Judy Terry: Ipswich Council should put more of its art on display – not buy up more items to languish in storage

29 Jul

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

In 2004, in an albeit short break (barely ten years), from Labour’s 25 year tenure controlling Ipswich Borough Council, the Conservatives came to the rescue of the town’s cultural heritage: its decline meant buildings were in an appalling state of non-repair – leaving theatres on the verge of closure – and museums partially closed with valuable assets neglected.

A priority was the museums and their wonderful collections, from porcelain and glass to over 1,000 works of art on canvas, including a number by Gainsborough and Constable, 15,000 artworks on paper and a large sculpture collection, as well as one of the largest and finest furniture collections in the country, including long-case clocks, and archaeology.

One of the biggest concerns was the lack of a detailed inventory, inadequate storage, and poor management.

Cutting a long story short, as we made improvements, taking advice from a range of experts, we also developed a partnership with Colchester’s museum service which operated to a much higher standard, led by a passionate, knowledgeable, professional curator. The partnership was a great success and I was pleased to see that the Council’s current, Labour, Executive recently agreed to continue the joint management programme.

However, I do have concerns about some elements of its new Museums Collections Development Policy including further acquisitions and “rationalisation & disposal”, or potential “destruction”, which we are assured will be “open and transparent”. The plans aren’t costed, although the council appears to expect support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund; neither is there any evidence of where/how new purchases will be displayed/stored.

Instead of opening the vaults and loft space, extracting items to put more of the existing, magnificent, collections on display, the portfolio holder has announced it is to prioritise collecting: local school uniforms, Ipswich Town players’ football kit and items around the Windrush, as well as Covid-19 memorabilia. It also intends to add to the already extensive archaeological collection, most of which is in storage, and can only be of interest to academics.

The intention is to provide “a more varied and rounded collection”, with a focus on “how people lived and worked in Ipswich over recent centuries”, reflecting the Museums’ role as Suffolk’s county town.

I welcome the plan to broaden the art collections, adding contemporary works, especially those by women. However, I would remind the portfolio holder that, when they returned to power in the town they abolished the gallery the Conservatives created within the town hall to showcase modern artwork by local artists. And there is now no such public facility for the enormous range of high-quality talent, apart from an annual student show at the University.

With town centres in further decline, cultural assets are essential to an area’s economic wellbeing, attracting visitors from far afield, as well as benefiting local people and businesses.

So, the new Policy could be so much more ambitious. Whilst Christchurch Mansion, standing in a fine parkland setting close to the town centre, is a popular attraction featuring a broad range of exhibits, with a welcoming café, the High Street museum is often described as ‘dull’, lacking easy accessibility, and little known even amongst residents, apart from occasional school visits. Ideally, it should be moved to a more visible location, accessible for people of all ages, including the disabled, and linked to the university on the Ipswich Waterfront.

Such a project wouldn’t happen overnight, but without aspiration nothing is ever achieved. It could be a sort of Disneyworld, using modern technology to whisk visitors to discovery sites alongside the displays (ideal for explaining the archaeology) and to illustrate how items were made – even employing computer games as a way to engage young people in the historical context of items.

Suffolk Archives are already embracing this approach at its new heritage centre, The Hold, on the Waterfront, with a family friendly journey through famous historical monuments, all imagined in LEGO bricks.

Artist, Warren Elsmore, and his team have created a celebration of this popular toy, from tiny recreations to a 1.5m medieval castle; visitors will also see models of local landmarks created by members of the public during lockdown. Events through to the end of September include creative workshops and showing LEGO movies.

Cllr. Andrew Reid, Suffolk County Council’s Heritage portfolio holder, says:

“It is fantastic to bring this superb Brick History exhibition to Suffolk, filled with models to make you smile, make you think, and inspire you to build a better world.” 

The Waterfront is also home to restaurants, private boat moorings, and a world-class luxury boatbuilder as well as historic barges, enabling visitors to take a trip down the River Orwell, enjoying the extensive wildlife en route to Felixstowe (Europe’s biggest container port) and Harwich, to understand the importance of seaborne traffic both in the past and present.

There are times when Ipswich feels like one of the neglected Red Wall towns in the North; it has lost its way under Labour, failing to realise its potential, and overtaken by Bury St. Edmunds. In 2019, a young, hardworking, Conservative MP was elected – if only the local council would acknowledge how he could help by using his access to Ministers to attract inward investment and big business. He could start by inviting the Chinese embassy to sponsor a permanent exhibition of the fine Chinese porcelain, which has never been released from storage in Christchurch Mansion’s roofspace.

Meanwhile, given historic buildings’ vulnerability to fire damage, I hope Ipswich Borough Council has commissioned Suffolk Fire Service to update its risk assessments for both museums, and when maintenance works are undertaken. Lessons need to be learnt from the devastation caused by lax protective measures at properties held in trust by various institutions elsewhere, where properties and their contents have been totally destroyed.

 

Judy Terry: Councils must curb their mania for imposing new rules

20 Jul

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

Recent events have seen trust in politics further eroded; ‘they are all liars’ is an increasingly common (although largely unfair) view, as democracy is replaced by dictatorship. Important decisions, across local authorities and government, have been implemented unchallenged because “social distancing” prevents face to face communication at meetings and in Parliament.

The pandemic seems to have given government a fresh lust for fines: e.g. £10,000 if Covid rules are broken, however unintentionally, whether having one extra person for coffee in the garden, or holding big events. With weddings and funerals restricted, this didn’t apply to the 65,000 people attending the Euros at Wembley, or the G7 international conference in Cornwall, where guests were filmed socialising – without masks.

HS2 continues destroying ancient woodland, whilst the government promises to plant millions more trees, which will take decades to mature! New housing policies will inevitably invade the Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, including a scheme given permission that overlooks the River Orwell in Suffolk; so what is the point of trying to protect our landscape, when regulations can be so easily overturned, without proper public consultation?

