Category Archives: Economy

SCC Liberal Democrat Views on SCC 2015-16 Budget

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.

CYP 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.

Park and Ride passengers plummet

We Lib Dems today revealed that the Park and Ride service has seen a huge fall in passenger numbers since the Bury Road site was closed at the beginning of 2011.

The County originally predicted that when they closed the Bury Road site around half of the passengers would transfer to either London Road or Martlesham. Prior to the closure at the beginning of 2011, a total of 1,000,000 passengers were using one of the three services every year. There were 300,000 passengers using the Bury Road site in the final year of its operation. The total number of passengers has now dropped to 500,000 per year.

In 2011, not only did the Conservatives close the Bury Road Park and Ride site, but they introduced a charge for over 60s, and made them wait until 9.30am before they could use their bus passesThe Ipswich Park and Ride service was introduced when we ran the council in coalition with Labour. It has always been highly valued, but the Conservatives seem determined to destroy it.

We fought a campaign to keep the Bury Road site open. We carried out a survey of passengers, organised a petition and made the Cabinet reconsider its decision. They would not change their minds and they failed to look at the full implications of the closure. This dramatic fall in passenger numbers has major implications for Ipswich. We have no way of measuring how many people now drive into Ipswich, or avoid it altogether. In this difficult economic climate, and with the advent of online shopping, town centres need all the help they can get.”

In detail, figures for the London Road and Martlesham Park and Ride sites are:

Total passengers 03 April 2011 to 31 March 2012 – 557,665

Total passengers 04 April 2010 to 02 April 2011 – 749,176

Total passengers 05 April 2009 to 03 April 2010 – 769,666

The figures also include those travelling on concessionary passes which gave free travel until 1 April 2011 & half price travel after this date.

Bury Road was still operational until January 2011. Its all tickets breakdown was:

For 2007/08   192,000

For 2008/09   245,000

For 2009/10   306,000

This meant that in the year 2009 – 2010, there were a total of 1,075,666 users of the Park and Ride service in Ipswich

County Council Budget

We now all know the content of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in outline and the details of the settlement for the County and District Councils were released the 19th of December.  The financial officer’s analysis of the impact on Suffolk has been completed and the budget proposals will be considered at Cabinet tomorrow then at full council.

In summary, Estimates of cost increases on a £511M net budget are Inflation £7.7M, Demand and Demography £12.4M and “other Changes” £-4.1M.  Specific grants are £17M against £18.7 last year so we lose another £1.7M there.  That makes £17.7M in total.  There is also a new responsibility for public health which will cost £25.6M and is covered by a £25.6M grant.

Headline “savings” are Improve efficiency and remove unnecessary processes £9.7M, reduce management costs £0.5M rationalise office accommodation £1.3M, target resources in children’s services £2.5M, adult care in depth review £7M, re-let the highway contract £2M, reduce costs of waste services £0.8M and misc £1.1M for a total of £24.9M

Government formula grant £235.4M and Council Tax were £256.9M last year (adjusted for changes that have been made) Total £492M and for this year Revenue Support Grant £134.9M, Business Rates £90.5M (including top up and Council Tax £258.6 a total of £485.6M, £6.4M less.

Obviously the efficiency improvements and accommodation moves are long overdue but the care review and targeting in children’s services has the potential to increase the problems suffered by vulnerable people.