The best and worst of living in Suffolk

SUFFOLK'S public services have been placed under the spotlight by the Audit Commission in the first “One Place” assessment of the county.

Paul Geater

SUFFOLK'S public services have been placed under the spotlight by the Audit Commission in the first “One Place” assessment of the county.

It highlights three positive aspects of Suffolk life which could be taken as a model by other authorities across the country, and two areas where public services need to work hard to improve.

The “Green Flags” are given to:

The county's development and encouragement of green technologies.

The work to protect the coast at Bawdsey.

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Tackling street prostitution in Ipswich.

The “Red Flags” where special attention needs to be paid are:

Inequalities in the rural economy and the lack of “high value” jobs.

The level of skills developed by teenagers by the time they leave schools.

The report also highlights problems with communications in the county - the poor state of roads in Suffolk and congestion in larger towns which makes it difficult to attract new employers.

However it does flag up the fact that generally people in Suffolk enjoy better health than the national average and mortality rates have fallen over the last 10 years.

ECONOMY:

THE report says that large areas of Suffolk are economically under-developed and there are not enough “high value” jobs.

Much of the economic development has been focussed on the largest towns - Ipswich, Lowestoft and Bury St Edmunds.

Felixstowe port's expansion is a key catalyst for economic development as is the expansion taking place in and around Martlesham and the Trimley villages.

However there are not enough good jobs being created in the county - and the road network is not helping in that struggle.

Most of the high-value jobs being created are in the Ipswich, Martlesham and Bury areas. The north of Suffolk is hampered by poor roads - and even the county's best roads, the A12 and A14 are subject to congestion problems.

The Copdock Mill interchange is a particular problem - and rural transport is poor.

This all contributes to many businesses in the county being small or medium-sized and unable to provide the high-quality jobs that you find in other parts of the country.

EDUCATION:

CHILDREN and young people are not as successful in school and colleges as they are in similar areas of the country - that is the bald fact to come out of the report.

By the time they are 11, test results place children from this county in the bottom 10 per cent nationally - and while there have been improvements in exam results at 16, students from Suffolk do not do as well as those from similar counties nationally.

Last year GCSE results in Suffolk were below the national average for the first time.

The report says that middle school Ofsted reports are comparatively low - although reports suggest that secondary schools are in line with the national average.

The county council has seized on this finding to help justify their proposals to switch from three to two-tier schools in part of Suffolk.

ENVIRONMENT:

SUFFOLK'S work aiming to become the greenest county has been flagged up as a major success in the report - it gives its work a green flag as a beacon for other authorities.

Its support for the development of green technologies like the new offshore windfarm off Lowestoft and the encouragement of green employment across the county has won the support of the commission.

Smaller environmental schemes are also praised - with schools having woodchip boilers installed and new schools using alternative forms of energy.

Another green flag is awarded for the way Suffolk Coastal council worked with other organisations, including the Environment Agency and local landowners to finance and develop sea defence work at Bawdsey.

PUBLIC SAFETY:

A GREEN flag is awarded for the way public sector organisations came together to draw up the Ipswich Prostitution Strategy following Steve Wright's reign of terror in 2006.

The report says the action by the police, the borough and county councils, and the Iceni Project has helped ensure Ipswich is unlikely to see the problem return.

It says that of the 25 street workers at the time of the murders, 23 have now gone on to make better lives for themselves - and a total of 120 other women have been helped by the strategy.

The report also points out that Suffolk remains one of the safest counties in the country - although more efforts should be targeted at the most deprived areas of Ipswich which see the highest crime rate.

The report is concerned about the number of people being killed or seriously injured on the county's roads - but it praises the county's fire safety record, especially as much of Suffolk is rural with properties some way from fire stations.

HEALTH:

PEOPLE in Suffolk generally enjoy better health than the rest of the country - but there are wide variations in life expectancy, especially in some of the most deprived areas.

The report says that out of hours health services are not working well enough in the county.

A large proportion of patients expressed satisfaction with the service - but access is patchy across Suffolk.

Children are less active in Ipswich than they are in other parts of the county - but obesity in children aged five to 11 fell between 2007 and 2008 in contrast to figures from elsewhere in the country.

WHAT THEY SAY:

SUFFOLK County Council leader Jeremy Pembroke was delighted that the county was awarded three green flags - nowhere in England got more.

He said: “We are very pleased that the efforts of many organisations and many people in those organisations have been recognised.

“We have been working very hard to promote green energy and everything associated with that and this report is a great boost.

“So far as the prostitution strategy is concerned, that involved a lot of different bodies and we have worked well to come up with a successful framework.”

He was not surprised by the red flags: “These are issues we are working hard on. The changes to schools in the north and west of the county are partly in response to these concerns.

“It all stems from good education and the opening of UCS, Suffolk New College and Suffolk One is a huge boost to the county and should improve skills throughout the county over the years.”

Ipswich Borough leader Liz Harsant was delighted that the prostitution strategy had been singled out for praise.

She said: “We did put a great deal of effort into this and it has been scrutinised at every point so it is good to know that the work has been recognised like this.

“I know the residents of the area that had been affected by street prostitution are delighted by the change over recent years and it is important that the work with those who are vulnerable to this continues.”

Chief Constable Simon Ash of Suffolk Police said: “Suffolk is one of the safest counties in the country with low levels of crime and the perception of crime and anti-social behaviour is also low in the county.

“We work closely with partners to ensure that our performance in keeping it safe remains consistently strong and that local people continue to receive an efficient service, which meets their needs.

Sally Hogg, head of health improvement partnerships at NHS Suffolk, said: “Generally Suffolk has a healthy population but there are unacceptable health inequalities across the county - and there is enormous value in working with our partner organisations to meet the challenge of reducing these inequalities.”