This month’s report deals with the legitimisation of various appalling cuts by the administration (who at the same time are letting money flow through their fingers on such essential front line services as extremely expensive consultants training them to ‘listen’ (hah!) and ‘gagging’ payments – £520,000 last year alone) to stop the mouths of ex-staff members
SCC 2011-12 Budget
The end of February saw Suffolk County Council’s final budget setting meeting. Here the budget of cuts, already approved by the Cabinet, was voted through by the Conservatives on the County Council. The cuts will affect many people in rural and urban areas throughout the county. I strongly opposed, in particular, decisions taken to reduce vital frontline services, including the scrapping of school crossing patrols, local buses and the eXplore card.
At the meeting my group put forward an amendment to the budget which would have saved many frontline services.
I feel that the people of Woodbridge NEEDc to k now what there WERE fully-costed options to these cuts, although the Conservatives would have us believe there were none.
We believed it would be possible to provide funding for all these services if we looked at savings from the centre of the organisation and used a small proportion of the £108m which the council holds in reserves. Our amendment would have saved the following services:
- Youth Clubs /Youth provision
- Subsidies to public transport services for Sundays, evenings and Bank Holidays
- Park and Ride Service from the Bury Road, Ipswich site
- Funding for the eXplore student card, which gives half price travel on buses up to age 19
- School Crossing Patrol Service
- Retain all Household Waste Recycling Centres, instead of reducing them from 18 to 11
- Continue checking lorries to see if they are overloaded.
- Stop the divestment of the Fire Control Function to Huntingdon
- Keep Felixstowe as a Day Crewed fire station, instead of reducing it to retained
- Retain full time crewing of the Ipswich Aerial Appliance
By using these funds;
- Re-open Bury Road Park and Ride by reviewing revenue streams for Park and Ride to increase income, including from concessionary fares, creating a cost neutral service
- Reduction in Road Maintenance Revenue Budget – not affecting emergency repairs
- Business Mileage reduction of 10% – saving nearly £1m a year
- Reduction of hours, to enable the continuation of all Household Waste sites
- Reduction of one Director and 2 Assistant Director posts
- Reduction of 2 Cabinet posts
- Reduce back office staff in Fire Service & review the number of appliances attending incidents (at present, for example, they send 5 appliances to a cat up a tree)
- Reduce External Room Hire by 30%
- Felixstowe Fire Station to 5 day weekday manning
- Use of Service reserves
- Reduce Corporate Contingency reserve
- Reduce Management of Change reserve
These savings would be heavily focused on the use of the ‘management of change’ budget, which was set up for business transformation during the year at the council, and the ‘corporate contingency’ fund, which is there to help manage risk throughout the year. We believe with the current financial situation this is the best time to use the reserves to ensure communities will continue to receive essential services. Even Eric Pickles agrees with us. Unfortunately the Suffolk conservatives did not, and the amendment was defeated on the day, with every Conservative voting for the cuts. You can find all the information regarding the budget at this link
The consultation for Libraries is still going ahead, as the County are looking to divest, or close most of of the Libraries around the County. A meeting between SCC officials and councillors and Suffolk library activists on 25th February has brought forward new information (see James Hargraves and Andrew Grant Adamson’s accounts of this meeting which both attended, as supporters of Stradbroke and Debenham libraries individually)
The original classification of the 44 libraries into 15 county libraries, to be protected and divested as a group, and 29 community libraries, which would close if community groups did not take them over, has been effectively abandoned.
Only Ipswich County Library, Bury St Edmonds and probably Lowestoft remain in a core group to be divested. This appears to mean that Chantry (Ipswich), Gainsborough (Ipswich), Beccles, Felixstowe, Hadleigh, Halesworth, Haverhill, Mildenhall, Newmarket, Stowmarket, Sudbury and Woodbridge, join the other 29 seeking community arrangements.
No libraries will be closed without a further consultation. The process of divesting all libraries is expected to take two or three years.
Those who believe libraries should continue to be run as a Suffolk County Council service should write this when filling in the consultation response form.
The consultation began on the 18th of January, and finishes on the 30th of April. You can find the consultation on the home page of Suffolk County Council under the Consultation heading. http://www.suffolk.gov.uk
Loss and adverse change to Woodbridge bus services
In addition to the budget cuts as specified above, the County Council has made significant reductions in the levels of subsidy provided to passenger transport, a total of £2.2m, which enable commercial services to operate in non-peak time slots. This means that some services will cease completely, whereas others will stop operating in the evenings, and on weekends. As I alerted you last meeting, the 61a and b have closed already as ‘non-profit-making’. This was despite representations from me, and reminders to the EME Directorate and portfolio holder that all three tiers of local government in Woodbridge had told SCC and the operators last year WHY it was non-profit making and suggested a change or route that would make it more so.
The County Council has now released information of all those buses that will now cease or change hours.
The underlying principle of most of the timetable changes has been to remove evening and Sunday services. This of course is not much of an issue for those who are mobile by other means. It is a tragedy for others. Particularly as the SCC line that these services’will be replaced by demand responsive transport’ does NOT apply as the DRT team confirm they have no interest or intention in extending the service beyond 7-7 Monday to Saturday. Basically this is a huge loss to people who may have few choices.
I have placed a full list of the cuts and changes elsewhere on this blog (click here for details)
Full information can be found on http://www.suffolkonboard.com/news/changes_to_public_transport_services_april_2011
Petitioning SCC against cuts
A change in national legislation means that the SCC now has to provide online petitioning for its residents. This means members of the public are – at last – able to create, and sign electronic petitions to disapprove a Council decision or bring an issue to their attention.
There are currently a lot of petitions online – all of which relate to recent decisions made by the county. Once a petition reaches 3,675 signatures, the issue then has to be debated in Full Council. The eXplore card petition is proving particularly popular – having got over halfway already. It is an issue particularly close to my heart as losing this card will make a huge difference
a) to the education and employment prospects of a whole generation of Suffolk’s young people.
b) to the provision of scheduled bus services
I have recently told that Suffolk County Council is prepared to accept all the library petitions together as one petition. This means they have already reached the 3,675 and so hopefully it means this will be brought back to council shortly.
Just to remind you, the epetition site is: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/News/EPetitions.htm
Ipswich Road: Clarkson Crossing and the Solar-powered 30mph Speed sign
A bit of good news to end with: two of my Quality of Life budget safety projects are now successfully finished:
On Tuesday morning a specially designed commemorative plaque will be unveiled by Farlingaye students at the new Clarkson Crossing in Ipswich Road (named after Thomas Clarkson, Suffolk’s famous anti-slavery campaigner, and not after Jeremy!). This commemorates the work Farlingaye HS students put into this with Suffolk County Council.
I am delighted to say that the Solar-powered 30mph speed sign I proposed, negotiated and paid for out of my Quality of Life budget is now installed at the bottom of the Ipswich Road hill, just before the John Grose garage, Sandy Lane and the blind bend. I hope you have NOT noticed it, because that means you would have been driving at less than 30mph.