Suffolk Devolution

At the Suffolk Devolution debate this month, councillors broke party lines to speak and vote their mind. The Suffolk Lib Dem group were among 20 county councillors who – after much thought -opposed  the offered Devolution deal (despite personal support for the concept of Devolution). While we approve of giving local authorities more control over spending,  this proposal leaves much  of the crucial decision-making with the government.

However a 2/3 majority  decided that Suffolk should now move to public consultation. Councillors and Officers see this as an opportunity to take control of a wider range of services including aspects of health and social care integration.

Combined Authority & Mayor A “Combined Authority” headed by a locally elected Mayor would be in control, supported by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership ( incorporating unelected business leaders) to deliver the devolved services in Suffolk and Norfolk ( in effect a fourth tier of Local Government) The Mayor would have a deputy and a small but senior officer group. The Mayor would work with the leaders of the constituent authorities, the County, District and Borough Councils.

Many of us are concerned that the Mayor, elected by around 15% of the population working with leaders, or representatives from just the largest parties in constituent authorities would represent only some 30% of the population.  The very real fear is that people’s belief that they are not represented and that their views don’t count will be confirmed.

Concerns: Our concerns were:

  • the clear democratic deficit  this devolution deal will offer – an overarching authority will consist of one member from every council (probably the leader);
  • the thorny question of an elected Mayor for each county (and all the extra bureaucracy that would go with that post);
  • the relative smallness of the sums offered to Suffolk ( a single pot of £750m -£25m a year for 30 years – for Norfolk and Suffolk to invest in infrastructure, economic growth and jobs) ;
    the fact that  the Government  will still  oversee everything it wishes to oversee, but just without the responsibility, thus making the county the ‘fall guy’ for its more unpopular decisions
  • – and possibly most of all – the government’s target for Norfolk and Suffolk to build an additional 200,000  (some figures quote 240000) houses in Suffolk and Norfolk by 2031.  In Suffolk, this is the equivalent of creating 4 extra towns the size of Ipswich, or increasing every town and village by 35%. Such a magnitude of growth is not needed to satisfy local demand

The Housing Problem Suffolk badly needs specific types of housing and it is not being built. We specifically need starter homes, disability-specific housing, and accommodation for older people wanting to downsize – all for a population already living in Suffolk. (And whose needs are not being catered for). Do we need 100,000 houses(or more – the Norfolk/Suffolk split is not mentioned) and where will they go? WHo would they be fore? Our towns, roads and commuter rail are  already congested. How will our county cope with growth of this magnitude?

Having said which, Norfolk and Suffolk would at least receive £100m to invest in shared ownership housing and could use up to 15% of it for houses for social rent.  Finally, £30m to Norwich and Ipswich over five years, that is £3m a year each -about 30 houses – will be useful but hardly game changing for these two towns.

Transport The Combined Authority would also receive a single budget for public transport guaranteed for four years, replacing the numerous annual budgets that Government currently provides. This would provide certainty on funding that is currently not possible but is still just a small portion of the funding needed.  The downside is that the impact of local decisions on things like concessionary fares are difficult to predict.

Despite such reservations voiced by many, devolution was voted in by a resounding majority (40 for, 20 against, 3 abstentions, and a couple of hurried departures just before the vote…).

A public consultation including a MORI telephone poll and an online survey has opened and will remain open over the summer only. You can find it at www.eastangliadevo.co.uk/consultation/ .  It will be open for responses until 23 August.

Caroline Page
John Field

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Community Transport – a Continuing Story

cropped-Dave-Wood1.jpgAt the last County Council meeting (14th July) during the debate on the Annual Equalities and Inclusion Report 2016, leader David Wood asked for the following to be clarified, on his own behalf and on that of Cllrs Penny Otton and Caroline Page :-

Referring to point 3 of the report – ” Empower more people with protected characteristics to live safe, healthy and independent lives”. Could the proposer please tell me how the recently awarded Community Transport Contracts fits in with this report – especially its equality objectives.

For instance I know in Mid Suffolk one cannot use a bus pass to access these services – yet in other areas of Suffolk you can.

In my own area I am receiving complaints regarding these new services: these come from a young person with Downs Syndrome; a person with visual impairment; and a wheelchair user –  all have been told they cannot access services they have come to rely on and have become an important part of their lives. In one case a person’s job is at risk; another is seriously considering moving away from the village she has lived in all her life.

My question is, how does this fit in with our equality and inclusion objectives?

