November report to Mid Samford parishes (Babergh District)

From District Councillors Sue Carpendale: sue.carpendale@babergh.gov.uk and Kathy Pollard: kathy.pollard@babergh.gov.uk

In this report:

  • Babergh/Mid Suffolk in Parliament
  • Transformation Challenge Grant success
  • The future of Council accommodation
  • October storm
  • Fly-tipping doesn’t pay – two recent successful prosecutions
  • Hadleigh – East House plans

Babergh/Mid Suffolk in Parliament
MPs in the House of Commons recently debated the issue of local government finance. David Ruffley MP, whose constituency includes the western part of Mid Suffolk district, made a number of positive references to the integration achievements of Babergh and Mid Suffolk, whilst the local government minister Brandon Lewis praised the Suffolk-wide family of councils for their achievements in making savings through sharing services and collaborative working.

Transformation Challenge Grant success
DCLG has allocated Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils £167k from its Transformation Challenge Award fund.  To put this into context the £6.9m fund was heavily oversubscribed – 145 bids totalling £66m.  DCLG advised that our work “caught their eye for a number of reasons“ and demonstrated “… commitment to delivering transformational changes to the way that we work “ and that “as an exemplar … offers a strong model for other authorities and public service organisations”.  The money will be used to support our development in several ways, some to support the on-going work of the transformational enquiry groups (TEGs) and also to produce material and learning for other organisations (part of the criteria for the bid was “transferable learning”), whilst the bulk of the cash will support the costs of changing the way the two councils operate, implementing the ideas generated by the TEGs; this could include support for business plans, legal issues with new operating models and the direct involvement of communities.

The future of Council accommodation
Last year, both councils agreed that they would retain their main offices for a period of three to five years.  It has now been agreed that in the face of predicted government support dropping to zero in five years that a full evaluation of options should be considered.  A year ago the councils were concerned about a loss of sovereignty; each having a main office gave a real sense of identity. However, there is wide recognition that sovereignty and accommodation need not be linked.  Many officers are working across both sites which has an adverse impact on efficient and effective working, and on public access.  Our two main buildings cost us £1.1m per annum.
The East Anglian Daily Times ran a story on the review and decided we are off to Ipswich! but at the moment there are no options on the table. The first stage is essentially research, consultation, timeframes and identification of options that the councils could practically achieve. Public access is a key priority, but we are prepared to ask some very radical questions about how we proceed.  Nothing is decided, but somehow we have to find a further £8.4m of savings between the two councils in the next few years.

October storm
Monday 28th saw the worst storm to hit our region since the gales of 1987.  The impact was felt by many for the rest of the week, with thousands of homes without power, many phones not working (the majority of modern phones need to plug into the mains) significant disruption to travel and damage to homes, vehicles and other property.
On the Wednesday and Thursday, drop-in centres were set up by a number of agencies, supported by Babergh’s Housing Services, Emergency Planning, UK Power Networks (UKPN) and voluntary organisations who were providing hot drinks and hot food for people who turned up and were still without power.  This enabled them to discuss their individual concerns with a UKPN rep and to charge their mobile phones.  BBC Radio Suffolk let people know about the facilities at Ofton Community Centre, Long Melford and Great Waldingfield village halls. This event showed how well communities fed in information to the councils and the effective ways in which the different agencies and teams on the ground all worked together.

Fly-tipping doesn’t pay – two recent successful prosecutions
In January this year, a member of the public reported that a a Transit van load of waste including televisions, computer monitors, wooden furniture, plastic tubs, a number plate, fuel receipts and general waste had been dumped on a verge by a field gateway. The waste was cleared by the Council’s Rapid Response service and the culprit traced. A Sudbury man has been ordered to carry out 80 hours of unpaid work and to pay costs of £852.80.  In another action last week, an Ipswich man was ordered to pay a total of £520, after he pleaded guilty to failing to ensure that waste in his possession, but given to others for disposal, would be properly dealt with.

Hadleigh – East House
A public exhibition on the revised proposals for the redevelopment of East House, George Street, Hadleigh was held on 8th November at Hadleigh Pool & Leisure Centre.  The revised proposals will also be on Babergh’s website from week commencing 11th November.  The council still intends to use funds from the sale of East House towards the costs of the leisure centre in Hadleigh which was opened in 2012.

