Was Ipswich Doomed from the Beginning?

Ipswich seems to be forever championed by professional doomsters.
For some time, Ipswich’s ills have been blamed on central Government and the lack of appropriate help in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, Brexit, adverse economic winds (both local and international) and so on.
The subtext seems to be that if only there was a change of government, then towns like Ipswich would be on the receiving end of a cornucopia of monies sufficient to right all ills.
But recently another meme has come into view and this is to blame all ills on historical factors that worked against Ipswich’s interests.
A writer on the East Anglia Daily Times on February 6th lamented the founding of Suffolk County Council in 1974 and Ipswich’s consequential loss of County Borough Status and the subsequent winds that followed.
The writer affirmed that rarely ever has Ipswich had portfolio holders at Suffolk County Council with control over budgetary departments. Conveniently the writer overlooks the period between 1993 and 2005 when Labour controlled the County and leadership was provided by Chris Mole and Bryony Rudkin (both Ipswich based politicians)
Also overlooked is the year 2003/4 which saw an 18% increase in Ipswich’s Band D Council Tax.
The question arises whether 1974 is too recent a time to receive the blame for present circumstances.
There could be a sound argument that the backwash from the downfall of Thomas Wolsey lead to long term detrimental effects on the town, relieved only from time to time by economic happenstance, for example, by the coming of the railway.
Amongst other things Ipswich lost it ambition to host a third major university in the country rivalling Oxford and Cambridge. The resources were reallocated and for nearly 500 years Ipswich did not have a university it could call their own.
Wolsey’s downfall was caused by the Spanish Aragonese who had the money and the Medici Pope who needed powerful and moneyed allies. The Holy Roman Emperor was Catherine of Aragon’s nephew and there was no way the Pope was going against such a powerful force and grant Henry VIII the divorce he needed.
So, watch out for the next steps in this saga. Ipswich will look to blame the combination of various European powers colluding against our best interests. Once this seam is mined the limits are almost endless. The Norman French wiped away our nobility in 1066. The Vikings martyred King Edmund in 869 and in AD60 Boudicca was forced to march down the A12 to assert her rights against Roman (Italian) hegemony over East Anglia.

Council Taxes & Precepts: Clarion Call

Often, the best form of defence is to get one’s retaliation in first.
I am aware of at least one council discussing raising their Council Tax impositions without any mention of the needs of their electorate or the effect of the rises upon their residents
We need to tell local councillors at Parish, District and County levels telling them that as residents and tax payers we do not wish to see any increase in the council taxes levied upon our households.
We know that many businesses have suffered in the past nine months, we know that people have been furloughed and are on reduced incomes, we also know that many families relying on casual work whether in the hospitality sector or otherwise have seen their personal finances devastated.
Budget decisions are due next month, but before then we need to tell our Councillors that any increase in the Council Tax this year is unacceptable.
It’s time Councils reviewed their expenditures into three categories: Luxurious, Nice to have and Need to have. The last category getting the first bite of the monies.
For example, the last time I looked, Suffolk had seventeen officers and senior staff responsible for internal and external communications. I have excluded from this number those persons concerned with Customer Services, Web and Digital Transformation. Those seventeen could not all be performing essential tasks relating to the proper stewardship of our monies.
Every council and organisation has its own little pockets of waste and extravagance. Even after years of austerity they can still be rooted out and the monies returned to the tax payer.
A version of this blog was published in the EADT on 26th December 2020

Meanwhile at Endeavour House*

We’ve all been to those meetings called by a Team Leader who demands “Ideas!”
They are rarely productive and often degenerate into farce as the stressed participants come with more and more outlandish ideas. Sometimes good ideas are tweaked and sometimes discarded as being too far ahead of their time. Sometimes, though, ideas escape and I would have loved to have been at the meeting that discussed filling Suffolk County Council’s budget deficit by mandating that staff should take two days unpaid leave as a contribution to solving the problem.
The council now advises that “Following valuable feedback and meaningful negotiations with UNISON, we have decided to remove the proposal to apply unpaid leave…for all staff”.
It makes you wonder what ideas were left on the floor destined for perpetual obscurity.
Meanwhile, I have always thought that overheads should always be reviewed to ascertain waste. Classic examples are jobs whose title includes the words “Deputy”. What does a deputy do and why is the job necessary?
Last time I looked, Suffolk County Council had seventeen officers and senior staff responsible for internal and external communications. There were another seven staff who accounted for Customer Services, Web and Digital Transformation. Incidentally, the seventeen did not include assistants and clerical staff. What do these communicators do to occupy their time?
Resources in the wrong places prevent good ideas and good projects from receiving the life blood they need.
The answer to the deficit should not include unpaid time from staff, but should focus on unnecessary jobs i.e., jobs that do not give added value for the residents and taxpayers.
One would have thought the County’s Tory leadership would have known that  – it’s not a mistake that Colin Noble would have made.
* Endeavour House is the joint headquarters of Suffolk County Council, Babergh District Council and Mid-Suffolk District Council.

