Judy Terry: We need public consent to produce more energy. New pylons in East Anglia fail that test.

11 Jul

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

Local authorities and six MPs across East Anglia are objecting to proposals for a new 112 mile pylon network from Norwich to Tilbury, with a new substation at Ipswich, to deliver electricity from the region’s expanding renewables.

Part of National Grid’s East Anglia “Green agenda”, the pylons will have a major impact on historic sites, prime agricultural land, and local communities, as well as risks to wildlife. There are also concerns about potential flight dangers, including for a popular gliding club based in the area.

It is proposed that cables would be put underground through the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, despite the damage this would inevitably inflict across ‘Constable Country’ during construction.

Suffolk County Council refuses to support the project as it stands, believing that there are better ways to deliver electricity, including an undersea network which has not been fully investigated, although National Grid have dismissed this as an option, saying it would cost billions.

The Council has repeatedly campaigned for Government Ministers to have a more co-ordinated off-shore approach, to meet the demands from the rising number of renewable projects in the region.

Instead of the current ad hoc process, it would surely make sense to have a comprehensive energy strategy, requiring all these ‘renewable’ projects to submit detailed infrastructure plans, together with accurate timescales for delivering that energy, before work is even started on new windfarms and solar power sites. Although the future of Sizewell C is still in limbo, how it delivers to the wider community must be included in the strategy.

Any strategy should also take account of new housing and commercial developments planned – both regional and national – as well as the government’s promised 40 new hospitals, and essential charging points for electric cars, buses, vans etc. to avoid unnecessary further disruption to communities, which already suffer endless (often repeated) road closures to install fast broadband, new gas pipes etc.

Councillor Richard Rout, the Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet member for Finance and Environment, says:

“The council absolutely supports ambitions for renewable energy.

“However, the council objects to the proposals as it stands and I am determined that Suffolk will not suffer unnecessarily as a consequence. We will continue to protect our communities, residents and natural environment.

“The council has lobbied government for 11 years on the issue of better co-ordination for off-shore transmission. We are demanding that a more collaborative solution is found to manage the different network connection requirements coming into Suffolk and East Anglia and that all network options are fully explored.

“Alongside other regional councils and MPs, we regularly speak to ministers and officials, emphasising our concerns about the impact of these projects on the area.”

Unfortunately, it appears that those ministers and officials aren’t listening.

There are unanswered questions and confusion about ‘facts’. National Grid told BBC’s Look East website that its East Anglia GREEN proposals “met government’s ambitions to connect 40GW of offshore energy to power every home in the country by 2030”. Really? The East of England Energy Group (EEGR) says the region is set to provide energy (wind, gas, nuclear) to 58 per cent of UK homes, but hasn’t set a deadline.

A barrister, employed by campaigners objecting to the pylons, noted that “the lay public consultees have not been provided with anything like sufficient information to make an intelligent comparison of the environmental impacts and, if uncorrected, these legal deficiencies will affect the later statutory consultation.”

There is no doubt that off-shore windfarms are beneficial, creating an estimated 12,000 new skilled jobs, helping to revive the economy in deprived areas like Lowestoft, but there is considerable frustration at the lack of a clear, empathetic, strategy. Instead, local authorities – and the general public – feel ignored when decisions appear to be made without recognising their legitimate concerns.

In particular, at a time when there is increasing demand for Britain to be more self-sufficient in food production, destroying prime agricultural land with such projects is senseless. Farmers are already losing thousands of pounds annually because they can’t get people to help with livestock, including turkeys, or pick their fruit and veg, and are ploughing it back into the ground. Yet the UK continues to import a range of fresh products from around the world.

People support ‘going green’ because they want to protect the environment, yet too many policies seem to do the opposite – destroying it.

Where will the steel come from for these new pylons? It should be remembered that some windfarms rely on China to manufacture the turbines (adding to that country’s emissions) transporting them via huge container ships to the UK!

Government needs to have joined up strategies to address the complexities of these issues, instead of sticking to a silo mentality. A first step would be for ministers and officials to listen to those who do understand the challenges and can help to find solutions.

There will be another opportunity to comment on the National Grid’s East Anglia GREEN proposals before an application is submitted to the Planning Inspectorate in 2024. One can only hope that more detailed information will be available for a comprehensive debate on the right way forward for the long term.

