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I don’t know much about Eddie Pole and George Wyle, the duo who penned the Andy Williams hit “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”, writes Labour Leader of Ipswich Borough Council, David Ellesmere, but my guess is that they didn’t work in local government.

For councils, late December is always associated with the annual Christmas present from the Government of the “Local Government Finance Settlement” - how much money councils are going to get for the next year.

By “present”, I am talking in the sense that an untrained dog leaves a “present” on your best carpet: it’s pretty unpleasant and can take a long time to clear up the mess.

We weren’t expecting good news. It’s a long time since we've had that.

When the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were running the council they always used to moan that the increase they got from the Labour Government wasn’t big enough. Now we can only dream of such a Golden Age when our funding was actually being increased.

So we were expecting cuts and had a savings programme in place for how to deal with them.

Indeed we had signed up to the Government’s plan for a four-year funding agreement - with cuts in each of those four years of course - so that, in the Government’s words, we had “certainty” and could plan ahead.

It was going to be tough but we could see away through. At the end of four years we still had a balanced budget and were pretty certain we could still protect frontline services.

Then came the Social Care Crisis and the Government’s panic reaction to it.

Most of the attention has focused on proposals to raise council tax but, also announced, was an extra £240 million for social care. This money is being taken directly from district councils like Ipswich, Babergh and Suffolk Coastal.

The way the Government is doing this is through cuts to the “New Homes Bonus”.

This is a scheme the Government set up to encourage councils to build more houses. For each new home built in an area, the Government effectively matches the council tax raised for six years, - around £1,600 a year in Ipswich. This year we received £2.25m in New Homes Bonus.

The Government had already told us they were going to cut the scheme. Instead of six years, the bonus would only be payable over four years. This will cut the amount we receive by a third at a stroke. We knew this and were planning for it.

What we weren’t planning for was a further raid on New Homes Bonus.

The Government has now decided that a certain number of homes will always get built anyway so councils shouldn’t be “rewarded” for them. In Ipswich, for the first 240 homes built every year, no New Homes Bonus will be paid at all.

This means an immediate cut of £250,000 next year. The year after, we lose £500,000 and the year after that £750,000. Over the next four years we now have to find savings of £2.5million on top of the millions of pounds of savings we were already planning to make.

I’ve got to be honest. At this point in time I don't know how we’re going to do that.

Unlike the Government, we don’t have to panic as we can plan the savings over four years.

But it is highly unlikely that we can make this level of savings and still protect services. We need to recognise that, from now on, services we have taken for granted may get worse or may be cut altogether and that prices will increase.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Finance Settlement from Tory Government will make front line service cuts inevitable

I don’t know much about Eddie Pole and George Wyle, the duo who penned the Andy Williams hit “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”, writes Labour Leader of...

Last week saw another chapter in the sorry saga of Conservative-run Suffolk County Council’s determination to run our Park and Ride into the ground, writes Ipswich Borough Council Leader, David Ellesmere.

The immediate headlines may have said “Park and Ride Saved” but, as more detail comes out, most people are beginning to doubt whether what is proposed really stacks up.

First things first: what Conservative councillors have announced will mean a worse service for Ipswich.
Fares will increase from £2.50 to £3.00 – a rise of 20%.

The number of buses every hour will be cut from 5 to 4 – a cut of 20%.

There will be a cut in the number of parking spaces and it looks likely that the staff who manage the Park and Ride sites will be axed completely.

Park and Ride customers will be paying more for a worse service.

It’s a textbook example of what the Tories do when they want to shut a service completely. First, they make it worse and then, when fewer people use it, they use this fall off in numbers to justify closing it altogether.

But that’s all assuming that the service actually runs as the Conservative councillors claim.

It’s entirely unclear how First Bus going to are able to make this work.

The current Ipswich Buses Park and Ride bus service requires a £500,000 subsidy and this is significantly less than when First were running it before. Even with a fare increase and reduction in frequency it’s hard to see how this gap can be made up.  The reason the majority of Park and Ride services require a subsidy is because most of their users park in the morning and then come back in the evening. During the day, the buses don’t carry many passengers and don’t take much income.

To run a service commercially you really need to run it over a normal route – for example the number 13 to Copdock – so you can make money from daytime bus passengers.

