Tag Archives: residents

Town Council report July 2011

This  month’s report deals with the long-anticipated  departure of Suffolk’s Chief Executive, the Library scrutiny, my proposed motion re concessionary travel passes to next full council and a few words about a telecom mast…

Departure of SCC Chief Executive

Last week finally saw the departure of Chief Executive Andrea Hill from  Suffolk County Council.  I’m giving you the County Council statement in full:

“The Dismissals and Appeals Committee of Suffolk County Council has today (4 July 2011) concluded its investigation into the ‘whistle-blowing’ allegations made against Chief Executive, Andrea Hill.

“Bullying and harassment allegations were robustly investigated by an independent firm of solicitors. Although it remains a concern that such a perception existed, the Committee is satisfied that there was no evidence to support those claims or that she was responsible for the death of David White (former Head of Legal Services). The Committee wants to reassure staff that all allegations are treated extremely seriously.

“The Committee also received a report into Mrs Hill’s expense claims during her tenure as Chief Executive.  It has concluded that whilst there were undoubtedly claims which, in the current climate, might not represent best use of public money, the Committee accepted that there was no dishonesty in the claims made.

“Following a lengthy discussion last Friday, and negotiations between representatives of both parties over the weekend, the county council can now confirm that Mrs Hill will be leaving her post with immediate effect.

“There has been significant media attention attached to Mrs Hill which has become a distraction and both parties accept that with new political leadership of Suffolk County Council in place, it is better to allow the organisation to move forward with new managerial leadership.

“The county council would like to thank Mrs Hill for all she has done over the past three years and wish her well for her future.

“The total value of compensation to be paid to Mrs Hill is £218,592.  This figure includes her contractual notice period.”

Until a new appointment is made, Lucy Robinson will continue to stand in as interim Chief Executive.

Mrs Hill’s appointment and salary package were not ratified unanimously by the council: my party, for example, voted against both. However, as I understand it, any future appointment will be undertaken:

  • relatively slowly
  • in a spirit of considerably greater consensus
  • without this time incurring the expense of a recruitment agency (this is not only the expense of using one, but the expense that occurs by the possible ramping up of salaries by the agency to maximise its own profit on the transaction)

These days no public sector appointment can offer a salary greater than the prime minister (about £142,000) without specific permission being sought and gained. It is  therefore expected that Suffolk’s next Chief Executive  will be paid considerably less than our last one was.

County Council – Public questions & Agenda

The next Full Council meeting will take place on the 14th of July.

At this meeting, I will personally be putting forward a motion to extend the time that concessionary bus passes can be used for free in Suffolk.  For the last months the County Council provided  only basic free travel between 9:30 and 11.  I’m proposing a start time of 9am for those those who have the concessionary pass on the basis of age, and no time limitations at all for those  who are eligible for the pass on the basis of disability.  Implementing this  – as many other County Councils do – will help increase social mobility, and allow individuals to reach places of work, socialise, and to make hospital appointments without unneccessary restriction.

In addition to this,  the petitions to Save Suffolk Libraries – amounting to well over 36,000 signatures in toto  – will be heard and spoken to.

Libraries – Scrutiny Committee Recommendations

At the last Scrutiny Committee on the 14th of June Councillors discussed the County Councils Library policy, and made a number of recommendations in order to influence the policy decision which will take place later in July at the Cabinet meeting.  The papers for this meeting have now been published, and can be found on the County Council website. I would like to draw your attention to an anomaly in the paperwork for this:  there is a graph representing responses to the consultation, but it says:

NB The chart above does not include the response “Maintain as is”. This received 3099 out of the 3893 responses and therefore made a meaningful graph-based representation with the other responses impossible

This is not the case: you can see a graph showing all responses at James Hargraves’  blog.

The full Scrutiny Committee recommendations are:

a)                   the classification of County Libraries and Community Libraries referred to in the Consultation document is not a reasonable basis for a policy;

b)                   the potential community interest company agrees individual budgets for each library;

c)                   the business case considered by Cabinet should clearly demonstrate how the community interest company service would operate across the whole of Suffolk;

d)                   that the Council retain the ability to ensure that the terms offered by the community interest company were sufficient to maintain a sustainable service;

e)                   any claims on secondary taxation from Parish, Town, District or Borough Councils be carried out on an equitable basis across Suffolk;

f)                     due consideration be given to innovative ideas that have already come forward and any others that are received  from communities on how their services might be run;

g)                   the policy on mobile libraries be clearly stated in the report to Cabinet;

h)                   the Council provide absolute clarity to communities interested in running their libraries on issues they were likely to raise such as finance, staffing and legal issues;

i)                     the Council must satisfy itself on the financial viability of the plans put forward and that they are sustainable.

j)                     further expressions of interest are welcome and will be considered.