 

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Judy Terry: Councillors need power to challenge the failure of mental health treatment in Norfolk and Suffolk

26 May

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

For the fourth time since its inception a decade ago, Norfolk & Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust has been rated ‘inadequate’ by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and remains in Special Measures, first imposed in 2015.

Following inspection in November/December 2021, the latest report was published on 28th April, highlighting further deterioration since previous excoriating assessments.

The CQC’s Head of Mental Health Inspection confirmed that ‘we have served the Trust with a Warning Notice, setting out a legally binding timescale for compliance, so its leaders are clear about what must be done to improve patient care and safety, which they have a legal responsibility to deliver’.

Crucially, governance processes failed to identify or address all risks leading to significant patient safety concerns, including illegal substances on a ward. In the two years to September 2021, there were 115 ‘unexpected or potentially avoidable’ deaths. Over 1000 complaints were received between April 2019 and March 2021.

Whilst local authorities have avoided comment (although Norfolk County Council made a statement to Cabinet), two MPs acknowledged that this is the worst mental health provider in England, demanding action: Labour’s Clive Lewis and Conservative, Tom Hunt. Good for them! Suffolk County Council’s Health & Wellbeing Board doesn’t even have the report on its May meeting’s agenda.

Meanwhile, as activists and bereaved families, who are always patronised and ignored, continue to campaign for the Trust to be split into two, with services tailored to each county, one has to wonder whatever happened to the local Healthwatch and Clinical Commissioning Groups’ report, ‘Mental Healthcare & Emotional Wellbeing 2019-29’. Recommending a fresh, joined up, approach, it was rushed out in draft a few days before the previous damning CQC report was released, noting 61 breaches of legal requirements.

But, to the present: Norfolk & Suffolk Mental Health Trust employs 4,227 staff (and is recruiting more) with a £305m budget (up from £227m a couple of years ago).

Here is a summary of the CQC’s key findings following its latest inspection, most of which repeat previous issues not resolved. ‘Inadequate’ was the outcome for whether services were safe, effective, and well led, whilst whether services are rated ‘requires improvement’:

  • Overall, caring services rated ‘good’, but staff did not feel respected, supported or valued and the Trust did not ensure that cultures were supportive of staff to provide care.
  • The Trust did not consistently maintain safe staffing levels or ensure there were enough suitably qualified staff to meet the needs of people using services. We found this was impacting on the level of safety for staff and patients. It also impacted on governance within teams, multidisciplinary team effectiveness and patient safety. The Trust did not provide support to teams to maintain good governance in providing high quality care.
  • The Trust did not ensure effective management of medicines was taking place effectively to maintain patient safety.
  • The Trust did not ensure staff were aware of ligature risks assessments and did not mitigate or remove ligature points in a timely manner to maintain patient safety. (Responding to the 2017 CQC report, Norman Lamb who was a Norfolk MP at the time, was ‘disturbed that 1004 ligature points identified for work were not addressed although this was raised before’ (in 2014).
  • The Trust did not ensure all patients had up to date risk assessments or plans to manage risks to ensure patient safety.
  • The Trust did not manage long waiting lists or monitor the risk within the waiting lists effectively to ensure patients did not deteriorate whilst awaiting treatment.
  • The Trust did not ensure staff carried out patient observations in accordance with Trust policy and National Institute of Health Care & Excellence guidance to protect patients from harm.
  • The Trust did not ensure patient outcomes measures were used to demonstrate progress made.
  • The Trust did not ensure staff had access to patient records or maintained accurate records regarding patient care, physical health checks and nutrition to meet or demonstrate meeting patient needs.
  • The Trust did not ensure staff undertook the mandatory training required to deliver safe care and treatment of patients, reporting, managing and learning from incidents.

Inevitably, the Trust “chair”, whose predecessor jumped ship prior to the last CQC report’s publication, responded with:

“We are deeply sorry and have already taken action to help us improve.

‘We now have a leadership team with clear and ambitious plans… we are determined to make the required changes with pace and focus.”

Amid calls for the Chief Executive to resign, a spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk & Suffolk said:

“This current Chief Executive was the chief operating officer from August 2018, so this has happened on his watch and he has to fully accept his part in this.”

