A selection of readers’ letters from the Bury Free Press of Friday, September 2.
ROMANS HAD THE RIGHT IDEA
It never ceases to amaze me why the people of Bury St Edmunds put up with so many flooded roads and how their councillors seem oblivious to the problems it creates and the misery it causes.
Every time we have even a relatively small shower (today for example, August 28) we had only 4mm) and yet roads all over the town were flooded, by which I mean over half their width, causing traffic to swerve over to avoid the worst.
On work days (mornings after overnight rain) traffic backs up causing delays and more misery.
And how much rain do we get in Bury St Edmunds? Well not much – we live in East Anglia, one of the dryer parts of the country so less than 600mm is normal per annum (24 inches in old money) and yet we have flooded roads most months.
I see we have a new mayor and the last one appeared in the paper most weeks smiling happily while attending some event or other and supporting the ‘Mayor’s Charity’ while the people he represents struggle through the flooded streets and roads. I wondered if our new mayor could adopt the philosophy of charity beginning at home and make a manifesto promise to do something useful in her year of office such as working on the Bury St Edmunds drainage system. She might not get far but one or two of the dozens of flooded roads would be a start that might be picked up by a successor.
By the way, this is a not a new problem – the Romans knew of it and simply built ditches on their roads so no flooding. Bring back the Romans, I say. The roads had ditches and were straight! Where did we go wrong?
-- David Irvine, Woodruff Close, Bury St Edmunds
NOT ALL HOMES HAVE DRIVES
John Haydock, of York Close, claims that the houses in West Road close to the junction with Westley Road ‘have drives’ so the residents should be prevented from parking by the kerbside by linking the double yellow lines protecting the junctions with Westley Road and York Road (Letters, August 26).
Of the first eight houses on the western side of West Road (numbers 2-16), only one has a driveway.
Mr Haydock further claims that when West Suffolk College is closed the onstreet parking bays are ‘empty’. On the morning of Tuesday, August 30, there were four cars parked on the western side of West Road and two on the eastern side between the two sets of yellow lines. The college was closed.
The disabled parking bay referred to is for the exclusive use of a West Road resident who contacted me several years ago as she cannot walk any great distance due to a disability. A GP confirmation letter was obtained and I was pleased to assist this lady’s request.
The police, not the local councils, are currently responsible for the enforcement of parking restrictions on yellow lines. However, I have asked West Area Highways to carry out an assessment of the two junctions and report their findings to me. There does appear to be enough room for two cars to pass on opposite sides of the road along this short stretch of West Road, but I will await the technical assessment by a highway engineer before commenting further. Finally, may I thank Mr Haydock for bringing his concerns to my attention.
-- David Nettleton, County Councillor, Tower Division, Bury St Edmunds
NHS DEPENDS ON EU WORKERS
Two months have now passed since the decision was made that the UK will be leaving the European Union. Since the referendum there has been much talk but little clarity about what happens next and the consequences of this result for all of us.
The Royal College of Nursing remains particularly concerned about the impact on the nursing workforce. NHS hospitals, care homes and other organisations across the health and social care sectors in this region and across the UK rely on the huge contribution of nursing staff from both inside and outside the EU.
Figures show there are currently more than 33,000 EU trained nurses registered to work in the UK. The continuing uncertainty about what Brexit means for the future of EU nursing staff already working here and those interested in doing so threatens to worsen nursing shortages, already threatened by changes to student funding and the removal of bursaries.
We also continue to hear of cases of abuse directed at EU nursing staff following the referendum and the assumption by some that they should have left the UK. Such prejudice is reprehensible. There must be zero tolerance of any such abuse.
The RCN will ensure that the nursing voice is heard as negotiations on leaving the EU commence and will support our members who are affected. We must never lose sight of the fact that without EU nurses, our health services could not operate and patient care would undoubtedly suffer.
