Snoasis

Last week at Mid Suffolk Planning

The “Reserved Matters ” for the Snoasis planning application were agreed Wednesday last week. That’s all the details that were not covered when the Secretary of State agreed the application after the public inquiry in 2007. In fact a number of items in the legal agreement, the “section 106” document were changed to planning conditions, a process the government likes as it usually reduces the delay between application and the start of work. However in this case the district council and the developer have taken 10+ years to ge to this point so I wonder just how speedily things will develop from now on. The problem with conditions is that they are agreed at officers discretion so local people have little input.

We were promised that the “Local Reference Group” rather like the Liaison Group that I chair at the Suez EFW plant. I hope that will help to keep residents and the parish group in touch and get the local voice heard.

My input to the meeting as Ward Member

Is this a wonderful opportunity to gain a world class winter sport facility or just a chance to spend further years being assured with little supporting evidence that “finance is in place” while wilfully blind optimism drives a project that is just not viable.  If it were a good business project would we now be 13 years down the road with little to show?

Continue reading Snoasis

Report to Gipping Valley: March 2019


Opt-in for funded school transport

From September 2019, you will need to apply each year if your child is eligible for free school transport.  You must “opt-in”: you will no longer be automatically signed up. There will no longer be empty places reserved for eligible children who don’t want them. 

New mental health strategies for Suffolk

Since Spring 2018, the Suffolk and Norfolk Clinical Commissioning
Groups have been leading work to develop new mental health strategies for Suffolk.  Not before time you might say.

The strategies describe the vision for mental health and
emotional wellbeing in an integrated physical, mental and social care system.  There is a strong emphasis on prevention, wellbeing and expanding community and primary care mental health services.

The next phase will focus delivery plans, a programme of work and
timetable.

SEND inspection revisit

Inspectors from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission returned
to Suffolk in January to see how SEND services had progressed since their inspection in December 2016. 

Inspectors have acknowledged that some improvements have been
made but say children and young people relying on SEND services have not yet felt the benefit.  They concluded that sufficient progress had been made regarding governance and leadership of the
strategic planning and delivery of the 2014 national SEND reforms.  However, improvement is still required in:

  • the poor timeliness, integration and quality of SEND statutory assessments and plans and the delivery of subsequent individual
    packages of support
  • the lack of understanding among parents and carers of the support available and the inadequate quality of the local offer,
    including access to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), and
  • the lack of joint working to monitor, quality assure and maximise the effectiveness of work undertaken to improve outcomes
    for children 

Ipswich Northern Route.

SCC have given the timescale for work on the feasibility of the
Ipswich Northern Route and outlined the next steps in producing the Strategic Outline Business Case. 

The stage one study and report into possible highways options was
completed in 2017.  The options assessment, commissioned in May 2018, is required to look at all viable transport and traffic mitigation options.  It will confirm whether the road alignments published in 2017 are indeed the best solution for the county.

Public consultation on the route details, alignment, and junction
options with the A14 and A12 will begin in Summer 2019.  The completed document will be shared with Government, local MPs and the public in Autumn 2019. 

Roads

I have reported the condition of the footway on Chapel Lane again to try to get some of the £6m extra Government funding that must be spent by April.  I received a promise that some of the footway will be improved now and the remainder is in the plan.

SnOasis

The “reserved matters” for this much delayed project will be at MSDC planning on 13th March.  They should have been delivered in October 2016.  Notice of the formal appearance at Planning to your councillors and the Parish Alliance was short, just a few days.  

Is this a great project for a world class winter sport complex in Suffolk or just a project going nowhere that blights our villages?

2019/20 budget agreed

Suffolk County Council’s 2019/20 budget was agreed on Thursday 14 February. This will see an increase in council tax of 3.99%, and savings across the council’s directorates totalling £10.1m. 
I am concerned by a number of the cuts, in particular:

  • Removal over two years of all grant funding from Citizens Advice.
  • Reducing the amount spent on Housing Related Support, for those at risk of homelessness (£0.45m)
  • Reduced funding for sponsored bus services (£0.34m) and eliminate roadside bus timetables (£0.1m)
  • Reduction in highways maintenance (£0.23m): no cleaning of road signs, maintenance of mandatory road markings only and less frequentn weed treatments in rural areas
  • Staffing reductions across all directorates (£2.968m).

Reduction in 2018/19 predicted overspend

The latest budget monitoring report suggests the County’s 2018/19
budget will be overspent by £5.9m. This is a reduction since quarter 2, when they were predicting an overspend of £7.5m.

