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News from Caroline Page, Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Woodbridge

Caroline Page

The material on this page comes automatically from Caroline's newsfeed at:

http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org


 
  • Feb 6, 2018:
    • Vote for (Suffolk) Women!
      Caroline Page seconding the #WASPI motion, asking for fair transitional state pension arrangements for 50's born women

      February 6th 1918 saw (some) modern British women get the vote. 100 years on, I'm one of 22 women out of 75 councillors elected to Suffolk County Council. 22 -that's 29% - significantly below the appalling 33% average women in UK councils - itself a flatline, increasing only 5% since 1997. At the current rate of progress it'll take 48 years for the UK to reach gender equality - and nearer 80 in Suffolk.

      We're behind so many countries: Italy, Germany, Norway. The Rwandan parliament is 64% female - in Suffolk, there are 2 women out of 7 MPs, a pretty equivalent percentage to the county councillors. And this is Suffolk! - Birthplace of women's higher education, home of Women's Suffrage.

      Clearly something's adrift.

      In 1860 3 young women in a house in Aldeburgh planned to change women's futures: Elizabeth Garrett became first woman to qualify in Britain (both physician and surgeon), co-founder of the first hospital staffed by women, first woman dean of a British medical school, first female doctor of medicine in France, first woman in Britain to be elected to a school board, and (as Mayor of Aldeburgh), first female British mayor and magistrate - a lot of firsts in a lot of fields. Her friend Emily Davies opened university education to women: she founded Girton College, Cambridge. Elizabeth's 13-year-old sister Millicent became Millicent Fawcett, pioneer of women's suffrage.

      It is fair to say, the rest is - half-remembered - history.

      On the way back from Ipswich Hospital Garret Anderson centre the other day, a taxi driver asked "who the chap was" that it was named after? And who in Suffolk links women's suffrage and Fawcett Society with that 13yo in Aldeburgh?

      A crying shame when you consider that half of our county's population are women - about 370,000 of us all occupying Suffolk's 3800 square kilometres. If we were spread across the county we might all be within shouting distance of each other - if we shouted very loud. And we've a lot of reasons to shout. The gender pay gap in Suffolk is 22.2% - above the national average. We have a higher than average level of violence against women. Last year, I established that Suffolk was not a good place to be a girl.

      Women need all the help we can get - in Suffolk, as elsewhere. So why so few women representing us?

      First and foremost I'd say a lot of women simply don't think of themselves as elected representatives. A shame, because so many women's lives have required them to develop the skills sets, the energy, the drive, the determination, the ability to multitask and the fire in our bellies to be very good representatives indeed. A lot of women just don't realise they have the skills, or that they have value.

      Then, people in general have a very low awareness of government in general. They are often unclear as to which services are delivered by central government, and which by local. In Suffolk, people are often unclear as to which council of three they may mean when talking about 'the council'. Who'd be elected to something you don't understand?

      What people do know about councils, they know in terms of dissatisfaction - transport, potholes, social care - all gone wrong. They know that some officers are paid large salaries. They often conflate these with councillors who are paid (small) 'allowances'. Generally this means that 'the council' has an undeserved bad reputation: people see it as 'them' instead of 'us' and profligate with 'our money.'

      Most curious of all, when it comes to 'our money' people seem to make very little connection between local politics, voting and outcome. They will see local elections as unimportant and 'not bother' to vote - though the effects of the county council budget will affect their roads, their schools their social care, their transport.

      They will vote for a party that fails to raise council tax year after year - and then be astonished at the effect this has on their roads, their schools their social care, their transport.

      Within this mindset very few women might want to be councillors - seeing it as a male environment and a negative one at that. And yet of course, it a council is a place where we the people can put many things right - and gender equality in councillors can make this happen.

      No, this isn't pie in the sky - its common sense! Councils have budgets and allocate huge amounts of local funding - and they decide where it goes. If most councillors are middle-aged middle-class white men who have never had "the worry of how to put shoes on the children's feet because you are paid so little as a carer", or "worry if you can manage to hang on to your job while getting two children to schools in different directions", they will not understand the issues of paying carers too little, or splitting siblings between schools, or failing to provide rural families with sufficient transport options. They may well have different funding priorities to women when it come to refuges, or rape crisis lines or supporting family carers. Not because they mean harm - but because it has never had to enter their head as personal priorities.

