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

A Partial Victory for Thurston Community College families

Penny Otton SCCCllr Penny Otton has campaigned long and hard to get free home-to-school transport for a small number of pupils in Rattlesden, Woolpit and Elmswell who were caught between catchment areas. At the moment these villages are each split between Stowupland and Thurston High Schools’ catchments  although from 2014 they will all be in the Thurston catchment.

A few families, having chosen to send their children to Thurston Community College were faced with an unexpected  termly bill.

“It just didn’t seem fair,” says Penny Otton. “Especially as no-one in their right mind would want to send their child to Stowupland for one single year!”

” The families were very poorly informed, both as to the situation and as to their rights. I have been fighting this anomaly for months.  At least today the SCC cabinet has come round to my point of view and agreed to allow free transport to the  year 9 pupils involved. However I am very disappointed  that year 10 children will still be forced to pay when their friends just 1 street away do not. This is not equitable in the circumstances.”

Re-regulate Suffolk buses to save services, says Councillor

Caroline PageFaced with the major collapse of  rural bus ‘services’ in Suffolk, Woodbridge Councillor and Lib Dem Spokesman for Transport Caroline Page, has long been calling  on both Suffolk County Council and the government to look at re-regulation of rural bus services.

“The response of both  institutions has been largely negative,” she says “despite clear evidence that ‘competition’ and ‘market forces’ have done absolutely nothing to benefit rural users over the last decades .”

Yet re-regulation  is not impossible.

Last Friday the five Tyne and Wear councils voted to start the consultation necessary to re-regulate their buses . It will be the first region to take the plunge since  deregulation  of bus non-London services in the 1980s. Re-regulation  will allow the region to aim once again for the efficiency, coverage and price which is standard for bus services  in regulated London by giving bus companies franchises to run all local services, instead of letting them cherry-pick the ones on which they can make the most money. This is why there are ‘bus wars’ on popular routes in towns  and no service at all in many rural areas.

Tyne and Wear was warned that without change, all local school buses would go; a further 200 bus routes would likely disappear, and concessionary child fares would vanish. However, if the councils take over the bus routes, they could use the current subsidy and profits to grow the service to make it meet the needs of all residents.

“Tyne and Wear’s problems are not dissimilar to those we are facing in Suffolk,” says Caroline.

Buses are Britain’s main form of public transport, and in the old days the concept of bus ‘services’ meant service: popular routes would fund socially necessary but less income-generating services elsewhere. De-regulation was heralded by the Thatcher administration as providing competition, but in fact since the 80s some big bus companies have clearly used their size to see off other competitors   creating  local monopolies  which do not benefit passengers at all .   According to the FT “Bus companies earn higher margins outside London.. Stagecoach makes an average of 17 per cent outside London, while the figure for Go-Ahead is 10 per cent.”  The FT says  that average London operators make between 4 and 5 %.

“Bus companies should be forced to compete with each other to  provide proper services rather than to maximise profits. I once again call upon Suffolk County Council  to do everything they can to make this possible,” says Caroline.

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Councillor calls for action on unregistered education centres

Penny HeadA BBC Look East programme last week  highlighted  the state of education for those children in Suffolk who have been excluded from school. It claimed that many of these  are being put at risk in unregistered education centres.  Unregistered centres are neither known to – nor inspected by – Ofsted, the education watchdog.  Suffolk County Council has nine unregistered centres but denies children there are unsafe.

Liberal Democrat  County Councillor Penny Otton – who was interviewed for the programme as Spokesperson for Education, Skills, Young People and Localities – said,   “”It sounds to me like an absolutely major crisis!”

” I am shocked that these very vulnerable children are being taught in premises which are not registered, many being obviously unfit for use. Unlike other educational institutions, they are not inspected by Ofsted. This is a serious issue, which brings into question how the council is protecting and supporting these children who often have major behavioural problems.I have already brought this worrying situation up with the new Education, Children and Young People scrutiny committee and I will continue to do so.  The council must do something as a matter of urgency.”

Replies to Lib Dem Councillors’ questions, July 2013

Below are the questions your Lib Dem Councillors tabled at July’s Full Council together with the appropriate  Cabinet member’s reply (plus supplementary question and response where appropriate). They have been transcribed from the official audio recording

Most unfortunately, John Field’s question, in relation to the Great Blakenham incinerator – although submitted correctly, and acknowledged as such by the Suffolk County Council Monitoring Officer – disappeared from the Full Council agenda and therefore was neither asked nor answered.

To remind you, it was:

1.  John Field to Cabinet Member for Environment, Waste and Economic Development  (Richard Smith)

The “Escape” study published in the Lancet Oncology journal indicated substantial increases in Lung Cancer at levels of PM2.5 and PM10 pollution significantly below the EEC recommended limits.  A second study from Nicholas Mills also in the Lancet  linked heart failure rates to PM2.5 and PM10 pollution.  These studies raise concern in the population local to the incinerator under construction in Gt Blakenham whose emissions are designed to meet European standards.  While I don’t wish to be alarmist these new studies warrant attention.