But he’s not going anywhere. In an interview with the East Anglian Daily Times, he defended his position, insisting he is the right man for the job and only formally took up his current post in September 2021, just two months before the latest CQC inspection:

“As operations officer I made sure operations were managed in the Trust, now my responsibility is much greater and I can help make a greater difference. I believe I have the right team around me and my background is as a clinical nurse. My entire career has been built around working in the NHS and mental health services. I am fully committed and want to be here to ensure we can embed the changes we need to make to improve.”

He fully accepts the CQC findings, but rejects campaigners’ demands to divide the Trust, saying it would take 18 months and ‘detract from what we are trying to do to turn things around. With integrated care boards coming in, we have a different opportunity to look at how we configure the system and make sure we can meet the needs of both counties.’

One of the biggest learnings he takes from the report is the need to pay closer attention to the fears and concerns of his own staff. ‘We need to take a more bottom-up approach, where staff feel they are being listened to’. What about those campaigners, who are uniquely sensitive to issues affecting patients, their families, and the wider community?

With a further inspection pending, to ensure action has been taken to comply with the Warning Notice, the Chief Executive notes that the Trust will not meet its goal to be in the top quarter of mental health trusts next year! Instead, ‘we need to make sure we meet the requirements of the report’s action plan and make continuous improvements.’

Campaigners want an independent inquiry into why the Trust is allowed to go from crisis to crisis, without anyone – past or present – being held to account for its serious failings. There have been eight Chief Executives in 10 years, contributing to management instability, following a radical redesign of services in 2013.

I have repeatedly asked why Norfolk and Suffolk county councils don’t each have a senior councillor on the Trust board, with support from a small joint panel to monitor progress, regularly reporting back to Cabinet and Full Council.

With such a poor record, surely it’s time for Jeremy Hunt to investigate through his Parliamentary Health Select Committee. One question which doesn’t appear to have been addressed is ‘what happened to the Improvement Director appointed by NHS Improvement to assist the Trust after CQC’s previous report?’ He seems to have disappeared without making any contribution to ‘improvement’ of this failing Trust.

Judy Terry: Councils should not be expected to agree to renewable energy at any cost

21 Apr

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

Energy. We all need it, yet for decades, successive governments – of all colours – allowed the UK’s energy self-sufficiency to crumble: reducing gas storage and allowing nuclear capability to shrink, leaving us vulnerable to supply variability, affecting both households and business, as the economy struggles to recover from the pandemic downturn.

The crisis in Ukraine has emphasised the lack of a long term strategy for reliability and affordability. As prices rocket, the solution for replacing gas and oil appears to be ‘renewables’ to ‘reduce carbon emissions’. But it’s time to get real about what is actually achievable, without fossil fuels.

After two years of being told what to do, when most of us were compliant, we now face efficient gas boilers being banned within two years, in favour of ridiculously expensive alternatives – as well as no new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

Hearing the Transport Minister, who owns a light aircraft, as well as his electric car, saying that people will be better off with electric cars, despite their high cost, suggesting most purchases are funded on credit deals, illustrates a detachment from real life. Perhaps he could explain how the average person, on an average wage (less than £30,000 in the Eastern Region) can afford such credit deals when interest rates are rising, and they can’t even save enough for a deposit to buy their own home.

He has also obviously forgotten that millions of people, including those in the Red Wall as well as some of the most expensive areas (i.e. Woodbridge, Suffolk), live in terraced houses, directly fronting narrow pavements, bordering narrow roads, without any possibility of installing a charging point. Instead, they would be forced to use more expensive alternatives at supermarkets and petrol stations, if they can find one, and it works.

And where will all this electricity come from?

The Prime Minister recently hosted a meeting of smart suit-clad males to discuss reviving nuclear; judging from the photos subsequently issued, women weren’t present. We have now been advised that the government is taking a 20 per cent stake, with EDF a further 20 per cent, in Sizewell C, but that still leaves 60 per cent of the expected £200m cost to find an investor. Meanwhile, it is hoped to extend Sizewell B’s lifespan by a further 20 years, which would be a good interim solution.