      My own background as a councillor is, maybe, unusual - but I would suggest that the background of many women councillors IS unusual. Many experiences played a part, but I'd say, most importantly, was that I was a lone parent and full-time carer fighting for the needs for my disabled child - and very angry indeed about various things in society that I wanted to try and change. In the end my friends told me to put up or shut up so I joined the party that was closest to my beliefs and put my name forward to stand as county councillor.

      I stood against a respected, longstanding local politician - he was a past town, district, county councillor and past mayor too. And, against any expectation I won. Was it because I wasn't a "normal politician"?

      I've been re-elected three times since. Because of that I have had the chance to raise more issues, fight for more causes, and gain more successes than I had ever thought possible as a private individual. And that is immensely satisfying.

      But still as a woman you find you can speak to a silence and five minutes later a male councillor repeats what you say to rapturous applause - clearly you had a cloak of invisibility on.You speak with passion about an injustice and a political journalist tweets something dismissive about your manner of speech. Like Ginger Rogers you do everything Fred Astaire does but backwards and in high heels, and still get second billing. There are endless microaggressions. Why? It's a numbers game.

      But the winds of change are blowing here -as in the film industry, as everywhere. The atmosphere is suddenly getting markedly less aggressive

      I love what I do because it has so much variety- and you can have so much direct effect. One day you are fighting to stop someone (it often seems to be a woman, low-hanging fruit) getting deported, the next, putting the spotlight on a controversial transport consultation, the next convincing the council about the injustice of WASPI pensions. There's never a dull moment and it makes a real difference to real lives.

      To my mind, politics isn't a game of "them" and "us" - its about how 'we' want to get 'our' country, county, town to work - and where women are concerned it's a numbers game.

      Our numbers and our expertise will ensure that we can make it better for all of us in towns, in counties, in our country if we step up to the plate and have belief in our own capacities.

      It is really as simple as that!

      Women of Suffolk, come and join in!

  • Feb 2, 2018:
    • Suffolk's School Transport Consultation - it affects YOU

      Confused about the Suffolk School Travel Consultation? I'm hearing people saying things like "why don't kids go to their local school?" and "why don't they cycle like we did?"

      THIS IS MISSING THE POINT.

      Be clear, Suffolk is already only providing free transport to those children who meet strict criteria: children must be over-8 and living OVER 3 miles from their catchment or transport priority school; or under 8 and living OVER 2 miles from ditto.

      Parental choice plays no part.

      If you want to send your child to a non-catchment or non-tp school, it's your lookout! Your car(And remember governments of both right and left closed most village schools in the days when petrol was cheap, and buses plentiful. Thats why so many rural children live such a distance from their schools)

      What Suffolkcc is trying to do now is REDUCE its statutory responsibility FURTHER so that it will ONLY provide free transport to eligible children to the nearest school (which will still have to be more than 3/more than 2 miles away depending on age). This will limit choice in some areas where the closure of middle schools has created anomalies -including promises (by the county council) that children from certain closed schools will attend certain other schools.

      It will also put more cars on the roads - not least because many rural roads are simply not safe for child pedestrians and cyclists in morning and evening. And that makes it increasibly less safe for others.

      Those who have responded will notice the cards stacked in favour of Option 1, which -we are told -"has the potential to make the greatest financial savings."

      This is inaccurate. Research by the LDGI group showed Option 1 offers a completely unknown amount of financial savings while creating a postcode lottery of opportunity and causing huge unfairness - most specifically to rural residents in Suffolk.

      Because it will put more cars on our roads and around our schools, this proposal will affect everyone. Evefyone needs to respond.

      Interestingly Option 1 uses the weasel words "change the school travel policy so that it is in line with legal requirements" which suggest Suffolk's current policy is not in line with legal requirements. It should read, "change SCC's policy so that it still conforms with the minimum national statutory requirements." I fear the wording has been framed inaccurately to encourage respondents to believe an untruth.

      Personally, I support Option 3: "Make no changes to the school travel policy.

      Why should local and national government ideology on tax make free school transport a rural problem? Few London students live 3 miles from school (the maximum distance a Suffolk over-8yo is expected to walk before entitled to free school transport). And London children and young people get free transport anyway. Our Suffolk young people should be entitled to no less!

