (£2.3m) and Children’s Services (£6.4m). The narrative that ‘savings’ (eg ‘cuts’) can continue is increasingly unsustainable. “Leaner and fitter” has morphed to anorexia.
Opposition councillors are growing increasingly concerned: latest budget forecasts make it clear that, unless major changes occur, the Council’s finances are not sustainable in the long-term with the most vulnerable members of our county the most likely to suffer the consequences.
Suffolk County Council has had to make significant savings in response to continuing cuts in funding from central government. Demand for services, however, has continued to grow. This is no surprise to anyone. However, while there is no denying the issue of chronic underfunding from central government, Suffolk County Council has plumed itself on capping council tax for years . (Leader Colin Noble memorably maintained: “the vast majority of those on fixed pensions do not look to council services to help them in their old age. So he majority of old people are not reliant on libraries, buses, roads, care services, public health? News to me, and to them. And to Cllr Noble, clearly).
The administration called instead for for Suffolk to innovate in income generation.
Disappointingly this income has failed to materialise.
This is tragic. Proper investment in Suffolk’s economy, combined with regular tiny increases in council tax over the years, could have done much to avert the current worrying situation.
Home to School Transport – workshops announced In September, our LDGI Group successfully “called-in” the Cabinet’s decision to go to consultation on changes to the Home to School Transport policy, questioning the nature of the pre-consultation period, and arguing that more research needed to be done.
The Scrutiny Committee agreed with us, and voted to refer the decision back to Cabinet for further consideration. It has not yet been announced when Cabinet will reconsider the proposals.
Suffolk County Council has announced that two workshops will be taking place in November, to further discuss the challenge and help develop proposals for Cabinet to consider. However, invitations will only be sent to 80 randomly selected representatives. If you have not been invited, and feel that you should be a part of these workshops, you can contact either myself or email@example.com.
Motion to improve early years funding rejected by Council At the meeting of Council on Thursday 19th October, our LDGI group supported a Labour motion which called on the Council to (1) lobby central government for more funding in Suffolk and (2) pass the full amount of funding received on to providers. Unfortunately, the Conservative majority refused to back the motion.
Since September 2017, working families are entitled to 30 hours of free childcare, whilst all families are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare. Suffolk is one of only 37 local authorities which this year had a reduction in early years funding, receiving a total of £31 987 186. This equates to £4.41 per hour. However, childcare providers receive a base rate of only £3.87 per hour, and many are struggling to run their businesses on this low rate.
The motion highlighted the difficulty faced by childcare providers across the county, and questioned why the Council did not pass through a higher rate of funding to providers.
Councillor Gordon Jones (Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Education and Skills) stated that the Council only retains £2.1m, which is used to meet their statutory duties. He has yet to provide a full breakdown on how this money is spent
Bus timetable changes and issues due to Woods Lane Closure The closure seems to be proving as problematic as forecast. First are using shuttle buses to extend the 800 Park and Ride journeys beyond Woodbridge due to delays on account of the Woods Lane works. I have already had one complaint that these are not integrated in ticketing terms with the P&R services.
It also seems that the notices on the suspended bus stops on Bredfield Road is leading a number of older residents to assume that bus services are completely suspended therefore entrapping them in this part of Woodbridge.
The temporary shuttle bus stops are not clearly signed and the shuttle bus does not adequately cover for the suspended bus stops.
Social Worker of the Year: former Kyson pupil nominated second year running The Coastal and North East Ipswich Child in Care social work team is a finalist in the Social Worker of the Year Awards 2017 as a result of their outstanding work with children and their families.
Members of the team have previously been recognised for their outstanding achievements, including (I am very proud to say) former Kyson pupil Emily Tiplady-Ead whose immense professionalism and skills made herlast year’s national ‘Children’s Social Worker of the Year ’. Hearty congratulations, Emily!
Woodbridge Thoroughfare Consultation This received over 600 replies. A presentation will be mounted in the Library shortly to unveil the overwhelmingly popular result and to signpost the next stage
Caroline Page, LibDem County Councillor for Woodbridge