Quote of the week

Life isn't about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself'

George Bernard Shaw
If you cannot mould yourself entirely as you would wish, how can you expect other people to be entirely to your liking?
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/wish.html

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Progress on Folly Road parking problems.

For some years now the issue of parking at Great Waldingfield School when the children arrive and leave has been a worry for the residents of Folly Road and beyond.  Concerns and fears have been exacerbated in recent months by the prospect of more traffic in the area being generated by the new Cromwell Fields development. Added to this is the planned expansion of the school, which has really become a victim of its own success in recent years.

A meeting was called yesterday by Colin Spence, Suffolk County Councillor,  in co-operation with the Parish Council.  I was unable to be there and sent apologies,  but I understand that all parties, including representatives from the School, residents of Folly Road, and the County Council Highways Department approached the issues raised by local people constructively.  It was accepted that there are no easy solutions to the congestion and safety problem, but everyone involved appeared willing to do their bit to try to improve matters.

I hope to be able to report some definite news on measures to be taken in due course.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Snowdrops in Thorpe Morieux

On Saturday 11th February between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. there is to be a Snowdrop Festival at Thorpe Morieux church.

In addition to the opportunity to see the carpet of snowdrops and aconites, there will be stalls, home made cakes and hot drinks available.  Entry is free.   Funds raised from refreshments etc. will go to the church.

I can't think of a better way to anticipate the approach of spring.

Additionally the village is challenging local villages to form teams of six to join in a quiz on the evening o f25th February.  Entry is £5 per person and includes supper. The aim is to raise funds for the 2012 Jubilee Games.  For more details contact:Garry Russell on 01284 828958.

Thanks to David Hodge and his e vine for information about these events.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Should Sudbury commuters pay more to park?

Commuters...don't they suffer enough?
The budget for 2012/13 was more or less settled today as councillors voted, 33 to 4, to endorse the recommendations on the paper.

There were no surprises, the measures having revolved round various committees for so long that they should really be very familiar by now.

The bottom line is:  useful savings from the integration process; no short term car parking charges but long term charges increased from £1.50 to £2 per day; a 3.5% council tax increase; and no changes to community grants.

The 4 refuseniks were recording their opposition to the Council tax rise, even though the sum in question will amount to rather less than the price of a packet of fags per annum for 80 percent of those residents who pay the tax.  I have already written about this issue in an earlier post.

In the course of discussion it became clear that there are those who believe that people who park in the long term car parks prior to 8.30 a.m. should pay more than those who park later.  One councillor, who shall remain nameless, actually tried to move an amendment to this effect but was unable to find a seconder.

This measure is, of course, aimed at the commuters who take the train up to London.  I suppose the reasoning goes that they must be better off than the local Sudbury workers and therefore can legitimately be stung for more money.

But are they really better off?  Season ticket costs alone must make a pretty large hole in their bank balances, and it is probable that many work elsewhere not for higher salaries but because they cannot always find work close to home.  It is a nonsense to assume that they are all ‘fat cats’. And what about their quality of life?  Commuters have to get up at a horribly early hour and often return home very late. At this time of year they can never see Sudbury in daylight during the week.   This isn’t really a lot of fun for them.

Personally I think that to discriminate against those of our residents who are commuters would be misguided and frankly mean minded.  It could also be highly counterproductive:  we want to encourage people to use our wonderful branch line, and to feel good about doing so.

Besides, I understand that the roads around Bures station are becoming pretty crowded these days, jammed with the cars of those unwilling to pay the current parking charges.  Surely we don’t want to add to this nuisance?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dance for a good cause!

Sudbury's Fortnightly Tea Dancers are sponsoring a special Charity Tea Dance to raise funds for Sudbury CAB.

The event will be held at the Delphi Centre, Newton Road, Sudbury on Wednesday 22nd February between 2.00 p.m. and 4.14 p.m.  Admission is £3, to include draw tickets and refreshments.

Tickets are available on the door.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Changes flagged up a year ago

It seems that we were all told so long ago about the changes that we have forgotten about them!
The officer responsible for the lighting changes writes:

Town and Parish Councils were informed approximately a year ago, in writing, and directed to our web site for the FAQs and roll out schedule. This information has been repeated in local papers on a regular basis to the extent that it is no longer carried as a news article on a Town or Village basis as we roll out around the county. The information is also in libraries but again, it has been there for so long it has probably been forgotten. 
Several town and parish councils have asked for text for their newsletters, which we are happy to provide.