October report to Mid Samford parishes

From District Councillors Sue Carpendale and Kathy Pollard

sue.carpendale@babergh.gov.uk  kathy.pollard@babergh.gov.uk

A14 Tolling

Babergh District councillors recently debated the issue of tolling on the A14 near Huntingdon. The Highways Agency have been consulting on the issue, but there was a tight deadline for responses by October 13th. More details of the proposed scheme are available on the Highways Agency website

Improvements to the route will cost £1.5bn, and the consultation suggests that motorists should contribute towards these costs by introducing tolls.  Recently announced road improvements elsewhere in England do NOT include tolls. Suffolk’s Chamber of Commerce point out that an A14 toll would be a major departure from current practice. Until now there have only been tolls on river crossings or the M6, where there is a clear alternative for all traffic. Details of their “No Toll Tax on Suffolk” campaign are on their website

There will be much needed improvements to the Girton interchange on the Cambridge Northern Bypass. The toll would be imposed on the new section of the A14 near Huntingdon and the proposal is to use automatic number plate recognition. We are unclear about how this will work with foreign vehicles.

The majority of Babergh councillors supported the view that vehicles should not be tolled. The campaign against tolling is being led by Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and has the support of all councils in the County as well as many commercial organisations. A fuller account is available on Kathy’s blog (see address above), but here are some extracts:

  • Tolls on the A14 would be discriminatory, adding costs to businesses in the East of England.
  • Many heavy goods haulage firms have a policy of not paying tolls. Tolls on the A14 will lead to traffic diverting onto less suitable alternative routes leading to an increase in congestion and accidents on those routes.

Textile recycling

Don’t forget that you can recycle textiles including shoes and handbags in the special bags provided. These should be tied up and placed inside the blue bin on top of your other recycling. However the bags are not being replaced automatically and to order replacements you have to ring 0845 603 9412, or email:  textiles@suffolk.gov.uk or call in at the library.

Please continue to give good quality items to charity shops and other good causes. The textile recycling service is really for items that would otherwise go in your black bin and be sent to landfill.

More information at www.greensuffolk.org/recycling/textiles-recycling/

Better Broadband initiative

Suffolk currently has some of the poorest broadband coverage in England, with no coverage at all in some parts of the County.  Suffolk councils have agreed to allocate investment to a maximum of £11.68m, which is matched by a further £11.68m from national Government. BT were awarded the contract to carry out the improvements.

  • The average broadband speed currently experienced by Suffolk’s consumers and small businesses is under 5Mbps (Megabits per second).
  • This average masks wide variations in speeds across the County; around a quarter get between 2Mbps and 4Mbps, and nearly one fifth (60,000 premises) get less than 2Mbps, with some parts of Suffolk unable to receive any broadband service at all.

The vision for Suffolk’s Better Broadband Programme is to deliver Superfast Broadband, offering typical speeds of 100Mbps, to everyone (100% of homes and small business) in Suffolk by 2020.  The interim objective is to get faster, more reliable broadband services to everyone in Suffolk by 2015.

However there will still be “black holes” in the coverage in sparsely populated rural areas and an alternative technology “fix” will be needed there.

Once deployment is completed in October 2015, 90% of Suffolk will have fibre broadband (85% of which with access speeds of at least 24Mbps), with the remaining 10% accessing speeds between 2Mbps and 24Mbps via a range of technologies.

To check the rollout of the programme in your area please look at the website: www.betterbroadbandsuffolk.com

Suffolk County Council’s Scrutiny committee looked at this issue at their meeting on Sep 26th and the above information is taken from the report which is available here

Babergh District Council meeting 19th Sep

The following items were discussed at the meeting:

  • A14 tolling (details included in this report)
  • Annual Treasury Management Report 2012/13
  • Scrap Metal Dealers Act
  • Statement of Accounts for the year 2012/13
  • Terms of reference for joint committees of Babergh and Mid Suffolk
  • Allocation of lead member roles to councillors: Kathy is the lead member for Public Access

Further details available on the Babergh website

September report to Mid Samford parishes

Bungalows are back on planning agenda
Councils are being urged to build a new generation of bungalows as part of a planning revolution to create bespoke homes for people aged over 65.  The Times  covered the announcement by Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for local government, which said that new rules will stipulate that local councils should match new development to the type of accommodation needed locally to cater for the ageing population.
Planners will have to ensure that they have enough properties of the right type — including clusters of bungalows that can be let only to older people. Pensioners will be encouraged to downsize, freeing up family homes.
Councils will have to plan for this in order to cater for the increasing numbers of elderly people.
Bin collections
In a response to a Daily Mail report that weekly rubbish collections will need to be scrapped to meet EU regulations, local government Minister Brandon Lewis wrote to the paper, saying:
•    Contrary to your report (Daily Mail, 17 August 2013), it is not the case that weekly rubbish collections will need to be scrapped to meet European Union regulations.
•    In March, the government won a High Court case, confirming that councils can continue to provide ‘comingled collections’. Councils are not required by any diktat to make householders separate rubbish into 5 separate bins.
•    Nor is it the case, as suggested in the report, that the government has dropped its support for weekly rubbish collections. As the Daily Mail highlighted on 21 November, our £250 million Weekly Collections Support Scheme has safeguarded the weekly collections for 6 million households, and we are supporting innovation in weekly schemes, from better recycling technology to rewards for going green.

