All posts by Caroline Page

Lib Dem County Councillor for Woodbridge, Suffolk; Elected 2008, 2009,2013; LD spokesman, Transport; Vice-Chair Education Transport Appeals; Speed Limit Panel member ; Campaigns for Rural Transport, Buses, Rail, Cycling, Young People, Libraries, Disability, Epilepsy & Carers

Suffolk Conservatives: Modified Support only for Green/LibDem Cycling Plans

The Conservative administration at Suffolk County Council  agreed yesterday to a motion proposed by the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group to develop a strategic costed cycling plan.  The motion, seconded by LibDem leader Caroline Page, and proposed by Green Robert Lindsay  first asked for a strategic, costed five-year cycling plan to be drawn up for Suffolk.  It secondly asked  for a commitment of 5% of the annual Integrated Transport Block (the equivalent of £160,000) to be spent on cycling infrastructure.
Both motions were vital: without a  commitment of funding, it will be impossible to implement a cycling plan. However, the Conservatives refused to commit any funding whatsoever  to cycling infrastructure – thus managing to have their fiscal cake and eat it.
In the past SCC used to have a cycling team and  a costed cycling infrastructure plan – which was allocated funds from the Transport budget every year.
Back in 1995 the then Country Councillors voted to fully support plans to develop the Sustrans’  National Cycle Network routes in Suffolk and steady progress was made with this for several years.
A cycling budgets also benefits other modes of travel:
1) Most off-carriageway cycle infrastructure is designed to be of equal benefit to pedestrians e.g. shared use cycle paths; Toucan crossing; bridges  – therefore ‘Safe Routes to School’ (for both cycling and walking).
2) More cycle commuters means less traffic on roads, leading to better journey times for those who really need their vehicles.
Since 2011, Suffolk and Ipswich were eligible for six sustainable travel grants from the Department for Transport, yet did not win a single one of these. By failing to commit a minimal amount of funding, it is likely that any future bids for funding will likewise fail.

What’s been happening, July 2018

Opposition’s “call in” of Suffolk County Council school transport cuts unsuccessful   On Tuesday 19 June, Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet voted to change the Home to School Transport policy so that only children travelling to their nearest school would receive free transport. The changes are due to be phased in from September 2019.

As you may be aware,  LibDem Councillors and their Green and Independent colleagues  have been opposed to this policy change since it was announced in September 2018. As was the Labour group. There has also been very vocal opposition from schools, parents, carers and parish councils across Suffolk.

All the opposition cross-party worked collaboratively to call in the decision to Suffolk’s Scrutiny, with Cllrs Otton and Page as the Lib Dem signatories.

The “call-in” was successful on three fronts:
1. Concern at the quality and reliability of the financial modelling;
2. Whether the Cabinet were fully informed of the role of the Consultation Institute;
3. Whether there was enough analysis of the experience of Essex County Council, who implemented a similar policy in 2013.

Unfortunately despite the considered opinions of really competent and well-qualified members of the public, the Conservative administration failed to recognise their own financial forecasts were flawed. The decision will therefore go ahead.

Major review of Suffolk Highways announced The new Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Highways, Cllr Mary Evans, has launched a major review of the way highways in Suffolk are maintained.

Areas due to be reviewed include:
• Existing policy which determines how resources are deployed, known as the Suffolk Highway Maintenance Operational Plan (HMOP);
• How the location of potholes on the road is considered alongside the width and depth, recognising the impact they can have on cyclists and motorcyclists;
• How utility companies coordinate roadworks and are held to account for their actions;
• How residents, councillors and businesses are informed about road repairs and how they can access information;
• Financial control and contract management;
• How town and parish councils can work closer with Suffolk Highways to make the best use of their local knowledge, skills, money and time.

Consultation launched on future commissioning of specialist education services  Suffolk County Council have launched a consultation into the commissioning strategy for the development of Suffolk’s specialist educational provision.

Demand for specialist education places in Suffolk for children with SEND continues to grow, and currently the county council has a much lower number of specialist education places than other similar authorities. This means that many children in Suffolk are forced to travel out of county to access the education provision they need – and often Suffolk County Council foots the bill.

At a time when the Council wishes to reduce the amount of free home-to-school transport it provides citing fears of escalating costs, it is vital that we begin to provide more SEND provision within Suffolk.

