A decent home for all

Last Thursday I was in London for the National Housebuilders Federation’s Smaller Housing Association Conference.  Housing Associations builds homes for people with an increasingly diverse tenure from former council house tenants all the way through the different tenure options to open or private market homes for sale as it’s called. So nowadays they build homes for every level of income, but with the same fundamental ethos, one I share, that regards of income everyone is entitled to a decent home.

As sentiment goes that’s usually one that no one disagrees with, but can we build them on the field or development site next to you then disagreement creeps in!  During the breaks, I spoke to a number of the delegates, and we all agreed even in this most philanthropic end of the housing game, few welcome new homes near them as that would be the wrong place – the great British malaise.

The keynote speaker in the late morning was Kate Henderson who used to be the CE of the Town and County Planning Institute and who I met last year when she was kind enough to invite me to a Garden Town discussion at the House of Commons.  She gave a speech about her new role as Chief Executive and working alongside the larger and smaller Housing Association.  Kate follows in the footsteps of David Orr is no easy task but the need for strong voices to get this country building is essential, and no doubt she will be one of those voices.

Slightly aside but one of the smart things during the day was the effective use of technology with an app which detailed the delegate list and how to make contact, review the agenda to plan the day, sign up for break-out sessions and book meeting slots with exhibitors. The app is Attendeehub.com.  Secondly, we used a ‘question’ app called slido.com which provided the ability to post questions during the presentation and for these to be put up at the end in the Q&A segments.  This way was a far more effective way to get interesting questions answered that providing the usual ‘platform’ it provides for people to make more of a statement to the presenter or panel than ask a question.

The last session was an exciting showcase of the key ideas which have emerged from an Initiative of the NHF this year called “the Greenhouse’.  Where professional across the social housing sector came together for a three-month period this year to try to find some initiatives to unlock our national housing crisis.  Some great ideas have emerged that need to be taken forward.


All in all an excellent day learning about the pressures that Smaller Housing Association face as they step up to meet the challenge from the government to get more homes built. The overarching theme of the day was building more homes and about taking leadership in the housing crisis, topics not just for Smaller or Larger Housing Association but everyone in the industry and across Local Government. Despite the malaise, we have to get building, or home ownership and a decent home will become beyond the reach of the many and the privilege of the few, and that is just not acceptable.  Everywhere and I do mean everywhere must take new housing developments with a mixture of tenure.

Hearing views and opinions

There are many interesting aspects of being a councillor, and many roles you can play. Chief amongst them has to be representing the council to your community and representing your community to the Council.

Sounds simple but it’s not, in any community there is the vocal few and generally speaking, the silent majority.  Always easiest to listen to those who engage or shout the loudest but difficult sometimes to hear the silent majority often a struggle because well… they are quiet. So you have to go out and find them!

Whatever the vocal few say, the role of a Councillor is not merely to represent one particular view but to take all into account when decisions get made.  Get it right you get re-elected and get it wrong, and you’re out!

So, getting out on the doorsteps, delivering newsletters and encouraging people to complete surveys is the backbone of how you engage and seek the views of the majority in a community, your community.

In the past week or so the final element of the new West Suffolk Council was agreed.  The reshaping of the Council wards.  These new boundaries bring the tiny village of Elveden into the Lakenheath and Eriswell ward and so on Saturday, a small team and I were out firstly in the new estate that forms part of Eriswell and then onto Elveden.

It is always interesting to hear people views on the doorstep and in response to the latest Intouch and the postal survey we are currently distributing, the .pdf of which is here:

Lakenheath Ward InTouch

If you want to take part in the survey on line, that would be great, the link is here:







Get ready for Growth

Last Monday there was a locally important business conference hosted by Cllr. James Waters, Leader of Forest Heath District at Newmarket Racecourse and chaired by Chair, Matthew Darroch-Thompson of the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce.  Where alongside Balfour Beatty, Galliford Try and Wates who spoke about their on their approach to procurement and opportunities in the region. RAF Lakenheath 48th Contracting Squadron presented about the opportunities both ongoing and coming-up at RAF Lakenheath.  After which West Suffolk Councils, West Suffolk College, New Anglia LEP, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, Job Centre Plus and Suffolk County Council talk about the support that is available to help local businesses take advantage of the opportunities out there.

What I thought was compelling about the day was that it was not the usual strategic conference about how we long-term support business with infrastructure or how we work across the networks and councils to support our business community.  Nor a debate about the future local government change from grant funding to business rate growth funding.

