Potholes

Inspecting the quality of the new Pot Hole repairs

Inspecting the quality of the new Pot Hole repairs

Before I stood for election the first time in 2006 I asked a number of Councillor I knew what did the job entail and every one of them said err……Potholes!

At first I took this as tongue in cheek comment but no it was indeed a serious comment, over the past 7 years Potholes has been the number one issue of concern residents raise with me. I have attended meetings where the nature and formation of potholes have been discussed, I have seen videos of what of how best to repair a pothole and countless meetings to discuss the financing and strategy of pothole repairs.

Of course anyone who drives a car know to avoid them and occasionally when you miss seeing one, it does shudder through the cars suspension, or worse from punctures to cracked wheels.

Equally, I think it is a very visible manifestation of county council spend. Unlike say adult social care which is provided in each of our communities on a very discreet basis. Quite rightly, carers do not arrive with a big van and sign on the side here to help get Mrs. Smith out of bed in the morning, or here to help Mr. Jones eat his lunch. Of the £500Million, that the county council spends on non-school costs in the county, £160Million of that goes on providing support to the vulnerable adult residents of Suffolk.

Of course, there are some myths about potholes, chief amongst them being the one that if you maintained the roads properly potholes would not happen. Tarmac is a mixture of stone and tar and it moves, the tramlines of a motorway in the inside lane is an indicator of that and as with anything that moves through pressure, use, heat or the cold cracks do appear, water gets in and in the winter it freezes expands and breaks the bond and a potholes starts. This we cannot stop but we can have a strategy and allocate appropriate resources. One of my local priories is to see pothole repaired faster, better.

Faster: I am supporting the roll out of a Suffolk wide phone app that through your smart phone’s GPS and camera you will simply be able to take a snap of the pothole or any other problem such as fly tipping and then ping it to the appropriate department for logging and action. Where this is being implemented elsewhere in the country council employees are also able to use the same technology so as they go about their substantive role they are almost like mobile patrols.

Better: Firstly in the winter the pothole repair crews are the grittier drivers who so such sterling job of keeping us moving on gritted roads. When they have the time they come to make a temporary repair to a pothole with a cold tarmac product drop it in and giving it a levelling whack and move on to the next, a quick but temporary solution.

Once gritting stops the crews firstly tackling any back log of temporary repairs and then set about going back to those temporary repairs to make permanent by digging out, cutting back a bigger square to beyond the water penetration, then filling and sealing using hot tarmac, Suffolk Conservatives are spending more money on this programme.

In short repairing potholes faster, better.

Faster Broadband coming to a socket near you

Checking on the Broadband speed in Lakenheath Library, faster than at my home but I am still looking forward to the village getting better broadband

Checking on the Broadband speed in Lakenheath Library, faster than at my home but I am looking forward to the village getting better broadband

Throughout the last 4 years I have regularly been out knocking on doors and delivering surveys asking residents what their issues are, beyond attending Council meetings playing my part in making strategic decisions, helping with individual issues it’s important to ask and understand what the overriding priorities are for our community.

Almost always, for those of us who use the internet as a part of our daily lives, improved reliability of our broadband connection and its speed are in the top three priorities people say they want. This can be immensely frustrating if, like me, you work part of your time from home or indeed, for the family trying to connect a variety of devices to the internet at once, we all know the speed of Broadband across Row Heath’s villages is woeful.

That’s why I was pleased to have played my part in one of those big strategic decisions that will have an impact in every home in my Division. Suffolk Conservatives took the decision to spend £10Million to deliver a county wide project to provide between 8Mbs to 20Mbs high speed Broadband to 100% of Suffolk homes and communities.

Other counties have funded variations of the proposals often settling for a 95% coverage, I argued that it must be 100% coverage as I was sure Row Heath would probably have been in that 5%!

So by 2015 we will all have the benefits of high speed Broadband to enable us to work and enjoy its benefits. Look out for new BT green cabinets springing up its means that high speed broadband piped into your home is not far away, I can’t wait.

BBC Radio Suffolk County Election Debate

Yesterday I took time out from canvassing to sit in my car and listen to the interesting debate between the leaders of the different parties standing in the County Council elections, on the radio. Really worth having a click through to yesterday’s Mark Murphy’s show and listen or download the podcast from 10am to 11am.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radiosuffolk

A lot of people say they don’t vote and the old joke is ‘doesn’t matter who I vote for because the Council always wins’ But yesterday listening to the show there are real and tangible differences between the parties. Mark Bee spoke of responsible governance balancing the demands and delivering what people tell us they want primarily a Council that ‘lives within its means’ and does not keep knocking at their door for ever more Council tax. Residents tell us they want high speed broadband across Suffolk not just in Ipswich and we Conservatives have invested in (£10Million) to make sure that the benefits of better Broadband are spread cross the whole of Suffolk with 100% coverage of between 8Mbs and 20Mbs by the end of 2015 are delivering that. Residents tell us they want the pot-holes to be repairs better and we are doing that and they tell us they want us to focus on Education and we are doing that too.

