2021-22 budget-Council Meeting 11th Feb

After a long debate in which the LDGI Group put alternative ideas in a budget amendment, the Conservative budget which involves a 1.99% rise in Council Tax plus 2% Social Care Precept was approved.  Seehttps://committeeminutes.suffolk.gov.uk/DocSetPage.aspx?MeetingTitle=(26-01-2021),%20The%20Cabinet

The Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group’s amendment would have used the full 3% social care precept the Government assumes, painful but generating an extra £3.452m for social care at a cost of only £13.41 per year to a Band D household.  This would be responsible as there is a budget gap which is heading for £158.6 million cumulative by 2024-5 which must be addressed.

The administration’s budget deals with just this year, outlines the future problems, and hopes service “transformation” will dramatically lower costs.  They also hope the Government will deliver funds from central taxes but there is no evidence they will.  How will the gap be filled?  Through substantial cuts, I fear that will target the elderly and the vulnerable and ultimately cost us all dear.

The County Election in May

You will have noticed that there is an election in May which will go ahead, hoping that the vaccination programme will have reduced the risk to the most vulnerable and that the current restrictions will be at least partially lifted by then.

It is I hope an appropriate time and reasonable to let you know that after some 20 years as your County Councillor I will not be standing again.  I have enjoyed trying to point policy the way you would wish and to deliver what you want. My work as a District Councillor will continue and keep me busy.

We have found an excellent hard-working Lib Dem candidate to take over.  Adrienne Marriott lives in Bramford and has considerable skills in the health and education areas.  Restrictions on leafleting allowing, we will be presenting her to you as soon as possible for your endorsement in May’s election.

County Scrutiny

This month we looked at the response to the Covid-19 pandemic by town and parish councils and voluntary bodies such as the Red Cross.  We were looking for organisational and communication issues and initial lessons that could be learnt. 

The Collaborative Communities COVID-19 Board network was used to coordinate volunteer efforts across Suffolk, largely centred on Community Emergency Planning Groups.  The Suffolk Resilience Forum network was also used.  Utilising existing networks and relationships was a highly effective tactic. 

However, several groups felt communication was flawed with great volume that overwhelmed them.  On some critical issues like DBS checks and liability insurance they received contradictory advice or instructions.

We had a presentation by Great Barton’s emergency response team. It was certainly well organised by an individual with clear ideas and a grasp of the need to ensure volunteers had the right skills and could be relied on to respond.  SALC gave an overview of their efforts with town and parish councils. Lowestoft Town Council, a new body, pointed out that the need to respond to flood events gave them good practice.  Woolpit were very aware of pandemic risk as they had a doctor involved and their plans recognised the problems involved.

There were differing views on the Tribe App:  great for attracting and organising volunteers or useless?  

Training, currently to emergency planning groups will be rolled out on a wider basis.

Housing Development

Developments in Barham on Church Lane, in Claydon at Ely Road and on The Old Norwich Road in Whitton, recently came before the district planning committees.  

Councillors approved the Barham proposals for 270 houses despite your councillors questioning the impact of extra traffic on the high street and the Claydon A14 Junction. There are sites reserved for a new primary school and pre-school but they are unlikely to go ahead unless a further 340 houses are approved on the adjacent field. This is in the emerging Local Plan.

The committee deferred the other two proposals for further work to address various need from residents.   Councillors were concerned that certain aspects of the proposal would not work or be safe.  We have of late been insisting on improvements and getting them, a welcome shift in attitudes.

However, the latest news is that the Whitton proposal was approved after parking and the buffer zone to existing properties had been revised and were had been assured that the mini roundabout connecting the development to the Old Norwich Road was ok.

We also asked the county to take action to make the “Tank Trap” meant to restrict use to busses effective

Home but Not Alone

Demand on the Home but Not Alone phone number has grown in lockdown 3 but is not dramatic.  However there has been a change in the nature of the cries for help and the most significant calls involve help with complex mental health issues. 

The telephone number is still freephone 0800 876 6926 and the phoneline complements The Suffolk Advice and Support Service phoneline 0800 068 3131 which helps those with debt, benefits, employment, or housing worries.

COVID-19 Testing Centres

Rapid testing centres using lateral flow testing are to open for people who do not have symptoms of coronavirus and cannot work from home.  The County Council is also finalising with the Government 16 smaller sites to serve rural communities.  The sites near us are:

  • Whitton Sports Centre, Whitton Church Lane, Whitton, Ipswich
  • Museum of East Anglian Life, off Iliffe Way, Stowmarket
  • The closest existing facility is at the University of Suffolk in Ipswich,

The person tested will receive a text message giving the result within an hour.

Appointments can be made through a booking website https://commisceo-pcs.shiftpartner.com/ or calling 0333 772 6144.  The centres are only for people not showing symptoms of COVID-19.  Anyone who is showing symptoms, or who has been in close contact with someone who has symptoms should ring 119 or go to the NHS website to book a test at one of Suffolk’s 12 symptomatic testing sites.

Bramford to Twinstead network reinforcement

National Grid are again proposing to reinforce the grid between Bramford and Twinstead in Essex.  They want to be able to export 15Gwatt from Suffolk up from 4.5Gwatt at the moment. The scheme appears much the same as it was in 2012 with an additional 400kvolt pylon line running beside the existing line after the  smaller 132 kvolt line is removed.

Clearly the power from North Sea wind farms must get to areas where demand is highest and that is London.  There will be a similar need if Sizewell C gets approved.  We need low carbon energy if the world is to avoid catastrophic rise in sea level, but it cant be at any cost. We also need food.

It is possible to build a power distribution under the North Sea going down the Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex coast then up the Themes.  The main problem I believe is the legislation that controls who would have to build such a grid.

We are in for another round of consultations at the end of March and another fight!

County Council 2021-22 budget

2021-22 budget-Council Meeting 11th Feb

After a long debate in which the LDGI Group put alternative ideas in a budget amendment the Conservative budget was approved.

Full details are at https://committeeminutes.suffolk.gov.uk/DocSetPage.aspx?MeetingTitle=(26-01-2021),%20The%20Cabinet

I had a range of concerns that I expressed in detail last month.  In brief there is a budget gap that is heading for £158.6 million cumulative by 2024-5.  However, the administration’s budget deals with just this year, outlines the future problems, and hopes service “transformation” will dramatically lower costs.  They also hope the Government will deliver funds from central taxes but there is no evidence they will.  How will the gap be filled?  through substantial cuts I fear.

Our amendment

We proposed the council did as the Government assumes and takes the full 3% social Care precept allowed.  That would be painful for us all, £13.41 per year at Council Tax band D but honest and necessary.  Without it how will the needs of people with health problems and disabilities be met?

Solar Farms

The planning application for the ENSO solar farm that would dominate Flowton village has been submitted but that for the EDF proposal which includes battery storage is still in a consult and modify phase.  Both are for 50Mwatt installations (25,000 electric kettles worth) with battery storage.  The planning officer has attended several parish organised meetings as have your councillors to ensure your voices are heard and you understand the decision process.  We need renewable energy but must take care we don’t damage food production and destroy peoples home environment.

These farms would dominate the village of Flowton and the road between Somersham and Flowton

Gipping Valley News from John Field