Annual Report to Gipping Valley Parishes: April 2016
Once again the local government environment is dominated by the aftermath of the global economic crash, the need to reduce Government and personal borrowing and the austerity measures aimed at achieving that. Local Government is to see its main grant reduce to zero over the present parliament but will be compensated to a currently unknown extent by retention of business rates.
MSDC has chosen to raise council tax again to try to maintain its services like waste collection, planning and environmental health. It has now over £9 million in its “Transformation” fund accumulated from the new homes bonus. However as councils are not using the money the Government now intends to cut the years for which it is paid on each house delivered from six to four years.
MSDC still has a desire to build new council housing but funding has been upset to an extent by the need to cut rents by 1% per year. Last year MSDC increased rents by CPI plus 1% telling us the bill for 50% of residents would be met from housing benefit. Unfortunately for them the government noticed.
The county council has again not taken advantage of their freedom to raise the main element of council tax by up to 2% to maintain service delivery but it has opted for an additional “2% precept” to help pay for increased demand for community services for the elderly. As we all live longer an increasing number of people have complex needs and require higher levels of service.
You will be aware of the devolution deal which is being offered to local authorities in Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridge if they come together as a combined authority under an elected mayor. There is a good degree of acceptance in all authorities except Cambridge City Council despite widely differing views on the Government’s motivation.
The current views on governance are that the mayor should be elected by a body similar to the Suffolk public sectors leaders group. The problem is that as you get further away from direct election, a process carried out by transferable vote, the choice becomes less representative of the wider electorate’s wishes.
The benefit from devolution is much more control of the drivers of economic growth including development, transport and training. Some £250 million is promised for housing and £30 million a year for 30 years to cover the rest. That to me does not seem a lot when compared to the total joint budget of the authorities which, excluding schools, is around £1,500 million per annum. However we are told this is just the opening move. Authorities in Manchester, the lead combined authority are now on the fifth round of negotiations with much expanded responsibilities including health.
All councils must take the agreement to their full council meetings.
The county initiatives: the “team about the child”, “family focused care” and “make every intervention count” continue to deliver the cost reductions that Government cuts make necessary with a preventative emphasis that is good for the long term. Early interventions increase up front spend but improves overall quality of life and reduces overall costs. In child protection, an area that concerns us all, the “signs of safety” approach is sound.
School rolls in Gipping Valley have increased now that all our schools are now rated at least “good”. This helps school budgets as they are paid per pupil and allows additional help to be provided to boost achievement.
Across the county there has been improvement but the recent Ofsted inspection found deprived areas where there are still substantial problems. That leaves pupils without the skills to compete in the modern world, a poor quality of life and industry without the local people it needs. “Raising the Bar” is having an effect but it still has a long way to go.
We now have a forced programme to convert all schools to academies to cope with, probably in Multi Academy Trusts (MAT’s). Just how democratic that will be remains to be seen.
IT, Finance and HR
Council IT is changing as services are moved to “the cloud” and systems are developed to allow much more mobile working. It is clear that the benefits to outreach workers of not having to start from or return to a fixed base are significant. For those who work from a fixed base more modern systems should yield a substantial gain in productivity, however much that is being promised now was promised when CSD was put in place.
To those of us on broadband connections of 2Mbit or less the download from the cloud can take considerable time. Agreement on the next phase of the broadband programme is close so we should soon find out when we will be released from the lengthy delays. On the down side it may not be until 2019.
Last year I reported “The associated greenhouse project aimed at using waste heat from the project is progressing but timescales are proving a challenge. Archaeological evaluations have delayed the project and are putting the plan to get the heat in use under the ROC (renewable obligation certificate) regime at risk. Suez, Suffolk County Council and Sterling Suffolk have just announced that the project will progress without heat from the incinerator. It will rely on ground sourced heat and the standby wood chip based heating it always had to cover incinerator shut down periods.
Blakenham Fields and Kingfisher Drive
At Blakenham Fields development is progressing and the area for the shop is being prepared but the transfer of land to the football club is still not complete and the transfer of the various sums the 106 agreement requires are also delayed. However discussions are at least reaching a detailed level where minor issues are being unearthed and addressed.
County officers have been in contact with Claydon Primary, the scheme is in the County budget and a construction plan is at draft stage.
The development between Kingfisher Drive and Chequers Rise in Great Blakenham has run into some interesting archaeology but not anything that will prevent construction.
Fisons or Scott’s on Paper Mill Lane and Acton Road
The Paper Mill Lane application still shows little sign of progress but a newly approved outline application for 150 houses on land between the Water Park and Acton Road is likely to progress more rapidly. This shows the difficulty with the development of brownfield sites. Bramford Primary is the obvious school for residents’ children and is now in the County education asset plan.
New Development Proposals
Proposals for development in Barham and on Stowmarket Road in Great Blakenham are at an initial exploratory stage. They need careful consideration as the area has expanded rapidly and approved schemes are not yet complete. Residents do not want their villages transformed into an urban environment or to be left with totally overloaded infrastructure. However there is a housing shortage.
It does not appear to get any easier to deliver highways or transport improvements. The new director is making changes but I have yet to see a substantial difference. I have a list of parking issues at all the primary schools and on the Old Ipswich Road that I need to solve.