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 These concern us 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.
And, while the government has made it mandatory for young people to remain in education or training until 17 it seems deeply inappropriate to have no fundng mechanism in place to support the poorest young people of the county for this last year of what is now statutory education, as exists up until 16. Our view is that you need to speculate in order to accumulate – that savings should be measured longterm. A small investment from our our rainy day millions now could reap dividends in years to come
The Suffolk County Council Lib Dem Group