Annual report of Babergh’s Planning Committee 2012/13 – some key statistics
•    Paper N51 to Strategy Committee, 12th September, highlights some key statistics.
•    1147 applications were received and 1116 were determined, nearly 86% of which were approved, more than 88% being delegated decisions by officers.
•    Fee generation applications and other related income generated £412,327.
•    The New Homes Bonus, which has replaced the former award of Housing and planning Delivery Grant, was £578,616 for 2012/13.
•    Building Control received 926 applications and undertook 6,969 inspections.  There was a total income from this service of £327,960 (down from £379,296 last year.)
•    Three formal complaints were lodged and pursued, with others resolved informally.
•    Babergh has nearly 3000 listed buildings of which 273 are Grade 1 or Grade 2*.  There are also 28 conservation areas.  Further resources are being recruited to deal with the assessment and determination of heritage applications.

Babergh and Mid Suffolk plan for budget cuts
As councils across the country face continuing budget cuts councillors from both councils have been working over the summer months to radically alter the way both councils deliver services. We want to ensure that frontline services are affected as little as possible and this is not an easy task. We will update you as we hear more news.

July report to Mid Samford parishes

REPORT TO PARISHES, Mid-Samford Ward: July 2013
Sue Carpendale and Kathy Pollard, Babergh District Councillors

Localism Act: Strategic tenancy policy – flexible tenancies and succession rights.
The Localism Act 2011 introduced a new statutory duty for Councils to develop a Strategic Tenancy Policy.  We have to explain the different types of tenancies the Council and housing association partners will grant and define the process for renewal where fixed term “flexible tenancies” are being introduced.  A flexible tenancy is a fixed term tenancy rather than a secure tenancy which offers security for the lifetime of the tenant.  There are limits to the entitlement of people to take over a tenancy following the death of the secure tenant.  Government believes changes are necessary because some people are allocated a home at a moment of crisis in their lives, and continue to live there long after their particular need has passed.  There may be significant under-occupation of homes. Meanwhile, there are people waiting for a home who face much more difficult circumstances.  This is perceived as being unfair and an inappropriate use of valuable public resources.  Fixed term tenancies are likely to be for five year periods, but subject to review and renewal subject to certain exclusions which include sheltered housing tenants and people with disabilities or on state pensions.

Localism Act: Community rights
The intention behind this part of the Act is to encourage communities to become more actively involved in developing and delivering local services.This will include Neighbourhood Planning and two “rights”: to bid for “assets of community value”; and the right “to Challenge”.  Neighbourhood planning came into force last year and is designed to give local communities a formal say in how their area is developed. It is intended to support the growth agenda – and cannot be used to block development of new homes and businesses. What it can do, is influence the type, design, location and mix of new development.  The community determines the area they intend to be covered by the plan as well as the aims and objectives.  Following independent inspection, if a public referendum is successful, the plan is formally adopted by the Council. A government grant of up to £30K is available to assist with the costs of inspection and referendum. Support will be available from Babergh’s Communities team.

Since Autumn 2012 community groups have been able to nominate local land or buildings as “assets of community value” (ACV). This can be applied to many (non-residential) buildings, or land, in public or private ownership, if current or past use “furthers the social wellbeing or social interest of the local community”. This could be cultural, recreational or sporting.  If agreed by Council, the asset can then not be sold without the community being given the opportunity to put a purchase bid together. There is currently a request concerning “The Case is Altered” in Bentley.

The Community Right to Challenge aims to give communities the chance to shape and run local public services where they think they can do so better, cheaper or differently, and more responsively to local need. They can be on any scale within the authority’s area.  As with any of these three community rights, there are processes and checks.