Thankfully, Ipswich Borough Council refused consent for a new house on four acres of woodland at the heart of the town comprising an invaluable habitat for a wide range of species, including hedgehogs, stag beetles, bees, and a variety of birds, thriving because of long-standing Tree Protection Orders (TPO). Appeals were also unsuccessful and it is now hoped that a local primary school can become involved in future preservation and maintenance.

This brings me to Suffolk County Council’s threat to fine residents if a hedge bordering a barely used metre long footpath in the same location isn’t drastically cut back. Subsequent works resulted in the destruction of a blackbird habitat where they had nested for at least 10 years. The hedge was full of flowers attracting bees (a threatened species) and forming berries to feed a range of birds throughout the winter.

Now Ministers are giving councils the authority to fine drivers £70 for minor traffic offences (£130 in London). But will the fines actually be paid by the worst offenders instead of those caught in breach accidentally when the lights change too quickly, or they are lost and take a wrong turn? Are irresponsible cyclists and scooter riders included; and how will they be traced, when there is nothing to identify them?

A year ago one of my neighbours kept receiving threatening letters from the borough council; apparently someone had registered a car at his address although never having lived there, building up hundreds of pounds in parking fines. Despite repeatedly telling the authority it was not his car, and he didn’t know the driver, eventually the bailiffs knocked. It wasn’t until he asked for my advice and I contacted the Chief Executive on his behalf that the situation was resolved. But the driver was never traced and is no doubt still collecting parking fines.

Even pet lovers are now regarded as potential cash cows. This autumn, new legislation to ‘protect’ animals will threaten cat owners with £500 fines if their pets aren’t microchipped. It costs just £20 or £30, and both my middle-aged rescue cats were done on my vet’s advice when I first got them 10 years ago. I’ve always had cats, and can’t understand how such a large financial penalty can be justified.

Will farmers be fined for unchipped cats running wild, reducing mice and rat populations within outbuildings? And will dogs be subject to the same rules? (Let’s hope that both Downing Street’s pets are chipped, otherwise more ‘donors’ will have to pay up.) I’ve always believed that providing information, and incentivising co-operation is the best policy to encourage compliance, so surely there would be more benefit in working with veterinary practices and Cats Protection to organise ‘Vaccination Days’ at a fixed price, with appropriate publicity to support pet lovers, who may be unaware of the need to microchip – or who may not speak English. The difficulties caused by isolation during the last 18 months or so have highlighted the importance of pets in reducing loneliness and helping cope with depression, especially for the elderly and disabled – £500 fines is sheer bullying. And how will such a scheme be managed? Are cat owners to be forced to put collars on their pets, which my own vet advised against because cats are independent; they roam and even elasticated collars can get caught on branches, with the potential for strangling them.

Meanwhile, I and a neighbour could be fined for having some pots, housing bee-friendly plants, in place for more than 20 years on the short footpath on our front boundary, only used by four residents and the postman, overlooking a private car park. They do not block access, but a malicious complaint by someone living nearby for more than 25 years, who never uses the footpath (and never puts her three waste bins away) resulted in the council having to take action and ask for their removal. Even the Cabinet member responsible, who is dealing with similar residents’ challenges elsewhere, agrees this policy should be reviewed to allow discretion in some circumstances.

The authors of these punishments have no idea of the stress they cause to the law-abiding, which accounts for the vast majority of British people. Yet it is they who are the most vulnerable because they respect the law – and feel responsible for other people – unlike those who breach the law at every opportunity in the knowledge that they will never be caught and made to pay up!

The government’s energy should be diverted to protecting the law-abiding, not penalising them at every opportunity to fill its coffers, whilst failing to even chastise – let alone fine or sack – some Ministers and officials for breaching Covid rules and the Ministerial Code. It is increasingly evident that there definitely is one rule for them, and another for the rest of us.

Judy Terry: Defeating the scourge of litter is just one example of the power of volunteering

6 May

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

The last year of unparalleled economic and emotional uncertainty due to the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of community, and the way people have come together to support and look after each other.

For example, 750,000 people volunteered to help the NHS ‘test and trace’ when the call went out during the first lockdown. But volunteering is nothing new; it is embedded in the British DNA, with individuals and groups spending their free time doing a range of unpaid work, quietly and modestly, contributing to society, saving the State and local authorities billions of pounds annually.

So why did the Census not have any questions about volunteering, when the data is supposed to inform and prioritise future policy and investment for the next ten years?

Charities couldn’t survive without their volunteers, manning shops (when open) and foodbanks, as well as telephone helplines, including Childline and the Samaritans; volunteers are crucial to organising fundraising events, engaging with the disabled and lonely, masterminding amateur theatre performances, and managing local clubs which are key to the safety and security – as well as bringing fun – to their communities.

‘Saving Lives at Sea’ is a series of real-life incidents filmed by highly trained RNLI volunteers, illustrating their bravery and generosity of spirit in some of the most frightening circumstances. But they are not the only volunteers putting their own lives at risk to save others: in some locations, fire services rely on their volunteers for rapid response. We must also be grateful to the Mountain Rescue Service for going out in all weathers to help those at risk, as well as volunteer ambulance drivers and those who assist the Police and homeless.

Volunteer coastguards are also essential to the safety of experienced and amateur sailors as well as protecting beaches and swimmers, and supporting the Immigration Service, saving illegal immigrants from drowning when their boats are overwhelmed.

At times of crisis, including floods or wildfires destroying communities and countryside, volunteers immediately arrive with tractors and other equipment, food and hot drinks, they help with searches to find and transport the most vulnerable at particular risk, opening their homes and public buildings to offer comfort to victims. They also put their own lives at risk to save livestock, wildlife, and domestic pets.

With the environment threatened by waste, groups of litterpickers regularly spend hours collecting the rubbish thrown out of cars, left on beaches, and dropped in the countryside, endangering wildlife as well as potentially causing damaging fires. Volunteers help with mental health and wellbeing on allotments, welcoming the lonely and forgotten to tea and coffee with cake in ‘man sheds’, creating a friendly atmosphere for sharing concerns and expertise.