Will the Cabinet member ensure that the implications of these reports for my division and the wider area are studied thoroughly and reported to councillors and local people?

An answer to this question would be welcomed.

The other questions were:

2. Penny Otton  to Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Young People (Lisa Chambers )  “It has been reported that many primary schools have overcrowded classrooms, i.e; there are more than 30 pupils in a class. In which schools in Suffolk does this occur?”

Cllr Chambers’ response :  “There is legislation on the size of infant classes: In infant classes there should be no more than 30 children to a single teacher. There are however permitted exceptions for example; to allow twins to be in the same class, or when a pier panel puts children in a school above the planned intake, or when the child receives a statement of special educational need which names the school. The number of infant classes where there has been more than 30 pupils is reported to the department of education by schools every January. This year there were 15 schools in Suffolk where an infant class exceeded 30. In all but one of these cases, additional pupils fell into one of the permissible categories. After changes at one school, none of its infant classes are now above 30.”

Penny Otten – Supplementary Question: “Following on from this, it seems like the Minister Michael Gove has now scrapped the automatic right for 4 year olds to be given a full-time space in school. If this happens in Suffolk, how will you react to that drastic change in school policy?”

Cllr Chambers – Supplementary Response: “This is something I will look into and will take up with the admissions team over the next few weeks. I am happy to respond to you in writing once I have established the full facts.”

Cllr Chambers’ written answer supplied as follows:  The Local Authority has had notification from the Secretary of State, of a change made or an intention to make a change to remove the entitlement to a ‘full time’ school place for  every 4 year old child.   Therefore we are continuing to work on the basis that a full time place is the entitlement.

If the Secretary of State was to remove this requirement then it could have the effect of increasing capacity in primary school places.

In Suffolk the current primary place strategy does and will continue to provide adequate places in primary schools for Suffolk children.  Cabinet has approved a number of capital projects to expand primary schools over proceeding years. The most recent being the Ipswich expansion at the last Cabinet.  Suffolk is not in the same position as some other parts of the country, particularly areas in London, where there is very considerable pressure on primary places.

The Annual School Organisation Plan which sets out how we are planning for places and the projections we use will be presented to scrutiny over the coming months when it is finalised and this will provide a further opportunity for debate.

I assume that your questions at council was generated by the press coverage that morning relating to the Bournemouth case, which has raised questions about the clarity of 2012 admissions code guidance for Local Authorities in respect of the entitlement of a full time place for every 4 year old.  This doesn’t appear at this stage, however, to be a changing government policy and the DfE are remaining quiet at the moment.

3. Inga Lockington to Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Care  (Alan Murray) : “Within the Council’s policy of maintaining dependent people in the Community, could the Portfolio Holder let us know how many assessed Suffolk residents are in receipt of high dependency care packages at home ie. at least two carer visits 4 times a day (or the equivalent Budget) and how does this compare with the same time in 2012 & 2011.”

Cllr Murray Response: “The comparative figures for June are 688, 617, and 598”

Inga Lockington Supplementary Question: “Has there been any change to the assessment criteria over these last few years?

Cllr Murray Supplementary Response: “The answer to that is quite complex, and the assessment criteria are constantly under review, and I would have to (as I am a relatively new boy here) ask for a full response from my officers, but in the complex situation we are, with new CCG’s, hospitals in crisis, ambulances in crisis, it is something we keep under a very accurate review”

Cllr Murray’s further written response  “I can confirm in writing that the assessment criteria for social care support in Suffolk have not changed over the past three years – they remain substantial and critical.”

Best regards,

Alan

4.  Caroline Page to Cabinet Member for Roads and Transport (Graham Newman): “Public transport is an essential part of supporting the welfare of the county, particularly in rural areas. It is coming under increasing pressure and is failing to meet the needs at the time when Suffolk needs it most. When is Cllr Newman going to pressure national government to alter the ridiculous ethos of so-called ‘competition’ which has caused deregulated buses to provide such a terrible service to the people of the Suffolk countryside, over the past decades?”

Cllr Newman Response: “I’m a strong supporter of public transport services in Suffolk. I wish to see more effective coordination of services. The government clearly set out its position in March 2012, in its full response to the competition commission report; ‘Local Bus Service Market Investigation’.
I believe the focus of our efforts should now be on working with the commercial sector to improve the availability and the affordability of transport, particularly to support young people to continue to learn and take their first steps into employment. I therefore welcome the cooperation of the commercial sector in developing our new ‘Endeavour Card’ for young people, and hope that we can build on this relationship to further improve services without unaffordable financial support, in this county council. As Cllr Page will know*, we are meeting with Therese Coffey MP, to discuss these very issues, and indeed I have previously discussed them informally with Dr. Coffey.”

* Caroline Page:  This was actually news to me  – though very welcome news, particularly as Dr Coffey has not so far answered the specific points I raised with her in June concerning this subject, although she has replied to my letter.