One revelation was the UKIP chat Cllr. Bill Mountfield who said more on the radio yesterday than I have heard him say in 4 years on the Council, and that is not a joke, in 4 years I have heard him speak twice at the Council. But what yesterday did expose is that UKIP have no local policies everything with them is about national or European issues. This election is about Suffolk not Brussels.

Amongst the many callers and in amongst the debating of this and that, the thing that struck me the most was the way in which both the Lib Dems and Labour used that tired old line about we can’t make specific promises until we see the books. So when I got home I pulled off the shelf my ‘dog-eared’ copy of the Budget and Medium term financial forecast we debated and approved on 14th and February and thought to myself err. that is the books!

So as usual just ducking the issue, lots of promises to spend, spend, spend just as they did when they were in power from 2001 to 2005, trouble is that spend, spend, spend is always followed by Tax, Tax, Tax and in their time in office they put the Council tax up by 40%.

Seems to me that the Lib Dems and Labour should and can cost what they are planning and then come clean about those costs and Council Taxes, not hide behind an open book.

Both Suffolk Lib Dems and Labour parties are completely silent on their Council tax plans and so what will they be proposing this time 20%?, 30%?, 40%?, 50% rises or more?

Suffolk Conservatives have promised to delivery 4 years of 0% Council Tax rises, built on the track record of delivering 3 years so if you say inflation is 3% that’s a cut of 20% over the 7 years!

What a contrast and that is why you should vote next week.

Speeding in our villages

Showing Matt Hancock MP and Geoffrey Van Orden MEP the speed of traffic entering Lakenheath along Station Road

Showing Matt Hancock MP and Geoffrey Van Orden MEP the speed of traffic entering Lakenheath along Station Road

During the course of the last 4 years I have tried to survey every village in my Row Heath Division and along with Council Tax costs one of the other top issues is speeding through our villages. The other day I was out canvassing with Matthew Hancock our MP and joined by Geoffrey Van Orden and his wife Fanny and I took the opportunity to show then one of the issues we face in Lakenheath on Station Road.This road is long and straight and traffic does enter the village too fast, I think in most cases it’s not a case of drivers being anti-social it’s just that we all forget form time to time what speed is appropriate for which environment we are travelling in.

But I also think it’s fair to say for many people the 30mph speed signs are the point at which they slow down. This is particularly true on another of my Division’s roads as you enter Tuddenham St. Mary from the Higham end but the Highway code says it is the speed you should be doing as you come up to the signage, not the braking point!

Equally sometimes drivers use the sight up the road of the national speed limit signage as they exit a village to speed up, usually the signage is placed where it is to make sure at junctions as with Woodlands along Station Road in Lakenheath the speed is appropriate to make the junction safe.

Showing Matt Hancock MP and Geoffrey Van Orden MEP the speed of traffic in Station road, Lakenheath

Showing Matt Hancock MP and Geoffrey Van Orden MEP the speed of traffic exiting Lakenheath at the Woodlands junction

We have tried, over the years, many things from gateway signage to red road patches on the roads with 30mph painted as you enter our villages; all are effective for a time but over time, we all get used to them and ignore them. What is more effective is Police and community speed watch enforcement which we need to expanded equally it is the occasional nature of this type of activity which makes it so effective.

That’s why I am delighted to have been a part of the Suffolk County Councils Cabinet’s decision to purchase as series of new mobile warning signs that give you your speed as you approach, these will move from location to locations across Suffolk and I have already booked them for the known speeding entrances to many of our villages. They will come for a period of time remind people and just as drivers get used to them move on and reappear again a few months later, the best evidence is that this in conjunction with the other measures we have in place this will have an effect of slowing the average speed in our villages

On the Buses

I battled to bring the Suffolk Link Community Bus cover to Lakenheath & parts of Row Heath, now for the rest!

I battled to bring the Suffolk Link Community Bus cover to Lakenheath & parts of Row Heath, now for the rest!

Since I became a Councillor one of the most important issues raised with me by Row Heath’s residents is the bus service. In Suffolk outside of Ipswich there are few commercially viable routes and almost all have subsidy to varying degrees to provide a service.

A recent poll by Ipsos Mori on behalf of Age UK indicated that for over 65s the Concessionary Bus Pass and buses are almost as important as the NHS and certainly in our rural communities as people get older they begin to think about a time when they may not have a car and what living in our rural villages will look like then.

Equally the price of fuel seem to rise at an alarming rate consequently many people will simply not be able to afford a car in the future and so our public transport services will become more and more important.

Accordingly I have worked hard to see services maintained and new services introduced. My main successes are two fold firstly in Lakenheath we now have a service that allows people to get a bus to Mildenhall for connections to work and back again. And secondly in part of my patch we now have coverage form Suffolk Link Community Bus, which is a on demand bus service that seeks to provide services where scheduled ones do not cover both in terms of area and times, it’s not a taxi service but does provide a service.

http://www.suffolkonboard.com or call 01638 664 304

Of course there is a ways to go and as was recently pointed out to me at a meetings with residents the Concessionary Bus Pass gets you to Mildenhall to just miss a connection to Bury St. Edmunds on Market Day, equally the Community services does not yet cover the whole of Row Heath, The system is not perfect but I am determined it will improve and will work to make sure the services for the communities of Row Heath are continually improving.

