County could do better

IF I was giving Suffolk County Council grades for its performance on two crucial decisions this week, it would get a C overall - one it got absolutely right and the other it has misjudged completely.

IF I was giving Suffolk County Council grades for its performance on two crucial decisions this week, it would get a C overall - one it got absolutely right and the other it has misjudged completely.

As in all good stories, first the good news.

The county is absolutely right to press ahead with the abolition of its remaining middle schools - a failed educational experiment from the 1960s that don't serve the interests of pupils or parents at all.

That is not to say all middle schools are bad. There are many dedicated teachers and other staff working in this sector.

But the fact is that as an educational system it is flawed. The national curriculum, SATS tests, every aspect of education in this country is based on the two-tier system with a change in school at 11, not two changes at nine and 13.

That means all school inspections, all the statistics, show that pupils do better in two-tier schools than they do in the three tier system.

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I can well understand why parents with children currently in middle schools are protesting about the changes - their children will inevitably have their education disrupted by the change. But the sad fact is that if change is to come - and it must - then some children are going to be caught up in that change.

Teachers will do their best to ensure disruption is kept to a minimum, and with the change affecting whole classes and school years then there should not be major problems for individual children.

The fact is that in other parts of the county - the Felixstowe and Woodbridge areas especially - the three-tier system was tried and abandoned years ago, and academic results have improved considerably.

So the council is right to go ahead with these proposals - in the long term parents and pupils will thank them.

However if the county is right in this move, it is totally wrong to press ahead with the muddled “pathfinder” project which is nothing more than a feeble attempt to prevent Ipswich council from making a declaration of independence.

Let's face it, would anyone at the county be talking about the prospect of working closer with district and borough councils had Ipswich not put in a bid to go it alone?

That decision caused a blind panic across the road in Endeavour House. The county had to do something and its solution was to come up with the “Pathfinder” project which is a smart buzzword to try to convince everyone that it's modern by coming up with a local authority structure that no one apart from a few bureaucrats understands.

I'm not yet convinced that it is such a good idea for Ipswich to go it alone.

Single-tier councils are undoubtedly the logical way forward, but I still feel it is not really sensible to go for that in this area while maintaining the existing boundaries.

To press ahead with a single council that cuts Ipswich off from Pinewood, Kesgrave, Rushmere, and Warren Heath seems total madness.

What we have now is a headless rush towards local government reorganisation on the cheap promoted by a Whitehall department which wants to keep its involvement down to a minimum.

That is a ludicrous situation. What Suffolk needs is not pathfinder projects or a declaration of independence by Ipswich.

What it needs is a full, comprehensive review of local government. That would probably be three councils - East Suffolk based in Lowestoft, West Suffolk based in Bury, and greater Ipswich - running all local authority services in their areas.

And until the government is prepared to take that bold action, it should tell existing local authorities to go away and get on with business as normal.

IT IS encouraging to hear that so many people think Ipswich and Suffolk is emerging from the nightmare that engulfed the area at the end of last year.

But I do hope that those in a position to make a difference don't forget the issues that emerged following the deaths of the five women in the town's red light area.

I was pleased to see the borough council debate the issue last night - hopefully we will all now take the issue of prostitution and drug addiction much more seriously than we have in the past.

There has in the past been a temptation to ignore the problems of the red light district. All too often politicians did not want to raise the issue for fear of being seen as judgemental or because they felt there were few votes to be gained there.

Labour group leader David Ellesmere, to his credit, did survey residents of the area about their attitudes to prostitution, but it was given little attention at Civic Centre and later at Grafton House until the dreadful events at the end of last year.

Now that the immediate spotlight on drugs and prostitution in the red light area of Ipswich has been turned away, politicians must not be allowed to forget about the issue.

For the sake of people like Lou, who is forced on to the street to feed a drug habit she is desperate to break, our leaders must remain aware of the issues surrounding drug abuse and prostitution.

I'm more convinced than ever that licensed brothels are not the answer to the issues surrounding the women who work on the streets of Ipswich's red light district.

Easier access to drug treatment and the possibility of decriminalising the use (but not the supply) of hard drugs would be of more use.

That would make it possible for them to get a supply of clean heroin from a regulated pharmacist and mean they did not have to rely on the exorbitant prices charged by illegal dealers - which pushes them into prostitution in the first place.

Nothing is going to happen quickly, and decisions like this will have to be taken at far higher levels than Ipswich council.

But it is vital that councillors carry on talking about the issue to keep the issue high up the political agenda. We want Ipswich to return to normality - but not a normality that turns its backs on the most vulnerable members of society.

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