Retired Ministers routinely volunteer to conduct services in their local places of worship, across all religions, providing leadership and comfort in the good, as well as bad, times.

National Trust and Museums rely on volunteer guides, who also man public libraries, or put themselves forward to become parish councillors and school governors. Volunteer sports coaches are key to mentoring and developing young people’s fitness, keeping them out of trouble by giving them the confidence to recognise and develop their own abilities, learning to socialise, and giving them hope and ambition as they plan their futures.

Whilst it was always common practice for neighbours to babysit for each other, and look after pets when their owners are away, during the last difficult year, many thousands more people have relied on the kindness of neighbours, doing their shopping, taking their dogs for walks, helping with some garden maintenance or painting fences. People of all ages, from all walks of life, have responded to these challenges, bringing empathy, and humour, where appropriate, during doorstep conversations.

Once the vaccine rollout began, volunteers were on hand to help manage sites, and drive the elderly and vulnerable to get their jabs, celebrating the likelihood of long-awaited freedom to see friends and family again with them.

Volunteers have a remarkable humility; they are driven by a strong sense of duty and a willingness to share whatever knowledge and skills they have, expecting nothing in return.

Consequently, the Census was a wasted opportunity, when this commitment to others is evidently so undervalued that it won’t be recorded, leaving a massive gap in the ‘data’ analysis. How will this be reflected in expenditure – and where it is directed – over the coming decade?

It is a significant failure because cash-strapped Government and local councils appear dismissive of their (hidden) reliance on volunteers who save taxpayers billions of pounds. Something to be celebrated rather than ignored; perhaps volunteers should adopt the massive egos of some politicians to be appreciated.

Judy Terry: The pandemic has made waste disposal more challenging

4 Mar

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

As with so much else across the economy, the Covid-19 pandemic is having an impact on waste disposal, increasing costs to the taxpayer.

Face masks, required to save human life, are destroying the environment. Research by finder.com, estimates that as many as 54 million are deliberately, or accidentally, discarded after single use every day, in roads, parks, rivers, stuck in trees and bushes, threatening birds and other wildlife, caught up in the straps.

Cllr Paul West, the Cabinet Member for Waste Services on Suffolk County Council,urges people to dispose of them in their householder’s residual waste bin, and not recycling bins. He also advises against anyone using their bare hands to pick up a stranger’s used mask because of the potential for cross-contamination:

“We’ve put advice on our Recycling website, but there needs to be a national awareness campaign, reminding everyone of the damage being done if face masks and other protective equipment, like plastic gloves, aren’t disposed of sensitively.”

The taxpayer is also picking up the cost of collecting waste from Lateral Flow Test sites, eventually ending up in the County’s Energy for Waste, “which costs around £90 per tonne to dispose of. But the main issue is logistics with so many different organisations, across a range of sites: the NHS, Environment Agency, DfE and Councils involved, as well as the cost of collection, as it’s likely to be a lot of light bags instead of heavy volumes in each truck.”

Waste from Vaccination Centres is, however, “the responsibility of the normal NHS clinical waste contractors, for secure disposal.”

Inevitably, adapting to these new demands reflects the importance of Suffolk’s long-held ambitions to create the Greenest County, and its continuing investment in improving access to its eleven recycling centres, managed by FCC Environment.

Attracting an average 27,000 visits a week in normal times, numbers virtually halved during the last year, following the introduction of a booking system to ensure social distancing during the pandemic. Now being upgraded, “to manage demand, getting more waste through in fewer visits, making it easier and quicker to make and amend bookings, up to a week in advance, and reducing potential queues on the Highway,” explains Cllr. West. Users are advised to wear sensible footwear, gloves and face coverings whilst on site.

Meanwhile, Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, are planned:

“To provide an accurate count of vehicle numbers, recording how much time each vehicle is on site. We can then maximise site availability as well as develop new and existing sites to meet the needs of a rising local population.”

Data from the system, “will also assist in identifying rogue traders fraudulently using the free household waste service to dispose of trade waste. Tradespeople can use the sites at a very reasonable cost, based on what they dispose of, but some – by no means all – don’t comply, so the system will be able to identify frequent visitors. Our priority is fairness for legitimate householders.”

Cllr. West admits that illegally dumping trade waste, whether at the County’s centres or in rural or urban areas, is difficult to control all over the country. “The chances of getting caught, and the penalties, do not match the crime and is part of a wider discussion.”

As part of its continuing investment programme, Suffolk County Council (SCC) is also investigating the feasibility of replacing Haverhill’s current recycling centre, by building a new, bigger, facility at the town’s existing Waste Transfer Station, providing improved access, and reducing congestion. However, the existing operation would continue to take in waste from homes and businesses from parts of the West Suffolk council area, for bulking and transporting onwards for reprocessing.

Cllr. West says:

“This is an opportunity to improve the service, making it fit for purpose for many years to come, offering a more cost-effective solution for the Haverhill area. We are in discussion with stakeholders on the feasibility of these plans, which are supported by West Suffolk Council.”

Responsible for day to day management, FCC Environment’s Operations Director, Steve Longdon, comments:

“We are pleased to bring our knowledge and experience of operating nearly 100 local recycling centres in association with our clients across the country to support SCC in developing plans to design, build and operate a new, improved, facility.”

SCC is also celebrating that planning consent has been granted for major improvements to its Foxhall recycling centre, including the Re-use space, on the outskirts of Ipswich, following public consultation.

Cllr. West is delighted that “we have the green light to go ahead with the works later this year. They will have a significant impact, making it easier and more accessible for users, whilst also making it more efficient for emptying the large containers:

“The easier we make it for everyone to recycle, the better the outcome for our environment and the people of Suffolk.”