Richard has also recently attended the Sudbury town Council meeting to tell them about part-night lighting.

I am making enquiries with regard to why Acton has been excluded from this exercise, and will update this post when I find out.

Lack of notice?

Further to yesterday's post about Suffolk County Council turning off street lighting in some areas, a number of residents have expressed concern at the lack of notice that appears to have been given to Parish Councils and other elected representatives.  Earlier notification would, of course, enabled us to publicise the matter in advance, on this site,  in parish magazines etc.

Colin Spence is making enquiries about this and I will report what, if anything, he learns from the officers concerned.

It would also be interesting to know why Acton does not appear to be on the list!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The lamps are going out all over Suffolk

The ( slightly misquoted) words of  Sir Edward Grey above are appropriate this weekend. As part of a rolling programme, from Monday night, Suffolk County Council is to turn of many street lights in our area between the hours of midnight and 5.30 a.m.  Most lights of under 6 metres in height will be affected.

The aim is to save money (at least £500,000 per annum), and also to ‘save carbon’.  I don’t know about the latter aim, but anything that conserves the world’s resources and also improves our chances of better seeing the beauty of the night sky must be a good thing!

 In Waldingfield Ward it is Chilton and Great Waldingfield that will be first on the list, with lights going off this Monday.  Little Waldingfield is scheduled to follow in April.  It seems that at present at least Acton is unaffected.

Whether or not, to complete Sir Edward's words, we shall 'see them lit again' depends on circumstances.
Further thought will be given to the appropriateness of turning off lights in the following cases:
  • Lights at major junctions/roundabouts.
  • In town centres with CCTV, high security businesses e.g. banks, areas of high night time pedestrian usage for example near nightclubs and train stations, outside community facilities or leisure centres.
  • Areas where street lights are needed to reduce road accidents.
  • Areas where there could be an increase in crime through reduced lighting, e.g. pubs and specific residential areas.
  • Remote alleys linking residential streets.
  • Near pedestrian crossings, footbridges, subways
    In public car parks.
  • At bus stops.
  • At level crossings, speed humps and traffic lights.
  • Where there is sheltered housing for the elderly.

On a related matter, from my work with the Babergh Community Safety Partnership, I know that the police will be actively monitoring the situation to ensure that this measure does not result in additional crime.  I suspect that the policy will be reviewed if this proves to be the case.

Further details are available here

Friday, January 20, 2012

Emergency Planning in the District

The year 2000 was notable for national emergencies in Britain.  We experienced floods, the foot and mouth outbreak and also coordinated fuel protests causing petrol shortages and blocked motorways. As a result of this John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister at the time, decided that Local Authorities should be given some responsibility, alongside other agencies, for dealing with emergencies that happen in their areas.  District Councils, along with County Councils, became ‘Category 1 Responders’, with duties to assess risks of incidents in advance, inform the public about civic protection and provide advice and assistance during and after the incident.

As a result Babergh and Mid Suffolk share their own Emergency Planning officer, and they also co-operate with other Districts and Suffolk County Council to deal with extreme events across Suffolk as a whole.

All councillors are offered training about their role in civil protection and yesterday I went to such a session at the Suffolk One in Ipswich.  It was an interesting four hours and I learnt a good deal that I did not know before.

One interesting fact is that a very high proportion of households in Suffolk, over 80%, have chosen to receive flood alerts, a statistic that compares with an average of 45% in the country as a whole.  Given the low lying and coastal nature of the county I suppose that this is not altogether surprising. 

Another rather disturbing nugget is the fact that Radio Suffolk will generally alert the community to an emergency.  However, at present it seems that the station's ‘every kick of every match’ policy means that this service is not available during football matches.  So let’s hope nothing untoward occurs on a Saturday afternoon!!!

Business continuity, aka keeping our own show on the road, is another area for which we need to plan.  When Melton Mowbray Borough Council’s offices caught fire, and subsequently almost burnt to the ground, early one May morning in 2008 good contingency planning meant that they had a call centre up and running the same day and all staff back to work within a week.  I hope that Babergh would be able to do the same in similar circumstances.

Melton Mowbray council offices on fire, May 2008

If anyone would like information about planning for emergencies in their community they should call the Babergh and Mid Suffolk Joint Emergency Planning Unit on 01449 724848, or look at the website:http://www.getpreparednow.co.uk/

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Every little bit helps?

