Tag Archives: scrutiny

Caterpillar Children’s Centre lost, despite our best endeavours

The LibDem, Green and Independent group joined forces with Labour to “call in” to Scrutiny  Suffolk’s recent decision to close or alter Childrens Centre provision throughout Suffolk. The 4 opposition members (I was one) asked probing and important questions to back the points made by our call-in speakers: LibDem Penny Otton and Labour’s Jack Abbott. Additionally there was an excellent statement from LDGI group leader, Elfrede Brambly Crawshawe.

However Scrutiny is a numbers game: there are double the number of Conservative members to opposition ones on the committee – most of the latter being obedient silent sheeple who ask no questions at all – but vote as they are told to. The vote therefore went against us.

As the public meeting was recorded (like Cabinet and Full Council), I would like to say to you “Watch the questions, observe for yourselves the Conservative members complete silence, notice the fumbling, incomplete attempt at explanation when anomalies were brought to light – and then ponder the majority vote which went against reason (but not against Conservative party policy).

Sadly, SCC seems to have destroyed the recording, leaving very minimal minutes. Could it be that Scrutiny is THE one remaining public meeting where the Conservatives are publicly held to account, without the chance of wriggling off the hook with a series of grandstanding speeches?

I think we should be told.

In the meantime – I did my best, but the Caterpillar goes.


The questions I and fellow LibDem John Field asked are below:

  • This Scrutiny report actually contradicts the report given to Cabinet, on which the decision was made. Here it says that outreach will cost an average of £4300 per centre per year, which will provide 4 group sessions per week (term-time only) at £30 per session. By contrast, in Appendix I of the Cabinet report it stated that outreach sessions for Caterpillar would cost £23,500 a year – not £4,300. It said this sum eould cover at least 11 two-hour sessions per week (for 52 weeks a year) at a cost of £20 per hour, or £40 per session. If only £43,000 is available for outreach, that would leave just £19,500 for the other 9 centres – or an average of just £2167 each. Can you please explain why we have got completely different information than what was given to the Cabinet, and what the actual budget for outreach is per centre? Were the Cabinet given incorrect information, or have the Scrutiny Committee been given incorrect information?I
  • In paragraph 8 you outline the various costs associated with each centre that is being closed or repurposed, and then state the amount that will be saved by closing each one. However, we will still own the buildings – so surely SCC will continue to pay for costs such as security, utilities and maintenance, even if it comes from a different department’s budget. Is this really a saving, or are you just moving the cost over to another budget in SCC?
  • If the early help budget is so severely underspent by £1.4m for each of the last 5 years (according to Scrutiny paragraph 9) it is very hard to understand why it was deemed necessary to close the 10 children’s centres in the first place. Why was this spare budget not used to pay for additional outreach and staff, whilst also maintaining the current number of children’s centres?o
  • How hve you calculated that the average cost of hiring a village hall is £30 per session, and why is this evidence not included in the response? Have you undertaken a desktop study of the rates and availability of village halls in the outreach areas for all the centres that are being closed? From my experience, £30 is at the very low end of the scale for hiring costs. Woodbridge I am having to raise £3.5m for Jetty Lane, because SCC failed to maintain and then pulled down a youth centre that could have provided this hire. In addition, many of the cheaper venues are likely to be in isolated rural locations and may not have accessible facilities such as disabled toilets/access or baby changing rooms.u
  • Suffolk libraries are being encouraged by SCC to run as an independent business and will increasingly need to generate their own funding. What evidence do you have for your assertion that any future outreach sessions in libraries will be free of charge? Has this been agreed with Suffolk Libraries? For how long? Whilst they may currently offer one free session a week, I think it is very likely that they would start charging if we were wanting to use their premises more often. It also may not be viable for there to be frequent outreach sessions in libraries. Eg do you have any evidence to suggest that libraries would be happy with the idea that there could be 4 outreach sessions a week?
  • I’m very concerned by the lack of analysis over safeguarding issues within this outreach model, particularly with regards to the use of public libraries as venues for outreach sessions with young children. Have safeguarding issues been analysed by officers ,and if so why wasn’t this included in the report to Cabinet?a
  • You state that the outreach budget will be increased if necessary. Is there an upper limit to this, and where will the additional funding come from? (I asked this twice as I got no answer the first time. Not the second time either)
  • You have suggested that the outreach funding would allow there to be 4 group sessions run per week. How does this compare to the number of group sessions that are currently provided by these centres?
  • You dismiss the chances of “clawback” of significant sums the govt invested in two centres Caterpillar being one). As member for Woodbridge, why was this money not invested in keeping the old Youth Centre in good repair? You would then have an appropriate venue you could also hire out. Instead you tore it down, left 30 groups homeless,and invested govt money in a lease for an inappropriate building which you say is not fit for purpose. (You wouldn’t believe the patronising inaccuracies I was fobbed off with as a response to this. Disgraceful)


Explore travel card – Resurgam?

