What does the next Government need to deliver for Suffolk and Essex?
PUBLISHED: 05:30 11 November 2019
We look at the issues candidates should be addressing as they race to be elected to the House of Commons.
- We need to see vast improvements in mental health services in the area: the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust has been rated 'inadequate' three times in a row. Is it fit for purpose? If significant improvements are not made, it's time to look at the viability of creating a new mental health service for Suffolk.
- Our hospitals need a clear vision of how they can develop in the future - West Suffolk is due to be rebuilt and we need clarity on where that will be.
Ipswich/Colchester hospitals need to expand. Where will a new orthopaedic centre be built? Decisions are needed soon after the election.
- GP and nursing services are already facing shortages and rising patient/doctor ratios. The government must ensure this does not get worse after Brexit. The government must ensure that EU workers can still be employed in the NHS, even if they don't earn the salary threshold that has been set.
- Suicide rates, especially male suicide rates, are rising. A strategy involving health services and other agencies is desperately needed.
- Ambulance service performance must improve. We have suffered years, if not decades, of poor response times and winter delays. Resources are needed to ensure ambulances can reach patients in time.
Energy and Environment:
- The "energy coast" is a potential game changer for parts of the East Anglian coast including Lowestoft and the Harwich area which can serve the turbines off Clacton. This industry must be supported as a clean, and increasingly economic generator of power.
But there must be action to ease the environmental impact of substations that are needed onshore to convert the windpower generated to usable electricity.
- A decision is needed on Sizewell C. There is public concern about the effects on the environment, on roads to and from the site and the impact of thousands of workers on an area of low unemployment. But some people want to see the investment come to Suffolk and guarantee long-term jobs.
- The future growth of Suffolk must be managed to ensure that there are enough homes for everyone - but the countryside and environment of our towns is not destroyed by the march of new housing and roads to service it.
- We need to ensure the A14 gets the investment it needs. There must be support for improvements to Copdock Mill - as well as other junctions on the road in Suffolk.
- The A12 improvement in Essex needs to go ahead as soon as possible - and eventually upgrades are needed into Suffolk.
- Network Rail needs to invest in the Great Eastern Main Line from London to Norwich through Ipswich and Colchester with new track in Essex, new junctions at Haughley in Suffolk and a new bridge on the outskirts of Norwich.
NR also needs to improve cross-country route from Ipswich through Bury to Ely and Peterborough and to Cambridge to link to proposed new line to Oxford.
- The government needs to act on promises to improve broadband and mobile signals in rural areas (and some towns and villages). At present this is very patchy - 200Mbs in some homes in Ipswich, less than 1Mbs in many rural areas.
- Flood defences need to be constantly reviewed in the light of climate change and the threat of a rise in sea levels.
- Suffolk has experienced an 18% increase in demand for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) school places, and places are so short the county council has had to borrow £45million to create three new special schools and a host of new special units attached to mainstream schools.
The huge demand - which is also causing an overspend at the council - coupled with the poor Ofsted/Care Quality Commission report at the start of this year means more investment is needed in special educational needs.
- National action is needed to solve the school transport crisis. Changes to Suffolk's policy have been a disaster this year. Chief among the problems has been the issue of split villages and no exemption for siblings already attending a different school.
Throughout, Suffolk's education chiefs have been clear that it is based on national guidance - surely meaning a fresh look is needed at these changes?
- Fairer funding for schools. Suffolk is part of the F40 group of the 40 lowest funded education authorities in England. The common theme emerging from council budgets in Suffolk is that increasing costs to meet demand for education needs is one of the reasons cutbacks are taking place. For the sake of our childrens' futures, a fairer funding settlement for education is needed.
- Many businesses in Suffolk and Essex have trading links with Europe. More needs to be done to support them when the UK is no longer in the EU single market.
The government has to ensure that perishable goods - especially food and drink, but also things like fresh flowers and plants - can pass through ports with minimal delay.
- Also agriculture relies heavily on seasonal migrant labour. Farmers and food processors must be able to ensure there is still a supply of relatively unskilled workers.
Regeneration of towns/local communities:
- The next government must be seen to support towns and villages by ensuring that their community facilities - shops, schools, businesses, industries etc are able to compete and remain operational.
- We need to see a change in tax and business rates so real shops are not at a financial disadvantage compared with online retailers who do not have stores on the High Street.
- More needs to be done to re-invigorate town centres. Schemes need to be planned as well as announced - otherwise they will they merely be announced during the election campaign and then local councils will be presented with long conditions afterwards ensuring that no improvements come through before the next election.
Law and order:
- Suffolk police has been seriously under-funded in comparison with other similar constabularies. The county is expecting 54 new officers but there has been criticism of the police funding formula which sees rural forces receive fewer officers than metropolitan constabularies. The county needs to be treated fairly by Whitehall.
- Knife crime - Although a national problem, Suffolk has seen an increase in knife crime with a worrying trend of youth involvement. Funding for youth services and discussions over sentencing is a key election issue.
- Rural crime - Despite a drop of 10%, rural crime in Suffolk still cost the county around £1.1m in 2018. Farmers and landowners face challenges from organised crime gangs and more police funding is needed to tackle countryside crime.