Although it is positive to hear the overspend is reducing, I am
concerned that the majority of these savings are due to ongoing staff vacancies, particularly in social work teams. 
Just who is not getting the service these people would provide and what is the unintended consequence of that?

Report to Gipping Valley:       February 2019

Cabinet approve cuts to Citizens Advice

A consultation was held and an Equality Impact Assessment produced over the Christmas period to assess the impact cuts to County Council funding of Citizens Advice. However, neither were available prior to the Cabinet meeting, so the County plan remains cuts by 50% to £184,000 in 2019/20 and to zero in 2020/21. Continue reading Report to Gipping Valley:       February 2019

Road Closure in Baylham

 

Just to warn those of you who visit relatives or friends in Baylham, the main way in to the village will be closed for seven weeks from Monday. The Care Centre is connecting its dysfunctional sewage system to the village drains by putting a pipe in a trench up the road.

They won’t use any of the shorter routes across the fields or round the field boundary. The contractor is using “traditional” methods, not fast trenching machines, so seven weeks not two. Thanks guys!

Highways of course just agreed-like in Barham, Claydon and at Hackneys Corner. Trying to get them to look after the residents is up hill all the way. The diversion routes are through Little Blakenham or along Circular Road (Back Street) from B1113. Both 4.3km with few passing places.

We are asking people to come in via Back Street and out via Little Blakenham but not all will do that, its not official, please be careful. Highways have promised to try to grit the road if it’s necessary.
The Care Home is still accessible from the B1113

 

Report to Gipping Valley:        January 2019

Full Council

At the 6th December Council meeting three proposals were put to members.  My group called on Suffolk County Council to do more to tackle single-use plastic waste in the county.  All councillors agreed to use sustainable or re-useable plastics in all council buildings, and to create a “plastic-free Suffolk network” of councils, businesses and other organisations.

Later, the administration refused to set an annual “carbon budget” and create targets for reducing carbon emissions.  This seemed strange as the County Council already checks its carbon emissions.  We proposed the council makes this process open, transparent and accountable.

Cooperation returned when we unanimously agreed to commit Suffolk County Council to follow the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and do all it can to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking in Suffolk.

In addition, the Council will review its procurement processes to see where they can be strengthened to fully comply with the Modern Slavery Act

Cuts to Citizens Advice

After budget scrutiny it was decided to phase the cut to CAB funding over 2 years.  It will be reduced by £184 000 in 2019/20, before being removed entirely in 2020/21.

I remain concerned by these proposals, which will have a huge impact on a service that is great value for money and supports our most vulnerable residents.

Roads

I have been trying yet again to get Highways Network Assurance to take account of residents’ views as well as the interests of the businesses concerned when road closures are proposed.  Unfortunately, the total resistance I get to any attempt to minimise disruption to people’s lives is in line with the problems other councillors suffer.

The renewed effort was encouraged by a proposed closure of the road into Baylham village for seven weeks to enable the Care Centre to lay a pipe to connect its sewage processing plant to the village mains drains.  Seven weeks of a single-track diversion route with few passing places appeared unreasonable.  Other routes for the pipe exist.

New equipment, that heats the road surface and melts the material surrounding a repair, is being used to try to produce longer lasting pothole repairs.  It is too early to report the impact, but I will keep you informed.

Hackneys Corner

Work appears to be progressing again with new contractors.  Mary Evans, the Cabinet member, visited Great Blakenham Parish Council and issued a series of apologies for the contractor’s delays and poor county council communication.  What we need is improvement – apologies don’t do a lot of good.

Scrutiny

At Scrutiny last month when reviewing the quarterly performance report, we found wide variations in spend on temporary staff and contractors across the Council. We shall be investigating this in in detail.`.

Information about Suffolk Highways performance did not include comparison data for the same season last year.  It will next time together with the time taken to respond to residents’ issues.

The Cabinet Member for Highways, after some grilling about delays to highways works particularly in Gipping Valley, was asked to review the Highways Reporting Tool and make it easier for residents to report problems.

As we reviewed the Highways Annual Customer Satisfaction Survey Results, we were told that Suffolk’s approach to highways management has received national recognition and the Assistant Director is clearly deeply engaged with governmental and national organisations on behalf of Suffolk.

MSDC draft Budget

MSDC’s Cabinet is recommending a 2% Council tax increase this year, generating an added £185k and expects a growth in the tax-base (the number of dwellings) of 1.3% per yielding £83k.

It is surprising that the tax rise is necessary given next year’s estimated surplus of £1.6m.  However, there are considerable uncertainties in the economy.

