Last month we visited the highways depot again for an update. We were keen for a progress report on the minor works backlog. Of the original 853 jobs, 451 are complete and 206 are scheduled. The 196 remaining will be completed soon.
We saw a new on line reporting tool which will be easy to use, will show what has been reported and when it will be fixed. Let me know what you think. It is at http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/environment-and-transport/highways/report-a-highways-problem-in-suffolk/
We saw one of six new velocity patchers, machines that can fix a pothole in about ten minutes. This is helping with the catch up. Work is completed rapidly, reducing the need to close roads, set up signs and write safety plans. The finished road is immediately ready for use.
By the time you read this, the bus shelter at Claydon Autos should have been in place for several weeks. Work to remove the clutter at the stop that is a nuisance to the business may take a few weeks.
In February, we looked again at the project to roll out broadband to rural Suffolk. We were pleased to learn that about 70,000 out of 100,000 premises in the first contract are complete to date. This will provide superfast broadband to 85% of Suffolk by end 2015 and will finish ahead of schedule.
The second contract will extend coverage to 95% by 2018 but detailed plans will not be complete until autumn. They are necessary to give us a clear view of when the remote areas of Gipping Valley will get the speeds it needs. New equipment types will help reach smaller clusters of houses.
One of our recommendations was for BT and planners to write a condition to insert in planning approvals to ensure that new housing can have superfast broadband installed from the start.
Another was for highways to be flexible as reasonably possible to help reduce delays due to the need for notice of road closures in rural areas.
Call in of Children’s Centre Closure decision
The Labour opposition “called in” the decision to close nine children centres. I can’t list all the concerns here but essentially the decision appeared to have focused on cost and not much else. Many of us felt that professional advice and meeting the needs of the community had taken second place.
After a detailed examination, a narrow majority of the scrutiny committee agreed and the decision was returned to cabinet for a re-think. I certainly felt that it was not clear that the needs of the community would be met by the new arrangements.
If closures proceed, then weekly outreach activities, “Nought till they Walk,” will take place at Bramford Primary and monthly “Feel Free” activities in Gt Blakenham.
This whole programme should help parents with their issues and ensure children are “school ready” when they enter primary school. It is essential to improve the life chances of our children.
SCC Full Council
A long debate on the budget ended in acceptance of the proposals. Many of us believe that the administration should stop building reserves and use all windfall money and grants given for not raising council tax. This would make a real difference to services, but this was not accepted.
We support the programmes to prevent people needing expensive help by fixing their problems early. Plans to introduce more advanced computers and systems in Adult and Community Services will reduce costs by helping people work away from the office.
The County’s Council Tax demand will not increase, good news for taxpayers now but a problem for the future.
The budget was passed by the full council meeting by six votes to four. We opposition members were concerned at the large sums accumulating in the “transformation fund” without clear understanding of transformation intended. Another issue was a plan to borrow up to £25 million to invest in yet undefined schemes to produce a profit to fund council services. This may be a good idea but do we have the skills to do this?
I still feel that it is unreasonable to raise the district part of council tax by 1.6% but council rents by 2.7 to 3%.
The positive part is that the council is certainly living within its means and is determined to be able to deliver good services as the economy changes.