Threatened closure of 29 libraries.. the vanishing of the Road Crossing patrols.. loss of the rural evening and Sunday bus services.. closure of Youth Clubs.. divestment of Highway Services.. divestment of Country Parks.. vast sums spent on gagging clauses, consultants and senior management salaries and perks.. abolition of the Explore youth travel card.. sale and potential closure of Care Homes.. the plummeting of Suffolk schools down the educational league tables to their current places as 148th out of 151 at Primary school level, 141 out of 151 at secondary level… (there’s plenty more, but that’s enough to be going on with)
It’s quite a spectacular grime sheet, isn’t it?
As the 2013 elections approach it may be worth remembering that the Suffolk Conservatives made no mention of Suffolk’s New Strategic Direction when they went to the polls in 2009. Yet it didn’t stop them doing their darnedest to implement it without any mandate once they had their majority. (And when they were stopped, many of the NSD proposals continued under a different guise..)
It might be well to ponder this before voting. The Suffolk County Conservatives’ 5-pledge election manifesto is as thin as a lo-calorie water biscuit – and about as nutritious. They promise to replace a youth travel card they cut two years back, the high-speed broadband they funded in this electoral cycle, plus an (unavoidable) expenditure on care , a Country-wide ‘No ColdCalling Zone’ (go figure) and that old Tory staple of no council-tax increase – which is always wheeled out as an alibi for their more spectacular episodes of financial mismanagement. And .. er.. that’s it.
So – as I say – milquetoast from start to finish.
But who knows what may be on the secret agenda for the next four years?
In the relatively calm waters of 2013, we are in danger of forgetting quite what threat Suffolk’s libraries were under back in 2010, when Tory-appointed CEO Andrea Hill was endeavouring to institute a ‘virtual council’ and divest itself of most services in the name of her New Strategic Direction. The Conservative councillors who were happy to vote this in are still in power – until May 2nd.
SCC has now decided to sell its care homes ‘as going concerns’ – or so we heard last month.
Very much better than the original suggestion of choice which had an indefinable suggestion of ‘prime building site in desirable location’ about it. Indeed – now that management buy-outs from existing staff are no longer excluded – it could result in little noticeable chance for the people of Suffolk, and particularly the residents. This is to be welcomed.
But where does all SCC’s past rhetoric about the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the private sector sit with the downfall of Southern Cross, the UK’s largest private care provider?
Southern Cross is Britain’s biggest care homes operator, with 750 homes – eight of which are in Suffolk. It is currently teetering on the brink of financial collapse as it struggles to pay the rent for what the portfolio-holder for Adult Care Services would describe as its ‘cost-effective care homes’. But as Southern Cross strikes a deal with its landlords in a last-ditch attempt to avoid bankruptcy, we haven’t heard too much from its creditors about its efficiency and cost-effectiveness .
Indeed, Age UK has been quoted as saying
“In future, we would like to see all home care providers having to demonstrate to regulators a solid business model. Without this they should not be able to run care homes. The sector would benefit from greater transparency.”
So it seems that all that past New Strategic Direction bombast from Suffolk’s Tory Cabinet about how the private sector was so much more efficient in the care of the elderly was based on a system with no requirement for transparency or a solid business model.
Why doesn’t that surprise me?
Caroline Page, LibDem County Councillor for Woodbridge