 

Judy Terry: Don’t neglect Suffolk in the vaccination programme

29 Jan

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

At 6pm on Sunday, 17th January, front line workers, including teachers, were invited to Ipswich Hospital for vaccination; they were to show their NHS number and work identity badge. Having been alerted to the opportunity, and despite the short notice, several teachers rushed over, greeting friends as they arrived to join the queue, thankful to be prioritised.

However, a teacher at a large primary school was turned away, alongside some colleagues, because they worked at an Academy, and vaccinations were only being offered to those directly employed by Suffolk County Council (SCC).

Meanwhile, they watched as office staff, who certainly don’t work in the front line, were accepted because SCC paid their wages.

Is this Government policy? If so, it is blatant discrimination; does it also mean teachers at private schools will not be prioritised as front line workers?

All teachers, wherever they work, are doing their very best to sustain education, rising to the challenges of endless U-turns, and diktats, because they are committed to the long term wellbeing of their students, keeping them safe and monitoring their progress. Whoever employs them, teachers pay their taxes and National Insurance like everyone else.

The following day, Monday, 18th January, a couple approaching their eighties living in a rural Suffolk village were contacted at 11pm; their rapid response secured vaccination appointments the following afternoon. But how are other elderly people being contacted; a 93-year-old is still waiting.

Not everyone has a mobile, especially the elderly, and most would be in bed by 11. What about people who aren’t registered with a GP practice?

According to an ITV Anglia report on 21st January, vaccinations in Suffolk are at the lowest level in the country, except London. Covid cases may be declining, but that is surely not an excuse for vaccination centres to be deployed so slowly.

Whilst some GPs have already given patients two doses, and are now calling in the 70+ age group, others are still waiting for supplies. This is leading to disquiet amongst the local population, including Terry Waite, who expressed his concerns to ITV.

The county may be Conservative, with all MPs (including Matt Hancock) and all but one (Ipswich) councils “blue”, but if the 700,000 plus residents feel they are being ignored by the Health Department, without vaccination supplies to support its elderly retired population, as well as front line workers, the forthcoming local elections – whenever they happen this year – could deliver a shock to Downing Street.

People of all ages are dying, not just Covid victims, but from delayed cancer or heart treatment, whilst others remain in daily agony, increasingly immobile, awaiting hip and knee replacements which have already been deferred by a year. Vaccination appears to be the only route to a degree of “normality”, alleviating the overwhelming stress on health workers, as well as their patients.

The same is true when it comes to hospitality and tourism, key industries in the area, but threatened by the pandemic, with dozens of businesses likely to close permanently, contributing to rising unemployment, with even apprentices made redundant. Vaccinating the local population is vital to reviving the economy, and ensuring that once-thriving companies, with excellent leadership and reputations – like Southwold-based Adnams – have a strong future again.

The Chief Executive, Andy Wood, who was also the highly successful founding Chairman of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (NALEP), appeared frustrated, and quite emotional, during a recent TV interview. The company has cancelled pub rents for the present, supporting tenants whose venues are so popular with their communities, crucial to social interaction in small towns and villages across the region. Whilst the main brewery remains partially operational, able to sell beer online, the hotels and restaurants are closed instead of bustling with activity, and staff are furloughed.

The Government appears to be debating that hospitality remains closed until May, but fails to understand the financial implications of such a decision when they are integral to the national and local economy, with millions spent to make businesses Covid safe.

Southwold is a shadow of itself without Adnams at full throttle; small and medium sized businesses depend on the thousands of tourists, second home owners, and visitors its services draw to the town all year. This is just one example of the many small towns and villages – right across the country – which are equally challenged because of the pandemic.

Adnams is just one of hundreds of successful Suffolk businesses, employing thousands of people, with many suffering a double whammy in the wake of Brexit: engineering, boatbuilding, creative industries, professional services, the sciences, retail, food and agriculture, as well as hospitality, reflecting the range of expertise available, and desperate for a route map out of the current crisis.

As national debt soars beyond £2.1 trillion, the Prime Minister has apparently recruited 30 top business leaders to advise the Government on how to boost the economy as it emerges from the current crisis: BP, Tesco, BT, Jaguar Land Rover and the McKinsey Consultancy, are just some of the big names “representing industries from retail and hospitality to finance, science and technology”.

They are invited to “share their views on the economy, providing a commercial perspective on policy and highlight obstacles to economic recovery”. Quarterly meetings (via zoom) are planned; hardly indicating any degree of urgency.

But where is the local voice? Big business, with leaders on vast multi-million salaries, can’t offer the same insight as people like Andy Wood, who quickly established NALEP as one of the best LEPs in the country, identifying and funding key projects to maximise growth, linking skills training to business needs, and proactively promoting opportunities for inward investment.

It is regional business leaders who have their hands on the local pulse, who have the knowledge and contacts to know what will/won’t work to enable regeneration, where to target investment – to provide dynamic innovative solutions to the challenges – so money isn’t wasted. Ministers should listen, and learn, instead of patronising and ignoring these voices.

The Government has done well to acquire vaccinations and establish regional centres, but delivering immunisation is something of a lottery, so please don’t lose the plot by neglecting Suffolk, or it will not be a net contributor to the Treasury for much longer.

Judy Terry: Proposal for a Suffolk Freeport

4 Jan

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

Suffolk County Council (SCC) has been busy in recent months, bringing community, university, and business leaders together to restore confidence and rebuild the economy as the country extricates itself from the Brexit and Covid shambles. Focusing attention on optimising the potential of the region’s coast and ports, including improving some neglected infrastructure, will be crucial.

Firstly, public and private sector business and local government leaders across the eastern region have set out their joint vision for an innovative new Freeport on the East coast, linking the Ports of Felixstowe and Harwich. Both owned by Hutchison Ports, and employing thousands of highly skilled workers, it would be a strategic hub linking UK importers and exporters with suppliers and customers across the globe at the heart of vital trading routes to Asia and Northern Europe.

Already Europe’s largest container port, handling some of the world’s biggest container ships, Felixstowe is a super-efficient operation, as I was lucky enough to discover during a private tour a couple of years ago. There is no doubt that developing further links with Harwich will create an impressive partnership, whilst continuing to respect the wide range of wildlife, including seal habitats.

