Tag Archives: AGM

SCC Annual Executive Statement: LibDem Response

photo: Caroline PageAfter a week when momentous change has been initiated by a referendum result that many did not expect, it feels strange to reflect on the more mundane but nevertheless important issues of the last year.

Where to begin? The financial challenge and the Council Tax?  The administration promised no rises in council tax for four years, ignoring the challenging social care needs of an increasing elderly population.  They have met those needs by outsourcing and changing services in a way that makes it difficult to be sure if all those who need our help get enough of it.

This year, after government encouragement the Conservatives have now introduced a special 2% precept -not a council tax rise – to meet the steadily increasing demand for care. We welcome the move and look forward to knowing just where this is spent.

Had the administration raised the council tax by a similar amount, we all would have been challenged by the need to find an extra £26 or so per household but it would have gone some way to fill the gap left by cuts to government grants.

A feature of the year has been the continuing, cross party, councillor discontent with the outsourced Highways contract. High design costs and slow response to the need for work makes it impossible for councillors to use our individual highways budgets to meet residents’ reasonable demands.  It increases discontent and confirms the public mistrust of politicians.  Conservatives  believe in the outsourcing model, they let the contract -can we see some effective delivery please?

In the education arena we are pleased to see Suffolk – at last – moving up from so close to the bottom of the league tables. Unfortunately, poor past performance leaves our schools at risk of forced conversion to academy status.  That is a transition many do not want but our poor management performance leaves little choice.  The academy structure in our view leaves management overhead spread across a much smaller base.  Dedicated leaders may of course produce outstanding results but the record is far from perfect.

We don’t want to be entirely critical. We applaud Conservative actions to focus intensive action on troubled families and on making every intervention count.  The campaign to recruit more foster carers was first class

We thank the administration for the way they have kept us informed as the devolution proposals developed, a pleasant example of openness and honesty. It will be good if the public get the same feeling.  However,  we will no doubt discuss the public consultation which appears to be heading for the summer holiday period.

Saving money on services like Community Transport or Park and Ride is short sighted. If the administration is so intent on new models then they  need to fully finance the transition to working services.  When we say ‘working services’ we mean working for everybody –  but in Mid Suffolk, older people will no longer be able to use their bus passes.

Dave Wood is pleased DEFRA have noted the importance of our protected landscapes and have guaranteed the grant to our AONB’s with a slight rise in funding. The county has followed suit, sadly without the increase.

One can’t close without a comment on Brexit. We have a new challenge. We are appalled that our nation is not mature enough to stick with our European friends and solve their problems. We prefer to abandon them to their fate and seek a better future in the past.  We hope that the course back to 1930 nationalistic attitudes will not lead to a spread of behaviours like those in Ukraine.

One wonders how many who believe our trade will now grow unencumbered by regulation have first-hand experience of the competence and skill of our competitors in other nations and of the international regulation that exists.

We can’t sell railways and steam engines to the empire any more. We need many more companies like ARM in Cambridge if we are to succeed. It is doubtful whether we have them.

One hopes the Conservatives the vision our new future will require, that nationally, they will stop rewarding the rich and punishing the poor who have suffered disproportionately the price of austerity. We need to get them back on side.

Where our consciences allow we LibDems will support efforts to survive and prosper in the new Great Britain, although of course we would prefer to be heading in a different direction.

John Field
Deputy Leader

SCC AGM: LibDem Leader’s response

Dave WoodIn 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.