The 6 week consultation will look at three options for meeting the additional demand for specialist provision. More information and a link to the consultation can be found online at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/SENDsufficiencyeducation

Suffolk LibDems in cross-party call-in of ‘undemocratic’ school transport cuts

LibDem questions to Cabinet

Update: The Call-in was successful! The decision will now be scrutinised  by SCC’s Scrutiny Committee on 9 July, who will investigate the quality and reliability of the financial modelling; whether the Cabinet were fully aware of the actual role played by the Consultation Institute , and whether enough weight was given to the negative experience of EssexCC when they attempted the same policy.

Suffolk’After Suffolk  County Council’s Cabinet  voted  unanimously  for undemocratic cuts to school transport changes, – ‘the option that nobody wanted,’ your LibDem Councillors  (Leader and Transport Spokesperson, Caroline Page and  LDGI Education Spokesperson Penny Otton ) are part of a cross-party opposition  attempt to  ‘call in’ (that is, challenge) the  decision. Both  councillors (and especially Penny Otton  as ‘councillor on the ground’ for Thurston)have been very vocal on the subject

If the ‘call in’ is accepted, this means  the decision will not go  ahead until SCC’s scrutiny  committee  examines it fully.

The call-in was cross party, as was the  unanimity of focus of the opposition questioning on Tuesday . Concerns focused the grounds whereby Cabinet discussed only the unpopular Option 2 (phased change) instead of the universally popular Option 3 (best described as ‘leave well alone.’) Lib Dem, Green and Labour questioning was forceful and forensic and took – literally – hours.

LibDem Leader Caroline Page queried the administration’s terms of reference. Was Suffolk’s offer genuinely “more generous” than the government minimum, when the government minimum covered urban and rural students  indiscriminately, she asked? City students do not have 3 mile walks to their catchment school: city schools are closer and public transport is plentiful and cheap.

We were told how expensive our spend was- over £100 a student head as opposed to Salford’s £2. However, as Caroline pointed out,  Salford has a total area of 8 sq miles, and it would be almost  impossible for a child to live more than 3 miles from their local school! Suffolk, in comparison, has an area of 1466sq miles,  “Are you not comparing apples and pears, in order to justify hard-to-justify decisionmaking?” she asked.

Cllr Page also asked why there was no Traffic Impact Assessment for the county – and while the very limited (Thurston area only) TIA failed to consider issues such as pollution and air quality? (Answer: too expensive/work in progress.)  And, as over 70% of  consultation respondents were women , and LG cuts disproportionally affect women,  whether Cabinet  could be genuinely satisfied that the IA’s conclusion that “impact on women would be minimised by phasing in the changes”, fully addressed the  actual impact these changes would have on  women. Ominously  – but unsurprisingly -this question was not answered at all.

Penny Otton thanked Thurston school for their months of hard work. She also  asked Cllr Hopfensperger whether or not she had confirmed ahead of the publication of this report  (and decision of the Cabinet) that ‘local solutions’ are be implemented in September 2018, and asked for confirmation as to whether – local solutions having been provided by Thurston college and wholly ignored, whether any schools have reconfirmed their desire to work with  a council that had so totally ignored their input.

John Field asked why the Cabinet report used just three years historic data as the basis of an average growth estimate.  “Is that standard local government accounting practice?” Cllr Field inquired. He also pointed out that the  administration was using just three very different years of rapidly reducing cost growth as the basis for their forecast.  “Is that a valid forecasting technique?” he asked.   (The answer in both cases was to explain what had been done  – but failed to address the validity of the processes).

David Wood asked whether the Cabinet member could confirm that there would be no teacher redundancies and that no villages who currently all go to one school will now need two routes to take them to their nearest school. The  answer was not the positive affirmative that one would desire.

Cllr Wood also asked  why the administration didn’t commission experts from the University of Suffolk to undertake the educational impact assessment for these proposed changes.

This was new Council Leader Matthew Hicks first time chairing the Cabinet and it was a baptism of fire. It is only fair to say he chaired the meeting with justice and impartiality, allowing the opposition all the questions they wished to ask and cutting short members of his own party who wished to speak in order to make loyal declarations  rather than questioning Cabinet.

Will the call-in be accepted? Watch this space!