Nope, it was a conference about how businesses can and should grasp the opportunities right here on our doorstep. And by ‘doorstep’ I mean 100 years from the bottom of my garden in Lakenheath namely the coming growth of RAF Lakenheath and the contracts both existing and coming that the USAF wants to put in place to support the F35 programme.

Today the USAF spend some $60M in services and contracts running the base and very shortly they will announce the main contractor for an additional $130M of infrastructure spending for the refurbishment of everything from the hardened nuclear aircraft shelters to painters and decorators in the new hospital building.

So the conference was about how to get involved and win some of the business contracts up for grabs.  If you are a local business, you should get involved and see what opportunities exist – its nothing like as hard as you think it is.   For smaller contracts, they can commission on a spot basis, and for larger ones yes you have to register, but the opportunities are there.

To find out more, email the team.


If you would like more information on further opportunities or membership of the Chamber, please feel free to contact Stuart Franklin on Stuart@suffolkchamber.co.uk

or visit


The small matter of Housing

There is no more contentious issue in British local government today than housing.  There are those who do not accept that our birth-rate is going up and our death rate is dropping as people celebrate a longer lifespan, there are those who blame immigration.  There are those that welcome housing with the “I am not against housing in the right place but…” to the ” I am not a NIMBY but…” and that ‘but’ is always the same, just not here.  And the proof of the pudding is to see application after application, stir-up action groups to form against, protests at the Town Hall and booing of councillors who grant permissions.

At the same time, housing has never been in such a bad state of affairs.  In my business lifetime, a lifetime in Housing, the average of the first-time buyer has risen from 22 to 39, yes 39 today.  Today the average property in places like West Suffolk is now eight times the average wage.  In rural areas it’s estimated that there are some 191,000 families on the waiting lists with about 10,000 social housing units built each year by Registered Social Landlords and others – do the maths, and you can see the sheer scale of the challenge ahead.

So we have an unacceptable situation where younger people are starting to be called generation rent, and home ownership seems something they will never achieve, that is not acceptable.  We must build more homes.  We must build more homes in West Suffolk and my particular case more homes in the villages I represent.  Councillors across the country must show leadership of their communities in the face of some very vocal opposition.  Politically you can’t expect people to vote for the party that believes in Capitalism if you deny people the ability to acquire capital.  Tenure might depend on income but the right to a decent home should not.

So last Monday West Suffolk showed outstanding Leadership is arranging a conference to discuss housing, not planning but housing and its importance to our communities and what we have to deliver.  The conference was entitled: ‘Home is where the start is – building foundations for the future’ and the line-up of speakers was stellar with Sir Edward Lister Chairman of Homes England, Tony Pidgley CBE Chairman of Berkeley Homes, David McQuade CEO of Flagship Housing Group and Lord Richard Best OBE DL – House of Lords spokesperson on social housing, amongst others.  Beccy Jago from Anglia TV News compared the event.

As Lord Best spoke, it was ironic that he talked about land coming forward from County Councils for social good with such things as extra care and place shaping not the blinkered selling to the highest bidder.  He went on to say that across the country this is starting to happen with new Local Government housing companies and partnerships emerging, just not in Suffolk.

The Conference gathering together the key players across the West Suffolk system and beyond. Planners, land developers and house-builders cam together to discuss what we here in our part of the world are going to do to get building, well done West Suffolk Councils. #letsgetbuilding

Reports, Reports, Reports

Institute for Government

If you take a keen interest in any subject nowadays there seem to be more commentators and more reports than ever before.  It’s perhaps something to do with the rise of the internet and the volume of noise that this has created that we increasingly seem to want our news more bit sized and we are less likely to trust it, or is that just me as I grow more cynical with age.

However not all reports and news are created equally and dare I say some of it comes with bias baked in, but some reports need to be read and considered and pondered.

A couple of weeks ago I attended the joint Institute for Government and CIPFA fridge at the Conservative Party conference where Director Bronwen Maddox and Dr. Emily Andrews spoke, and I blogged about the forthcoming report, well here it is, and it makes for fascinating reading if you are interested in Local Government and the services it delivers to our residents and communities.

In the preamble to the report its sums itself up perfectly:

‘About Performance Tracker

Performance Tracker brings together more than 150 data series to provide a comprehensive picture of the performance of key public services. This third edition expands on our 2017 analysis. This report focuses on general practice, hospitals, adult social care, children’s social care, schools, neighbourhood services, the police, criminal courts and prisons.

This analysis – produced in partnership by the Institute for Government and the Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy – reveals the key decision points that the Chancellor faces in the run-up to the Budget, and the proposed 2019 Spending Review.’

