Category Archives: John Field

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

Sufffolk LibDem Budget Statement 2016: Support for sensible use of reserves

Suffolk County Council’s burget proposed  cuts amounting to £34.4m –  leading to a budget requirement of £445,659,553.  With all these cuts the budget still  increased council tax by 2% – though in a figleaf to the administration’s electoral promise to freeze council tax for the entire electoral period this was worded as “”The budget is based on a freeze… but includes a 2% precept to fund Adult Social Care…”

The Lib Dems supported  a Labour amendment that tried to ameliorate – indeed turn back – the cuts. They were joined in cross-party unity with the Greens, the Independents and even UKIP. It was a tight vote but the administration squeezed through.

With this cross-party support, the Labour amendment was lost  by a  narrow margin: 32-36. The Conservatives won their budget 36-27.

LibDem deputy group leader John Field told  council:

Local councils have suffered heavily at the hands of the chancellor as he tries to reduce the deficit that the bankers generated.  The County finances are challenged but since 2011 reserves have increase steadily to £140.5 m with £36.9 m in the contingency reserve.  This is money “for a rainy day” not spent boosting the economy or protecting vulnerable people.

The government is now assuming that councils raise council tax by 1.7% per year –  and, if they deal with social care, another 2% on top of that.  If they don’t do this their spending power will fall. There will be no more Pickles grants for keeping tax rises at zero.   As I see it that leaves Suffolk County Council  as a tax cutting administration in a pickle.  Raise tax by just 2% and your resources decrease.  Raise it by 3.7% as the government is assuming and you break your pledge of zero rises.  Do you square the circle by “managing demand”, is it “Transformation” or “Demand Management” locking the door so people can’t get in?

We believe that there must be a continual activity where services are re-engineered to reduce unnecessary process steps and to seize the possibilities offered by technological change.

However, we receive anecdotal information that the vulnerable are steadily receiving reduced service. We believe that we need proof that front line services are being preserved.  The need for continual “demand management” implies they are not.  When people do not get the care they need and the knock on effect on the NHS is substantial.

There are sound reasons for reserves but there is no need to grow them endlessly.  The proposal within the amendment to use a sum equal to the recent growth to support services is a rational choice.  We will no doubt be reminded that reserves can only be used once, obviously true but there is no proposal to spend all the £140.5 m in one period of excess or even all the £36.9 m in the contingency reserve.  The proposals in the amendment appear sound; the proposal to reinstate this selection of your cuts is socially responsible.

Many of the cuts that would be reversed not only meet the needs of the vulnerable but also increase economic growth or reduce costs like those of the delayed transfer of care.  They will reduce spend elsewhere in budgets throughout the public sector.  Those savings are far harder to measure than the administrations cuts but nevertheless are real.

It is your choice to build reserves and endlessly reduce service or to meet need.  You cast yourselves as heroes dealing with adversity but just deliver cuts to the disadvantaged and the vulnerable.    For these reasons we support the Labour amendment.

Caroline Page’s speech on the impact of these cuts to transport can be found here

John Field  (deputy group leader)
Caroline Page

Suffolk gets new Community Transport model – despite reservations

Suffolk will be getting a new Community Transport model – despite reservations from opposition parties – after the  cabinet decision to tender for continuing community transport using a new structure was “called in” this month.

Community transport is the term for services like Dial a Ride that provide “on demand” transport to people no longer served by scheduled buses or trains. Over recent years the Conservative administration have increasingly replaced scheduled bus services in rural areas of Suffolk with community transport, but delivery has remained patchy disparate and problematic.  A variety of these services have operated under various brands serving different communities and specific user-groups although their vehicles have been provided by the county and the services largely specified by county officers. Often people have had little idea of availability and there has been large areas of unmet need – particularly in the area of young person’s travel , regular travel to employment, weekend and evening travel, and same day travel.

Under the new proposal,  seven contracts would be let (one per district council). This would ensure people would easily know who they should phone to book a journey and allow for greater flexibility of provision.  The problem with that is that people often travel from one district to another to visit the hospital or shop in a major town.

The proposal is that  current vehicles will  be sold to the providers, a move that would allow a wider range of customers to be served.  When the county owns vehicles, providers cannot use them to provide services if that would compete with commercial services. That would involve the state subsidising one service to compete against another.

Another advantage will be that they can then select vehicles to meet the need as they see it rather than having to use what the county provides.