Transformation agenda
The final stage of the officer integration plan is nearing completion, with many people in the new Operational Delivery Teams now appointed to the evolving dual Council structure.  There are still uncertainties for some staff and some unfilled posts.
Babergh and Mid Suffolk Councils are proposing to submit two categories of bid to DCLG for funding to support the transformation process.  One of these is a multi-authority bid with other Suffolk Councils – this could be worth up to £2m.  The other is an authority award, ranging from £50K to £500K to add capacity and capability as we progress the transformation agenda.  At the LGA Conference last week, DCLG Minister Brandon Lewis complimented Suffolk on our work to date and promised that we would not be disadvantaged in our bid, just because we are already ahead of the game.  This week also sees the beginnings of the transformation enquiry groups in the two Councils.  Kathy is a Lead Member on the group addressing public access, and Sue is a member of the economy and growth group.
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Committee seats and the “ungrouped” member
There was some clarification at the last Council on the rights to committee membership of councillors who cannot or will not “group”.  An amendment to the Local Government Act has in fact recognised this potential situation.  Legal advice from Counsel has confirmed that where seating allocations permit, an ungrouped member can take up an available seat if there is one once all calculations have been made.  Therefore, the prior informal arrangement, whereby the Independent group gave up one of their seats to Mr Clive Arthey, has now been ratified as an entitlement.

Awards and recognition
At the recent prestigious Municipal Journal national awards event, Babergh and Mid Suffolk were presented with the top award in the “shared services” category.  This is a high profile acknowledgement of the leading work done in our two authorities.  The Leaders of the two Councils also made a presentation on our experience of sharing a chief executive to a well attended breakfast seminar at the LGA Conference last week, speaking on the same platform as the DCLG government minister.  The MJ award is more about prestige and profile, but bids are about to be made which could also have significant monetary value.  These are referred to above.

Timing of council meetings
With a view to encouraging younger/working people to consider standing for election, and also bearing in mind that the public may take more interest in proceedings, both the Strategy committee and full Council have now agreed to experiment with meeting times alternating between morning and late afternoon starts.  Other committees appear to have retained their 09.30 time slots.

Health Scrutiny looks at Ambulance Trust performance and the future of Mental Health services
The meeting on the 10th July will discuss two important issues:
East Anglian Ambulance Trust
The poor performance figures for the Ambulance Trust have been much in the news. The Trust has produced an improvement plan which includes management restructuring and the recruitment of 82 specialist paramedics, 149 paramedics, 24 emergency medical technicians and 96 emergency care assistants. They hope that these plans, in addition to reducing staff sickness and reducing spend on private ambulances, will enable the Trust to provide the equivalent of an extra 25 of its own 24/7 double staffed ambulances.
Pressures on the service have included delayed handovers at hospitals, as well as significant increases in the number of 999 calls and additional pressures from the new 111 service. Distances which must be travelled in a very rural county add to the difficulties. As the population ages this also increases pressure on the Health Service in general. Ambulance attendance times did improve between April and May this year and the Trust has set itself some challenging targets.

Mental Health Services
Norfolk and Suffolk Health Scrutiny committees set up a joint working party to look at a radical redesign of the Mental Health Trust. The Trust is planning to make 20% savings between 2012 and 2016. In order to do this it was proposing to substantially reduce the number of consultant psychiatrists it employs as well as the number of inpatient beds.
The Trust is putting its emphasis on prevention, wellbeing, recovery and keeping people out of mental health hospitals.  The joint scrutiny report supports this approach but makes a number of recommendations including improved consultation with service users and organisations such as Healthwatch. It also suggests that the new Clinical Commissioning Groups (formerly the Primary Care Trusts) should make available adequate funding to support the Trust in making a safe transition in order to achieve longer term cost savings.

June report to Mid Samford parishes

REPORT TO PARISHES, Mid-Samford Ward: June 2013

Sue Carpendale and Kathy Pollard, Babergh District Councillors

Average speed cameras

Average speed cameras are to be installed along the stretch of A12 from Stratford St. Mary to the Four Sisters junction at East Bergholt. However the accident problem extends from the Essex border to Copdock Mill roundabout. We are lobbying the Highways Agency to extend the provision of average speed cameras all along the A12 in Suffolk.

Babergh Transformation Groups

The political leaders at Babergh (and also in Mid Suffolk) have agreed to set up six “Transformation Enquiry Groups”, comprising councillors, officers, stakeholders, outside experts, etc, in order to find better, different and efficient ways of achieving objectives and delivering key services.  The groups are: growth and economy – (Sue is a member of this group;) environment; housing; health, wellbeing and communities; public access – (i.e. “front office”, Kathy is the council’s lead member on this group;) and corporate organisation and resources (“back office” agenda.)  We hope to get these groups working by the end of June, when the appointments to the final officer tier are confirmed.  These officers will form the front line delivery teams of all services across the two councils.  The brief for these groups is to take a very radical look at the six overarching themes, to compare ourselves with best practice, wherever that might be, and to undertake significant research.  It will be a considerable challenge, but in the current economic climate we have to find new ways of matching needs with resources.  All of the consultations made in the last many months will be taken into account, but residents and businesses may well find us asking yet more questions later in the year.

