Suffolk County Council’s New Strategic Direction – Update
At the September County Council meeting, the New Strategic Direction was adopted as Council policy – the conservative majority meaning that opposing Lib Dem votes had no effect. The administration aims to reduce the level of spending by the County Council within its administrative centre and on frontline services. The Liberal Democrat group voted against this.
The Chief Executive’s plan which she calls the New Strategic Direction (NSD) is to expect the market and communities take over a number of services that are currently provided by the Council. These services have been specified and the first tranche are due to be ‘divested’ in April.
The administration believes this will significantly reduce a predicted but not yet specified 30% funding gap expected to hit the County Council over the coming years. We Lib Dems believe it may more closely approximate to selling off the family silver!
- As opposition, my party is concerned at the speed at which the council intend to carry out this policy – which is not supported by a business plan – and the way neither staff at the Council, nor other local councils nor the residents of Suffolk have been consulted on the proposals, although we have all been told we have been! We feel that before this policy goes ahead, the Council must gauge the view of the public, and communicate with the third sector, without which this policy would not survive. We must ensure that by engaging with the public, Suffolk County Council will commit to a wider scale consultation with all organisations and groups across Suffolk. I have been personally campaigning to raise awareness of this issue.
It is essential that the Council realises the level of risk associated with such a plan, as even if they are to outsource elements of the Council there is no guarantee that it will save council taxpayers money. Each service has a required budget, whether it is inside the Council, or outside. In essence we feel that the council is moving far too quickly and without a realistic analysis of the risks involved to services.
Also the council currently has considerable overspends on those services already outsourced e.g. the Adult Care service which has a £1m overspend this year, and almost a £1m overspend in Children’s services. In addition the contract with Customer Service Direct was meant to have saved the council £80m over 10 years. There is no evidence of any savings, and last year the annual cost of the CSD increased by 12%. So there is little evidence that the County Council is managing existing contracts within budget.
They have also failed to factor in the total cost of redundancies. If they are truly looking to downsize staff numbers by 4,000 that equates to around £110m in redundancy payments.
The council saysavings must be made at the centre of the organisation. In spite of various initiatives to reduce the size of the centre of the organisation, there was an actual increase of 100 in non frontline staff this year.
The decision on the 23rd of September means that the County Council will now go further forward in looking for pilot schemes and drawing up plans to implement this policy, which will officially begin in April 2011. Within the paper itself, (a link can be found here http://apps2.suffolk.gov.uk/cgi-bin/committee_xml.cgi?p=detail&id=1_14720), there is a list of suggestions for the first services that could be outsourced, each of the services would be analysed to fit into a specific group; for example libraries as community initiatives, or transport planning/bus services being countywide outcome based contracts.
Cabinet on the 12th of October
As usual members of the public are able to put questions to the administration at Cabinet, with the next opportunity having been being today, 12th of October.
The deadline for questions is four working days prior to the meeting. More information on this can be found here; http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/CouncilAndDemocracy/CommitteesAgendasReportsandMinutes/PublicQuestionTimeatMeetingsoftheCountyCouncilandCabinet.htm
The items that will be on the agenda for this meeting, that may be of interest include;
- SCC taking over administration of the concessionary travel passes
- Options for the Council’s residential homes for older people in light of the current financial situatioh.
- The impact of blanket rising four admissions to primary school on nursery provision
- |the proposed closure of the Ipswich Bury Rd Park and Ride
- Street Lighting –proposals on Part night lighting and dimming of Suffolk street lights
I will give details of any of these at the WTC meeting if required
SCC Transport and Highway Budget cuts
This years’ Suffolk County Council Quality of Life budgets have been slashed by 12.5%. (QoL budgets are the individual budgets that Suffolk County Councillors have in order to provide for local transport issues that might get overlooked with priority funding, specifically:
- Speed limit and speed reduction schemes/anxiety relief schemes
- Cycling schemes
- Pedestrian schemes
- Public transport schemes
- Rights of way schemes
- Traffic management schemes )
The good news is, because of efficient accounting and planning by our local engineering team and the very useful nature of the projects we’d decided on, Woodbridge will not be greatly affected by this. Two of the three projects that were contemplated are going ahead:
- an island for helping crossing at the top of Ipswich road to assist school students, mums with prams, bus users and cyclists to cross is still going ahead in October and
- a solar powered ’30’ sign on the steep slope down on Ipswich Road, that will hopefully help slow drivers just before the blind bend at the Sandy lane junction is being put up this autumn
- Additionally I funded bollards to prevent inconsiderate and dangerous parking (generally, sadly, by Farlingaye parents ) at near the Hasketon Road/Ransome Road intersection. These have just been put up
However, the bad news is on the wider highways budget. We have just heard from Portfolio Holder Guy McGregor that all the Parking Reviews in Suffolk have been cut. This includes the one in Woodbridge on which so much time and energy has been spent. I’m sure that you will find this as irritating and upsetting as I do. However, here too all is not lost – I have been offered a choice. The third QoL scheme planned for Woodbridge was traffic calming in Sandy Lane. I have received the following from the engineer:
“I have been looking at the details of the spending on the QoL budget. At present, you are fully committed. However, I am aware that we have not spent much on the Sandy Lane scheme (current allocation of £4500). The cycling officer has come up with a plan involving signs and lines that could slow traffic and increase awareness of cyclists and pedestrians.
However, if you wanted to continue with the review, there may be a way forward. We estimate that the cost of completing the review will be approximately £8000. Approximately a third of the sign and line changes in the review on site works are due to maintenance. I could ask our maintenance people to pay or contribute towards this, which would see income to the scheme of up to £2000. If we removed the planned work within the review of removing all the unnecessary no waiting at any time plates and posts, we would save approximately £1500. This would then bring the total cost of completing the review down to about £4500 – the amount allocated to Sandy Lane.
In addition, we have a separate allocation to look at changing the parking along Thoroughfare, paid for the Air Quality budget. If we were able to add the advertising of the review to the advertising of this, we could save a further £1000.”
a) the stress and strife that the Parking review has generated to date
b) the need for calming in Sandy Lane
c) the relative impact of each of these options on the population of Woodbridge
I felt this was a matter for full consultation, I put the matter to the Woodbridge Highways committee, who were in favour of prioritising finishing the parking scheme which I believe will be finally agreed this evening?
NB: Woodbridge Town Council voted unanimously to finish the TRO