A new £1.6m Commercial Risk Management reserve will be created to mitigate risks associated with the commercial investment and development that the Council is undertaking.   The investment is £25m in commercial property and £6m in the Gateway 14 project.

Despite concerns about this form of investment, Cabinet is now recommending a further £25m investment by 2021/22, to generate another £435k per year income.

Report to Gipping Valley: December 2018

Happy New Year to you all.  I hope that you and the Suffolk economy prosper in 2019 despite the challenge of whatever occurs on 29th March.

Locality Funds

Just a reminder: your district councillors, John Whitehead, James Caston, Kevin Welsby and me all get a “Locality Budget” of around £6k to help community groups to deliver projects.  I get a further similar sum from the County.   If there are further things you want to do could you let us know before the end of January.

Increase in insurance pay-outs

Between 1 January and 16 October this year, Suffolk Highways have already paid out £67,819.07 for vehicle damage including costs and legal fees. This is a dramatic increase from the £26,004.63 for the whole of 2017.

The number of claims has also more than doubled, from 598 in 2017 to 1,265 so far in 2018.  This shows the cost of not getting potholes fixed quickly and the problems that Suffolk residents suffer. The County must do better.

Pension Fund

The local government pension fund has performed well and is now worth almost £3,000 million.  It covers county and district staff, many academies and town and parish council staff and is now 92% to 97% funded.  The level changes day to day as Brexit and other economic news drives the £ and share values up and down.

It does have some funds in companies that produce fossil fuels and supply tobacco.  It will look again at this around March to decide if it is proper.  Is it reasonable to consider just the financial duty to the pensioners and their employers, or should the damage to the environment and people’s health count as well?

The Incinerator

As I type this Suffolk County Council is considering a further re-financing of the incinerator.  Currently the money is borrowed by Suez as part of the contract that saw them finance, build and run the plant.

The county can borrow through the Public Works Loan Board at a fixed rate lower that Suez can.  So, there is a significant cost saving if County take on a bit more of the risk of plant ownership.  The SCC investment will increase by another £10.2m, and the council will own 28.4% of the plant value in total.  The net present value of the saving will be £5.1m.

 

Scrutiny

The top level view of the budget proposals for next year were scrutinised on 22nd November.

The basic assumptions on income are:

  • Council tax will be increased by 2.99% and the Social Care Precept by 1%. The council tax base will increase by 1%.
  • No estimates have been made for the value of the chancellors’ recent announcements of extra funding
  18/19

budget

Inflation Cost

pressure

Transfor-mation Tactical

savings

19/20

budget

Adult & Community Services 234.5 6.9 11.2 -11.0 -2.1 239.5
Health, Wellbeing & Children’s Services 138.0 2.0 14.1 -1.8 -2.6 149.7
Fire & Rescue and Public Safety 24.4 0.5 0.1   -0.7 24.3
Growth, Highways & Infrastructure 49.6 1.2 0.4 -0.2 -4.2 46.8
Corporate Services 26.6 0.8 0.5   -1.5 26.4
Central Resources 27.4 0.1 0.7   -0.1 28.1
TOTAL 500.5 11.5 27.0 -13.0 -11.2 514.8

The inflation assumptions are 2% on wages or 3% on purchased materials and services

The cost pressures in ACS include the ageing population and the increasing complexity of need. In CYP we are seeing increasing numbers of children with learning or behavioural difficulties.

The “Transformation Programmes” are targeting considerable savings at £13m and, in addition there will be a need for “tactical savings”. Tactical savings will total £11.2m, and proposals include:

  • Phased removal of Citizens Advice Grant.
  • Staffing reduction (totalling £3m) across all directorates
  • Reduce Housing Related Support and hostel beds
  • Negotiate care pricing
  • Stop displaying bus timetables at the roadside
  • Reduce spend on sponsored bus services
  • Reduce Suffolk Highways out-of-hours stand-by service and winter support fleet for
  • Stop road sign cleaning and only maintain mandatory road markings
  • Turn more streetlights off overnight
  • Cease accreditation of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme (the scheme will continue, however organisations will license themselves directly with the charity rather than through SCC)

The “saving” on the CAB grant is particularly difficult to understand.  This is a charity that delivers high value at low cost as much advice is given by volunteers.

Report to Gipping Valley: November 2018

New approach to pothole repairs

A Highways Improvement and Innovations Board has announced that Suffolk Highways, at the Phoenix House depot, will be piloting a new approach to prioritising pothole repairs over the winter.