 

The Sustainable Communities Act – what it means for local communities

The Sustainable Communities Act came into force in 2007. It allows local councils to request additional powers from national government to help protect and improve their local communities. These must be powers that they don’t already have. Some examples are given below:

  • That government gives councils the power to charge an additional rate on car parking spaces of out-of-town supermarkets and the right to retain the revenue collected in order to re-invest in projects to develop local businesses, local jobs and the economy
  • That government give councils the power to create a separate fund for the revenue raised from council tax on second homes to be used for reinvestment in local affordable housing needs.
  • That government give councils the power and resources to refurbish existing housing in the council’s area to reduce fuel poverty and increase energy efficiency e.g. by fitting insulation.

First councils must consult with representatives of the community. They would then submit the proposals to the Local Government Association (LGA) – a national body which represents principal councils (e.g. Districts, Borough and County Councils). The LGA would assess the proposal and, if approved, would seek to promote the scheme and agree it with national government.

It’s an interesting Act and would require considerable further work to determine, first of all, what proposals the council would like to take forward. We would welcome any suggestions. Further information is available on the following website: www.localworks.org where there is a Best Practice Guide.

Homelessness Strategy

Homelessness is not just about rough sleepers. In common with other authorities, Babergh and Mid Suffolk District councils have a statutory duty to help people who are losing their homes. If they are homeless and in a priority group the council has a duty to provide temporary accommodation. If they are homeless, in a priority group and not intentionally homeless, the council has a duty to offer a social or private tenancy.

Priority groups include people with children or expecting a baby, care leavers, former armed forces personnel and people who are vulnerable due to old age, physical disability, mental illness or due to experiencing violence.

In 2012, across both Babergh and Mid Suffolk, 150 households were accepted for re-housing. Homelessness was caused mainly by domestic violence or relationship breakdown, loss of private rented accommodation or exclusion by family or friends.

Across both Districts there were 172 preventions in 2012/13 but with an increased incidence of homelessness there has also been an increase in the use of bed and breakfast accommodation.

In order to prevent homelessness help is being given with housing benefits issues and negotiations are being carried out with landlords and families.

Housing Advice for local people

Babergh District Council has teamed up with SNAP – the Support & Advice Project – to offer a free, drop-in service for those in need of housing-related support.

From next Wednesday 12 June 9.30am-12.30pm and the second Wednesday morning of every month thereafter, a room will be set aside at the Council offices where members of the general public can gain advice on anything to do with housing.

Other issues SNAP can help with include developing life skills, access to health and well-being, working and training and accessing community and social networks.

The SNAP service is also available at Hadleigh children’s centre and the intention is to offer a similar service at Mid Suffolk District Council in the near future.

Anyone interested in using the service from 12 June onwards should call in to Babergh’s main reception for directions to the relevant meeting room.

A12 and speed cameras

The A12 dual carriageway from just South of the Essex/Suffolk border to the Copdock Mill interchange has a very high level of accidents. All but two junctions are substandard. The stretch of the A12 from the Essex border is sinuous with sections of poor visibility, lengthy gradients and poor camber. We are asking the Highways agency to consider extending the section of road covered by average speed cameras from the Essex border to the Copdock interchange.

Essex border (Birchwood Lane) to Copdock Mill interchange

There were a total of 298 casualties from 215 accidents from 1st January 2006 to 31st December 2010. The costs are broken down as follows:

  DfT cost Number of accidents Number of casualties Total cost
Fatal 1,683,810 4 5 8,419,050
Serious 189,200 22 28 5,297,600
Slight 14,590 189 265 3,866,350
        17,583,000

Comparing the number of accidents during this five year period, there is a stark difference between the following four sections of road:

  • Ardleigh Interchange to Birchwood 11 casualties
  • Birchwood to Essex/Suffolk border 49 casualties
  • Essex/Suffolk border to East Bergholt/Four Sisters 121 casualties
  • East Bergholt/Four Sisters to Copdock Mill interchange 177 casualties
Stretch of road No. of accidents distance accidents per mile
Four Sisters junction to Copdock/A14 interchange 128 5 miles 25.6
Essex/Suffolk border to Four  Sisters 87 2.75 miles 31.6
Birchwood Lane to E/S border 27 1.5 miles 18
Ardleigh Interchange to Birchwood Lane 10 1.5 miles 6.66
TOTALS 252 10.75 miles  

Nick Clegg on Leveson and the cross party agreement

Yesterday evening Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg wrote:

Having been in face to face negotiations till nearly midnight last night – followed by calls, texts and emails for many hours afterwards – I am delighted to have stood up this afternoon in the House of Commons to welcome the cross-party agreement on implementing the Leveson Report. It wasn’t easy but after a lot of hard work – led on our side by the tireless Jim Wallace, we have got there.