First Bus are going to keep the same route as present – straight down London Road – so there will be little or no opportunity to pick up extra passengers. I have a real fear that First will struggle to make this service work commercially and could just pull out.
We’ve no idea what guarantees have been sought, or received, by the County Council about the permanence of the service.
There’s also a worry about where the additional buses required by the service will come from. Park and Ride buses go through some of the worst streets in Ipswich for air pollution. If the additional buses are old second hand ones belching black diesel smoke this is only going to make things worse.

We don’t know what guarantees have been sought, or received, by the County Council about the age of the buses.
I have submitted a whole series of questions on these, and other, matters to the County Council which need to be answered before Conservative councillors decide to go ahead with this proposal.

I’m not holding my breath though. The first time the County Council Cabinet discussed Park and Ride, strong letters of representation against their proposals were not even shared with Cabinet members.

We can’t let Ipswich Park and Ride suffer this death by a thousand cuts. If our Park and Ride closes it will be a huge blow to our town centre shops and add to the traffic chaos already caused by Travel Ipswich.

It will be another example of how Ipswich is constantly short-changed by rural Conservative County councillors who don’t live in Ipswich, don’t understand Ipswich and don’t care about Ipswich.

Tories run Ipswich Park & Ride into the ground

Last week saw another chapter in the sorry saga of Conservative-run Suffolk County Council’s determination to run our Park and Ride into the ground, writes Ipswich Borough Council Leader, David...

Of all the things Labour has done since winning control of Ipswich Borough Council probably the one I’m proudest of is something that hardly anyone notices, let alone comments on, writes Labour Council Leader, David Ellesmere.

It is this: despite huge cuts in funding from the Government – to the tune of millions of pounds – through good financial management we have managed to protect frontline council services for Ipswich residents.

So, for example, when the other Tory-run councils in Suffolk decided to start charging up to £50 for brown bin collection, we were able to keep this service free of charge in Ipswich.

We have been able to do this while still maintaining decent terms and conditions for our staff. We are an accredited Living Wage employer – the only council to be accredited in Suffolk – and we do not have single member of staff on a zero-hours contract.

On top of this – though it is getting increasingly difficult – we will also try to improve services where we can.

Last week we agreed a permanent extension to the council’s “out-of-hours” noise nuisance service.

Tackling noise nuisance is a major responsibility of the council. People’s lives can be ruined by inconsiderate neighbours persistently making loud noises late into the night.

Let’s be frank. Up until last year, Ipswich’s noise nuisance service wasn’t good enough. We only had a late-night service Friday and Saturday nights.

On those two days, if a complaint came through the officer on duty could come out, visit you, witness the nuisance, visit the person causing the noise and take enforcement action if appropriate.

However, on the other five days, if you had a problem in the evening then nothing could be done at the time. Someone would get in contact with you the next day and take down the details. If it was a persistent problem, you would be asked to keep a noise log over a period of weeks. Only when enough evidence was gathered in this way could action be taken.

Needless to say, this didn’t make for a very satisfactory service.

Councillors frequently received complaints from residents suffering terrible noise problems with the council seemingly taking no action other than to get them to keep filling in logs.

Over the last year, we have run an out-of-hours service throughout the week as a pilot.
To no one’s great surprise this has resulted in greater satisfaction about the service and a big reduction in complaints. It has also made it easier to get convictions in court as perpetrators plead guilty in the face of evidence witnessed by our officers. The Star has covered some of these prosecutions.

By analysing when calls came through we have worked out the optimum hours of operation. The new service will run until 2am on Thursday to Sunday and until midnight Monday to Wednesday.

This will give Ipswich a much better service than the rest of Suffolk.
From what I can gather from other councils’ websites the current service they provide is even worse than Ipswich’s old way of working.

Most do not seem to offer any kind of out-of-hours service. Two offer a service on Friday and Saturday nights but only from May to September. One website gives you template letters to send to the person causing the noise and suggests you take out a private prosecution against them yourself!

I prefer Ipswich’s approach.  Clearly this costs more money to run but it’s worth it. You can’t put a price on a good night’s sleep.

A good night's sleep, brought to you by your Labour Council

Of all the things Labour has done since winning control of Ipswich Borough Council probably the one I’m proudest of is something that hardly anyone notices, let alone comments on,...

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