In 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.