 I have noticed recently that you have to be really careful in the supermarket when buying two for one offers.

This morning in Tescos Copella 75g bottles of juice were £1.45 or 2 for £3.00.  This isn't the first time that I have noticed this sort of discrepancy.  Of course it could have been a mistake, but it pays to be alert so as not to pay over the odds!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Rising stars in Long Melford

An exciting exhibition of the work of seven young artists working all over Britain is currently showing at the Hunter Gallery in Long Melford.  We went along to the private view on Friday evening and enjoyed what we saw.

The work on display is very varied in style.  The only thing that the artists have in common is the fact that they are all still in education.   All can safely be described as ‘up and coming’, displaying a good deal of talent and flair.

A wide range of different styles of painting are on display, from oils to photography,   I was particularly taken by the work of Rebecca Merry, who works in egg tempera, and whose paintings at times directly reflect the Russian influences that are associated with this medium. Nick was impressed by the boldly executed paintings of 17 year old Georgia Vestey.  The work of Georgina Chrisford was particularly accomplished in my view, and it is clear from the prices that she is already commanding that others think so too.

Most of the works on show are for sale (although a number are already spoken for!)  The Gallery is aiming to raise money through the exhibition for St Nicholas Hospice in Bury St Edmunds.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Broadband blues?

We are lucky in Newmans Green because we are relatively close to the Sudbury telephone exchange and therefore receive a reasonable broadband signal.  I know that this is not the case across Waldingfield Ward as a whole however.

It is therefore encouraging to receive the communication below from the County Council, inviting those with internet access problems to make this known by completing a short survey.

The message, for which I am indebted to David,  the Champion Silver Surfer of Cockfield, reads as follows:

‘You may have noticed in the media that the Suffolk Better Broadband Programme is gathering pace, and we hope to start work on improving services with Suffolk in Autumn this year.  Before we start work, we have to go through a public procurement process to select a provider to develop the Suffolk network.

 In order to make this contract as attractive as possible to bidders, as well as to provide evidence to use as leverage during negotiations, we are asking households to register their demand for broadband.  This will make our case as strong as possible.  Not only will this aid the procurement process, but it will also inform us of where the areas of particular need exist across Suffolk.

 The survey only takes a few minutes to complete, and can be found at www.suffolk.gov.uk/broadband.  If you could use your channels to promote this as much as possible, it would be fantastic.  Ideally we want to get the message to all households in all parishes, that their input via this survey will be critical to improving broadband in Suffolk.

 We have also produced a hard copy of this survey.  The idea here is that any willing volunteers can distribute and collect responses, catering for those who do not have access to the online version.  In addition to these we plan to distribute hard copies via libraries, and brief library staff on the online process, to make it as accessible as possible to all.

 Responses are really needed in time to inform our planning, which means to end of March is when we will need to start reviewing responses.

 A lot of background information to the programme, including a summary of our plan, monthly newsletters, and a FAQ page also appears on www.suffolk.gov.uk/broadband

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Shapps to the rescue!

 We are committed to ensuring that the Bonus remains a flexible, non-ringfenced fund, for local communities to spend as they see fit – from reinvesting it in housing or infrastructure, support local services or local facilities, or using the funds to keep council tax down.  Local authorities are best placed to understand the barriers to growth in their areas, the needs of their local communities and lead a mature debate about the benefits that growth can bring.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps, December 2011.

The Housing Minister, quoted, and pictured, above, is talking about the New Homes Bonus that was recently introduced by the Government, to reward local authorities for building new homes and to encourage them to do so in the future. Babergh is due to receive something in the region of £500,000 over this year and next from this source.

Readers should have no doubt that the proposal to use this money to bridge some of the budget gap at Babergh very probably means that councillors will be able to avoid the introduction of short term car park charging in 2012/13.

While the controversy over this issue has raged, in recent months it has gradually dawned on councillors that, yes, we could use some of this money to avoid charges.  In a dramatic development this morning an amendment was presented to Strategy Committee. This effectively overturned the recommendation in the paper before us, that short term car parking should be introduced.  Any further shortfall will in part be made up by an increase in long term charges, and some other small adjustments.
Some have argued that although the minister hasn’t said so the Bonus is really meant to be spent on projects to encourage further economic growth and that to use it in this way is in some sense ‘frittering it away’.   This is not what the minister says above.  Further, I would argue that supporting our still vibrant town centres by preserving free short term parking, in a time of secular and cyclical decline for the retail trade, is an investment of sorts and a very timely one.