Although regularly denied, independent research indicates that wind farms do destroy birds, including eagles, and protected bat species. Nevertheless, the government seems intent on allowing prime agricultural land to be torn up, at a time when we need to be more self-sustaining on food production. Offshore wind is already demanding that such land be sacrificed in order to dig vast trenches to deliver energy to distribution points.

This is at a time when farmers are destroying their animals and produce because they don’t have the workers, and energy costs are shooting up whilst getting produce to market is too expensive because of rising fuel prices! There is also a shortage of drivers. Livelihoods are being destroyed; generations of people committed to providing quality and to preserving the environment through responsible farm management. Instead of growing our own, we import more of everything, contributing to the rising cost of living.

Not surprisingly, a recent application for the Sunnica solar farm on 2,792 acres of prime agricultural land in West Suffolk and East Cambridgeshire caused outrage amongst local residents, MPs, and environmentalists, with Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet declaring the plans ’flawed’ and unacceptable.

Currently with the Planning Inspectorate, which will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Council’s Cabinet papers claim it is impossible for the government to fully evaluate the significance and degree of impact because ‘several key assessments are inadequate’.

The Council has raised several key issues to be addressed when the Planning Inspectorate commences its examination:

  • Landscape and visual amenity: the council expects the developer to provide a more thorough presentation of key areas of impact and to work with the local authorities to reduce these impacts and propose more ambitious mitigation proposals;
  • Transport and access: the submitted material is not acceptable, with the assessments being seriously flawed. There needs to be credible evidence of impact and required mitigation;
  • Socio-economics and land use: the submitted workforce modelling is unsound as a basis for the Outline Skills, Supply Chain and Employment Plan. Contrary to the applicant’s assessments, the council does not anticipate employment and socio-economic benefits of any significance;
  • Community impacts: a project of this scale and nature proposed will change the character of an area which has been shaped by a unique combination of agriculture and horse racing. The Environmental Statement does not recognise this;
  • Ecology and nature conservation: the council requires that existing gaps in the assessments are closed.

The Cabinet papers also highlight the risk posed to council resources if the applicant does not provide a fair funding deal. Local councils are usually funded by developers to provide feedback on nationally significant infrastructure projects, but the applicant has not agreed to fully pay the council’s costs.

Deputy Leader, Cllr. Richard Rout emphasises that:

“Suffolk County Council is totally committed to renewable energy and it plays a key role in our climate change pledge. However, this commitment cannot come at any cost. Each project must be reasoned and considered. We will always examine the scale of the project and the impact on those living nearby.

“Unfortunately, we cannot support this solar farm because the size of the development hasn’t been justified and the fact that the planning application is seriously flawed. Amongst many things, it fails to assess the full range of harm to the landscape and surrounding area; if consented, it will permanently change the character of a unique part of Suffolk.”

The Secretary of State will make the final decision, expected in spring 2023. On current evidence, he should be wary of a serious backlash amongst loyal lifelong Conservatives, when it comes to the General Election, if he sanctions this project.

Instead of being panicked into making poor decisions, which will have a significant lasting impact, the government needs to reflect on what is right for the short, as well as long term. It may surprise ministers that most people are responsible in managing their impact on the environment, but, unlike ministers insulated by their own wealth, they also have to face reality – and they deserve to hear the truth.

 

Judy Terry: Councils will use the cost of tackling climate change as a justification to put up tax

10 Dec

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

Trust in our leaders is being eroded by some politicians and public sector chiefs, including the new NHS England Chief Executive, with policy U-turns, and deploying apocalyptic language, lies, and threats of huge fines, to force ‘ordinary people’ to do their bidding. ‘Climate emergency’, ‘health crisis’, ’14 times the number of people with Covid in hospital than we saw this time last year’… in attempts to generate fear.

Instead of encouraging compliance, people simply switch off in frustration – and growing anger – as it becomes ever more apparent that there is one rule for the ‘elite’ and another for the rest of us. Truth is at the heart of trust.

And what impact are war-torn countries having on the global environment, with bombs destroying people’s lives and homes? Surely there should be a greater focus on the West engaging with these areas to help resolve the misery and restore peace, reducing environmental damage?

Meanwhile, how many of us knew there is potential for mining on our own doorstep?

