A consultation is commencing on the County’s Home to School Transport Policy. There are a number of adjustments but the most significant are removal of provision for Roman Catholic students from September. An increase in the charge under the discretionary policy for use of spare space on dedicated school transport is proposed from £130 to £150 per term for children of compulsory school age. For those over 16 £200 per term is proposed but for low income families there would be a reduction of 50% on this. Changes are also being made to the way transport is provided to children with Special Education Needs and to the Post 16 Transport Policy. Details are in the cabinet report of 11 January.
Attainment in Suffolk Schools
An extensive report to this week’s Cabinet Meeting shows Suffolk pupils attainment lagging national figures in many areas. At key stage 2, the end of the primary phase, differences vary with subject area from around 3% to 5%. At key stage 4, the County is 1.6% below the national average for pupils obtaining 5 or more GCSE’s including English and Maths.
The administration blame the 3 tier school system for this difficulty but it is interesting to see that the eight secondary schools classified as National Challenge Schools all improved, four by about 5%, two by over 10% and one by as much as 20% with targeted help. The largest change was from 20% to 50% of pupils gaining 5 or more GCSE’s.
I must of course mention that our local Secondary also improved. It is now in the top group in the county.
You may have heard that the County is withdrawing from the Safety Camera Partnership. At first sight this is a backward step since speeding is an issue that affects us all and the cameras have been proven to reduce accident rates. However the belief is that the police will take on the task using funds raised from education for errant drivers. I hope that will prove to be correct.
A sign to direct lorries to take the Bramford Road at Hackneys Corner should be installed shortly.
An application covering the archaeological work has been submitted and will be decided at committee this week on Wednesday afternoon. There is nothing controversial that I can see but this is of course a necessary step before any other work is undertaken.
District Council Budget
Last Wednesday the liaison group and members of Gt Blakenham Parish Council visited the SITA incinerator at Kirklees. This was a long trip to plant that has been in operation for ten years in its current form. SITA took over an old municipal incinerator and re-fitted it with pollutant suppression and monitoring kit. I think people were reassured on noise, pollutant monitoring and odour issues but not on the traffic. There was a queue of seven lorries waiting to tip when we have been assured repeatedly that entrance to and exit from the tipping hall will be rapid. The issue was probably due to a rather small waste bunker but the design parameters did not appear to be radically different from Gt Blakenham,
Environmental Agency Incinerator Licensing
The Environmental Agency exhibition on Thursday was not well publicised so attendance was low. However people had adequate time to discuss issues with agency and County Council staff. There was some reasonably informative material available but just how strictly such a major project is controlled is always a matter for concern.
District Council Budget
This is the toughest budget for local authorities in recent history and in 2011/12 Mid Suffolk will receive £0.931m or 15.8% less that in 2010/11.
Small mercies are that concessionary travel will transfer to the County from Mid Suffolk on a roughly cost neutral basis. In addition, a grant is available if we freeze council tax in 2011/12, equivalent to an increase of Council Tax of 2.5% or £0.135m. There will be a New Homes Bonus which partially compensates for the loss of housing delivery grant. Mid Suffolk have counted this at £100,000 but it may be much higher.
In 2012/13 there will be a further decrease of £0.614m or 10.4% giving a total decrease of 26.2% in 2 years where the headline CSR figure was 28% over 4 years.
The key change elements of the Mid Suffolk budget are:
n Savings (£2.057m)
n Removal of the equivalent of approximately 10 fte posts £375,000
n Review of major contracts – CSD, SLM and joint waste £447,000
n Recycling credits, car park income and use of developer contributions £119,000
n Removal of concessionary travel budget £363,000
n Change in use of reserves compared with 2010/11 £284,000
n Total of smaller savings £469,000
n Cost Increases £1.040m
n Loss of Housing Planning Delivery Grant (HPDG) (£200,000) but New Homes Bonus?
n Capital financing charges, contractual inflation and transfer to HRA (£202,000)
n Staff related costs £203,000 of which are increments for low paid and some others.
n Unavoidable increases in benefits, council tax and non-domestic rates and set up costs for Shared Revenue Partnership £95,000 currently with Babergh and Ipswich.
n One-off costs associated with Babergh integration/merger work as per the business case £250,000 – to be funded from reserve
n Running of District Council election in May 2011 (£55,000) – to be funded from reserve
n No redundancy costs resulting from draft budget
n Council Tax to be frozen in 2011/12
This achieves a balanced budget at the cost of considerable withdrawals from reserves and reliance on the Babergh merger to save the day next year.