Ok, so guess what. The Explore card cut DID make an appearance at yesterday’s SCC scrutiny of NEET (young people Not In Education, Employment  or Training ).

Not, you understand,  that the Explore card was officially scheduled in, nor indeed was any witness called who was thought to know of , or wished to talk about, the Explore card.  Although Explore card  petitioners had asked  for information about this scrutiny  meeting and I had contacted the committee officer offering to provide evidence, we’d been greeted with silence.

Less than 24 hours before the meeting, petitioner Patrick Gillard  finally heard back  from Mark Bee:

The discussion between Cllr McGregor and myself with you, outside the Chambers included an explanation of the situation we are in and issues that had been experienced by students with the Post 16 discretionary scheme process for the half term only.  As part of this discussion, it was agreed that the issue with the process would be looked into and that the other issues would be forwarded to the next Scrutiny meeting.

Suffolk County Council procedures in respect of petitions says that any petitions should be presented and formally received, there is no further detail given on what should happen however it is recognised that this is an area that needs further clarity and this will be reviewed for the future.

The Scrutiny meeting on Tuesday 14th June 2011 is a public meeting which you are welcome to attend, if you would like to opportunity to speak this will need to be approved by the Chairman…. There will be an opportunity for the Committee to consider scrutiny of the impact on young people of the removal of the Explore card as part of item 5 – Young People not in Education, Employment or Training (NEETs) (16-24yrs) in Suffolk.

Less than 24 hours notice – yet Mr Gillard, and the young members of Woodbridge’s Just 42 broke engagements, cancelled college  and turned up. What commitment!

And just as well Patrick Gillard had managed to get last-minute permission to speak (and that I  happened to be substituting on the Scrutiny committee)   – because that meeting had somehow been arranged to talk about every aspect of young people’s deprivation EXCEPT TRANSPORT, though the witness from Suffolk Young Carers  did dwell upon the effects of explore card cut.  Otherwise, a group of (largely) town dwellers and car owners talked as if  all the young Suffolk NEETs had no greater problems of transport than  they did themselves!

Fortunately we managed to make the point sufficiently forcibly for the excellent new  Committee Chairman (Colin Hart)  to direct a Scrutiny Tast and Finish group to look at the problem and report back.  This was helped by a surprisingly receptive response to the cuts from Guy McGregor.

This is wonderful! SCC made no equality impact assessment before embarking on this cut -which  is the reason they appeared to have  no idea of how badly it would affect young people. Neither did they engage in any form of consultation whatsoever – which  is why they have been stating that  there were no options between cutting and not cutting the card. This is far from the case. All it has ever needed as a bit  less silo mentality from the departments and some divergent thinking.

Cllr McGregor has suggested one way forward (funding drawn from the EMA replacement subsidy).  I feel there may well be several  others – for example reducing the Explore card from an age 5-19 card  to one for post-16 only, or suggesting an annual parental subscription.

One thing is certain – after this meeting I feel confident that, if SCC finally provides the will , they will be able to find a way.

Suffolks NEET problem – and a neat solution

We have just learned that 1,100 Suffolk teenagers “have no work, training or college place to go to when they leave school“, that is, a staggering 1 in 13 are NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training).   And although Suffolk County Council will be scrutinising NEET next week, it looks like the scrutiny will not be addressing one major identiable – and solvable – contributory factor:  Suffolk County Council’s cut of the post 16-Explore card – halfway through this academic year.

This is odd – because the council has had plenty of warnings as to the impact of this cut – and not just via this blog.  Back in February “Save the Explore Card” petitioner, Patrick Gillard warned them in person that the cut “will lead to less take-up of FE education because of difficulties of access. It will harm young people’s chances of going for job interviews and training. The proposed abolition is a retrograde step that threatens the very education and employment opportunities that our young people need in order to help us out of our current economic crisis.

Last month, after handing in petitions with thousands of signatures, Mr Gillard and Otley College’s Greer Hill spoke eloquently on the subject at the SCC council meeting, as did the young people of Woodbridge’s Just 42 OTS club. I was one of several councillors who also spoke – all in support of reversing this damaging and short-sighted decision  (see my  blog entry ). However when we finished speaking, no outcome was reached, no decision minuted, no progress made:  the petitioners may as well have been talking to a wall.

Yet Suffolk’s pig-headed adherence to this damaging cut seems to exist without  thought of longterm financial and social implications for the county – or indeed any “joined up thinking”  between those responsible for Education/Training, for Social Care, and for Transport.

Remember the deaf adder of the Psalms , who “stoppeth her ears, and will not hearken to the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely?”  You begin to wonder if the SCC Cabinet has taken that snake’s correspondence course.

Suffolk County Council:  which part of the phrase “You got it wrong” can’t you hear?

Won’t these truly shocking NEET figures finally finally persuade you  to change your minds and restore this invaluable card to the young people of Suffolk?