      The consultation is here: https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/consultations-petitions-and-elections/consultations/school-and-post-16-travel-consultation/

  • Jan 27, 2018:
    • Reduction to free school transport entitlement: respond, or have no say

      Proposals to reduce eligibility for free school transport in Suffolk will adversely affect students 5-18 -and their families. The changes have the potential to bring hardship -especially in rural areas: loss of choice; a postcode lottery for places and courses; potentially the splitting of siblings between schools. It will also put a lot more cars on the roads round our schools -with preductable effects on speed, safety, airquality, and quality of life.

      The move is driven by Suffolk County Council's pressing need to make savings (read 'cuts') of up to £300,000. (However the administration cannot point to any evidence that they can achieve any savings at all. Their rationale? These are the prejudices on which I base my facts! ). The need is pressing because the administration have plumed themselves on capping council tax for 7 years. You get what you vote for - in this case, services pared to the bone.

      My recent questions as to the impact on these proposed cuts - which will unfairly affect rural students attending state schools- have met with the same answer: "Parents need to respond to the consultation."

      Parents? The impact of these proposals will be far-ranging and the consequences and unintended consequences will impact on whole communities. Not only parents, but schools, parishes, towns,

      I have been raising awareness of this for some months. I have spoken in Cabinet and full council on the matter; I've blogged, reblogged, written to the EADT, written to FarlingayeHS to ask it to get the message out, and reported to your town councillors asking them to do the same.

      Now a direct plea from me: please, if you are parent, guardian, student, school, teacher, resident, elected representative - respond to this consultation NOW - and then pass the information on. Ask your councillors if they have responded -and if not, why not? Otherwise you will have missed your chance to contribute to what happens. The link is here: https://www.suffolkonboard.com/home-to-school-transport/school-travel-consultation/

  • Jan 15, 2018:
    • Whats been happening in Suffolk, December-January 2017-18

      Happy New Year! My January 2018 report to Woodbridge & Martlesham councils covered a range of things: school transport, tree preservation, plastic bottles, WASPI women's pensions, as well as updates on the Thoroughfare and the success of the Jetty Lane proposals

      School Travel Consultation launched Although Suffolk parents, governors and councillors have voiced serious concerns over a consultation on proposed changes to the Suffolk School Transport policy, it was agreed by Suffolk's Cabinet in December after significant controversy toward the end of last year. As you may remember, I spoke against this for a number of different reasons: perhaps most pertinently that the paper offered Cabinet three options of which the third was an unviable "Do nothing". I suggested that a viable third option was to lobby central government for more funding to cover the shortfall caused by central government funding decisions - such as the de facto raising of statutory school leaving age from 16 to 18 without additional funding. However, despite our strongly-voiced concerns, nobody but Cabinet members has a vote at Cabinet and the consultation was therefore voted through unanimously. This public consultation was launched on Tuesday 12 December and will run until 28 February 2018. The consultation survey, along with more information on the proposals, can be found at www.suffolk.gov.uk/schooltravel. I would be grateful if this information was disseminated as widely as possible.

      A number of workshops have been organised, where the proposals will be discussed and questions answered. The only close one to Martlesham/Woodbridge is:

      Venue Room Date Time
      Kesgrave Conference Centre

      Twelve Acre Approach, Ipswich IP5 1JF

      Orwell Room 16 Jan 2018 19:00-20:30

      In addition to the workshops, there will also be a Have Your Say event. This is an opportunity for members of the public to present alternative options to a panel.

      Venue Date Time
      West Suffolk House

      Western Way, Bury St Edmunds IP33 3SP

      30 Jan 2018 19:00-22:00

      To book a place at the above events and for full details, visit www.suffolk.gov.uk/schooltravel or call 0345 603 1842 (Mon-Fri 08:30 - 18:00). For my concerns, http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2017/12/10/education-transport-proposal-my-concerns/

      I would strongly urge you to respond to the consultation survey and encourage all parents to do the same - and attend one of the events if possible. If you would like any further information or clarification on the potential impacts of changing the policy, please don't hesitate to contact me.

      Suffolk County Council signs the Woodland Trust's Tree CharterThe Lib Dem, Green and Independent Group proposed a motion to Suffolk County Council on 7 December, asking them to sign the Woodland Trust's Charter for Trees, Woods and People. I am pleased to report that this received unanimous support.

