We have had another difficult year as coalition government spending cuts reduce the County budget a further £15.6m. A grant of £7.3m to keep council tax rises at 0% helps but inflation at £5.3m, service demand at £6.9m and other cost increases of £5.9m leave a £26m budget hole.
In response directorates have absorbed their inflation increases, cut senior management costs, and are being re-designed to raise efficiency, a process we Liberal Democrats have advocated for years.
Many services are being “externalised” under the new leader, Mark Bee and Chief Executive, Deborah Cadman, the aim is to maintain services at “the front line” cutting “the back office”. However there are potential problems with lack of democratic accountability in externalised services.
The following have been externalised or set on that course:
- · Youth Clubs
- · The Library service
- · Highways to a private contractor set to start in April 2013
- · In-house Bus and Coach Fleet to Norfolk’s Norse
- · Archaeology and Records with MEAL to a New Heritage Organisation
- · Supporting Families Delivery Agency
- · Adult Employment Advice, Guidance, Learning and Skill Service.
- · Eastern Facilities Management set up as an external company.
- · The County’s residential care homes
Concessionary Bus Pass time limits have been a problem since the County take over. Cllr Caroline Page and I submitted a motion to Full Council calling for a change.
We wanted to remove all time limits for bus pass holders with disability easing their problems getting to training or jobs, and to allow those over 60 to travel from 9am. Full Council recommended that the Cabinet look once again at their decision and after one year Cabinet will think again on 10th July.
The incinerator site on Bramford Road has been cleared and the construction is well under way. At the SITA liaison meetings that I chair we have explored many aspects of the project and are watching construction closely. So far the company has been open and honest about our issues and is responsive to local concerns.
The waste partnership is currently considering if it can collect kitchen waste separately on a weekly basis and treat it by anaerobic digestion or in-vessel composting. The hope is that funding from Eric Pickles for weekly rubbish collection can be used for this.
Bramford Household Waste Recycling Centre was finally closed after attempts to get it run by Bolton’s and the local communities. The basic economics defeated the parishes involved. The County would not pay the disposal costs of residual waste and green waste but they do pay if it goes in your bin or to other sites. Such payment would probably have kept the sites open.
Barham and Bramford Parishes are taking over their Picnic Sites after last year’s County decision to offer its parks and picnic sites to any group that could make a good proposal to run them for the benefit of the public. The alternative was closure. These sites are vital to promote exercise and relaxation, improving health and wellbeing and reduce the demands on the health service.
Bramford Parish is taking over its water meadows and picnic site. Barham Parish is taking ownership of its picnic site with the intention of leasing it to Claydon Football Club for conversion to several pitches. I have been pleased to help Barham with the process.
The behaviour of a small percentage of drivers continues to be a problem and issues like the recent spate of accidents on the B1113 need investigation and action. However this year Highways have been through major re-organisation which has limited activity.
The vehicle activated signs I managed to obtain are still having a positive effect. I am arranging for second mounting posts to be put in place to allow signs to be moved temporally to the other end of villages where local people want that. My “Quality of Life” road improvement budget is very limited but there may be enough for a further sign this year.
As most children in Gipping Valley go to two-tier schools the impact of the County’s move away from the three-tier system has been limited. However the County has been focused on that change at the expense of action to improve attainment at key stage two and we still lag national performance we are now 141st of 155 authorities. Each time we improve, they improve as well, . This is vitally important for Suffolk children and the County must do better.
At secondary level there has been a rapid move towards academy status although not at Claydon High. This increases local accountability and shifts overall control from the county to central government via providers of differing types. We hope the new organisations will be effective.