Health Scrutiny

The county council  having cancelled the Health Scrutiny committee last year, it has now become clear that health issues are occupying a disproportionate time of the one Scrutiny committee now remaining to us. The County Council has therefore decided to reinstate the Health Scrutiny Committee, which will  be meeting  next on the 20th of July.

Woodbridge matters: proposed new telecoms mast

Delivered verbally at the meeting

I have had several concerned people talking to me about the proposal of a new telecoms mast in Old Barrack Road.  It is for a 12.5 metre mast with 4 antennae and 2 dishes on it, in a very residential area and next to a mature sycamore tree. It ts also within 100 metres of Kyson school and Kyzone playgroup.

I have talked to a couple of officers in the SCC Highways department about this and it seems that the primary problem is that the telecommunications industry have a statutory right by licence to erect masts on public highway land. (Do not ask me how this iniquitous law which appears to support private enterprise at the expense of public opinion came into force but it goes back to 1984, say no more)

This statutory right is subject to the following:

“Mobile phone companies are granted a licence by central government under the Telecommunications Act 1984 which allows them to install their equipment (masts, cabinets) within the public highway, subject to approvals outlined below:

1.  SCC (as highway authority) approvals The licence requires mobile phone companies to ensure their equipment doesn’t cause safety hazard ie to ensure the masts and cabinets do not obscure visibility at junctions or obstructions to pedestrians. The area offices provide advise as required.

2. District council (local planning authority) approvals Planning legislation requires mobile phone companies to follow a 42-day prior approval procedure before erecting masts. This requires the company to erect a notice on site and write to the district council. During this period the district council can require details of the siting and appearance of the equipment and can approve or refuse permission for the mast.

3.  Planning permission Any freestanding mast in excess of 15 metres in height requires planning permission from the district council irrespective of prior approval procedure.

From the Suffolk County Council angle, therefore, one can only make an objection to the siting of the mast if it is considered that the siting of the mobile mast causes a traffic risk. I asked the SCC officers’ opinion  on this, and their opinion was that it did not, although maybe local residents with a greater understanding of living in the area might be able to prove differently. I am very happy to broker any concerns

However, you may notice points 2 and 3 which is where Suffolk Coastal District Council come into the picture as the local planning authority. I don’t know how far down the route this has gone.  I notice that SCDC has to grant planning permission for the mast to go up, in addition to  the prior approval procedure.

When’s a majority NOT a majority? Suffolk Coastal!

Oh dear.  I AM a sap!

Only a month ago I wrote the following (click to open the link)

Just to remind you all that if you want to have your say on Suffolk Coastal District Council’s future leadership, you need to act fast.  SCDC  is choosing whether the district council is run in future by a Leader, appointed from amongst the district councillors, or by a  Mayor, elected by us and wants to hear from you by 3 December 2010 – eg next Friday.

I shouldn’t be allowed out on my own, should I, poor innocent that I am!

In my defence,  as a resident of Suffolk Coastal, I might hope to think the best of my local council.  I was, I admit, a little mystified (not to say disturbed)  at the extreme lack of prominence Suffolk Coastal District council were giving to this supposedly very important excercise of the democratic process.  As Geof Butterwick, a local parish councillor, put it:

The website item was not exactly highlighted. The Coastline article wasn’t headlined ( it took me several scans to spot the postage stamp sized article on page 3).  I’m not sure to what extent the EADT picked up on the press release issued on 15th October, but it certainly wasn’t enough to promote much of a public debate.

To put it mildly.

Which is why I aired the subject in my blog. It was almost as if – impossible though this may sound – Suffolk Coastal didn’t WANT people to know this consultation was taking place!

OK, the truth was, Suffolk Coastal District Council’s ‘consultation’ over an elected Mayor was pretty much like Suffolk County Council’s ‘engagement’over their New Strategic Direction: an exercise in Harry Potter-like invisibility masquerading as ‘giving the people a say.

However, putting that to one side, I DID (o why?) genuinely believe that  this was a public consultation, one where the council were interested in finding out the public’s opinion.   Like I say, I’m an innocent sap…

So what happened?

For a start, only 118 people responded (one of whom was me).  This low response rate can be attributed to two causes: invisibility and apathy. Many Suffolk residents seem to have given up actually directing the fate of their county – possibly because they are less than wholly convinced that their opinion counts for anything.  Leave it to someone else, and whinge about the outcome, is the watchword of all too many! However there are plenty who are interested…

Did they KNOW this consultation was going on?

Well – unless you’d read my blog – would YOU?

Of the 118 responses,  there were 70 votes for a Directly Elected Mayor & Cabinet,  and 47 for the current Leader & Cabinet mode. (There was also 1 ‘don’t know’.)