-- Carol Evans, Royal College of Nursing, Eastern Region Board Chair
COUNCIL VOTE ON APPRENTICESHIPS
In July, we proposed and seconded a motion calling on Suffolk County Council to take a much more proactive stance to apprenticeships.
We’re delighted to be able to announce that this motion was successfully voted through.
The reason that we believed this motion was necessary should be obvious.
In places like Bury St Edmunds, the number of young people not in work or education is among the highest in the county in certain areas of the town. And yet, according to a recent report from the Federation of Small Business (FSB), small firms based in the countryside and market towns across Suffolk, including Bury, are struggling to recruit skilled staff.
For a town that is as thriving as Bury, which is also well-stocked with eager young people looking for a fulfilling career that will provide them a good standard of living, this is obscene.
So it is down to bodies like the county council to step up to its responsibilities and meet this need.
The administration at Suffolk County Council record on apprenticeships is not good. It will, however, point to grandiose initiatives, such as ‘Apprenticeships Suffolk’, which has led to pupils in every secondary school and academy across Suffolk to participate in apprenticeship workshops; it will say that young people have received support through the county council’s online services that provide vacancy information and advice to applicants to support them in their quest to secure an apprenticeship.
These initiatives sound positive, and indeed they are positive, but they are piecemeal and set up to be as inexpensive as possible, rather than effective.
If you want proof, then the council’s record should speak for itself.
As things currently stand, Suffolk County Council employs just 18 apprentices across all departments – or 0.33% of the total workforce – and there is no centralised system for recruiting an apprentice. Recruitment is down to individual managers and services to decide upon, and this is complicated by the need to identify a training provider and then go through the standard HR recruitment procedure as per their directorate processes.
For the few apprentices that are recruited, there is no procedure or facility to monitor their progress or outcomes, so there is no way of measuring their development and tailoring their work education to their needs and skills.
The administration’s poor record is further shown by the £1.4 million it has already earmarked in reserves for apprenticeships. Since this fund was established, it has been spent down only a tiny amount – far below the council’s own budget estimates.
What is the point of earmarking taxpayers’ money but then refuse to spend it?
When looking specifically at Bury, the figures are especially stark. Of the 472 people employed by the county council at West Suffolk House, there is just one apprentice.
Soon, new developments from Central Government will impact directly upon the council and influence its approach to future apprenticeship provision.
The Government’s new ‘Apprenticeship Levy’, which is due to be introduced in April next year, will radically alter the way we fund apprenticeships by redirecting the funding for qualification delivery to the employer, rather than to the training provider. As a large employer, this council will be required to pay a levy that equates to 0.5% of monthly salary costs – which can be estimated as coming to around £800,000 to £900,000 annually. In addition to this, public sector apprenticeship targets will require all public sector bodies with a workforce of 250 or more to provide apprenticeships that equate to a minimum of 2.3% of their workforce. For Suffolk, this means that around 125 apprentice opportunities per year will need to be created.
Late last year, when the Labour Group asked the Cabinet directly if they would adhere to this target, they gave no firm guarantees that they would. However, thanks to this motion, they now have to.
The motion’s most salient point was that the administration should consider establishing Suffolk County Council as an ‘Apprenticeship Training Agency’.
A model that has been successfully adopted by a number of councils is to franchise the council’s apprenticeship recruitment out to a private Apprenticeship Training Agency.
While we were not prescriptive, the Labour Group proposed that the council pursues this policy with the aim of building its expertise and structures to accommodate a consistent policy of apprenticeship recruitment through a council-run ATA. Once a council-run ATA is established, it would then be possible to encourage private sector employers to make use of the facility, ensuring that the county council was at the centre of apprenticeship creation across the county.
In these unsettled and uncertain times, we must meet the challenge of providing our predominantly unskilled youngsters with attractive vocational qualifications and give them the skills they will need for a career within growth industries.
-- Len Jacklin, SCC Labour Group Spokesperson for Finance
-- Keith Patience, Suffolk County Councillor for Gunton