It aims to tackle more potholes during a visit, potholes down to 200mm width and to reduce the number of temporary repairs.  The travelling time of maintenance crews will be reduced, and more potholes will be filled. Improvement at last!

The Board has also been looking into improving the coordination of road closures, reducing the number of roadworks which overrun, and exploring ways for Suffolk Highways to work closer with town and parish councils.  I hope the lessons of Hackneys Corner will be learnt.

I expect a progress report from the Board at Scrutiny in December.

Second Suffolk children’s home judged “inadequate”

A children’s home run by Suffolk County Council has been judged “inadequate” by Ofsted, following an inspection.  This is the second council-run children’s home to receive an inadequate rating in the past 2 months.

Ofsted were particularly concerned over unsafe behaviour management techniques used.  They found a significant increase in the number of physical interventions.

Council signs up to 100% nuclear energy deal

At the Council meeting on 18 October, members of my political group called on the Council to recognise the benefits of renewable energy.  This is now low cost as well as low carbon.  We asked them to commission a report into a smart grid for Suffolk.  This would allow the array of renewable, top up and storage facilities for electricity supply to be managed optimally.

We also asked for a commitment to ensuring that at least 50% of the Council’s energy comes from renewable sources by 2025. Unfortunately, the Conservative administration amended the motion to remove any clear actions or targets.

It was also revealed that the Council have recently signed off on a 100% nuclear energy deal for the next three years, to commence in March 2019.  This represents a major step backwards, since the current energy contract includes 18.7% renewables.

No funding to help end “period poverty”

The Labour Group asked council for a budget commitment of £15,000 to help tackle “period poverty”.  Many girls suffer embarrassment and frequently miss school because they are unable to afford sanitary products.  We asked the Council to fund products for such girls in all local authority-maintained schools in Suffolk, and to encourage academies to implement similar measures.

Unfortunately, the Conservative administration once again amended the motion, removing all funding.

New Home Care operating model

Cabinet has agreed the new Home Care operating model.  It was acknowledged that the previous model had been a failure.  Smaller care providers were expected to give up their contracts and residents receiving home care wereexpected to change provider.

We were assured that “lessons had been learned” and that greater care had been taken to develop the new operating model in partnership with stakeholders.

The funding to providers will be set by the County and will vary dependent on the availability of care in each parish.  There will be five steps from £16.49 to £ 22.24 per hour of care.

That sounds quite reasonable, but the County does not pay for travel time and providers frequently do, together with a small allowance for travel expenses.  There is also a need to fund holidays and sickness so the £ per hour a carer receives is substantially lower.

I fear that the rate paid to carers remains too low to attract the number of people required.

Report to Gipping Valley: October 2018

Highways, flooding

The flooding issue at the A14 bridge on Station Road has been fixed at last!  Years of emails have paid off.

Scrutiny in September

The County performance report indicated that the review of highways currently underway will include “How utility companies cop-ordinate roadworks and are held to account for their actions”.  A subject dear to our hearts.  It said: “this will now have to be taken forward with the Secretary of State for Transport expectation that a permit scheme is in place in Suffolk by March 2019”.  At Scrutiny we decided permits should improve control significantly, so this is good news!

Scrutiny of Absence

The County Council has a high level of absence due to physical and mental health issues, far higher than other comparable authorities, particularly in the Fire and Rescue service.

I was concerned the issues could be due to the turmoil and stress caused by the many re-organisations that have occurred, the job losses driven by reducing budgets or just a lax management attitude.

In the Fire and Rescue Service in 2017-18 9,260 days were lost in total, 85% to long term sickness. Nottinghamshire loses 2.6 % days to sickness, Suffolk 9.73% and Warwickshire 14.55%.  Why the difference?

In Highways the absence rate was much lower at 4.52%.  This is in an area which has suffered much re-organisation and therefore a lot of employment related stress but absence is lower than average.

Across the County the average is 5.38% days lost, a total of 55,014 days.  With staff costs at around £144m the cost of lost time must be around £7.75m.

A more rigorous regime is being introduced to ensure that all sickness is genuine.  It will also ensure that issues are picked up early.  Staff will be supported when they have either physical or mental health problems and any underlying causes are addressed.

More specialist education placements

The projection is that there will be an 18% rise in the number of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) between 2018 and 2020, compared to only a 4% rise in the overall number of children. These will mostly be moderate learning difficulties, ASD and speech and language needs.

Suffolk cannot meet current or future demand.  Many children have a long wait for specialist education or are placed far from home in expensive out-of-county placements.  Suffolk will need to develop a further 300-400 places using new specialist support centres attached to mainstream schools, with some new special schools.

