Devolution Opportunities and Threats

 Magna Carta

Last month, Suffolk County Council received an update on their bid to receive devolved powers from the central government. I was pleased to speak at the meeting adding my contribution to the debate as follows:
Of course we need a devolution of powers away from Whitehall and into the County. But this should not just be a grab for powers. We should also carry our constituents with us and remind ourselves that we are doing this for their benefit and not for ours. In 2011, the people of Babergh were given the choice, merge with Mid Suffolk or continue with some independence and full sovereignty. Fearing an Anschluss from the north, Babergh residents quite rightly eschewed the prospect of a full merger. As one of my constituents told me, “Every merger promises savings but ends up costing more!” If we want to save monies, let’s promote the Town Councils and consign the District Councils to history. That way we wouldn’t have decisions taken for Hadleigh by people who only visited Babergh’s second largest town for meetings. That way Babergh’s Local Plan wouldn’t envisage housing in Sudbury, Great Cornard and Hadleigh with the jobs going to the Ipswich fringe! And that way we would not have the ludicrous situation whereby although Babergh has more homeless than Mid Suffolk the homeless unit is based not in Hadleigh, Sudbury or Great Cornard but in Needham Market. Similarly if we look at the joint venture between Babergh, Ipswich and Mid Suffolk to process Revenues and Benefits we can see that it can only be described as a mitigated success. Three and a half years ago we were promised that it would be a race to the top with best practice migrating throughout the partnership. Prior to its inception it took Babergh 11 days to process new applications. In July this year it was taking 25 days to process new claims – so much for efficiency by joined up working. This is not a model we should be adopting. Let’s also make sure that devolution does not provide an opportunity for our own civil service to expand with jobs that have no interface with their external constituencies (i.e. our residents) but instead let’s continue to look for those services which could be better outsourced or eliminated as unnecessary or as unaffordable luxuries, For example, where is the wisdom in directly employing community psychologists whose achievements are planning and co-ordinating conferences and supporting staff to learn and develop their skills alongside colleagues and service users? How many similar non jobs are there which are filled by very professional, very capable and highly paid people which we could do without on the present basis?

King John signing the Magna Carta.
King John signing the Magna Carta.

Devolution is not an excuse to increase taxes and impose a heavier yoke of government upon our residents. This is why in 2008 the people of Hadleigh declined to be included within Greater Ipswich a.k.a. North Haven. Instead it is an opportunity for us to change the way the system works. Let us take the powers offered to us and let’s focus on our towns, (the source of our wealth), let them develop at their own pace, encourage them to promote jobs before housing and so let them as a hundred flowers bloom and thrive.

Hadleigh Year of the Sheep

Sheep Gambolling 2015Readers of my blog, will be aware that as a County Councillor I have a Locality Budget of ₤12,000 a year to disburse as I see fit on worthy projects and activities in my area. So far just under ₤36,000 has been disbursed ranging from helping Scouts and Guides to attend their world jamboree in Japan to funding Hadleigh’s Loyalty Cards. So my interest was tweaked when I was asked to see what I could do for Hadleigh’s Year of the Sheep (since Hadleigh was a wool/woolen town). I was happy to allocate ₤1,500 to assist in the costs involved in establishing, promoting and underwriting the activities of the Year of the Sheep, which aimed to put Hadleigh on the map as a busy, historic and vibrant wool town. The programme of activities and events aimed to~
attract visitors
promote business
engage the community.
This was a community engagement opportunity to get Hadleigh people to celebrate the town and its heritage, enable local charities and town groups to raise funds/awareness for their work and help businesses develop and attract different customers. The year concluded at the end of September and by all accounts was judged as a very successful community event.
There are a number of legacies from the year, but one I particularly like is the provision of new equipment for one of the public playgrounds in Hadleigh. (My budget also funded some the new equipment). But I just love the sheep which will serve as reminder for a good number of years that Hadleigh was and can be leader in economic adjustment and development.

On the Buses (contd)

Hadleigh Bus Station d

Last May I reported how together with three “partners in crime” we had persuaded Suffolk County Council to reinstate the evening and Sunday bus service between Hadleigh and Ipswich.
The service was restored on a pilot basis on the 20th August and since then we have encouraged everyone to use the service whether it be for the cinema, shopping, education or participating in the evening economy. On Friday we learned that the pilot has been successful and that the service will be reinstated until February 2014.
For the time being we can rest easy about the people of Hadleigh being connected to Ipswich and beyond. The service still needs to be used because as always it’s a case of use it or lose it.
Success can be seen in many ways. In addition to the “official purposes” the bus service enhances people’s lives in unexpected ways. One Sunday user told me that “…it lets me visit my mum in her Ipswich nursing home.” And one bus driver told recently that romance blooms as young swains can now get back from courting their  inamoratas.
The late evening and week end bus service is a success at so many levels.


On the Buses

For some time, Simon Wills, Shelley Pingo, Kathryn Grandon and I have been agitating for Suffolk County Council to restore the subsidy which was previously given to the later evening bus services from Ipswich to Hadleigh. Simon provided the legal research and a lot of lobbying muscle, Shelley collected over 3,750 signatures and Kathryn & I provided our political skills and connections in getting the idea in front of the right people. The funding was withdrawn last year and the bus operator stopped operating the service. Since that time Hadleigh has faced an evening curfew and has been marooned on Sundays and Bank Holidays.  On these days we could be a desert island as far as public transport collectively is concerned. This has had social, educative, community and economic consequences for Hadleigh. Our residents have no local train options, entertainment options or higher education options.  To take the train, visit the cinema, attend college and many other things residents have to visit Ipswich.  And if that involves a journey after 6 p.m., they are stuck.  Such opportunities are open to those who have access to a car. Suffolk County Council allowed us to speak to the Council on Thursday. I was delegated to do the deliver my speech of a lifetime. Thankfully the Council had listened to our earlier presentations and have agreed to a trial six month restoration of the later evening, Sunday and Bank Holiday bus services. This will aid economic recovery , enhance sustainable growth and plug the social gaps.
Because whether you are in catering, retail, hospitality, leisure, medical or manufacturing work patterns require you to be able to get home after six fifteen in the evening! We need the bus service – otherwise we are cut off from economic development, educational opportunity and enhanced leisure activity. Thankfully from August onwards we shall be back on the road after 6.15 in the evenings.
Well done, Suffolk County Council.
Simon Wills, ShelleyPingo, Kathryn Grandon, Brian Riley