My amendment to the Conservative budget proposals
First, a little context The Liberal Democrat amendment to the Conservative budget proposals is deliberately modest. We are in a period of intense budgetary constraint as the Government seeks to repair the damage the banking crisis and property bubble have wrought on the uk economy. This is a time for increased focus on front line tasks and reduction in bureaucracy and we are pleased to see that the depth of the government’s budget cuts has sparked long overdue actions. Our concerns at the way the cuts impact disproportionally on the vulnerable, the elderly who are in poor health and in need of care and people who need public transport are well known. I will not rehearse them again in depth.
Cuts to Adult and Community Services are perhaps inevitable; the largest budgets must contribute to reductions. We hope that we can believe that these are coming from concentrating on prevention before long term support, improved technology and more efficient care. However the evidence from care failures in facilities such as Winterbourne View and Stafford Hospital cause great concern. This is an area where the County must ensure there are no lapses in Suffolk and we are not convinced that management is tight enough. However, we are not proposing change in this area; it is simply not possible to get an accurate measure of the impact of the measures being taken on service users and budget suggestions in response to fears would not be appropriate.
We know the administration is failing our children and that pupil attainment is now close to the bottom of national league tables. We can see the action to remove the three tier school system but believe that this heavy management commitment has for some years prevented a focus on the quality of teaching in our schools. It is essential that this is raised so that the issue of the large number of schools that underperform in advantaged areas where their pupils should do well is addressed.
It is also essential that school improvement specialists are available to help struggling schools find their way out of their problems. It is not always easy to see the horizon when you are submerged in the mire and outside help can give clear guidance on what works and what does not. Just what focused work will yield results, which staff need help and where is it available.
Last year we proposed partially reinstating cuts to the school improvement service. This year we are proposing some relatively small but immediate increases to the school improvement budget, going further than the modest numbers the administration is adding to reserves for future action when their “Raising the Bar investigation” of the problem is complete. You have had eight years to study the problem, just how long does it take to wake up and understand the issue?
We are proposing you increase the number of school improvement advisers by ten, that’s significant in this specialist area. The advisers are valued by schools in difficulty and can provide challenge as well as help and guidance. They could extend school improvement work concentrating on a limited number of schools; perhaps four schools each per year could receive substantial help.
In addition we believe there is a problem when teachers work together between schools to show each other how to achieve the best possible gear shift in attainment and progress. The finance for supply teachers necessary to cover such cooperation is limited. Theoretically schools can provide this from their own budgets but those budgets are usually fully committed but with a substantial carry forward for a “rainy day”. We propose a county budget to cover some 1900 days of supply work providing it is matched by school funds. This we believe would change attitudes, particularly if combined with county efforts to facilitate such cross school working. It might solve the problem where experts from successful schools just can’t make time available to help.
Overall if each struggling school received some 45 days help from an advisor or other teachers then this budget addition would help some 80 additional schools making a significant shift in the number whose issues we are addressing.
This is similar to our proposals last year to re-instate cuts but I make no apology for that. We consider our concerns that your focus on school reorganization has diverted attention from the core issue of quality of teaching have been proven correct and that action is necessary now.
Our second proposal involves services to young people particularly those with complex behavioral needs. We have been concerned for some time that the county’s care for looked after children has a number of deficiencies. We do not pay foster care well and compensate for the low numbers we attract by purchasing from other organizations at high cost. Our support for children with complex needs is often out of county, isolating them from family, and this to is expensive.
We are pleased to see progress being made in this area with costs under control but quality of care improving. However we have identified one area, the new Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care pilot where we are using government funding on a pilot with Norfolk but our commitment is lacking. It is all too easy for highly skilled staff to evaporate during the evaluation phase of pilots requiring a restart from square one to continue. There appears to be a proven possibility that superior care can be provided in County at lower cost and with better outcomes than with current approaches.
We believe that capacity in this area should be expanded at a faster rate ensuring that we do not simply run an interesting trial that is evaluated in a few years after key staff have departed but seize the opportunity and show commitment now. We propose an additional £300k, hardly a dramatic sum but one that will make a difference. It would allow the project to expand at a manageable rate avoiding a gap after the pilot period, care improvements and savings in out of County costs to be achieved. We understand that the current plans cover four young people but that forty are eligible.
Finally, we believe the county’s record on road safety is slipping and in many areas in villages and towns people are concerned about driver behaviour, particularly speed. I do not believe that these residents are just people who want to re-open the debate on the need for a man with a red flag in front of each car. They tend to see the behaviours that, combined with a moment’s inattention by a pedestrian or similar behaviour by a second driver, produce an accident.
We believe that there should be a budget to support the development of 20mph zone proposals where they are requested by local people and where there is a reasonable justification. Large numbers of school children walking on narrow pavements along heavily used roads for instance. This would replace the pilots that appear to have come to nothing and might even encourage walking to school with benefits to health and the environment.
|School Improvement Services – Additional advisors ||£650,000|
|School Improvement – Teacher focused support ||£475,000|
|Looked after children – County commitment to MTFC||£300,000|
|Five 20mph schemes – Funds to respond to local demand||£300,000|