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Visits today: 46

Education two tiers and three

I am of course extremely pleased to learn that education results in Suffolk are at last beginning to improve.

However to still be within the bottom of the table is not only disturbing , but,  ironic,  in that two of the best performing secondary schools in the County are in Bury St. Edmunds, where there is still a three tier school system.

Conservatives in Suffolk have spent an undeclared amount – which must run into tens of millions of pounds – on reorganising from three to two tier schooling.

The independent report by Ofsted last year gave a damning verdict on the council’s performance of supporting county run schools and challenging academies, stating  “The Local Authority arrangements for supporting school improvement are ineffective.”

At the very start of the reorganisation Liberal Democrat councillors warned that the benefits would be minimal as poor school performance was related to deprivation not school structure.  Year on year we challenged Conservative cuts to the funding for school improvement. They seemed hell-bent on continuing with this very costly process, whilst Suffolk plummeted down the national education league tables.

A whole generation of school children have now been through Suffolk schools that have failed to improve. Perhaps those in charge should pause now to reflect on where the time , money and expertise would have been better spent.

Penny Otton

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Our Views on the County’s 2015-16 Budget

This year we have chosen not to attempt a detailed amendment to the budget but to comment on matters of principal at a strategic level on those service areas we consider most important.

The Liberal Democrat group is fully aware of the overall financial situation and supports the government focus on reducing the budget deficit.  However it believes that many services provided by local government are valuable and should not be a first priority for cuts.

We believe that the county should use the resources provided by government and those it raises locally to support the local population and the economy.  The Tories have diverted significant funds into reserves “for a rainy day”, and we have seen reserves grow dramatically during the financial crisis.  They appear to be saving for a “rainy decade” while cutting services NOW.  Funds could be used on today’s issues using reserves set aside for activities that will never occur.

The county must fund infrastructure that supports the local economy and ensure it is fit for purpose.  For broadband we can see some progress but highways maintenance is slow and inadequate.

The county should provide services that support a good quality of life for vulnerable people and those who have difficulty getting work.  We need to help people into work or help them into work re-enabling people who have had problems whenever possible.

ACS–Services for the elderly and vulnerable

Within ACS the administration continuously seeks to reduce demand making no increase for inflation or demographic change.  We support continuous pressure to improve efficiency removing bureaucracy and deploying new techniques and technology.  However, we must ensure that people are not just forced out of relative low cost services into those with much higher spend.  Into acute hospitals due to a lack of care places for instance.  The county should collect data on local needs, understand it and focus on those needs.  There should be clear evidence that needs are being met.

The cycle we see too often in our divisions, of a chaotic and disastrous end to life bounced from service to service must cease.  We find it difficult to believe that this can be achieved in the face of an increasing elderly population while we put money in reserves “for a rainy day”.  The problems experienced with care homes within the County’s contract are inexcusable.

The County must watch its strategy closely to be sure that the vulnerable are not being pushed out of the support system.  Cost reductions purely from lower wage rates or working hours are not acceptable.  They just move the budget problem to the benefit bill.

Public Health

Mental health services are clearly inadequate but at national level Liberal Democrats are taking action and we welcome the moves by Norman Lamb to establish maximum times for referral.  We believe that the County must play its role in this area.

CYP– Children’s services with emphasis on education.

CYP concerns us most.  The performance of many of our schools, particularly those in deprived areas lags the national picture.  While there are improvements, in key stage 2 reading, writing and maths Suffolk has improved moving us up the Local Authority rankings from 145 to 141 this is not good enough.  The Tory response is to cut the overall CYP budget by £6.6 million.

We have the “Raising the Bar” initiative but find it difficult to detect any real enthusiasm for it in Suffolk Schools or a belief that it is an effective approach.  A school governors commented recently “If the Local Authority continues to focus on such non-events as the distribution of meaningless and infantile rosettes, I think we can be confident that the Bar will remain firmly on, or near, the floor.”

Currently we appear to have a learning inspection service and we need a learning improvement service.

Leadership is essential but the enthusiastic effective leadership teams in our good and outstanding schools just don’t have the budget to cover supply replacements while they help others to make the leap in teaching and learning required.  They can’t neglect their own schools and let them fall back.

We still believe that the County should fund supply cover and in addition establish a small number of “excellence” teams who could work with the leadership teams in failing schools to remove pressure, determine what needs to be done and put it in place.   Excellence teams would need people with proven track records who enjoy a challenge and would need to ensure that necessary management decisions are taken.

The cost of such teams would not be trivial but would be small compared to the County budget and must be less than the continuing cost of failure.