GREAT! So there was a clear mandate, then.  I mean, if a district council election brings out only a tiny percentage of the electorate, does that disqualify the elected councillor from his win, Mr Herring? fellow councillors? Well – does it?

On the 30 December, I got an email from SCDC saying

Thank you for taking the time to submit the questionnaire regarding the consultation on Suffolk Coastal District Council’s future leadership arrangements.  Your comments have been noted

A nice choice of words.  ‘Noted and ignored’ would be more accurate..

The vote was 60% in favour of a  change to a directly elected mayor, with  a mere 40% against it. So what did SCDC decide to do? To continue with the current system.

Or as the minutes point out:

The Monitoring Officer advised that the new-style Leader and Cabinet model was almost identical to the Council’s current arrangements; the main difference being that the Leader would be elected by the Council for a period of four years rather than each year (although he or she could be removed at any time by Council). It was also suggested that while there might be some limited support for a democratically elected Mayor as suggested by the relatively small number of responses to the consultation, there was not any compelling evidence to indicate that there was any stronger form of governance than the Leader model. Conversely, the adoption of the Mayoral model would have extra financial implications as it would require the Council to run separate elections for the appointment of the Mayor at least every four years; it could also be extremely confusing for the electorate who would already have had to deal in May 2011 with district council elections, parish elections and an anticipated alternative vote referendum. Additionally the Government had already indicated that the leadership models would undergo further changes in the near future.

So that’s all right then! You’ll all be pleased to know that the minutes also show that Leader of the Council Ray Herring, commented

that in carrying out a “light touch” consultation the Council had done at least what was required, and perhaps more. There had been a press release, the details had been advertised on the Council’s website and in Coastline; additionally the East Anglian Daily Times had published at least one article on the subject. The response had been disappointing, which seemed to indicate that there was not a groundswell of opinion within the District in favour of the Mayoral model.

Yet what must have really disappointed Mr Herring was that, despite this ‘light touch’ non-consultation ( of which very few were aware other than other SCDC councillors)  his administration had managed to elicit approval for the status quo from fewer respondents than there are actual members of his council! Quite a remarkable feat. I’m not sure theis particular Leader would recognise a ground swell of opinion unless it jumped up and hit him in the face!

So anyway, folks, that’s Suffolk  democracy, for you.   Of course, you could say its pretty much the same as if Labour had decided it would form the next administration with its 29% of the vote .  Or that the whole of Suffolk were in favour of the iniquitous New Strategic Direction instead of ten members of an inner – and undemocratic – cabinet…

I find it amazing that we send so many British soldiers to fight overseas – supposedly to establish democracy  in other people’s  countries –  when we’re not exactly ‘good at it’ back home!

Gritting Woodbridge pavements: many hands..

This last week has been a corker, weatherwise, hasn’t it?

The people who run the gritting lorries have been out day and night trying to keep as much of the thousands of miles of Suffolk roads passable as possible.

It seems to be fashionable amongst many Suffolk car-drivers to criticise  these heroes pretty well without thought or reflection.  Me: I have nothing but the utmost admiration for them. Suffolk’s  service is run via a handful of people working throughout the nights and they do a fantastic job – and all without expectation of any kind of thanks at all.  I rang a highways  officer on Friday at 11am. He sounded a bit dazed (tho very competent). It turned out he’d just got back into the office having been gritting solidly since midnight the night before.

Remember that when you’re getting through the snow in the morning, eh?

As well as remembering to be grateful that our service is so good, we MUST also make sure that any hamfisted attempts at divestment protect the efficiency and effectiveness that we are currently managing in-house. Other counties with privatised gritting services are not managing half so well.

Last yearin mind,  I approached Woodbridge Town Council and offered to fund grit bins and equipment for local volunteers to keep the pavements clear.  And due to this forward planning Woodbridge has been able to tackle the ice and snow relatively efficiently.  Ten grit bins are on site and another four on order: Turban Centre;  St Johns Hill/Castle St;  California/Ipswich Road (where I’m the volunteer); Fitzgerald Green; Mill Lane; Haughgate Close; Colletts Walk; Warren Hill Road; Market Hill; Victoria Road; Peterhouse; Portland Crescent and Farlingaye.

In the last six days I have spent 15 hours gritting around California, around the Seral and down the footpath that runs along the top of Ipswich Road.  I reckon that totalled about 15 miles of roadway walked and gritted.

Do contact the Woodbridge Town Clerk if you want to  volunteer. It helps everyone – and lets face it, it  is so much more productive than moaning that somebody else hasn’t done it.

Volunteers get to use a barrow, a snowshovel and a a hi-viz jacket; they’re covered by SCC insurance and the benefits include a slimmer figure, the warm glow of having helped –  and lots of gratitude.
Not a bad deal, really!