Category Archives: County

Report to Gipping Valley: April 2019

The turmoil and chaos around national politics and the Brexit disaster coupled with the need to focus on the District Council elections have been a significant distraction this month.  However, there is news from the County, a mixture of good and bad to report.

Investment for Special Educational Needs

In February I reported that the cross-party Policy Development Panel had recommended that the County invests £45.1m in SEND.  This will develop new Special Educational Needs & Disability schools and specialist units in Suffolk. 

I am pleased to say that this plan is going to Cabinet during April with a recommendation to proceed.  Some 800 places in the county to provide pupils the support they need locally will be a leap forward.

Children’s Centres

Less welcome is the news emerging from the cross party Policy Development Panel on the Family Services.  Regrettably this panel appears to be pushed in the direction of significant cuts.  The proposals are secret at the moment, and I can’t report how accurate the leaks in the press are.  However, this looks like an attack on a successful service that has great value.

Continue reading Report to Gipping Valley: April 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

 

Question I Just Received on Highway Signs.

For several years it has concerned me, and many others I speak to, that trees, hedges and general dirt are being allowed to obscure road signs.  A while ago I searched for any rules that may apply as directed by the Department For Transport and found the attached from the Traffic Signs Manual (1982 Amended 2004).  I would bring your attention in particular to 1. Introductory, paragraph 1.2 and 5. The Design & Use of Signs, paragraph 1.31 (b) and 9. Maintenance of Signs.  All common sense, you would think?

Quite obviously these conditions are not being met.  For example: the road sign coming up to the Hadleigh Road mini roundabout at Sproughton from the Washbrook direction.  It is so obscured by the hedge that you cannot read the sign until you’re virtually next to it and nearly at the roundabout!!  Similarly, now the leaves are coming out on trees, other signs are disappearing behind them.  I cannot believe that this problem is not the subject of more of an outcry as with the pot hole debacle.  Being unable to read road signs from a safe distance is as dangerous as having to be more vigilant in avoiding potholes.

My Answer

Suffolk Highways needs to meet its obligations under these rules which are made for good reason.  I think you will have seen from my leaflets and “In Touch” contributions that I have been active in pressing for improved performance across the board although the key focus has been potholes .

I believe that the outsourcing of the highways contract has not worked and, despite the Conservatives rolling it on for another five years, it must either perform in short order or the work must be taken back in-house.  Suffolk people just can’t continue to put up with the issues you raise or the potholes.

We must have the management talent to guide the workforce to high performance.   As the government has been giving some relatively small but significant grants for such work and we could use a sensible amount, £2 million, from the £150 million reserves to make one-off improvements.  We should be able to do better!

You will get this if you ensure there is a strong opposition after Thursday to make sure that the mantra that everything must be privatised does not result in self-deception about the level of performance achieved.

 

John Field

Locality Budgets

District Councillors for this year only have a £5,000 budget to deploy in their wards to fund projects by community groups.  They must of course align with Mid-Suffolk’s objectives.  Forms to request grants of £250+ are available and your councillors will make final decisions by early January.

As a County Councillor, I also have my locality budget available and about £12,000 remains, after providing support for a Vehicle Activated Sign (VAS) in Henley and Hemingstone, pond refurbishment at Henley Primary and LED floodlights for Bramford Football Club.

I would like to support local community organisations to meet the needs of local residents, ideally but not exclusively, where county money leverages in funds from other bodies.  Further VAS might be an idea.

Devolution-is it Progressing?

The devolution discussions are wending their way forward.  The government has stated that both Norfolk and Suffolk must be involved as in the LEP. A number of powers will be handed down only if an elected mayor controls a combined authority.

There is now a Norfolk and Suffolk Framework Document for Devolution, which gives a clearer list of ambitions.  It opens “Devolution offers an exciting opportunity for greater local decision-making and influence to power economic growth and productivity and unlock the potential of Norfolk and Suffolk.  The two counties have the scale, ambition and leadership to maximise the opportunities offered by additional freedoms and responsibilities. We also have the potential to grow our economy faster, with strengths in key sectors such as agri-tech, food & health, energy and the digital economy.”