Pioneering the next generation of ports to drive and support the government’s local and national regeneration strategies, Freeport East will build on excellent road and rail links to the Midlands and North of England, currently the destination for almost a third of Felixstowe’s throughput.

Creating a manufacturing, green energy, and innovation hub, capitalising on the latest advances in digital technology and scientific centres across the region, as well as the Galloper Windfarm maintenance base at Harwich, Freeport East is ideally positioned to lead on decarbonisation of the country’s energy needs, boosting economic growth.

Work is now in hand to formulate a detailed bid in response to the government’s Freeport prospectus.

Clemence Cheng, Executive Director of Hutchison Ports, said:

“The combination of these two ports offers the UK a unique opportunity in the post-Brexit world, sitting as they do at the main junction between the UK’s principal trade route to and from the Far East and key freight links to Northern Europe.

“Together with the leading edge technical skills that come with the partnership with universities, including Cambridge, this combination can serve as a powerful magnet to bring new investment into the UK, and the immediate area around the ports.”

Meanwhile, in a positive boost for Lowestoft, the Government finally approved the strong business case to construct the new Gulf Wing bridge, allowing the council to access £73.39m funding from the Department of Transport. Construction should now start on the town’s third crossing next spring, with a view to opening in the summer of 2023.

Also in East Suffolk, funds have now been committed to refurbishing the bailey bridge crossing the River Blyth, connecting Walberswick with Southwold. Deemed unsafe, it was closed in October 2018 for temporary repairs, reopening that December, subject to developing a long term strategy. Now completed by Suffolk Highways, a detailed review of the bridge’s sustainability will ensure its viability in the years to come, with essential works planned for 2021.

Cllr. Richard Smith was delighted at the news:

“The bridge is an incredibly important structure in the east of the county, used by thousands of visitors and locals exploring coastal walks, or shopping and working between the two communities. Its refurbishment is a top priority, although requiring another temporary closure for safety reasons, but we will engage with local parish and town councils, as well as key stakeholders to minimise the impact.”

As Brexit pressures accelerate, Suffolk’s Public Sector Leaders have monitored its impact through a special Task Force, recruiting two specialist Trade Business Advisors in 2019, planning mitigation measures for residents and local businesses. It has now agreed to invest a further £490,000 over the next three years to support continued strategic growth.

The money includes £140,000 from the Government’s Brexit fund, with the balance of £350,000 from a pooled business rates budget. It will be used by Suffolk Chamber of Commerce to strengthen proactive engagement with EU businesses, providing tailored guidance to local enterprises looking to enter international markets, as well as protect their interests under new rules applying from 1st January.

Cllr Matthew Hicks, SCC’s Leader, who also chairs the Public Sector Leaders Group, explained:

“This is an investment in the future prosperity of Suffolk’s economy and our communities, supporting business supply chains both locally and across the rest of the UK. Our ambition has always been to work collaboratively to minimise the risks posed by Brexit, preparing businesses to maximise the opportunities with information and counselling, alleviating the anxiety and uncertainty to drive growth in employment and skills.

“Our aim is to expand long term capacity, reaping the benefits of future trade agreements.” 

Suffolk exports nearly half a billion pounds worth of goods per annum. Key issues in future will include border controls and supply-chain resilience, as well as access to new markets, and arrangements with freight forwarders and businesses in the logistics/shipping industries.

Judy Terry: The demands to make car travel more expensive ignore the political and economic realities

21 Dec

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

Lifelong Conservatives are not alone in losing patience with Downing Street’s arrogant dictatorship, and its headline-grabbing policies, often based on questionable data, but designed to appease a minority of campaigners who don’t suffer the financial constraints of the rest of us. Instead of patronising and banning, it’s time to engage with members of the public, and trust them.

The Chancellor’s frank assessment of the economic challenges ahead, as Government borrowing hits record levels was a wakeup call; lavish unnecessary spending has to be brought under control, so let’s hope – as he joked he would – he revokes the Prime Minister’s credit card. Constant policy changes are expensive, undermining confidence within business, the population and public sector, inhibiting growth, which will be crucial over the coming years. A case in point is the PM’s sudden ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars in just nine years’ time, instead of the original 2040 deadline.

This decision will impact the poorest and most disadvantaged beyond the Westminster bubble: the ‘left behind’ in the Red Wall and rural areas. For example, Suffolk is a net contributor to the Treasury, but, as I saw first hand in my ten years as a councillor and primary school governor, it has areas of serious deprivation beyond the posh weekend homes by the seafront. 75,000 people, including 22,000 in older age groups, are in income deprivation; average salaries are around £28,000, although a lot of employment is seasonal. This compares with £25,000 a year in Doncaster, and a national average of £38,600 (£33,300 for women).

MPs, of course are paid £81,932 a year, plus expenses and allowances for additional responsibilities, as well as generous financial entitlements at the end of their ‘service’. It is also now evident that many receive additional income from a range of other employment, as directors or advisers to major corporations – opportunities not available to ‘ordinary people’.

Unlike Ed Miliband, the ‘two kitchens’ Doncaster North MP, or Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, with his private plane (making him part of the one per cent of the world’s population responsible for harmful emissions) and £44,000 electric car, the majority of people are likely to struggle with daily expenses. Mortgages or rent, feeding their children, and covering energy costs, which consume 25 per cent of income; holidays are likely to be a day out, rather than the Prime Minister’s luxurious £15,000 break in the Caribbean earlier this year.

Although 81 per cent of households nationally have access to a car, they are using them less at present; 10m households simply cannot afford even the cheapest electric car, so they will retain their aging petrol or diesel indefinitely! The country can’t afford to subsidise change as it did a decade ago, to encourage the switch to hybrids. So, we have to accept that, with public transport expensive, and limited services in rural areas, people need their cars: to get to work (often for unsocial overnight and weekend duty) in factories and retail distribution centres, in care homes and the NHS, or on farms. Higher paid office workers can work from home, but our essential workers can’t.