      The Charter was launched on 6 November to mark the 800 year anniversary of the influential 1217 Charter of the Forest. The Woodland Trust is leading a call with more than 70 organisations from across multiple sectors, and hopes the Charter will bring the discussion of the importance of forests and trees back into public consciousness. There are ten principles which underpin the charter:

      1. Thriving habitats for diverse species
      2. Planting for the future
      3. Celebrating the cultural impact of trees
      4. A thriving forestry sector that delivers for the UK
      5. Better protection for important trees and woods
      6. Enhancing new developments with trees
      7. Understanding and using the natural health benefits of trees
      8. Access to trees for everyone
      9. Addressing threats to woods and trees through good management
      10. Strengthening landscapes with woods and trees

      Unanimous support for LDGI Group's motion on plastic recycling Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for the Environment, announced in October that he would be examining the possibility of introducing a plastic bottle Deposit Return Scheme in the UK to improve recycling rates.

      At the meeting of Suffolk County Council on 7 December, Cllr Penny Otton (Lib Dem) and Cllr Robert Lindsay (Green) proposed a motion calling on the Council to pledge support for the introduction of such a scheme, and to offer Suffolk as a pilot area should one be needed. This was met with unanimous support. Both the Cabinet Member for the Environment and the Lib Dem, Green and Independent Group will be writing to the Secretary of State, urging him to implement this new recycling scheme in the UK.

      Deposit Return Schemes work by adding a small deposit charge to the cost of plastic bottles, which is refunded to the consumer when the bottle is returned for recycling. These "reward and return schemes" are already in place across Europe, including in Germany and Denmark, and evidence suggests they are an effective recycling method. The recycling rate for countries with a Deposit Return Scheme stands at over 90%, whilst Britain currently recycles just 57% of plastic bottles.

      SInce we passed this motion the Government seems finallyto have taken the idea on board.

      Suffolk County Council votes unanimously to support WASPI women As the Lib Dem, Green and Independent Group Spokesperson for Women (indeed the only spokesperson for Women at Suffolk County Council), I seconded a cross-party motion asking the Council to offer support to the 35,000 WASPI women in Suffolk who are suffering from changes in state pension age. Once again, this received unanimous support, and the Interim Chief Executive will be writing to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions calling on the government to reconsider transitional arrangements for these women.

      Women Against State Pension Inequalities (WASPI) is a national campaign, which highlights the unfair impact that state pension age changes have had on women born in the 1950s. Many women expected to receive a state pension at 60 and were not properly informed by the government of the age increase, leaving them stranded without income or forced to delay retirement plans. WASPI agrees with the equalisation of state pension age, but does not agree with the unfair way the changes were implemented - with little or no personal notice, faster than promised, and leaving no time to make alternative plans.

      If you would like more information, please visit: http://www.waspi.co.uk/ or my blog http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2017/12/12/waspi-success-at-suffolk-county-council/

      Success for Jetty Lane CIC Directors of the recently formed Jetty Lane CiC took its business plan and designs for a new youth centre to a panel of Suffolk County Council Corporate Property just before Christmas. It was accompanied by a letter telling them it

      "is a project that is designed to address sustainably the currently unmet needs of many disparate groups in Woodbridge (and its environs), with particular emphasis on young people and the arts.

      In order for Jetty Lane first to fund-raise and then to function most effectively, it will require the certainty of a long lease. We are therefore here today to ask you to give the CiC a lease of 125 years on the site at IP12 4BA.

      We are also asking for the lease to be at a peppercorn rent: two youth charities will be permanently housed at the centre, while many of the other users are charities or community groups. The CiC itself is a not-for-profit organisation which is working purely for the benefit of the community."

      The panel expressed themselves very satisfied with the design and plans, which they described as 'inspiring and ambitious.' We were very flatteringly told we had "made their day"
      The directors had expected to have to wait 2 weeks for a decision but Suffolk County Council offered us the 125 year lease at a peppercorn rent (subject to terms & conditions) on the spot!
      What a wonderful Christmas present to the young people and community of Woodbridge!

      Council requests extension of Adult Social Care Levy Cllr Beccy Hopfensperger, Cabinet Member for Adult Care, called on the Council to lobby government to extend the National Adult Social Care Levy and explore other mechanisms to support social care because it is increasingly unaffordable.