The framework claims strengths as:

  • National hubs for key business sectors, eg financial industries, that need to be nurtured to become magnets for global inward investment
  • An all-energy coast at the centre of the world’s largest market for offshore wind
  • Globally-leading research in life sciences and agri-tech, and pioneering technical innovations in ICT research and development.
  • The UK’s busiest container port, in Felixstowe
  • A fast-growing creative digital sector, with Norwich recently recognised by Tech City UK
  • Market-leading food and drink producers
  • Our first-class cultural heritage attractions mean tourism is worth £4.6bn annually across Norfolk and Suffolk

However, while our employment figures are among the best in the country, our skills and productivity levels are below the national average.

I believe the need to work with Norfolk and a wider variety of political parties has helped clarify the way forward.  Negotiations continue.

Community Transport

This month a cabinet decision to tender for continuing community transport using a new structure was “called in”.  Community transport is services like Dial a Ride that provide “on demand” transport to people not served by scheduled buses or trains.  There have been a number of these services under various brands serving different communities and user groups.  Their vehicles have been provided by the county and the services largely specified by county officers.

The proposal is that seven contracts would be let, one per district council so that people can easily know which they should phone to book a journey.

The current vehicles would be sold to the providers, a move that would allow a wider range of customers to be served.  When the county owns vehicles providers cannot use them to provide some desirable services.

In addition, they can then select vehicles to meet the need as they see it rather than having to use what the county provides.

The county hopes that this will allow competition for services such as some forms of home to school transport that will use the assets more intensively.

So why was this called in?  Well, among other issues, the intention was that, not only would the county no longer provide free vehicles saving some £570k but also it would reduce the subsidy from £1.4m to £700k over the next four years.  The revenue from the new freedom to provide services was supposed to compensate.

Scrutiny believed it more likely that, although the providers would survive, service to people without other transport options will be cut.

We referred the decision back but cabinet decided there would be no change, so much for democracy!

Re-Elected to The District

Well, after all the activity and stress,  I am again District Councillor for Bramford and Blakenham.  Combining this with my responsibilities as County Councillor for Gipping Valley is a challenge I enjoy.  It is great to be able to deliver things people want across the spectrum of Council activities from planning to potholes and waste collection to care.  However it is on occasion very frustrating when I can’t get something simple, like the bollards in Bramford Road in Gt Blakenham, cleaned adequately.

Many people have told me they value my efforts to keep you informed by writing in “In Touch” and by this web-site and I will continue to do so.

Unfortunately I have lost two valued, hard working colleagues, one in Claydon, and Liberal Democrat replacements were rejected.  As you know it was not our day across the country.  The Gipping Valley, from Woolpit via Stowmarket to Bramford and Sproughton is a great dumping ground for things not wanted in the dormitory areas of High Suffolk.  It is close to Ipswich and the A14 so a logical area for growth but we must ensure it stays a good place to live with the schools, doctors’ surgeries and shops we need to keep our Suffolk way of life.

I believe we will now suffer even more traumatic austerity and the outsourcing of services to the advantage of private equity groups.  People on benefits will take a hammering, and pensions are the largest part of the benefits budget so we must wait to see just who suffers to repair the damage some major banks did to the world economy.

The proposed IN/OUT referendum on Europe I see as a profound risk.  It is democratic to seek the peoples opinion but I fear the power of biased parts of the media.  They don’t like the power of a European Commission they can’t control.   Will they persuade people to believe in some simple, exaggerated and wrong basis for decision?  I do hope that people get enough clear information to make a sound judgement.

I will continue to work hard for you all

John Field

Results:     Turnout    71.64%

Candidate Party Votes
John Field Liberal Democrats 885
Kevin Welsby Conservative 829
Aprille Meakin Conservative 697
Linda Scott Suffolk Together 668
Neil Harrison UKIP 561

School Admissions in Gipping Valley Area 2015

The county have announced the outcomes of the placement process for primary school pupils this year.  The PAN is the planned admission number, essentially 1/2, 1 or 2 classes.  The 22 pupils who would have liked to go to Henley will have come from a wide area attracted by its “outstanding” rating and good reputation.