The county hopes that this will allow competition for services such as some forms of home-to-school transport that will use the assets more intensively.

So why was this proposal called in by the Labour group?  Well, there were five reasons but we  LibDems thought the most significant was financial.

The intention was that, not only would the county no longer provide free vehicles saving it some some £570k (which largely voluntary bodies would have to find) but also it would reduce the subsidy from £1.4m to £700k over the next four years.  Increased revenue from the new freedom to provide services was supposed to compensate for this significant cut.

Scrutiny believed it more likely that, although the providers would survive, using their new freedoms and their vehicles to provide the county with alternative sources of transport (for instance home to school services) others would suffer.  Many services to people without other transport options would be unlikely to be supported by the new lower county contribution – and will be cut.  And as the new contract is deliberately non-specific, the County could  claim this is a matter outside its control.

We referred the decision back to cabinet but in a very brief process which allowed no comment from other councillors they dismissed the reasoning of the cross party scrutiny committee and decided there would be no change.

So much for democracy!

John Field
Caroline Page

SCC New Leader and LibDem’s midterm response

So, after all the lead-in,  the new leader of Suffolk County Council – Colin Noble – was elected without a hitch at today’s Suffolk Full Council. That is – every single Conservative, apart from Cllr Bee, turned up, and obediently voted him in.

A rainbow coalition of the opposition – the serried ranks of the LibDem, Labour, Independent, Green and UKIP joined forces to vote against him. A  few were absent. Brian Riley was – we presume –  in North Carolina.  Colin Noble was elected – third time lucky – 37:31. No abstentions. Time will tell where this far-from-ringing endorsement will lead.

Lib Dem Leader’s Response to  SCC Leader’s Executive Statement

The recent General Election proved a godsend for those opposite  – not just the result. What the campaign also managed to hide from the public scrutiny was the battle that seemed to be going on within the party who are in charge of the administration of our County.  Is such a seemingly divided party the best to be in charge at the present time?   Writers of  soap operas – Eastenders and Coronation Street – couldn’t have wished for better material for one of their productions, because believe me, to the casual observer that’s what it looked like!

That brings us to the present and one must wonder – is this the dawning of a new age or are we about to travel back in time.  We are all aware the new leader has a habit of looking back into the dim and distant past so God forbid,  are we about to see the re launch of THE NEW STRATEGIC DIRECTION and all that entailed?

Looking back over the past year:  yes, the roll-out of superfast broadband is proving to be a success –  although I still have a job persuading some of my electorate that it is coming. We must also applaud the roll-out of the Sunday Bus services in some rural areas – something that is essential to the way of life in these areas.

But sadly the last year has been overshadowed by the headlines Suffolk has attracted this week  – “County Slow to Improve Schools”, “Suffolk County Council too Slow” and “Not Enough is Being Done To Improve School Standards in Suffolk” – these are just but a few we have seen this very week.

We have heard the excuses and the supposed successes but this report is just not good enough.   It’s not good for our children, our future, our parents, our reputation and Suffolk as a whole.

When you consider that 25,000 children,  very nearly  the capacity of the football stadium next door,  attend schools that are classified as requiring improvement or are inadequate,  that clearly is not good enough.  This is especially so when most of those children live in Suffolk’s two largest towns,  Ipswich and Lowestoft.   Once again it has taken an Ofsted inspection to highlight our failings.   How many more times are we going to allow this to happen.   It would appear that the Raising the Bar Initiative is not working as it clearly needs to Raise its own standards.  Only this year we have seen Make Every Intervention Count by restructuring the schools improvement services to save a further £5 million.   Surely the time has come to use some of the Suffolk Council Taxpayers’ money being secreted away in reserves to seriously invest in the education of our children. After all we talk about what a wonderful County we have,  what opportunities we have here,  and will have here.   Our children are the future of Suffolk and we want them to be part of this story so let’s be serious about their future and put the resources where they are needed,  not just for education but also lets start reducing these levels of deprivation and see a real rise in attainment.

The care of our elderly has also come under the spotlight recently with the problems surrounding Care UK.  Reassurances were received that problems had been dealt with but then it all resurfaces again. Similarly with our highways contract all is not plan sailing there yet. We were told that by outsourcing these contracts it is the way forward but one must ask the question is it.

So as a mid – term report one can say, shown a slight improvement in some areas but could do better and in some areas MUST do better.

David Wood

Leader Lib Dem Group

You can read David’s tribute to Mark here