The Leveson Inquiry was established after public revulsion at the phone hacking scandal. So, when Lord Justice Leveson published his recommendations to reform the regulation of the press, the Liberal Democrats took a stand for the victims of press abuse, and supported them.

In fact, I took the unprecedented step of making a separate statement in the House of Commons, on an issue where we disagreed with the Prime Minister. Having been honest with the public about our differences, it was then our duty to sit down with all parties and come to an agreement.

As I mentioned in my latest “Letter from the Leader”, we set out three tests for press regulation in the future:

        1. Delivering Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations
        2. Commanding the widest possible cross-party support, as Lord Justice Leveson also wanted
        3. Striking the right balance between protecting and cherishing the great tradition of a free press in this country, and protecting innocent people from unwarranted intimidation and bullying by powerful interests in our media

      What has been agreed today meets those tests.

    We will achieve Leveson through the Royal Charter published by the Liberal Democrats and Labour last week. Our Royal Charter ensures that editors cannot sign off their own code of conduct; cannot veto appointments to the watchdog; can accept complaints from third party groups, and must apologise properly when they make mistakes.

    And, crucially, all parties have now agreed that there should be a minimal clause in law that will prevent future governments chopping and changing the new system on a whim. This was important to me as, without it, the door would be open to political meddling by future governments. We cannot take this risk.

    With these protections we have got the best possible outcome today: a fair, independent press watchdog to serve the British people while protecting our free press – a thoroughly liberal solution.

    Fairer Tax – Labour copies Lib Dem tax plans

    With Labour’s announcement of proposals for a mansion tax, the two Eds – Miliband and Balls – seem to have got their inspiration from the Lib Dems. However, as Danny Alexander pointed out in a recent Guardian article:

    We should remember what the Labour leader and Ed Balls actually did with the tax system when they controlled it. There was no fairness, just a complex series of loopholes for the rich to avoid tax, and a complex tax credit system that too often trapped the poor in debt.

     The 10p income tax rate – which was abolished by Gordon Brown – was not as fair as the Lib Dem proposals which have now been put into action. As Danny Alexander says:

    We have cut in half the income tax bill for people working full time on the minimum wage. From April this year, more than 20 million people will have had a £600 tax cut, and more than 2 million will have been lifted out of paying income tax altogether.

    Something must be done to ensure that those at the top end of the income scale pay their fair share. Another recent article in the Guardian revealed that the top 1% of earners own 10% of the wealth in this country. Vince Cable continues to champion the idea of a mansion tax for properties worth more than £2million. He says it would help to burst the property price bubble in London and the South East.

    US warns that UK will be irrelevant outside the EU

    A recent story in the Daily Telegraph highlights the warning given by US assistant secretary Robert Gordon during his visit to the UK. The article comments on British withdrawal from the EU:

    Mr Gordon spelt out the uncomfortable truth that such an option does not exist, that British exit from the European Union would be unacceptable to the US – and that, so far as President Obama is concerned, Britain only matters as part of the EU.

    As Peter Oborne so rightly says in the Telegraph:

    “Britain is a middle-ranking economy and declining military force which risks irrelevance outside the EU. We are low down the batting order, ranking behind not just China, Brazil, India and Russia but also – most painfully of all – well below Germany in international significance.”

    Millions of jobs in the UK depend upon our membership of the EU. Companies like Nissan and Sony are only here because they can more easily access markets in the rest of Europe. If companies believe that Britain is about to exit they will not want to invest in plants in the UK. This would be absolutely disastrous for our economy. David Cameron needs to show some leadership here instead of pandering to the right wing of his party – and UKIP supporters.

    January Report to County Council parishes

    Concessionary Fares update – questions left unanswered     

     As a result of the hard campaigning work from the Lib Dem Group over the last two years, the Cabinet was forced to look again at the original decision to only provide the statutory minimum free travel with a bus pass.  This meant that on weekdays pass holders were limited to travel between 0930 and 2300, the Lib Dems wanted to extend this to 24 hr free travel for disabled users and from 9am for elderly users.  However a  number of questions from the Lib Dem Group were left unanswered as the decision on Concessionary Fares was made without allowing opposition questions about the new evidence presented in the report.