New “care at home” model

Three years ago, the County got the design of its Support to Live at Home contract very wrong.  The problems mean it provides only 29% of home care.  It is developing a new “model of home care” and a new contract.  This appears better but I have doubts that the new rates offered will attract providers and people into the system.  They look attractive but don’t address travelling time separately.  It can be a large % of the task.

There will be three main elements:

Responsive: will help when people urgently need a response.  For example, a frail older person living at home has called the GP or an ambulance but is not very coherent and it is difficult to determine a diagnosis.

Care may involve medication, ensuring fluids and food are taken and assessment of on-going condition.  Later It will offer rehabilitation or reablement to maximise independence.

Bespoke – For people with long term conditions, brain injury, recovering from a stroke, or a condition such as Parkinson’s and may require live-in-care to be able to remain in their own home.

Locality – The main service for planned long term care.  It will allow local community-based solutions to be developed

The County will work with the 85 care providers in Suffolk.  It will not seek to move people between providers or reduce the budget.

District Council Issues

MSDC lost an appeal to a developer who claimed that they had not applied the new version of the Government’s Planning Framework properly and had mis calculated the number of approved deliverable sites.  The inspector agreed so it appears our 5 Year Land Supply was short lived.  Development is again less constrained.

Report to Gipping Valley:  September 2018

Road Works

The road at Hackneys Corner is usable but not to a good standard.  The footways have still to be finished.  The county is fully aware of the issues and doing what it can to move the work by the developers forward.

Last month saw a great deal of poor communication and confusion and for some reason Anglian Water were allowed to re-start work in Claydon before the Bramford Road work was complete.  Utilities and developers MUST do better and so must the county.

Mary Evans, cabinet member for Highways, will be visiting Great Blakenham Parish Council to be informed of their and your views directly.

On a more positive note, the persistent flooding just the Claydon side of the A14 bridge will be fixed this month by a new pipe and soakaways.  The work is planned to start on the 10 September 2018 and continue for 3 weeks.  The County believe the flooding was due to damage done when the A14 was constructed.  I have been trying to get it solved for some years, so it is good to have Highways finally realise they need to finance a solution.

I have written to Highways asking for information on the issues on Chapel Lane and should get an update on the bus gate proposals which I can pass to you next month.

I have a letter from the County to MSDC pointing out County reservation about the cumulative effect of development in the area and proposing a meeting involving the county council, the applicants and Mid Suffolk to discuss options.

I have been asking for months for a professional attempt to propose actions that would address the problems we all believe the developments will cause.  I hope we are getting somewhere at last.

Suffolk County Council’s budget challenge

Last week, the council released its view of the scale of the financial challenge it is facing this year. They are projecting an overspend of £8.6 million this year.  Based on the first quarter results 1.7%.  of its £501 million budget.

Children and Young People’s Services, account for £5 million of the total.  This includes services for looked-after children, specialist social care for children and home-to-school transport.

Work is in progress to reduce spending and find new sources of income, including:

  • Adult and Community Services is strengthening its contract management
  • The Children and Young People department is cutting budgets that have historically underspent
  • The Passenger Transport team is optimising routes and renegotiating transport contracts which transport hundreds of children to school
  • Corporate Services are reviewing budgets line-by-line
  • Suffolk’s ten Transformation Programmes are continuing to develop savings through reducing demand and changing the way we work
  • Suffolk Fire and Rescue has begun a project to improve levels of staff absence
  • The council’s major projects programme is being reviewed
  • The council continues to lobby Central Government for more funding as part of its Fairer Funding Review.

These are actions long necessary and reflect issues we have examined in Scrutiny and recommended for action.   The crucial issue will be as always to produce real increases in efficiency not just service cuts to the most vulnerable, particularly where cuts produce increases in the budgets of other public bodies, such as the health service.

“Staying Close” scheme launched

The Department of Education is funding a three-year pilot “Staying Close” scheme to support young people leaving care in Suffolk.

The aim is to help young people at 15 to start planning for independent living with the assistance and support of residential care workers. This planning too often occurs close to the time a young person is due to move to independent living, causing unnecessary anxiety and distress.

Young people will also continue to receive emotional and practical support from their children’s home and residential workers after they have moved out.

District Council Issues

This month we looked at the programme to reduce the delay between a council house becoming vacant or “void” and the time it has been refurbished and is again occupied.

The delay, that has been up to 71 days, costs the council rent and people a home.  It is now down to about 20 days and should improve further.

Gipping Valley News from John Field