Pensioners living on little more than the state pension, and the disabled, need their cars to get to GPs, hospital appointments, meet up with family (when permitted) and do essential shopping. Their budgets don’t allow them to be spendthrift with online shopping, even if they have a computer and could get a slot, and riding a bike is unlikely to be a safe option.

There is also the question of insurance, which is more expensive (over £600 for the cheapest) for electric cars because repair costs and maintenance are higher. Electric cars have a limited driving range of around 100 miles for older vehicles, rising to 239 mph, so recovery services are increasingly essential when drivers are stranded with flat batteries, potentially risking collisions. According to the AA, it is ‘on track to recover more than 600 in two years, equating to one a day’. However, they need to be transported with all four wheels off the ground, having to wait for a flatbed truck.

The next question is: when few homes – even in the richest parts of Kensington and Chelsea or Islington – have private parking, how is electricity to be provided for recharging, at what cost, and who pays? If electricity supplies can be temporarily cut, without compensation, from certain properties with smart meters when the National Grid is overwhelmed by demand, could this impact on recharging electric cars, leaving them unavailable for family or work emergencies?

According to a recent media report, 84 per cent of local authorities have no on-street charging points, and it would cost over £45 billion to install them. Never mind the disruption as roads are dug up all over the country; my road has only now reopened after two months to improve the gas infrastructure. It’s just as well I spent £3,500 to replace my gas boiler last year, because even those are to be banned in three years’ time, with yet another diktat demanding all new properties have ‘air source’ heat pumps, which are four times more expensive and less efficient, but will add to the cost of social and private housing.

Delaying these environmental changes, reverting to the original deadlines, would not only avoid increasing our horrendous levels of State borrowing and debt, but protect stretched councils, businesses and voters from even higher tax rises at a national and council level over the next decade, which can only lead to increased personal debt, and potentially homelessness, as job losses continue to rise. The Treasury is allegedly also debating introducing a £1 per mile charge for using the roads, already paid for by taxpayers; will it apply to cyclists, even if they do use pavements instead?

Following the November announcement, anyone’s petrol or diesel car is worth virtually nothing – however recently purchased, yet replacing with an electric car will be double the price of even the most modest vehicle. How can those on average incomes/pensions afford it? With so many businesses – including Suffolk’s famed breweries, vineyards and vital agriculture, as well as coach companies crucial to Tourism – struggling to recover from the lockdown, having to renew company fleets will be another nail in their coffins.

Despite promised delays on banning commercial vehicles, there will still be a cost to the public sector in replacing millions of vehicles, from ambulances and police cars, to buses, waste trucks and mobile libraries, as well as military vehicles. A lot of council employees actually use their own cars for work: social services, town planning, engineers and councillors on site visits, and directors travelling to meetings, etc. Will their already generous mileage allowances be raised to cover the extra costs of owning electric cars?

The UK may have left the EU, but Tourism is important on both sides of the Channel, and that means that British citizens will wish to continue visiting the Continent by car, when viable. However, unless there are charging points across Europe, and on the car ferries, it looks as if the Prime Minister will confine us all to barracks. At present, expensive hybrids are the only way to get from one side of France to the other if you can’t use a petrol or diesel powered car! How will foreign tourists to the UK be affected, and foreign logistics companies which use UK roads free of charge, whereas British lorries pay substantial annual fees on the Continent?

There’s been no mention of the cost to scrap banned petrol and diesel cars; will councils be responsible? If so, at what cost – both environmentally and financially – to local residents?

With High Streets ravaged, entertainment, sporting events and hospitality decimated, and ill-conceived commercial property investments failing, there is already talk of councils going bankrupt as income crashes. The 5% council tax increase next year, adding £100 to annual bills, won’t be enough to salvage them. No doubt this will be a key issue in next year’s elections, so the Government will need to be prepared with solutions which don’t penalise ‘ordinary people’.

Judy Terry: The East of England Ambulance Service needs to be put under new management

12 Nov

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

At last, exactly a month after the Care Quality Commission (CQC ) published its latest report, the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust has been put into Special Measures. This is amid claims of a ‘toxic work environment’ and ‘bullying normalised’. NHS England’s Regional Director commented: “…there are long standing concerns around culture, leadership and governance.”

So why has it taken so long for NHS England to actually take action, when it is now evident that the Trust has repeatedly breached legal requirements in the last four years, and successive reports were an indictment against the poor leadership which has been at the heart of the Trust’s challenges for years?

13 cases of sexual misconduct and predatory behaviour, including staff abusing patients, were made to the Police between April 2019 and March 2020.

Last autumn, three ambulance staff at the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust died unexpectedly within days of each other; at the time, alleged to be suicide, with Coroner reports awaited.

Despite an internal investigation in the wake of these tragedies, amid ‘escalating concerns of risk to patient and staff safety’, seven ‘whistleblowers’, including some in leadership roles, called for a further Care Quality Commission (CQC) visit. The inspection, conducted in June and July, resulted in another damning report, published on 30th September 2020.

Key issues identified include:

  • Repeated breaches since 2016 of Regulation 17 (good governance) of Health & Social Care Act 2008;
  • 12 breaches of legal requirements;
  • A poor culture and ineffective governance, with senior leaders showing a lack of awareness of some of the fundamental requirements to safeguard patients and staff from abuse;
  • Senior leaders being ‘combative and defensive’ when facing reasonable challenge, and lacking ‘adequate skills, knowledge and experience for their roles’;
  • High levels of bullying, harassment and discrimination;
  • A disconnect between senior leaders and staff, with inadequate support for staff to raise concerns without fear of reprisal.

The CQC reported the Trust to the Equality & Human Rights Commission due to “potential breaches of the Equality Act 2010”, but was not specific about reasons for the referral.

Despite this commentary, once again, the CQC noted ‘requires improvement’. Fortunately, however, the Chief Inspector of Hospitals recommended that the Trust be placed into Special Measures.