Hadleigh Stars Gymnastics

GymnasticsToday amidst all the doom and gloom about the Brexit aftermath I received the following e-mail from Kelly Mires, Head Coach at Hadleigh Stars Gymnastics:

Dear Mr Riley
I’m writing  to say thank you so very much for the news I received today that you have awarded Hadleigh Stars Gymnastics a grant of £1000.
This is a huge amount of money for the club and it means we can now look to purchase the safety mats we have been fundraising hard to buy .
Thank you once again from myself and all 285 Children in Hadleigh Stars Gymnastics.
Kelly Mires
Head Coach
The locality monies will help fund the purchase of a tumble run and two safety landing mats.
The Hadleigh Stars Gymnastics are holding a club competition on Saturday 23rd July at the Hadleigh Leisure Centre. This is their biggest annual fundraiser and they will be serving refreshments and holding a raffle. All the coaches volunteer their time so that every penny raised goes into the fundraising pot to buy equipment. So if you have a free moment on the 23rd, please drop in on the Leisure Centre and support the Hadleigh Stars Gymnastics.
The monies came from my County Councillor’s Locality Budget. As readers of this blog may know the Locality Budget amounts to £12,000 a year and is distributed in Hadleigh to promote ways in which Suffolk County Council can make life better for its residents. I like to direct the monies to game changers. So in the past I have given support to (among others)  Hadleigh Diamond Lites (Drum Majorettes), an ecotherapy allotment project for Suffolk Mind and Surviving Winter in Hadleigh whose funding was to cover the initial expenses in establishing the charity and to provide such ongoing support as necessary.

Forward to the Twentieth Century

Endeavour House 140506 bThe scheduled Suffolk County Council meeting scheduled for Thursday 26th did not take place but was deferred due to the sudden death of the Council Leader’s father. One of the items of business carried forward  was a motion proposed by Councillor Mark Ereira-Guyer (Leader of the Green and Independent Group on Suffolk County Council) and seconded by Councillor Bill Mountford (Leader of the UKIP Group) requiring the Council to improve its governance arrangements and start to operate a more inclusive and engaging committee system of governance. Currently the Council operates a Cabinet system of Governance.
Why are motion proposers trying to drag us back into the twentieth century? I’ve been privileged to experience governance by committee and governance by Cabinet.
Local Government Governance by Committee tends to be the fig leaf by which democratic legitimacy is granted to the wishes, intentions and decisions of the executive. Power in committees more often does not lie with chairmen nor with members but with the Secretariat who decide
what goes on the agendas,
how it is presented and
when it comes forward.
Documents are prepared so as to lead the way and make the Committee approval virtually a foregone conclusion.
By way of example, the executive in Babergh decided that Hadleigh should be incorporated into the Ipswich/Felixstowe proposed unitary Council. There was no mention that the people of Hadleigh were against the idea and there was no reference to  the democratic inconsistencies in the motion. Yet, the motion was overwhelmingly passed  with only three members dissenting.
Why are we being asked to return to the twentieth century?
Do the proposers seriously think that the Committee system of local governance is more efficient and more democratic?
It’s certainly more bureaucratic and is less responsive to the needs of the residents.
Committees tend to be mere talking shops.
Members like the sound of their own voices.
Members can be cloaked in the misbelief that they are taking decisions and are participating fully in the well running of their Council, whereas, in fact, they are glorified seat warmers. Decisions are made elsewhere and the function of Councillors is then not

  • to guide,
  • decide and
  • hold to account

but to be legal bystanders in a process which they do not control and in which the Sir Humphreys of this world flourish.

  • Foxes should not look after chickens,
  • goats should not be in charge of  cabbages.
  • Executive should be servants not masters.

I plan to be at the next Council meeting when I will speak against this motion.


MoneyEver since I was elected a County Councillor I have been critical of Suffolk’s ASPIRE programme. This is a motivation tool aimed at the staff and the ASPIRE values are:

  • Achieve – We are the best we can be
  • Support – We work as one team
  • Pride – We take pride in and are proud of what we do
  • Inspire – We model the ASPIRE values
  • Respect – We give and earn respect
  • Empower – We empower, encourage and motivate people

I was especially critical of a poster proclaiming that the Council’s key achiever was a community psychologist who planned and co-ordinated conferences  and supported staff to learn and develop their skills alongside colleagues and services users. My success was to have the poster removed since I objected to staff seeing at least twice a day a poster telling them that they should achieve through the soft side of management rather than take on the hard choices of achieving more for less in the interest of the tax payers and residents at large.
Ideas like ASPIRE are like vampires. They never die unless they have metal stakes driven through the hearts. The posters are back again.

