The spending review states that “Councils will see a 7.1% annual fall in their budgets. But ring-fencing of local authority revenue grants will end”. Not quite as bad as the county and district councils were expecting but towards the higher end of their estimates.
New Strategic Direction
The County Council Conservative Cabinet has adopted a “New Strategic Direction”. They intend to divest services to a variety of organisations: private companies, community interest companies, charities, community groups etc. A core “enabling council” will remain, commissioning what is required
Liberal Democrats voted against this plan. Much of it lacks detail, containing just naïve, woolly good intentions. We are concerned that the rate of change required is far beyond anything achieved to date and will lead to failure. The Conservatives are carrying out this doctrinaire policy at speed before they have gauged the views of the public and communicate with the third sector, without which this policy cannot succeed.
We totally understand that it is essential to deliver better services at an annual 7.1% reduction in cost. However, it is essential that the Council realises the level of risk associated with its plan and appreciates that outsourcing is no guarantee that money will be saved. To deliver more for less there must be clear service specifications, sound contracts, thorough governance arrangements and a good fit between each service and a reliable delivery mechanism.
The next stage will be for the Council to engage with the public to gather their views and report to the December Full Council meeting.
At the last Full Council meeting, the Liberal Democrat group called-in the Cabinet’s decision to go ahead with an incinerator at Great Blakenham. We felt that the decision was based on old technology, a focus on finance above all else, and we wanted several aspects re-examined and explained to local people.
In particular, I did not feel that adequate information had been provided to justify the choice of incineration over newer forms of technology that would be more environmentally friendly. Plasma Gasification, Pyrolisis and Anaerobic Digestion can deal with the waste stream in an environmentally sound way.
However, the Conservative majority continued their support of the simple to understand incinerator and a contract has now been signed with SITA. The next stage of the process will be an application for planning permission by Sita UK in December. At this stage the impact on the local community will come to the fore.
The County Council will be taking over the operation of the government funded Concessionary Travel scheme currently run by district councils. Regrettably the scheme will be more restricted than it has been as supplementary funding from the districts will no longer be available. The scheme will now provide free bus travel to those eligible by age or disability from 9.30am to 11pm weekdays and all day weekends and Bank Holidays. .In addition eligible residents may waive their right to a free bus pass and receive a set value of taxi vouchers. Finally, free travel will be permitted on specific bus services in remote areas where there is only one bus in the morning which travels before 9.30am.
Ipswich Park and Ride Scheme
Currently, passenger numbers at Bury and London Road Park and Ride sites in Ipswich are rising but the system requires a subsidy of some £800,000 per year. The Cabinet intends to reduce this by closing the Bury Road site that serves us. The Lib Dem group have called in this decision to force a more detailed review. If people over 60 are charged for travel we believe the park and ride could be retained.
Street Lighting – Policy proposals on Part night lighting and dimming
The council is planning to install an Intelligent Lighting System to control street lights that would allow them to be turned off or dimed between midnight and 5:30 am to save generating Carbon Dioxide (CO2). The capital cost would be recovered in around five years. Research has shown that crime does not increase where lights are off but at some road junctions lights would be kept on for safety.
Suffolk’s approach to Older People’s Accommodation Needs
The Cabinet is considering options for its residential homes for older people. The key issue is that council run homes are considerably more expensive to run than those in the independent sector. Consultations are underway to determine stakeholders’ views on three options
- Option 1: Close the homes and commission alternative services from the independent sector.
- Option 2: Sell all the homes as going concerns
- Option 3: Close probably 6 homes and transfer the remaining homes to the independent sector
It is not clear to me why there is not an option that would seek to work with the staff to run the homes at a cost comparable to the independent sector.
The application to extend the life of the SnOasis planning permission has been agreed and a new application to extend the life of the planning permission for the railway station has been submitted.
Vehicle operated speed signs
The speed data from the recently installed signs is proving difficult to obtain. I wonder what is being concealed. More effort is clearly required on this and a number of other highway related issues.
Mid Suffolk and Babergh district councils are proceeding with their plans to merge the organisations and will hold a referendum in May to decide if they should proceed to full merger in 2013.
The Annual Public Health Report
The Annual Public Health report, compiled by NHS Suffolk and the County Council gives a view of health across the county. It includes examples of projects which help communities to improve their health. See http://www.suffolk.nhs.uk/Home/Publications/AnnualReport2010/tabid/2851/Default.aspx Progress is being made in many areas but issues like obesity and binge drinking remain major challenges as does the equality that exists across communities of differing prosperity.