Cornwall evidently has significant potential for lithium, as well as other metals for ‘clean growth’: tin, copper, cobalt and tungsten, used in batteries. The UK’s new Critical Minerals Expert Committee is a key element of the government’s Net Zero strategy. It advises the government on investment decisions, ensuring it has a reliable supply of critical minerals and metals, with a detailed strategy to be published next year. We can only hope there will be a full evaluation of the environmental impact, and appropriate consultation on any proposals.

Few people can deny that we face serious environmental issues. But, instead of attempting to scare us all, whilst massaging the elite’s and politicians’ egos as they pontificate, and UK taxpayers pick up the (£1 billion?) bill for hosting and policing 30,000 delegates and campaigners, our leaders should tell the truth about the challenges. Not least, where our energy will come from in future; it is not just domestic properties, but industry – including food and brewing – which rely on gas and electricity.

They should also remember that the UK is a democracy, not a dictatorship; the vast majority of people are law abiding, caring and responsible. They are not ignorant – although some of the government’s diktats in the last couple of years appear to overlook their intelligence – and have the right to use that intelligence to make their own decisions, provided this doesn’t compromise other people’s safety.

And what impact are all these changes going to have on pensions? Pensions rely on workers’ contributions and on the performance of their investments, including fossil fuels, although those for public sector employees are heavily subsidised by taxpayers, who will also pay to meet the costs of upgrading public sector housing and offices, as well as vehicles, to comply with the government’s net zero deadlines.

With inflation continuing to rise, and tax at its highest level for 70 years, there is a limit to what ‘ordinary people’ will accept – or can afford.

Grants to the wealthy, who can afford an electric car and have the space to install a recharging point or replace their boiler with something less efficient is not the solution. Demanding that all new housing developments incorporate these facilities, will increase building costs (and house prices) and may even delay delivering much-needed new homes if equipment and skills are unavailable.

There doesn’t appear to be any firm, deliverable, strategies to meet the environmental targets, except to ban everything.

Financial pressures have been exacerbated by shortages and the unexpected rise in energy prices, and petrol, as well as food, but council tax rises next year could bring some people’s budgets to breaking point, so it is essential that they play their part in prioritising how local authorities spend public monies.

According to an audit report, the pandemic cost Conservative-run Suffolk County Council £72 million, with some government grants to support business. So, recognising current financial pressures on ‘ordinary people’ and the value of mutual trust between the council and the county’s taxpayers, it has launched a consultation on prioritising future expenditure. Cllr. Rout, the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance & the Environment. says:

“We will have the option to raise council tax by two per cent and the Adult Social Care Precept by two per cent, whilst continuing to respond to the challenges of Covid, global supply chain issues and climate change. We ask residents for their thoughts on helping prioritise funding for services in the coming financial year, alongside meeting the continuing costs of statutory care services.

“With rising costs and increasing service demand year on year, the finances at our disposal have to be carefully planned to continue to achieve a balanced budget in extremely challenging circumstances.

The council’s priorities are:

  • To promote & support health and wellbeing;
  • To strengthen the local economy;
  • To protect and enhance the environment;
  • To provide value for money for local taxpayers

Currently, 75p in every £1 supports Adult Care (costing £271 million each year), Children’s Services and Public Health; the remaining 25p covers other vital services, including Fire & Rescue, road maintenance, waste services, and libraries.

Cllr. Rout added that having saved hundreds of millions of pounds in the last decade through careful financial planning, “we are absolutely committed to providing the best services, so I want to understand what residents want us to focus on with the budget left after covering our statutory care duties”. He said:

“I’m encouraged by the Chancellor’s announcing new grant funding of £4.8 billion for local authorities over the next three years and we wait to see how much comes to Suffolk.”

Honesty is indeed the best policy, because ignorance is not bliss!!

Judy Terry: The rising number of pupils with Special Educational Needs has left schools struggling

9 Nov

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

The rising demand for SEND (Special Educational Needs & Disabilities) services across the country is not widely appreciated, or fully understood. For example, the number of children in Suffolk with an Education, Health & Care Plan (EHCP) has doubled to 6,000 since 2014, and a further 12,000 have special educational needs.

I understand the complexities only too well. As a governor at Suffolk’s largest primary school, on a big council estate in Ipswich for nearly a decade, one of my specific responsibilities was SEND, which accounted for about ten per cent of the 600 plus students as the school virtually doubled in size.

