Last week, a survey listed Ipswich as the 13th most unhappy place in England. I take that with a bucket-load of salt – all it actually shows is that people in Ipswich were more likely than most to talk about the problems the town has. And in some ways that is healthy – people shouldn’t be shy about things they want to be better. If we can’t identify what’s wrong, we’re never going to put it right.
Many things can only be put right with improved funding. The ambulance service is staffed by real stars, but they spend far too much of their time waiting outside A&E. We have a really good hospital, but it desperately needs better funding and more staff, especially in A&E – and we need better primary care services too, so people can avoid visiting A&E. And we need more spent on social care so that older people are not stuck in hospital after they are ready to leave. Suffolk people are very willing to support our Police, but actually we need more police officers too. And schools and colleges are struggling with less funding per pupil in real terms than before.
All of these things are best paid for by government and councils using your tax money. There’s an issue about politicians getting elected by promising to charge less tax, and then putting taxes up anyway – it’s less than a year since the County Council election and I don’t remember the Conservatives telling everyone that they needed to pay more tax then. And there’s a very serious issue about who pays their taxes – just this week a debate on Bermuda carefully avoided mentioning how Conservative supporters such as Lord Rothermere, who owns the Daily Mail, use it as a tax haven. Council tax is also unfair – a couple living in a 10-bedroom mansion and earning £2 million per year would only pay 3 times as much as a couple in a one-bedroom flat on £20,000. So if we want better health and schools and police a good place to start would be making sure the rich pay their taxes.
But there are things we can start to do in Ipswich now which will make our town a better place. We should spend more time talking about the good things – visitors tell me they are surprised and delighted by the Waterfront, by our wonderful arts and dance and drama, by the excellent restaurants and shops and pubs, and by the friendly relaxed atmosphere. We need to tell people about these things, and remind them that Ipswich is one of the best places in the UK to start a new company – we’ve got the people, we’ve got the space and we’ve got the connections.
And we need to believe in ourselves as people, too. Yesterday I was privileged to attend the launch of the Ipswich Opportunity Area which is a three-year project to help give our young people the skills and support that they need. There is too much of a divide between our high-flying students and those who leave school with few qualifications. We need more technical courses, more apprenticeships, better careers guidance. We need a wider range of support for children with particular difficulties and educational needs. We need to make sure that resources for schools are going to the children that need them the most. I believe that for the first time ever, every public-sector school and college in Ipswich was represented in the room, and all the head teachers and principals there were united in their determination to do better by our young people.
It’s not just the teachers who need to have aspirations for our young people. Businesses in Ipswich need to do more to help bring on the skilled workforce of the future – whether that is in mechanical skills or IT or customer focus or whatever. The government needs to make it easier for smaller businesses to benefit from apprentices. And the young people themselves, and their parents, need to be positive about their futures. All parents need to get involved in their children’s education and training. One simple step that every parent or young person aged 15-17 could take is to look up the National Citizen Service on http://www.ncsyes.co.uk/about-us and find out about the real help and interesting activities that they provide.
Ipswich has a lot to offer, but it will only truly thrive if all our young people are involved in building a better town and a better future for themselves.