This time they read as follows:

  • A is for being Adaptable
  • S is for Embracing Digital (I know there appears to be an outbreak of alphabetical illiteracy and I couldn’t work it out either)
  • P is for Leading Change
  • I is for Agile Working
  • R is for Politically Aware
  • E is for Commercially Savvy

Apart from the last two (and I do applaud an officer who seeks to measure his operational efficiency against commercial benchmarks) the rest of the ASPIRE examples are a tad Ho Hum and if this is the best we can to do motivate staff, then it is time to follow the money and cut off the supply.

Small Successes – Christmas Lights

Christmas Lights cI have been very pleased to assist Kieron Ruddy & Mark Snowling in persuading Suffolk County Council to turn a street light off so that they can mount a Christmas Lighting Display in Long Bessels, Hadleigh as a fund raiser for the Brendan Oakes Trust. Kieron and Mark’s community initiative should be applauded and fully supported – better still visit the display and support the Trust


Corks Lane

Flag by BaberghLast year the Leader of Babergh District Council indicated that the future of Corks Lane would be decided by the post May 2007 administration. As we know, the Conservatives romped home thirty one seats out of forty three thus celebrating being in full control for the first time since 1974.
On 11th May the Leader of the Council was quoted as saying that the new regime would press ahead with a joint review of Babergh’s headquarters in Hadleigh and Mid Suffolk’s in Needham Market.
And then a period of silence ensued until early September when Babergh decided that it would produce:
a plan for our short-term accommodation usage which will be implemented over the next six months that will rationalise the usage of our existing accommodation, build greater integration and co-location of teams across the two sites and develop some “spokes” within our market towns.
an accommodation strategy (and the necessary complementary workforce development strategy) that is cognisant of and flexible enough to reflect emerging local and national policies and public service reforms.
So, where was the driving force? Certainly it doesn’t appear to be in the controlling party. There was no indication of hitting the ground running. After all this deliberation, discussion and decision making, it definitely looks like a case of the mountain belching and bringing forth a mouse.
What’s being overlooked is the potential for saving ₤1,000,000 a year in accommodation costs if Babergh’s and Mid Suffolk’s operations are concentrated in Corks Lane. To ignore such a savings opportunity is disgraceful and not what the residents of Babergh expect and deserve. Are Mid Suffolk resisting the logical conclusion of the full merger which they voted for in 2011?
Or will the devolution of powers into a Suffolk/Norfolk powerhouse result in the District Councils becoming irrelevant and ultimately being disbanded with their powers and responsibilities being absorbed and redistributed elsewhere?
Only time will tell, but I look forward to 2016 when hopefully we will be seeing the plans and strategies and stop asking ourselves what’s taking so long?

Take Care on the Road

Men at WorkTravelers who use the Station Road/Pond Hall Road/Duke Street route from Hadleigh to Hintlesham (& beyond) will be aware that at the junction of Pond Hall Road and Clay Lane there is a set of temporary traffic lights with no apparent connected road work visible.
Despite appearances this small, tricky and windy stretch of road has not been forgotten. Part of the road slipped/was washed out in the late summer.
It does not look much from the road but there is a considerable drop to the adjacent land and ditch which runs under the road via a culvert.
Corrective road repair is tentatively scheduled for the end of this month. A permanent repair is required to ensure that the road failure does not happen again. This will not be a shoddy temporary fix – instead it requires detailed design, thorough calculation and full adherence to the standard health and safety aspects of construction to ensure that the workforce is safe at all times.
Let’s hope that nothing untoward gets in the way of a speedy resolution of the problems.

Education Means Jobs

The Professor and his PupilEveryone has opinions on education and everyone thinks that their opinions represent the best interests of the community. North Carolina like many other areas is looking for the best value for their revenues and the State legislature (Republican) feels that if it restricts funding, then inefficiencies will be squeezed out of the system by virtue of some form of budget Darwinism. Unfortunately (like many other Government Departments in N.C. and the U.K.) the thinking stops there and that’s when the inexorable law of unintended consequences kicks in.
The major inefficiencies in education derive from:

  • Bureaucratic hierarchy and control
  • Inflexible structures at the chalk face
  • Misdirected resources

Turkeys do not vote for Christmas so we should not expect the school administrative systems to voluntary devise ways of making themselves more efficient and more focused on achieving continually improving results. Given the unfettered ability to make choices the educational administrative system will pick the low hanging fruit and cull school crossing wardens, teaching assistants and catering budgets. Thus there is a focus on budgets and not on community outcomes. This is the lesson learned by Suffolk County Council. Following the wake-up call of being one step off the bottom of County Educational Performance tables we introduced the Raising the Bar initiative in 2013. Just a few years later we are 107th out of 151 in the league tables. Although, this is still not where we want to be, we are going forward because at County level we recognize that you can’t have decent paying jobs unless the educational infrastructure is in place.