All this having been said, I think it is a real pity that so much of the council's energy at budget time each year is taken up by controversy over parking charges.  By far the largest part of the savings for 2012/13 will be achieved by the integration of our services with Mid Suffolk District Council. This dramatic and fundamental change seems to have passed by virtually unnoticed, except of course by those who are directly, and often adversely, affected.

Let us hope that the proposal with regard to short term charging affords us some space to see whether a better long term solution can be found to the whole issue of traffic and parking in Sudbury and Hadleigh once and for all.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A rise in council tax?

It goes against the grain to suggest an increase in Council Tax, particularly against a background where other councils, including MSDC, are likely to take Eric Pickles’s subsidy, and freeze council tax for their residents in 2012/13.  Conservatives in theory should look wherever possible to keep taxes in check, it is what we do,  and as a good Conservative I am no enthusiast for increasing taxes.

However, the Government, in part through lack of transparency with regard to its intentions going forward, have put councils in a difficult position. Babergh took their money last year, and froze council tax.  The issue now is should we do so again?

For every year that we take the Government’s money, which this year and next equate to a 2.5% increase, we lose the benefit of uplift in our tax base.  Future percentage changes in tax are thus made on the basis of the lower amount, so each year that we take Pickles’ shilling costs us money that is lost forever.

The Government has pointedly made no promises with regard to this money in future years but history tells us that it would be naive to assume that this means that they will allow us carte blanche with regard to the level of council tax increases in the years to come.   As the General Election approaches in 2015, the Government will, as it has done in the past, be keen to be seen to be curbing council tax increases.  Mandatory capping, which has been seen regularly ahead of elections in the past, is highly likely.

Thus is seems right that we increase council tax, and also the level of our tax base, while we can.  The 3.5% increase, which is being proposed, is still below the rate of inflation.  It is also, it has to be said, the most that we can do without triggering the possibility of a referendum in 2012/13 under the new Localities Act.

Babergh’s council tax is the second lowest in the county, and represents very good value for money. This will remain true even after the imposition of the proposed 3.5% rise.  In financial terms per household we are not talking about a lot of money: the cost per household (Band D) will be less than £5 per year, or 9 pence per week.

It would however reduce our budget shortfall  by around £45,000, and also strengthen our charging base in future.

The debate is ongoing.  The budget will be discussed at the Strategy Committee on Thursday, and a special council meeting being called for later in the month.  I am still weighing up all the pros and cons, but subject to some convincing evidence to the contrary, the case for a below inflation rise in Council Tax next year is hard to resist.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New top management team in pictures!

Mugshots of the officers who will be forming the joint top management team at Babergh and Mid Suffolk are now available on the Babergh website:

Seeing the officers lined up in this way makes one thing rather obvious: there is room for a few more women at the top.  2 women out of a total management team of  11 is a marginally lower percentage than the rather low number of women councillors at Babergh,  (9 out of 43). Of course those recruiting could only consider those who applied for the positions, and the process was a restricted one, but nonetheless the imbalance is striking.

This aside however the officers are a handsome looking bunch I am sure you will agree!

Observant readers will notice that two of the people in top slots are currently labelled as 'acting'.  This is due to the fact that, having looked internally,  the councils have decided to recruit from outside to fill these positions and the process is still ongoing.  Further announcements are expected in due course.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Year Ahead Part Two (South Suffolk).

On the whole there were few surprises at Babergh in 2011, and so most of my predictions turned out to be correct.  It is, of course, a lot easier to look ahead at what will happen here in Suffolk than to try to forecast outcomes in the wider world!

As anticipated, in the District Elections that took place in May, Babergh Conservatives did indeed emerge as the largest Group, but, needing 5 extra seats, still do not have an overall majority .  The Labour Party increased their group by two, largely at the expense of the Liberal Democrats, although we too lost a seat to them.  The ‘bright new candidates’ identified last year did indeed do well, and we are happy to have welcomed five new faces to our ranks.

I did not try to predict the result of the public poll, held to decide whether or not Babergh should go for a full merger with Mid Suffolk, but as I suggested, significant steps forward have been made towards integrating our services under our new joint CEO, Charlie Adan.

Financial pressures continue, and discussions about the budget have dominated discussion in 2011, and indeed are expected to do so in 2012.

Following the change of Government in 2010, Babergh had to revise its new Development Framework, and a consultation was held on the new core strategy towards the end of the year.

