Last year, the Conservatives handed over £680,000, without consultation by SCC's Cabinet to this 'pay for friendship' group, in the midst of some pretty painful cuts to local services.
And, after a year of operation, and expenditure of £350,000, it has managed to attract 362 members - all of whom pay to be members and pay for most of their activities - including getting 'help' from 'good neighbours' at twice the price of minimum wage. That represents nearly £1,000 per head, despite the fact that there are existing 'good neighbour' schemes across the county offering help already.
Interestingly, Suffolk Circle is modelled on a scheme operating already in Southwark, my old stomping ground in South London, a place where community ties are often much weaker, and it is hard to imagine how a scheme that might well work there (I don't know what impact it has had) might be successful in a place different in almost every sense.
It can't help though that the original business model, which required charging users between £30 and £75 per quarter, was quickly scrapped, and users are now charged £30 per annum, thus wiping out at least 75% of the estimated income. It is hard to envisage how such a business plan could be sustainable, but the Conservatives are already committed to pouring another £330,000 of our money down the drain.
Luckily, Liberal Democrat county councillors can count, even if Conservative Cabinet members don't (or possibly can't). As John Field put it;
"The organisation appears to be duplicating, at a high cost, much of the work already being done far more economically by local charities and organisations to promote social networks in the elderly."
"The Suffolk Circle has already failed to meet its membership targets in the first year, and with the reduction in membership fees, it's difficult to see exactly how this organisation will be sustainable by the fourth year of operation."
Caroline Page notes that this is another example of the concentration of power and authority in the hands of a small part of the Conservative Group;
"This dubious project is a prime example of how Suffolk County Council's undemocratic Cabinet system is failing the taxpayer. It has allowed a few councillors to make an effectively unilateral decision that is costing council tax-payers of Suffolk the best part of a million pounds. And without providing any provable benefit to the vulnerable elderly of Suffolk it was supposedly set up to help. Yet the frail elderly need all the help they can get. When money is so tight this is a disgraceful example of putting the ideology of private enterprise above the common sense of making limited resources stretch as far as possible."
I expect to quiz my County Councillor on this point next week, if he can be bothered to turn up. I don't expect him to have any answers other than those subsequently given to him by someone like Colin Noble, and if he is merely there to regurgitate the ill-conceived views of the Cabinet, what point is there in voting for him?