      Although my LibDem, Green and Independent Group supported this motion, and agree that social care requires an urgent funding review, we questioned why the Cabinet Member had not already been lobbying the government. The challenges facing social care are not new.

      Suffolk chosen as pilot scheme for 100% Business Rates Retention In the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement, released on 19 December, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced that Suffolk had been chosen as a pilot scheme for 100% business rates retention for the 2018-19 financial year.

      Suffolk is one of only 10 pilot areas announced. Both the county council and the district/borough councils will be part of the scheme. However, until more information is released from the Department for communities and Local Government, it is not possible to say exactly how much additional income this could generate into the Suffolk system.

      Woodbridge Thoroughfare Consultation -responses to results The results of the initial consultation were presented for 3 weeks at the Library - (end of November to mid December) to ensure that plenty of visibility and transparency was given. It was also covered in the EADT and the resuts can be seen on my blog

      Eight email responses were received as a result . Of those

      • 2 were supportive
      • 2 were simple questions of fact to which factual answers could be given.
      • 1 was a suggestion
      • 3 were strong objections. All 3 of these were from - or obo - elderly & infirm people who felt they could not get from carparks to the Thoroughfare. All 3 criticised the process and suggested we should have had more thought of disabled people. In each answer I pointed out the scope and extent of the consultation, the views of the Suffolk Coastal Disability Forum, and then mentioned the potential mitigation via the passes with the taxi firm, pointing out taxi access was something that was not possible currently, and that people too infirm/disabled to use a concessionary bus pass when entitled to one are able claim £150 taxi vouchers annually from SCC in lieu.

      The next step has been to ask the relevant Highways officers to give me a quotation and then start work on the design http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2017/12/03/results-of-public-consultation-on-woodbridge-thoroughfare-sept-2017/

  • Jan 2, 2018:
    • Urgent Severe Weather Advice 2/3 January

      Orwell Bridge to close at 9pm tonight
      Highways England is advising road users that the Orwell Bridge will be closed from 9pm tonight (Tuesday 2 January) for safety reasons, due to high winds (Storm Eleanor)It is likely to remain closed through tomorrow's (Wednesday 3 January) peak morning travel time. Once the Orwell Bridge is closed, the planned diversion route is via the A1156, A1189 and A1214 through Ipswich.

      ‎Drivers planning to travel are encouraged to plan their journey in advance and check the latest weather and traffic conditions along the route. You can get the latest forecast from BBC weather, the Met Office, and local radio. ‎Highways England live traffic information: www.highways.gov.uk/traffic-information
      Twitter: @HighwaysEAST

      ‎Drivers making journeys across the region should be wary of sudden gusts of wind, and be sure to give high-sided vehicles, caravans, motorbikes and bicycles plenty of space.

      Extreme weather can also damage overhead power lines resulting in loss of electricity supply. UK Power networks say they have additional staff in their contact centre to help customers whose electricity supply might be affected by the predicted weather, and called-up additional engineers to carry out repairs to overhead lines and poles as soon as the wind reduces to a speed at which it is safe to work.

      Regular updates: www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk and Twitter@UKPowerNetworks .

      In a power cut:

      • Call 105 to report power cuts and damage to the electricity network, or 0800 3163 105 (from a corded phone or mobile phone if you have no power)
      • Visit www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk for the latest updates
      • Visit www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk/powercut and type in their postcode to view our live power cut map
      • Tweet @ukpowernetworks to report a power cuts or to receive updates

      Do you, or someone you know, need extra support during a power cut? @UKPowerNetworks provides free services to vulnerable customers. Visit ukpowernetworks.co.uk/priority for more information #stormEleanor

      Preparing for a power cut:

      In advance

      • Add 105 to the contacts on your mobile phone
      • Keep our Freephone 0800 3163 105 number handy
      • See www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk/powercuts for useful videos and advice during a power cut.
      • Locate a torch, check it's working and make sure you have spare batteries. Take care if using candles.
      • Charge up your mobile phone, and a rechargeable mobile 'powerbank' if you have one
      • Use a phone with a cord if you have one, cordless phones don't work in a power cut
      • Keep fridges and freezers closed, with a blanket over as they will stay cold for many hours
      • Switch off all your electrical equipment, except one light which will let you know when the power comes back on
      • Remember the street lights may also be off so take care if you go out
      • Dress in warm clothes
      • Look out for vulnerable neighbours