So what does the year ahead promise for Babergh?

Firstly, the process of integration of our activities with Mid Suffolk District Council will continue.  Some new faces will appear among the ranks of the officers, and some familiar ones will, sadly, disappear.  The energy and commitment of all concerned will be rewarded and I think (and very much hope) that we will be surprised at the extent of productivity improvement, with commensurate savings, that we see.

Secondly, there will be no relief from the constant need to review costs and charges.  I expect the debate with regard to the ‘right way’ to bridge the budget shortfall to continue and to become more intense as options available to councillors become clearer.   Some uncertainties with regard to changes in funding from Central Government should be resolved;   I suspect that we can anticipate a potential boost to funds from both the right to keep rates from newly created businesses, and also from higher fees for planning applications.  Unfortunately these will not actually amount to much in the current economic environment.

Of most interest to residents are, firstly, whether we decide to continue to allow short term car parking in Hadleigh and Sudbury to remain ‘free’ (at the point of use!), and secondly whether we decide to take money from the Government for a second year and freeze the level  of council tax. Making a prediction on either of these points is very difficult, but if I absolutely have to do so, I would expect that the status quo will prevail (no charging for short term car parking, and no increase in Council Tax).   There is a high level of uncertainty surrounding these issues however, and my guesses above should not be taken as my own opinion on the subjects!

I hope to see the officers and councillors engaging more with their local communities to try to find ways of saving money through partnership.  A good deal of lip service has been paid to this process in 2011, but precious little progress has been made, as witnessed articles in the Free Press with regard to Car Parks and Loos!  Now that the new council has settled in , some leadership from Members is needed here!

Thirdly, responses to the Babergh Development Framework’s Core Strategy will be considered, revised as necessary, and come to a vote.  I fear that the document’s  unbalanced  ‘job lead’ bias will remain in place, as councillors are influenced by the current economic downturn and Central Government dictats with regard to economic growth at any price.  It seems that prosperity has to come before community and the environment.

Against this background,  I believe that we shall begin to see some poor planning decisions in the District, which will be regretted for many years to come,  undermine the area’s attractions,  and ultimately do little to resolve the UK’s, or the District’s economic difficulties.
Urban sprawl outside Burton on Trent
 The knee jerk reaction to problems is the greatest weakness of local democracy.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Year Ahead. Part One (The World)

Looking back at my predictions for 2011 I have to say that, in contrast with the previous year, I did pretty well. To see last year's forecasts click on: http://jennyantillsblog.blogspot.com/2011/01/year-ahead.html

It is always with trepidation that I embark on this exercise, but as I said last year, old habits die hard, so here we go!

Like almost everyone else, I find it hard to be very positive about the economic outlook for 2012.   I expect at least one or two of the PIIGS to leave the Eurozone, which will cause some severe problems for much of the European, and also some of the British, banking industry.  The associated turmoil will make economic growth hard to achieve in the year to come.  The Euro will however survive, although it will be used by fewer countries this time next year.

These uncertainties will probably mean that the UK stock market, which, under the circumstances, has done well this year, will undergo some sharp setbacks.  I think that these declines will be short lived however due to the fact that for a number of technical reasons shares, particularly of a defensive nature, offer a relatively safe haven when compared to other asset classes.

Against this background, the only practical advice I can give is this:  If going to Southern Europe take some dollars with you and make sure that your arrangements to come home are watertight.  I am no longer in a position to give advice on the stock market!

There are four high profile political elections coming up this year.  In my opinion Boris and Vladimir Putin will win their bids for re-election and Obama and Sarkozy will lose.   Putin’s successful bid to become Russian President once again will be due to continued electoral abuse and the nature of the government’s control of the media*.  I expect the regime’s relative tolerance of opposition parties will be short lived and that trouble lies ahead.

In the UK I believe that the coalition will hold together for another year and that their popularity will hold up surprisingly well.

The year ahead will not be an easy one, but the spirit of the nation should be massively improved by the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  I am not so sure about the Olympics...as others have pointed out, for those only marginally interested in the events, the inconveniences involved may well outweigh the pleasures.
Let’s hope in any event that some of the visitors to London in 2012 find their way up to Suffolk and spend some money here!

*This reminds me of a nice Russian joke courtesy of the Moscow Times:

Journalist, to head of large psychiatric hospital:  So all your residents voted for One Russia?  (Putin’s Party)
Doctor:  No, not all.  One voted for Nicholas I, and another for Nicholas II