At the county level I and my fellow Conservative’s remain fully committed to the Concessionary Bus Pass service which costs us all about £7Million a year to provide and within the financial restrains we set ourselves and the necessary reduction in Central Government funding, absolutely committed to providing as many scheduled services as we can and where they do not exist the continuing roll out of our bus on demand service.

Lakenheath Annual Village Meeting

Last Monday saw the Annual Village Parish Council meeting in Lakenheath and as I looked around the small crowd who attended I noticed that many of the people I have grown up with are getting older! Or is that just me! We discussed many things from housing development to street lights.

It was slightly surreal in that the Chairman of the Parish Council could not be at its annual meeting. His absence was a shame as I had a number of questions I felt, as a Village resident, that needed answering.

In my speech I talked about both Suffolk County Council matters and Forest Heath District Council matters not least my determination to drive forward the shared services project that Forest Heath District Council and St. Edmundsbury Borough Council have undertaken that has allowed FHDC to save in excess of £1million in management costs about the same as the necessary reduction in central government funding thus allowing the council to continue to delivery services and not put up the Council tax which would have had to rise by 46% to cover off the reduction in grant.

In the case of Suffolk County Council we have demanded that the Council ‘live within its means’ and made it understand we were elected to deliver services and protect the hard earned money of the people who elect us and not to constantly put up the Council tax. On Forest Heath District Council since being elected I have played my part in pushing for it to revolutionise the way it works and this has seen the introduction of a cabinet system, a new Leader, the shared back office and leadership team all of which has delivered savings, protected services and frozen the District Council tax.

It is a fact that Lib Dems, Labour and Conservative Councillors unanimously voted in favour of the joint services restructuring, with only one councillor voted against it and that councillor was none other than David Gathercole, the absent Councillor, so the question has to be just how much he wants to see people pay in Council Tax increases?

At Suffolk County Council we have delivered 3 years of 0% Council Tax increases and one of our manifesto pledges is to freeze the Council tax for the next 4 years so over a 7 year period if you take inflation at 3% per annum that a real 20% cut in County Council tax and alongside Conservative controlled FHDC and the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore this year excluding Parish Councils, that’s 0% across the board.

There are those who dismiss the importance of this and that councils must ever increase taxes I say what an utter load of rubbish. Councils must and should play their part in these difficult times, finding new ways to save money and deliver services

In Row Health’s villages there are many people struggling to make the family budget cope with no pay rises, or on a fixed income and the ever rising bills.

In Row Heath’s villages there is almost no gas supplies so heating is either electric or oil, and both are rising at an alarming rate, there are residents who are making food or fuel choices.

Councils are not businesses but with a Conservative business-like approach they can freeze Council tax, find new ways of working to reduce costs and deliver services and it is right and proper that they are held to account by elected Councillors to do just that.

Mildenhall College’s Academy Proposal

On Tuesday night I took time out from campaigning to attend a really important meeting that will have a significant effect on our community’s parents and children.

chatting with Ian Cleland Chief Executive of Academy Transformation Trust

chatting with Ian Cleland Chief Executive of Academy Transformation Trust

It was an open meeting at Mildenhall College to discuss their proposals to be come an Academy and to meet the organisation who they want to work with through the process, Academy Transformation Trust (ATT).

I was quite shocked that not one of my opponents bothered to turn up, I have read many things in others election leaflets that has nothing to do with the County Council elections or the work of the County Council but education is a County Council matter and how we go about improving the standards in our schools is of great concern to parents; so a hour spent in the principle school in our area surely is not too much to ask, apparently it is!

Representing an area is far more that stuffing a leaflet through door its about actually understand and influencing the decisions that are being made, as an elected representative that’s the job.

The proposal is that Mildenhall College will become Mildenhall College Academy and Tuesday was a chance to meet and question Keith Bishop, Regional operations Director for ATT and Ian Cleland Chief Executive of ATT

http://www.acedemytransformation.co.uk

I think this is great news for our school children in the three primary schools in Row Heath parents will have genuine choice in the future of an Academy in Mildenhall or the new Breckland Free School in Brandon. In Lakenheath I battled and secured free school transport to either.

I asked a couple of questions in the Q&A session and was pleased to learn that the Sponsor and the school are determined that the school remains a community one, that’s code for will not have a selective admissions policy and that they will seek to expand as housing numbers bring more children to our area.

Ian went on to explain their ambitions for Mildenhall to become a centre of excellent for leading edge technology with state of the art gaming and 3-D rendering facilities and courses and a wider further education offer.

Also about their organisation and the network of 17 Academies, 9 secondary’s schools and 7 primary schools they will provide including Methwold High School now called Iceni Academy which has become an Academy with the help of ATT.

Beyond working to raise the standards in the school one of the other challenges is the school building with a split site and continuing failure of the system buildings that makes up the bulk of the school. After the meeting I had a chat with Ian Cleland and we talked about our shared ambitions for single public sector hub on the Riverside School site in Mildenhall bringing investment and state of the art facilities for the school, Leisure, community and local government.

Exciting times ahead for our Row Heath’s children’s education.

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