The Conservative administration have been in control of our children’s education now for ten years and in many areas a whole generation of Suffolk young people have been through a failing education system.  This system must be improved and “Raising the Bar” is not working.

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The future of Suffolk Children’s Centres

Dear Cllr Jones

Subject:  Consultation, Children’s Centres

You will recall that much thought and planning was given to the location of these Centres when first established. It was decided that they were the best places where the need and their accessibility would result in the best possible outcomes for children, both presently and in the future.   We write to urge that you do not close any Children’s Centres.

These imperatives have not changed. Closing Centres are likely to deter those who may be in most need. Families presently using those proposed for closure may well be deterred from going to another, not able to manage issues such as cost, accessibility, time and motivation.

We would also ask that you re-consider your proposals by noting that all measures to provide support and direction for the benefit of children have recognised that Children’s Centres are the bedrock of such initiatives. They have contributed hugely to multi-agency approaches. For example, from 2011, when it was recognised that 0-11 years was the critical period for intervention and a team approach put in place, to the present LAC project and multi-agency safeguarding tenets.

Rightly, SCC needs to save money. However, we should equate the cost  of retaining all Children’s Centres with that for placing Out County children in care, up to £1500 a week, and for foster carers between £800 and, shortly, £1,000 pounds a week These costs are likely to rise.

As corporate parents we should endorse all measures to prevent children coming into care.

Keeping all Children’s Centres open would help significantly towards continuing this aim.

 

Liberal Democratic Group

Suffolk County Council

(Speaking  the matter at Full Council, Cllr Penny Otton added : “I am very concerned at any closure in rural areas, with little of any public transport,  will have a drastic effect on mothers, fathers and carers. Families in the armed forces stationed far from home and their family backup. The idea that qualified library staff will be able to replace the expertise of children’s centre managers and staff is madness. How can they be expected to help families in crisis?)

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SCC AGM: LibDem Leader’s response

Dave WoodIn responding to the Leaders statement, Lib Dem Leader, Dave Wood responded:

I wish to focus mainly on two areas that have hit the headlines innumerable times during the course of the last year – that is Suffolk’s Education and Suffolk’s Roads and Transport.

Over the last year headlines regarding Suffolk education have made appalling reading. In March Ofsted told us Suffolk County Council’s support for school improvement is ineffective, and that the life chances of young people in Suffolk are being damaged by the local authority’s failure to challenge and support schools. We have to ask if this is because the administration placed too much focus on the Schools Organisational Review programme. This has has resulted in the closure of several good middle schools, which in turn has resulted in additional classrooms having to be built in many Primary Schools to take extra pupils up to the age of 11.

As the result of a challenge by one of my group regarding the closure of Badwell Ash Primary School and others we are glad to see that Suffolk County Council is now consulting on ways to prevent further closures.

Yes we are aware that the Raising the Bar programme has had some early successes and I was only to pleased to attend the awards ceremony that saw a project from my area that I had nominated and provided a grant for win one of the awards . But one has to ask, is everyone committed to this initiative ? is everyone behind it and aware of it? and is it bringing about the change our young people need?

I am pleased to point out that LibDem intervention – including media coverage bringing the matter to scrutiny has resulted in change regarding the education of Suffolk children excluded from school – premises are now being registered, inspected and some were even closed down due to safeguarding issues.

Transport and Roads – always a thorny subject in our rural county. In October of last year the County Council finally managed to outsource Highway services to Kier MG after the debacle earlier in the year where the arrangements for a preferred bidder all fell apart at the very last moment. As regards the new provider – well I think we can all say that the jury is out regarding the service they are delivering. The headlines in the local media have hardly been glowing in the past few months. There have been significant teething troubles with extraordinary delays and hefty increases in Councillor funded projects. We are lucky we didn’t have a winter like the previous three or four or but the rain produced its own problems, and I’m afraid to say that our new providers severely dented their reputation with repairing of potholes throughout the county. Just one example – a pothole in the main street has been repaired at least four times to my knowledge and each time within a few days of the repair it is just as bad as it was before. When asked why this was, the workmen said, sorry this is just a temporary repair as we do not have the right materials available to repair it correctly. Is this value for money? I think not.

As regards transport, many of the knee-jerk decisions made in previous years – such as the abolition of the excellent Explore card, and the cancellation of many SCC subsidised bus services- have turned out to produce entirely predictable adverse consequences costing Suffolk much more than the savings made: with impact on rural isolation, NEETs, health, employment, training.Just as we predicted. Yes, SCC has finally introduced the Endeavour card – a poor replacement to the Explore card which they binned – but so far less than 1000 young people have registered – as opposed to the 28,130 16-19 year olds who held the Explore card when it was cut halfway through the academic year 3 years ago. Hardly a substitute, then.