     The new information included results from the small scale survey the Council carried out, and a letter from the Equality and Human Rights Commission which stated that the processes undertaken by Cabinet in the original decision needed ‘considerable improvements’.

     Councillors were unable to ask questions about these important matters, and the decision to provide only the minimum free travel entitlement was voted through by the Cabinet without debate.

     For more information, and a copy of the report, as well as the letter sent from the Equality Human Rights Commission – http://committeeminutes.suffolkcc.gov.uk/meeting.aspx?d=11/Dec/2012&c=The%20Cabinet

    Park and Ride Consultation

     The County Council has launched a consultation regarding the Park and Ride service, which is available at both the current Park and Ride sites in hard copy, and online here – http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/IpswichPR2012

     There are only three questions in the consultation, which are –

    1. Would it be acceptable to use buses that are not dedicated to the Park and Ride scheme to deliver the service so long as a high frequency service is still maintained?
    2. If the services were changed so as not to offer the cross town link would this seriously disadvantage you as a passenger? (Currently the Park and Ride services are linked to each other so that a bus leaving one site goes all the way through Ipswich to the other site. A proposal is that the Park and Ride scheme reverts to its original operation with buses from each site going to the town centre only and returning to the same site. This may have the effect of improving reliability but may require some passengers to change buses in the town centre). 
    3. If staff were not present on site would this have an impact on your journey? (Currently the Park and Ride sites are manned whilst the service is operating. They assist passengers and ensure that the facilities are kept to a high standard. A proposal is that the buildings could be used in a different way that still provide basic facilities (rest rooms etc) to passengers but without staff being present at all times.) 

    The deadline for this survey is the 5th of January, but they will accept late submissions so I encourage you to respond. 

    Fire Merger Update

     Firstly a reminder that the County Council is still consulting, until the 14th of January, on the potential Fire Merger between Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Fire Services, and I would encourage you to respond to this.  For more information please head to – http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/your-council/decision-making/consultations/delivering-the-best-fire-service-to-you/

     In addition to this the Council revealed that the timescale for this would now be April 2015, rather than a potentially earlier date of 2014.

    December Cabinet & Full Council Round-up  

     As mentioned previously the Cabinet meeting for December took place and discussed the Concessionary fares under somewhat controversial circumstances.  However, there were a number of other items that you may find of interest –

    • Suffolk Rail Prospectus – where the County has set out a number of improvements that it wants to see to the East Anglian franchise, including: better trains and speed of trains to London and an hourly service from Ipswich to Peterborough.
    • Suffolk Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education
    • Final Report of the SuffolkCounty Council Farms Policy Development Panel
    • Highway Functions undertaken by District and Borough Councils
    • Suffolk Local Flood Risk Management Strategy for Suffolk
    • Procurement of Highways Services – to award Balfour Beatty Living Places as part of a £200m contract over five years, with the possibility of extending this to ten.   The company will be responsible for the design and implementation of highways maintenance and improvement works, winter gritting, street lighting, traffic signals and bridge work throughout the county.

     For a copy of the papers please go to – http://committeeminutes.suffolkcc.gov.uk/meeting.aspx?d=11/Dec/2012&c=The%20Cabinet

     In addition to Cabinet, there was also a Full Council meeting in December. However the meeting did not have a significant agenda, mainly covering a number of annual reports, from the Scrutiny Committee, the Audit Committee and a report on the Council’s Property portfolio.  If you’d like to find out more, papers are available here – http://committeeminutes.suffolkcc.gov.uk/meeting.aspx?d=20/Dec/2012&c=County%20Council

    New Youth Travel Provision on the cards?

     The next Cabinet meeting will take place on the 29th of January, and discuss important items like the County Council budget.

     Another very important item that is going to be discussed is the possibility of implementing a new Suffolk Travel Card Scheme for young people.  The Lib Dems had for many years championed a discount travel card for young people. This was introduced as the eXplore card back in 2005, while we were still running the council in coalition with Labour. The card was removed by the Conservatives in 2010 and we have been campaigning for its reintroduction ever since. We have twice put it into our alternative budget and also organised a public petition.  The removal of the card caused significant difficulties for young people in Suffolk to travel independently and increased the cost of travel to further education centres.  I will let you know more about this in the next Parish Report, once the papers are released.