The families that have been refused a place at schools of their choice have a right of appeal and will not be left with nowhere to go.  However, this does show the need to have a clear plan to address the pupil numbers which will generated by new developments in our area.

 Primary School

PAN

Refusals

Comments

Bosmere CP, Needham Market 45 3
Bramford CEVCP 30 9
Claydon PS 60 3

All catchment children and the siblings of out of catchment pupils were accommodated.

Three out of catchment were not

Henley PS 15 22
Somersham PS 15 3
Sproughton CEVCP 15 3
Witnesham PS 15 7

 

SCC Liberal Democrat Views on SCC 2015-16 Budget

This year we have chosen not to attempt a detailed amendment to the budget but to comment on matters of principal at a strategic level on those service areas we consider most important.

The Liberal Democrat group is fully aware of the overall financial situation and supports the government focus on reducing the budget deficit.  However it believes that many services provided by local government are valuable and should not be a first priority for cuts.

We believe that the county should use the resources provided by government and those it raises locally to support the local population and the economy.  The Tories have diverted significant funds into reserves “for a rainy day”, and we have seen reserves grow dramatically during the financial crisis.  They appear to be saving for a “rainy decade” while cutting services NOW.  Funds could be used on today’s issues using reserves set aside for activities that will never occur.

The county must fund infrastructure that supports the local economy and ensure it is fit for purpose.  For broadband we can see some progress but highways maintenance is slow and inadequate.

The county should provide services that support a good quality of life for vulnerable people and those who have difficulty getting work.  We need to help people into work or help them into work re-enabling people who have had problems whenever possible.

ACS–Services for the elderly and vulnerable

Within ACS the administration continuously seeks to reduce demand making no increase for inflation or demographic change.  We support continuous pressure to improve efficiency removing bureaucracy and deploying new techniques and technology.  However, we must ensure that people are not just forced out of relative low cost services into those with much higher spend.  Into acute hospitals due to a lack of care places for instance.  The county should collect data on local needs, understand it and focus on those needs.  There should be clear evidence that needs are being met.

The cycle we see too often in our divisions, of a chaotic and disastrous end to life bounced from service to service must cease.  We find it difficult to believe that this can be achieved in the face of an increasing elderly population while we put money in reserves “for a rainy day”.  The problems experienced with care homes within the County’s contract are inexcusable.

The County must watch its strategy closely to be sure that the vulnerable are not being pushed out of the support system.  Cost reductions purely from lower wage rates or working hours are not acceptable.  They just move the budget problem to the benefit bill.

Public Health

Mental health services are clearly inadequate but at national level Liberal Democrats are taking action and we welcome the moves by Norman Lamb to establish maximum times for referral.  We believe that the County must play its role in this area.

CYP– Children’s services with emphasis on education.

CYP concerns us most.  The performance of many of our schools, particularly those in deprived areas lags the national picture.  While there are improvements, in key stage 2 reading, writing and maths Suffolk has improved moving us up the Local Authority rankings from 145 to 141 this is not good enough.  The Tory response is to cut the overall CYP budget by £6.6 million.

We have the “Raising the Bar” initiative but find it difficult to detect any real enthusiasm for it in Suffolk Schools or a belief that it is an effective approach.  A school governors commented recently “If the Local Authority continues to focus on such non-events as the distribution of meaningless and infantile rosettes, I think we can be confident that the Bar will remain firmly on, or near, the floor.”

Currently we appear to have a learning inspection service and we need a learning improvement service.

Leadership is essential but the enthusiastic effective leadership teams in our good and outstanding schools just don’t have the budget to cover supply replacements while they help others to make the leap in teaching and learning required.  They can’t neglect their own schools and let them fall back.

We still believe that the County should fund supply cover and in addition establish a small number of “excellence” teams who could work with the leadership teams in failing schools to remove pressure, determine what needs to be done and put it in place.   Excellence teams would need people with proven track records who enjoy a challenge and would need to ensure that necessary management decisions are taken.

The cost of such teams would not be trivial but would be small compared to the County budget and must be less than the continuing cost of failure.

The Conservative administration have been in control of our children’s education now for ten years and in many areas a whole generation of Suffolk young people have been through a failing education system.  This system must be improved and “Raising the Bar” is not working.