A new chairman was appointed to the Trust in November 2019; a former Royal Mail regional director, Nicola Scrivens’ experience includes chairing Cambridge Housing Association, and Cambridge Community Services NHS Trust, but one has to ask if the appointment was an open process, when the Trust has been accused of ‘nepotism abuse’.

On receipt of the CQC’s latest report, she acknowledged the shortcomings:

“The report calls out where we need to improve and we will now do everything possible, as fast as possible, to make the improvements required….. we are working to take action to address these concerns and put this right for the long term.

“The Trust aims to provide outstanding quality of care and performance for patients, and be an exceptional place to work, volunteer and learn. … the executive team has again reinforced its commitment to listen to and support anyone who raises concerns.”

So what does being in Special Measures actually mean? This is surely an opportunity for an outsider, rather than an NHS insider, to bring objectivity and an empathetic culture to this vital service, someone committed to protecting staff (and patients) rather than managers’ interests?

Unfortunately, such an idea doesn’t appear to be on the agenda; instead, plans include an Improvement Director, and buddying up with other ambulance services; a full time ‘Freedom to speak up’ guardian has already been appointed.

And what criteria will be applied for the Trust to exit? Presumably, recommendations from previous reports will form the basis for success; just last November the Trust concluded a short consultation with staff, patients and various organisations on a Corporate Strategy for 2020-2025 which identified a range of key issues, including:

  • Provide long term leadership stability to ensure the Trust is well led;
  • Ensure staff feel valued and supported, with emphasis on wellbeing and mental health;
  • Improve training and development to help staff reach their full potential.

In December, following the paramedics’ deaths, a further report was commissioned to examine ‘the circumstances surrounding the deaths to ensure that all appropriate actions were taken and will continue to be taken, to ensure staff welfare is the highest priority and learning identified and translated into improvements by the organisation to mitigate the reoccurrence of any similar events’.

Shared with the CQC, NHS England/Improvement, relevant coroners and families, the twelve recommendations noted ‘the need to make improvements around guidance, policies and additional training and support for managers and staff’ and included:

  • Develop training for managers in supporting staff with mental health problems – in partnership with specialist mental health professionals;
  • Consider how it can contribute to and learn from the range of suicide prevention strategies and initiatives across its catchment area and incorporate suicide prevention into its strategic goals;
  • Establish a programme of change and development to address sexual harassment and change the behaviours of staff and managers that enable it to thrive;
  • Amend the Disciplinary Policy in relation to suspension of staff to include a clause reflecting the need to undertake a risk assessment at the time the decision to suspend is made;
  • Review its arrangements for first line management support in order to move to a model that provides front line staff with consistent and regular management support;
  • Senior operational managers should be reminded of their responsibilities under the Duty of Candour Policy; and, crucially,
  • Carefully consider the findings of all current investigations, together with this one, to assess any common themes or consistent messages that would suggest the need for remedial actions and further organisational development initiatives.

At the time, the Chief Executive, responded:

“I am committed to instilling a culture which sees, respects and cares for all staff… we are making progress on our action plan to address these recommendations and half our actions will be completed by the end of May (2020), with all recommendations addressed by the end of September.”

That went well didn’t it!

The Trust receives about a million emergency calls a year, employing more than 4,000 staff, covering six counties: Bedfordshire, Cambridge, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, with 19 Clinical Commissioning Groups, which are supposed to have some responsibility for ‘commissioning’ ambulance services, but are silent. However, Cambridge MP, Daniel Zeichner, praised the caring and responsive service, acknowledging that the Trust’s troubled history is due to leadership shortcomings, “I hope this latest action will be a wake-up call to management… “

But Covid appears to have prevented Health & Welbeing Boards meeting – once again, I urge them to get together to create a sub-committee to monitor the Trust and its progress under Special Measures. They have a responsibility to hold people to account, and owe it to the wonderful frontline and back office staff who literally save lives, and to their local residents (or should I say voters).

Judy Terry: Local authorities should be promoting the armed forces as a career choice

29 Oct

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

Despite facing a potential unemployment crisis, with up to 4 million out of a job, especially affecting young people, I haven’t heard a single Minister highlighting the extensive career opportunities across the UK’s Armed Services, which are keen to recruit the best men and women to apprenticeships and officer training.

British Forces are amongst the best in the world, highly respected internationally for their leadership and effectiveness, both in combat and when delivering care and support to populations faced with environmental disasters. They work and train in partnership with other Western forces, including America and Europe, across the world, to protect us – and our interests.

Billions of pounds are invested annually in training and equipment, including new aircraft carriers.

Whatever their rank, Forces members are highly skilled decision-makers, building trust with colleagues, used to taking the initiative as well as responding to emergencies both at home and abroad. Within the last year, for example, the Army was deployed in flood zones around the UK, helping to save communities, built the Nightingale hospitals, and is now assisting at Covid-19 test centres.

The Prime Minister is even considering calling on the Army to assist Police in controlling breaches of pandemic protective measures, although Parliament hasn’t been consulted.

Unfortunately, this year’s annual Remembrance Day events to celebrate our military heroes will be curtailed for obvious reasons, but the minute’s silence will still serve as a reminder of how much we owe to them across the generations.

So, young people with good A levels and degrees could serve their country, saving lives, developing fantastic careers, travelling the world, employing their exceptional skills and knowledge, whilst earning a generous salary, from £15,000 as an apprentice to over £50,000.

According to the various websites (just google the Ministry of Defence), there are over 100 roles: from combat to engineer, medical services: nurses, doctors, dentists, radiographers, as well as IT, with cyber security and intelligence an important growth sector. Divers, dog handlers, police services, linguists, chefs, pilots, musicians, chaplains, deck officers, managers, air traffic controllers, logistics… – the world could literally be your oyster. These are lifetime skills, which can be transferred to other organisations, whether in the public sector or private industry.