As it grew, the school suffered some leadership issues, with temporary heads, but escaped ‘special measures’ when Ofsted praised all the governors for stepping in to some key management roles when the Conservative Suffolk County Council (SCC) officers repeatedly failed to respond to governors’ concerns. This meant they took the initiative, liaising with the Fire Service on health and safety in a listed building, which highlighted urgent works, commissioning a 10-year maintenance plan to address structural failings, and increasing site security to protect children from the rise in County Lines.

Governors also oversaw the construction of a new classroom block, with the handover delayed because officers initially ignored governors, teachers, and the builders, requesting skylights because the classrooms had little natural light – adding thousands to construction costs when officers finally agreed to install them after the building was completed.

Crucially, despite the size of the SEND cohort, with a highly regarded special unit benefiting children from across the wider community, the council offered no support when governors asked for the service to be reviewed, following a range of problems raised by staff and parents, saying they didn’t have the time and the school would be charged a £6,000 fee. So, through contacts with senior councillors at Essex County Council, we asked for their help. Renowned for its expertise in this sector, within a fortnight, they sent a team, led by their head of service, to examine the operation, producing a full and detailed report, with recommendations for improving delivery, within a further week. And they didn’t charge a fee!

Having clear priorities, the report was shared with key staff – and the temporary heads – at a special meeting, enabling immediate phased implementation. The subsequent appointment of an excellent new Head, with SEND experience and strong leadership abilities, ensured that the school was restored to ‘good’ within his first year – and continues to thrive.

However, four years on, despite having shared the Essex County Council recommendations with SCC, according to a critical recently published detailed review, SEND services across Suffolk as a whole continued to fall below standards for full compliance with the Children & Families Act 2014.

The robust independent report by Lincolnshire County Council, and its Parent Carer Network, was commissioned by Suffolk County Council (SCC), after a significant increase in concerns amongst parents and carers.

The review did not look at whether EHC plans for children are consistent with, and aligned to, young person or family preference for placements and their desired outcome, which is a matter for the independent SEND tribunal process.

Cllr. Rachel Hood, the Education Portfolio Holder, explains:

“It focuses on processes, communication protocols, and family-facing elements.”

She apologised “for the difficulties some families have experienced.”

Nevertheless, 470 parents and carers represented by The Campaign for Change in Suffolk intend to publish their own report, calling for a legal audit of services, noting “a lack of accountability has left needs unassessed, and some children without schooling, affecting their mental and physical health. Families have been broken by the endless battles. The report highlights a number of failures, supporting our call for accountability.”

Key findings from the review include:

  • Failure to involve families in the EHCP (Education & Health Care Plan) assessments;
  • Lack of consistency and timelines for responding to calls and emails;
  • Pupils inappropriately placed in specialist places not suited to their needs;
  • Lack of identified caseworkers for children with EHCPs;
  • Requests for statutory assessments not recorded;
  • Lack of routine tracking on annual reviews;
  • Lack of transparency in the process & decision-making.

Elected in May, and quickly appointed to her Cabinet role, Cllr. Hood has to be admired for grasping what many would call a ‘poisoned chalice’ with such alacrity and positivity, acknowledging, “we must learn from this report, and implement fundamental change quickly.”

Having drafted a nine-point action plan, following the review’s recommendations, key priorities being addressed include:

  • A strategic partnership with Impower, bringing capacity and experience of SEND systems across the country;
  • Staff training;
  • Working with education leaders, parents and carers to understand demand for specialist provision and inform planning;
  • Robust annual review processes;
  • A £45.1 million capital programme already agreed to create an additional 870 specialist education places by 2024 with specialist schools in Bungay, Ipswich and Bury St. Edmunds.

Cllr. Hood says:

“The review has found that we must change, and we recognise that we have let down some children and young people as our services have simply not been good enough.”

She is determined to “implement wide-scale improvements with pace, impact and efficiency.”

It takes guts to confront these major challenges – as she did in a full page Opinion piece for the East Anglian Daily Times. There is no doubt that Cllr. Hood is not only committed to achieving the best outcomes, but will relish the process, and be accountable.

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: 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.