    New Head of Children’s Services

     There will be a new head of Children Services at Suffolk County Council this year, following the departure of the previous interim Director, Simon White. 

     Sue Cook, the former interim Corporate Director at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, will become the County Councils new Director of Children and Young People’s Services.  

     We hope that education results in Suffolk will improve under her leadership. Sadly the County’s results have fallen way behind the national average in the last eight years. Having said that schools in Belstead Brook Division are doing extremely well. Sproughton, Copdock Primary and Hintlesham and Chattisham primary schools are all highly ranked in terms of Key Stage 2 results. However schools in surrounding areas are not doing as well and there are some poor results in areas like Lowestoft, where there are high levels of deprivation and low aspirations.

    Broadband Contract Signed

     Just before Christmas there was a significant step towards improving Broadband speeds in the County with the signing of  the contract between Suffolk County Council, BT, and the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK.

     This means that BT Openreach can now begin work on the ground, surveying the locations around the County. Once this is complete further news about the next stages of the project will be released.

     This will mean that in just three years around 9 out of 10 Suffolk properties are expected to be able to connect to a faster internet connection.

    Babergh Report to Mid Samford Parishes

    Report to Mid Samford parishes October 2012: from Sue Carpendale and Kathy Pollard, Babergh district councillors

     Opening of new community facility in Hadleigh

    On 6th October the new Hadleigh leisure complex officially opens its doors to the public. The existing swimming pool facilities are joined by a state of the art gym, fitness studio, coffee shop and large and small community rooms. The facility will offer around 20 classes per week plus a beauty therapy treatment clinic.

     The new centre, which cost £2.4m, has been provided by Babergh District council, with support from Hadleigh Town council. It provides a great opportunity to get fit in this Olympic year!

     More information at www.hadleighpoolandleisure.co.uk or phone 01473 823470

     Preparing for next year’s council budget

    Councillors have been attending a series of workshops to work out priorities for the council over the next few years. The views of the public are being fed into this process, as well as information about health, transport and housing needs, business and skills, community facilities, environment and planning. All this is taking place against a backdrop of reduced funding from central government.

     There will be more councillor workshops in November and then the scrutiny committees will come together to look at draft budget options in December. Strategy committee will look at budget options in January and early February and the final proposals will go to a meeting of the council for approval on February 26th.

     Babergh’s accounts for 2011/12

    You will be pleased to know that Babergh’s finances are being well managed. In the last financial year the council spent just over £9m, which was a little less than planned. There were a number of one off costs due to staff redundancies. Work continues to streamline the management of Mid Suffolk and Babergh councils. Here are a few key points from the accounts statement:

    • Savings of £1.3m are anticipated in 2012/13 from integration of the management of the two councils, rising to £2m by 2015/16.
    • The waste service achieved a saving of £82,000 due to close monitoring of the Serco contract.
    • There was lower income from building control as a result of the continuing economic downturn, and less income than anticipated from long term parking charges.
    • Babergh collected £70.84m in council tax in 2011/12, but the majority of this is passed on to other authorities. Babergh collected council tax for Suffolk County Council (£37.6m), Suffolk Police Authority (£5.4m) and Town and Parish councils (£2.1m). For Babergh’s own commitments it collected £4.6m and also received government grants for council tax and housing benefits and business rates. It also receives income from council rents.

     Meeting with Highways Agency to discuss closure of central reserve gaps at Hughes Corner and two other sites

    On October 15th we will meet with the Highways Agency and representatives from Suffolk County Council and relevant parish councils to discuss the closure of three central reserve gaps on the A12, including the gap at Hughes Corner (the B1068 Stoke by Nayland turning).

    We are very pleased that this issue is back on the agenda. What we must ensure, however, is that diverted traffic does not turn off at the Dedham exit and then travel through the back roads to Higham on roads which are narrow and unsuitable. We will press for signing which directs traffic back onto the A12 Northbound so that vehicles can then turn left onto the B1068 from the A12. 

    At the meeting we will also receive an update on proposals to install average speed cameras along the section of the A12 which includes Hughes corner.

     We are pleased that Highways Agency officials have clearly taken note of the report we submitted to the Department for Transport last year, which contained accident statistics compiled by Bill Davis, Chairman of Stratford St. Mary parish council. It outlined the high number of accidents on the section of A12 between the Essex border and Four Sisters (East Bergholt) junctions. We suggested both the closure of the central reserve gaps and the introduction of average speed cameras. Prior to this the Highways Agency had turned down both suggestions, as well as refusing to accept that a lower speed limit would reduce accidents.