District Councillor Martin Redbond and I are working with Sarah Skinner at Claydon High, officers from the district, county and Suffolk Sport to see if it is possible to improve the sports facilities at the school for use by the wider community. We are at a very early stage but one thing that is required is a survey to show what you want. Would people who are interested please complete the questions at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/LT6TMQ5 to help get the data we need. Pupils and parents at the school will have had the survey already.
We now all know the content of the Chancellors Autumn Statement in outline but as I write this the details of the settlement for the County and District Councils is not yet with us. No cuts above those already known (which are large) for next year but an additional 2% cut for the following two years appeared to be the message. However the administrations are worried about major changes to the way business rates are handed out and to the council tax benefit scheme, which give ample opportunity for “hidden” reductions in the grant. We don’t want this to increase the problems for vulnerable people.
This month there has been a meeting of County and District Councillors from Essex and Suffolk that agreed to continue the opposition to National Grid’s proposed pylon line from Bramford to Twinsted. All agreed that just undergrounding two short sections was not enough. Places like Flowton, Burstall and Hintlesham must not be left to suffer. The cost, while high, is not dramatic when compared to that of wind farm, gas and new nuclear construction. The benefit of undergrounding would be increased reliability, preservation of our environment and tourist industry.
The County has produced two new strategies. One for Suffolk’s railways, which is the basis of a campaign to persuade the government of the need for the improvements proposed. The second is a Flood Risk Management Strategy to guide activity in this vital area where the County leads activities by a number of bodies.
The final agreement to outsource highways services to Balfour Beatty will have been made on 11th December. We have been assured that some £2 million will be saved per year and that the level of service will be maintained. It is important that you continue to enjoy high standards of routine maintenance, a rapid response to problems and winter gritting that keeps the county moving. When councillors need to intervene we will still hope to get rapid action.
Cabinet, after our call in to Scrutiny, is about to look again at concessionary fares for older and disabled people. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has added its concerns to ours about the County’s equality impact assessment process. By the time you read this we will know if the Cabinet has decided to spend the relatively small sums needed to restore concessions to levels closer to those that the district council provided. They have under-spent their budget for concessions by enough to finance such a move.
At the District Council the management is deeply engaged in the processes leading up to the final actions to integrate the Babergh and Mid Suffolk workforces. This includes production of a large number of job descriptions and operational team structures. There is therefore not much else to report.
I hope you had a good Christmas and that we may all look forward to a new year better than the last even if debt levels here, in Europe and the US mean prosperity is still some way away.