Cllr Goldson could not provide an answer during the debate but has assured me he will look into this and will be replying to the question raised.

The Portfolio holder for Highways and Transport was strangely silent during the debate.

David Wood
Group Leader

 

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SCC Annual Executive Statement: LibDem Response

photo: Caroline PageAfter a week when momentous change has been initiated by a referendum result that many did not expect, it feels strange to reflect on the more mundane but nevertheless important issues of the last year.

Where to begin? The financial challenge and the Council Tax?  The administration promised no rises in council tax for four years, ignoring the challenging social care needs of an increasing elderly population.  They have met those needs by outsourcing and changing services in a way that makes it difficult to be sure if all those who need our help get enough of it.

This year, after government encouragement the Conservatives have now introduced a special 2% precept -not a council tax rise – to meet the steadily increasing demand for care. We welcome the move and look forward to knowing just where this is spent.

Had the administration raised the council tax by a similar amount, we all would have been challenged by the need to find an extra £26 or so per household but it would have gone some way to fill the gap left by cuts to government grants.

A feature of the year has been the continuing, cross party, councillor discontent with the outsourced Highways contract. High design costs and slow response to the need for work makes it impossible for councillors to use our individual highways budgets to meet residents’ reasonable demands.  It increases discontent and confirms the public mistrust of politicians.  Conservatives  believe in the outsourcing model, they let the contract -can we see some effective delivery please?

In the education arena we are pleased to see Suffolk – at last – moving up from so close to the bottom of the league tables. Unfortunately, poor past performance leaves our schools at risk of forced conversion to academy status.  That is a transition many do not want but our poor management performance leaves little choice.  The academy structure in our view leaves management overhead spread across a much smaller base.  Dedicated leaders may of course produce outstanding results but the record is far from perfect.

We don’t want to be entirely critical. We applaud Conservative actions to focus intensive action on troubled families and on making every intervention count.  The campaign to recruit more foster carers was first class

We thank the administration for the way they have kept us informed as the devolution proposals developed, a pleasant example of openness and honesty. It will be good if the public get the same feeling.  However,  we will no doubt discuss the public consultation which appears to be heading for the summer holiday period.

Saving money on services like Community Transport or Park and Ride is short sighted. If the administration is so intent on new models then they  need to fully finance the transition to working services.  When we say ‘working services’ we mean working for everybody –  but in Mid Suffolk, older people will no longer be able to use their bus passes.

Dave Wood is pleased DEFRA have noted the importance of our protected landscapes and have guaranteed the grant to our AONB’s with a slight rise in funding. The county has followed suit, sadly without the increase.

One can’t close without a comment on Brexit. We have a new challenge. We are appalled that our nation is not mature enough to stick with our European friends and solve their problems. We prefer to abandon them to their fate and seek a better future in the past.  We hope that the course back to 1930 nationalistic attitudes will not lead to a spread of behaviours like those in Ukraine.

One wonders how many who believe our trade will now grow unencumbered by regulation have first-hand experience of the competence and skill of our competitors in other nations and of the international regulation that exists.

We can’t sell railways and steam engines to the empire any more. We need many more companies like ARM in Cambridge if we are to succeed. It is doubtful whether we have them.

One hopes the Conservatives the vision our new future will require, that nationally, they will stop rewarding the rich and punishing the poor who have suffered disproportionately the price of austerity. We need to get them back on side.

Where our consciences allow we LibDems will support efforts to survive and prosper in the new Great Britain, although of course we would prefer to be heading in a different direction.

John Field
Deputy Leader

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LibDems are standing for the 48%

48Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has pledged to fight the next General Election on a platform taking Britain back into Europe.

Since Britain voted for Brexit on Thursday thousands of people have joined the Liberal Democrats and all Suffolk Lib Dem groups are seeing a share of this surge.

The economic uncertainty following the Brexit vote  will affect jobs, people’s homes and livelihoods.  While accepting the result of the referendum, the Liberal Democrats plan to make the case for us to rejoin the heart of Europe.

“For many millions of people, this was not just a vote about Europe. It was a howl of anger at politicians and institutions who they felt they were out of touch and had let them down,” said  Tim .

“The British people deserve the chance not to be stuck with the appalling consequences of a Leave campaign that stoked that anger with the lies of Farage, Johnson and Gove.

“The Liberal Democrats will fight the next election on a clear promise to restore British prosperity and role in the world, with the UK in the European Union, not out.

If you agree with us, join us to make this happen.”

You can join the LibDems here

Caroline Page

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