Unlike private schools, there is a general reluctance in state schools to encourage careers in the Services, which inevitably impacts on diversity ambitions. Given the unemployment crisis, now is the time for local authorities to organise more structured career guidance, using films to illustrate the range of opportunities available, and zoom sessions with members of the Services, representing all ranks and specialisms.

The Government has also launched its campaign to recruit 20,000 new police officers, and has committed to expanding green energy and wind farms, but too few young people are aware of how to apply, or what qualifications are needed. There are some fantastic opportunities, with tailored training available; West Suffolk College is an example of how courses are being adapted for new recruits, as well as older people looking to retrain. Local authorities just need to rise to the challenge and communicate.

Judy Terry: Local elections could see voters who are angry with the Goverment being the ones who bother to vote

1 Oct

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

We are just eight months away from the next local elections, scheduled for 6th May, 2021, including County and district councils, 13 directly elected mayors, and 40 Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) – deferred from 2020.

For obvious reasons, as campaigning starts, activists cannot knock on doors, but conversations with voters in front gardens and on the street, with friends in socially distanced pubs, indicate some sympathy for the Government having to deal with the Covid crisis. However, frustration is growing over the Prime Minister’s absence, a perceived lack of leadership, and confused messaging.

As Brexit deadlines approach, interest in the outcome is also growing, with most feeling the challenges are self-inflicted. The Government should not have signed the agreement taking us out of the EU in January if it had reservations about its future implementation.

So, which national, not local, issues will determine the outcome next year? There are two groups of first time voters, who may set the tone and tip the balance.

Firstly, EU citizens living in England who are permitted to vote in local elections from 2021. They are important contributors to our economy, and services, often doing unpopular jobs in agriculture, the NHS, care, factories and hospitality.

Inevitably ‘testy’, successful Brexit negotiations are critical to our economic future at this most difficult of times. The Conservatives will pay a heavy price at the ballot box for failing to salvage a healthy working relationship with the EU: new tariffs, customs checks and reams of additional paperwork delaying imports and exports, or threatening trade agreements with other countries, including the US, would penalise our economic recovery. Lorry parks are already in place around Kent, where illegal immigration across the Channel is having a major impact on coastal towns; detention camps are now being established in former Army bases.

Secondly, thousands of teenagers, whose lives and career ambitions were turned upside down following the exams debacle, will also be eligible to vote for the first time.Their equally frustrated parents will ensure they are registered – and actually vote. If schools close again, there will inevitably be calls for next year’s exams to be deferred, causing yet more chaos, adding to parental and students’ anger.

However, it is the reaction to Covid which is likely to have the most significant impact on voting intentions. Westminster seems unaware that many lifelong Conservatives – let alone ‘borrowed’ voters – are dismayed by Government indecision. It doesn’t help that some Ministers over-promise and under-deliver, with Test & Trace failing to meet its targets whilst the number of cases escalate, and now the 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants, adding yet more pressure to the economy, increasing unemployment.

Protecting the elderly and vulnerable, and those who look after them in care homes, is another key issue for families – and local authorities. The Chancellor’s latest injection of over half a billion funding to support the sector is welcome, especially when reports indicate that hospitals may eject elderly patients into care homes – again – if more beds are needed for Covid patients in the coming months. Wouldn’t a better solution be to set up convalescent wards for them? Or utilise the temporary Nightingale hospitals?

With billions of pounds poured into the Covid crisis, and public borrowing at unprecedented levels, ensuring that taxpayers’ billions provide value for money is crucial, and those organisations which have returned Government funding should be commended, but the National Audit Office is investigating fraud in relation to the furlough scheme. It is reportedly also addressing how multi-million pound Covid-related contracts are awarded, not always in compliance with the usual competitive tender process designed to ensure standards as well as capability.

Another voter concern is Westminster’s current cronyism in public appointments, when some appointees don’t necessarily have the knowledge or experience to take on important high profile roles paying huge salaries. There is a need to ensure a more open – independently monitored – process, attracting a broader network of appropriately qualified individuals who can be held to account and be seen to deliver on their brief.

Despite Covid pressures, it is also critical that Government doesn’t ignore the two major public inquiries, examining the Manchester Arena bombings and Grenfell fire, currently under way; initial revelations have already identified a number of significant questions for the public sector, which will have to be addressed sooner rather than later.

In particular, Grenfell was a disaster in a Conservative-run council area but there are repercussions across the country for 186,000 flats in high rise blocks, whose owners face massive bills for replacing cladding, and other protective measures. They purchased their flats in good faith, and should not be held responsible for the lack of Building Control and developers’ shoddy construction, now destroying their finances, leaving them unable to sell and move on with their lives. Re-cladding is estimated to cost around £6 billion; so far the Government has committed just £1 billion, excluding Scotland and Wales.

In the meantime, Covid continues to bring further challenges. To the fury and confusion of many, both in Parliament and beyond the M25, the Government appears to think it has the right to dictate, hectoring and threatening, instead of empathising and showing respect. It doesn’t help to cause panic amongst people, who should be allowed to use their common sense, based on facts, not whims. The current lack of strategy – and an endgame – undermines trust, and £10,000 fines (which are unlikely to be paid) are not the solution if people fail to self-isolate; no action was taken when a Government advisor allegedly travelled hundreds of miles whilst infected, damaging public confidence.

In the confusion, it is easy to forget that the UK is a democracy, not a dictatorship. Thankfully, the 1922 Committee is on the case, rightly demanding Parliamentary oversight of emergency legislation. This is crucial as, according to the latest scientific advice, we can expect at least a further six months in some form of ‘quarantine’.

Government must improve its communication, avoiding bluster with ‘world beating’, ‘moonshot’ and ‘oven ready’ phrases, which may win a media headline but only patronise the public. It should also work to co-ordinate policies, to simplify understanding and compliance across all UK nations.

It is time to be constructive about the future – or pay the price. The electorate can be unforgiving, so next year’s local elections will set the tone for the rest of this Government’s term in office.