Find out more: http://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/performance-tracker

An interesting week

Over my time in local Government, I have attended lots of training course from various organisations and if I look back through my training log and yes I do love a good list; there is a theme, and it has predominantly been about Leadership, Leadership of place, Leadership of organisation etc., etc.  Of course, some people think that is far beyond the role of a councillor, but then again I do ponder what those people think local government is there to do, presumably keep its head down and empty the bins.  When in fact, local government is at its very best when Councillors and officers lead and shape the places we all live in as we are all residents.  To me, if I were to define Leadership it would be to quote a saying on another of my lists, my Top 10 quote list:

“Managing is helping to make happen, what is supposed to happen anyway.  Leadership is making happen what isn’t going to happen anyway” – Richard Pascal

Last Tuesday at Suffolk County Council the cabinet agenda made for interesting reading not so much the predictable increased costs of the Upper Orwell Crossing but the cabinet paper on Domiciliary Care Commissioning.  At its simplistic it was the abandonment of an innovative approach, dividing the county up into geographical lots so that providers had to provide care in areas where they could do so quickly and areas where they would find it more challenging to deliver, this is true of all rural counties as like Suffolk.

In reality, last Tuesday’s cabinet decision is not a new initiative, approach or attempt to redefine the market but a return to a more traditional form of commissioning of care in the home, albeit hopefully with some learning along the way.  However, given Suffolk and other counties ageing population, without true innovation, any council will unacceptably end up managing a service well for an ever-decreasing percentage of residents as the demand outstrips the money.  Addressing that challenge is where leadership, not management is needed.  But Leadership is not a comfortable space, for comfort aim to manage, for maximum comfort strive to manage well.

A sense check of where we are at

On Friday last week, I spent the morning at a conference jointly hosted by the East of England Local Government Association and ADASS.  For the person who read this blog and FOI questions why I have the right to attend anything nowadays, firstly thanks for reading and secondly to save the cost of responding to an FOI – for they do cost actual money – you could always ask me.  So here goes, I attend as I am a member of its Improvement and Efficiency Panel of the EELGA and as a member of the Community Wellbeing Board of the LGA – but I digress.

The conference was chaired by James Buillion who never fails to remind me I once had the chance to employ in Suffolk but chose internally!  James has become an excellent Director of Adult Social Services (DASS)and now works in Norfolk following in the footsteps of Harold Bodmer whom I and many others remember with great affection.  So big boots to fill but I hear good things from Councillors in Norfolk.

One of the key speakers for the morning session was Richard Carr the CE of Central Bedfordshire, and in many ways, he typifies the commitment that Local Government officers and councillors now committed to the integration agenda across Health and Social Care.  From Richard, we heard about the focused work he is engaged in with the NHS CE group across the Bedfordshire system and of the complexity that entails.

To give a sense of the range of attendees from James and Richard, I also met up with Dr Peter Topping the former Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, who as a County Councillor chairs the Cambridgeshire Health and Wellbeing Board, alongside Councillors and officers from across the region including Suffolk. It was also a chance to briefly catch up with Jacquie Lansley who works with the CCG in Southend on Sea and with whom I recently spent a few days in Stafford as part of the LGA Peer team. Where we undertook Staffordshire CC’s Corporate Peer Challenge, and on the day we have both received the first draft of the final Staffs CPC report for our review and comments.

The conference was called ‘A system Approach to Integration: A Local Government Perspective on the Journey so far’.  And during the morning various speakers gave their reflections both on the system as a whole and his successes difficulties and work still to come.

It struck me that on the subject of Health and Social Care we were further down the line now that at any point in the past.  I can say we have come a long way these past eight years and I have seen first-hand the realisation from both Local Government and essentially from Health and Social Care that the issuers we collectively dace of an ageing population and an increasing cohort of work-age adults needing complex care.  The solution does not lie in any one area be it a super drug, procedure or social workers.  It’s in how the whole system comes together to support older people as they live their lives, not as a system construct.


The conference venue, Grant Park is not far from the Cherry Hinton Community Centre, albeit two venues worlds apart but as I sat taking notes on Friday, I recalled something I heard said ten years ago in that other hall.  It was there that I first met one of today’s NHS Board members Lord Victor Adebowale CBE, then and now also CE of a charity called Turning Point whom I first met at the Cherry Hinton Community Hall some ten years ago.  He talked about organisations, and how they expect people to conform to their way of doing things and how that has to change, our organisations and structures should be around the people we service and who use the services our residents, our families and well, us.  Of course, it’s as true today as it was then.


Fast forward ten years and are we getting there? Yes, albeit slowly.  So, call them what you will: STPs (Sustainable Transformation Plans) to ICS (Integrated Care Systems) any plan or system must focus on residents, not the other way around!



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