Finally to finish on a positive note. Even though Suffolk Coast and Heaths and The Dedham AONB units saw a drastic reduction in their funds from government and locally, this resulted in a reorganisation of their resources to form a joint team while keeping their own individual identities. Both of these units have been extremely successful in obtaining grants from outside sources to enable important projects to be undertaken in their respective areas. An extremely successful European funded project has just reached its conclusion in the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB which will bring benefits to tourists , inhabitants and businesses alike, as well as the Lottery Funded Touching the Tide project which is extremely successful and attracting great media attention. The Suffolk Coast and Heaths Management Plan was adopted by all the relevant Local Authorities and enjoyed a successful launch. Such is the importance of these areas to businesses – bringing in millions per annum- that an active team, partnership and plan is essential and hopefully within the next year we will see an extension to the AONB ratified , with the inclusion of the South side of the Stour.Although in Essex I can assure you all it will retain the title Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB.

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EUROPE: You have a vote today – don’t forget to use it!

 

Scoring 8 out of 10, Lib Dem MEPs provide best ‘value-for-money’ of all UK parties, according to the Independent

Euro election voting day

Published and promoted by I Horner on behalf of the Liberal Democrats at Orwell House, Cowley Road, Cambridge CB4 0PP

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Solar panels on the P&Rs? Lib Dems propose sensible approach to solar energy 

Wayne National Forest Solar Panel ConstructionYes, of course the LibDems are fully behind solar energy – but not at the expense of valuable arable land!  What is needed is a sensible approach.

So if we could find a place that delivers this energy and has a positive impact on 8 other issues then it could be considered a real winner.

Well, Dave Busby – LibDem councillor for Belstead Brook – may have just had that ‘eureka’ moment. He is proposing that we should cover the Copdock Park & Ride with solar panels.

Apart from the obvious benefit of additional power what else would this proposal give us?

“Generating income for the site would mean that
– Fares could be reduced –  resulting in increased numbers using the service increasing, meaning less traffic jams and less pollution in Ipswich;
– The future viability of the site would be guaranteed;
– Students from Suffolk One could be offered cheap parking – eliminating the continuing thorny problem of them needing  to park in surrounding residential areas,”  Dave points out.

Additional benefits would be that

  • Traffic flow into town is reduced;
  • Agricultural land is retained for food production;
  • The Suffolk landscape is not blighted;
  • The site could provide a point for charging electric  cars;
  • It means a double use for an asset

Solar panels could also be added at the Martlesham P&R site to provide similar benefits on the other side of Ipswich.

So will it happen?

“Watch this space,” says Dave Busby.

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LibDems fight for East of England Jobs

CBIFOcusMEPcandidatesLike it or not, more than 4 million UK jobs depend on Britain remaining in the European Union.

Which is why the Lib Dems want us to stay in Europe, unlike UKIP and the many Conservative Eurosceptics. Pulling out of Europe would be disastrous for the economy – and for Suffolk!

In the East of England a staggering 375,000 jobs will be put at risk if Britain leaves the European Union.

“The facts speak for themselves,” says Lib Dem Euro MP Andrew Duff. “Locally, the EU has provided vital funding for job creation projects and has brought in £millions of investment.

The truth is, the EU needs reform, but pulling out would lead to economic disaster.”

 Published and promoted by I Horner on behalf of the Liberal Democrats at Orwell House, Cowley Road, Cambridge CB4 0PP

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UKIP: “Safer lorries? Nein danke!”

Suffolk cyclists and pedestrians will be delighted to hear that  new regulations on lorry design were adopted by the European Parliament  on Tuesday with a huge majority.

Inadequate HGV design has been implicated as a significant factor in the deaths and injuries of pedestrians and cyclists. Lorries are involved in almost one in five cycle fatalities in Britain.

Under changes pushed by Liberal Democrat MEPs, the design of lorry cabs are set to be changed. Crucially they will have larger windows to the front and side – which will increase the driver’s field of vision and reduce blind spots.  New vehicles would also have a crumple zone and a rounder front, with the intention of reducing the severity of injuries to vulnerable road users – in a  collision the design would allow a cyclist or pedestrian to be deflected away from the lorry rather than being dragged beneath it.It is thought the proposal could help prevent dozens of fatal accidents each year.

