Report to Gipping Valley: October 2015

Locality Budgets

Your District Councillors for this year only have a £5,000 budget to deploy in their wards to fund projects by community groups.  They must of course align with Mid-Suffolk’s objectives.  Forms to request grants of £500+ are available and your councillors will make final decisions by early January.

As a County Councillor, I also have my locality budget available and about £12,000 remains, after providing support for a Vehicle Activated Sign (VAS) in Henley and Hemingstone, pond refurbishment at Henley Primary and LED floodlights for Bramford Football Club.

I would like to support local community organisations to meet the needs of local residents, ideally but not exclusively, where county money leverages in funds from other bodies.  Further VAS might be an idea.

Devolution

The devolution discussions are wending their way forward.  The government has stated that both Norfolk and Suffolk must be involved as in the LEP. A number of powers will be handed down only if an elected mayor controls a combined authority.

There is now a Norfolk and Suffolk Framework Document for Devolution, which gives a clearer list of ambitions.  It opens “Devolution offers an exciting opportunity for greater local decision-making and influence to power economic growth and productivity and unlock the potential of Norfolk and Suffolk.  The two counties have the scale, ambition and leadership to maximise the opportunities offered by additional freedoms and responsibilities. We also have the potential to grow our economy faster, with strengths in key sectors such as agri-tech, food & health, energy and the digital economy.”

The framework claims strengths as:

  • National hubs for key business sectors, eg financial industries, that need to be nurtured to become magnets for global inward investment
  • An all-energy coast at the centre of the world’s largest market for offshore wind
  • Globally-leading research in life sciences and agri-tech, and pioneering technical innovations in ICT research and development.
  • The UK’s busiest container port, in Felixstowe
  • A fast-growing creative digital sector, with Norwich recently recognised by Tech City UK
  • Market-leading food and drink producers
  • Our first-class cultural heritage attractions mean tourism is worth £4.6bn annually across Norfolk and Suffolk

However, while our employment figures are among the best in the country, our skills and productivity levels are below the national average.

I believe the need to work with Norfolk and a wider variety of political parties has helped clarify the way forward.  Negotiations continue.

Community Transport

This month a cabinet decision to tender for continuing community transport using a new structure was “called in”.  Community transport is services like Dial a Ride that provide “on demand” transport to people not served by scheduled buses or trains.  There have been a number of these services under various brands serving different communities and user groups.  Their vehicles have been provided by the county and the services largely specified by county officers.

The proposal is that seven contracts would be let, one per district council so that people can easily know which they should phone to book a journey.

The current vehicles would be sold to the providers, a move that would allow a wider range of customers to be served.  When the county owns vehicles providers cannot use them to provide some desirable services.

In addition, they can then select vehicles to meet the need as they see it rather than having to use what the county provides.

The county hopes that this will allow competition for services such as some forms of home to school transport that will use the assets more intensively.

So why was this called in?  Well, among other issues, the intention was that, not only would the county no longer provide free vehicles saving some £570k but also it would reduce the subsidy from £1.4m to £700k over the next four years.  The revenue from the new freedom to provide services was supposed to compensate.

Scrutiny believed it more likely that, although the providers would survive, service to people without other transport options will be cut.

We referred the decision back but the paper to cabinet on 13th October recommends no change.

County Scrutiny

I will report on our scrutiny of the Keir contract and the Energy from Waste programme in my next report.

If you have queries please phone me on 01473 831306 or email me at john.field@suffolk.gov.uk