Although the vote was 606 – 54,  embarrassingly, more MEPs from the UK than any other country voted against adopting these  new rules and half of the 12 were from UKIP UKIP votes lorry, including  UKIP leader Nigel Farage. Another vote against was from the BNP’s Nick Griffin.

A full list of nay-sayers can be found here.

This vote show how divorced UKIP MEPs are from any  activity except that of claiming expenses,  ” says LibDem Transport spokesman Caroline Page.

I have twice been very nearly killed by a lorry when cycling. In both cases, poor visibility from the cab was the key issue. I am sure  that lorry drivers will welcome these proposals as fervently as cyclists and pedestrians.

 Lorry drivers don’t want to become killers, any more than cyclists want to be killed. How hard is that for UKIP to understand?”

 

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NHS Data sharing – it’s your call

file0001810786833 (653x800)Everyone in Suffolk should have received a leaflet through the post  (click here)  about how the government intends to share your personal health data with a variety of ‘approved’ (but unspecified) organisations and ‘researchers’. The leaflet came without an envelope and  will probably  have arrived with a lot of other leaflets  and many people may have thrown it away unread.

The leaflet tells you, “If you are happy for your information to be shared “ (or if you have thrown away the leaflet unread) “you do not need to do anything. There is no form to fill in and nothing to sign.”

In other words – you will automatically have opted into having your full medical information shared with whoever the government decides appropriate.

Or indeed, anyone who breaks into the HSCIC ‘secure’ system.

“The thing that worries me, is why is there no form to fill in and nothing to sign?  The government are leafleting every household in the country,and  the form could easily have contained a simple opt-in slip that you could fill in and take to your GP.  Almost everything in this country that’s not compulsory requires an opt in – from electoral registration, to becoming an organ donor. If the government wants to start a trend for opting-out rather than opting-in  why don’t we start with one or both of these?  ” asks Woodbridge County Councillor Caroline Page.

“The second problem I have is  can we be identified via this data?  The leaflet tells you that your name will not be linked to your data but the parent NHS website confirms that they are linking “your date of birth, full postcode, NHS number, and gender will be. That is enough to identify most people.

Theoretically NHS data sharing is a good idea. Nothing would please me – and people like me – more than if a responsible state used our medical data for responsible research to ameliorate our  current problems and make life better for the future. But until we can have better guarantees as to anonymity and security this initiative seems to be fatally flawed.

Personally, I’m happy to share my NHS data with my excellent GP practice, with hospitals and with various expert medical personnel.  But until we can have better guarantees as to anonymity and security  I will not be sharing my data with the state!”

A proposal – which will be discussed next month –  could additionally give access to our data to non-NHS bodies, including private firms. Make a positive decision as to whether you are opting in or out. Contact your GP surgery

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Suffolk County Council Budget 2014

Suffolk County Council agreed its Budget at full council today. The LibDems had a free vote, but most – if not all – voted against the Administration’s proposals. As Leader, Dave Wood said:

bank-england_£Our group fully understands the financial needs of the County  – and the absolute requirement the Council has  to raise efficiency and to give good value for money. So of course, we fully support the proposed 0% increase in Council Tax.

However, we sincerely believe that the Pickles Bribe (eg central government’s council tax freeze deal) should actually be used, rather than placed in the reserves as seems to have become Tory practice. This money should be given back to the people of Suffolk – from whom it was extracted via their taxes – and used to support some of the services you are proposing to cut.

We are concerned – most particularly with Adult and Continuing Services – that apparent efficiencies are masking significant service resuctions. We have anecdotal evidence that this is the case.

It is a different case with Childrens and Young Peoples’ services. League tables show clearly that we are still performing badly, and yet we see substantial budget cuts. This just cannot be right. The  future of Suffolk depends on the aspirations of its young people.

We welcome the gains you propose to make from the moving of CSD  inhouse- but surely there has been a very hard lesson to be learned here.  This project has been very badly managed for years now. It is proof, if proof was needed that outsourcing services doesn’t always make savings and is not always best.. SO surely the savings made from this and the Energy from Waste project should be employed to rectify the problems I have quoted.

On a personal level I’m deeply disappointed that the Council has decided to cut their contribution to Suffolk’s magnificent AONBs  by 20%  – especially as it is on the back of them being forward-looking and restructuring I know it is only a small sumof money in the grand scheme of things – but what sort of message is it going to send out to our other contributing partners, considering AONBs  importance, and the contribution they make to the Suffolk economy? I wish that the reduction could have been phased in with a full consultation. As it is there  in black and white in today’s budget, I hope the Portfolio holder will reassure us that he will take no more from the AONBs for the duration of this administration.

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