As winter approaches

Here’s the column I wrote for the EADT and the Ipswich Star newspapers a couple of weeks ago:

With temperatures noticeably dropping outside, we are on the cusp of the period that causes the most anxiety among health and social care professionals.

As the Leader of a county council, my staff are bracing themselves for the unknown, but putting robust plans in place to ensure any ‘winter crisis’ is kept at bay – as I’m sure councils are doing across the country. However, planning for the forthcoming period and beyond has been made more difficult; with storm clouds gathering between Whitehall and councils because of fraught debates over delayed transfers from hospital.

The context behind this leads back to the government’s much-welcomed additional £2billion for social care last March, showing it was listening to our concerns over the fragility of the social care system.

Councils have invested this money in making the system work better for patients, including raising care home fees, recruiting extra dementia nurses, and expanding rapid response services. This funding has helped reduce delayed discharges, and better supported the care needs of residents.

Initially, completely unrealistic targets were imposed on counties. Subsequently, 32 local authorities received letters asserting that if they do not improve discharge rates by November part of this £2bn funding would be withheld, or, equally concerning, diktats from Whitehall would be issued on how funding should be spent locally.

The imposition of targets and the positioning of NHS England has led to delays in agreeing details of the Better Care Fund (BCF), a further pot of cash for local areas to better integrate health services.

The concerns of Ministers are understandable. Rates of delayed transfers have continued to rise; a real issue for the health service but also a moral issue: no-one deserves to be stuck in hospital longer than they should do.

However, rising delayed discharges should be of little surprise when you consider the factors involved: the funding available for social care, rising demographics and demand, and, in particular whole system performance: two-thirds of delayed days are attributable to the NHS, not councils.

While Suffolk is not one of the 32 authorities that received a letter, just under half of those who were contacted are county authorities. Counties have faced a financial quandary unmatched in local government with 30% less funding per head of over 65s than in 2010 and face a £1bn black-hole in social care funding by 2020/21.

We must consider ways to use money in the system more effectively. This goes to the heart of why the current loggerheads between councils, NHS England, and the Department of Health is counterproductive and potentially highly damaging.

Counties have worked tirelessly with NHS partners to develop BCF plans, providing impetus to reduce demand. The prospect of this funding being withheld or placing it in a national body’s hands, could I fear, only worsen the situation. In this instance, centrally-led initiatives are no substitute for local knowledge and expertise.

Rather than short-term, centralist thinking, I believe we should channel our efforts into prevention and early intervention. People are living longer, meaning they are increasingly likely to have more complex conditions requiring greater levels of care.

This means there is also a need for personal responsibility as well – if people do things such as getting a flu jab, that will reduce the chance of receiving a serious illness and a visit to A&E. If people are unwell they should start by seeing their pharmacist and GP before visiting A&E, allowing those who really need emergency care to get it as quickly as possible.

Government may need to give health and social care additional funding in the Budget for the winter, but Ministers must also give local areas the opportunity to implement their BCF plans and deliver a preventative, community-based, approach.

Those 32 councils threatened with the prospect of having funding withheld must be given time to see the fruits of their labour. If not, investment by councils could go to waste and local partnerships with health will be permanently set back.

Fixing health and social care is not going to happen overnight. They are two very different beasts, multi-layered and steeped in years of bureaucracy and regulations.

That’s why whole-system reform is needed. We have failed to evolve the systems to match the demand, needs, expectations, and ultimately the money available to pay for them. It is this fundamental question we need to focus on in the forthcoming social care green paper, rather than who is to blame for delayed transfers.

Ultimately, it is revolution, rather than evolution, that is needed to unpick the systemic issues that drive the actions of both health and social care. But to make that happen, we need collaboration, not consternation.

Remembrance weekend

Time flies by and it hardly seems a year since the last Remembrance weekend. Across the country millions turned out to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and in my Division of Row Heath it was no different.  There are 6 Parish War memorials and one War Graves and wreaths were laid at each.

On Saturday morning, I joined small crowds of residents and old military personnel and laid wreaths at West Row, Tuddenham St. Mary, Eriswell and Kenny Hill.   On Sunday morning, I joined others at Beck Row’s Parish Memorial and then onto the War Graves Memorial at the side of St. Johns Church before a Remembrance Day Church Service.  In the afternoon, in Lakenheath, we all assembled including children from the primary school, Beavers, Cubs, Brownies, Girl Guides and Scouts before marching behind Lakenheath’s splendid Silver Band up the high street to the War Memorial to lay wreaths before marching to the church for the Remembrance Day service. It’s always a rousing occasion with crowds lining the route and then walk up to witness the laying of the wreaths including many children taking part in the parade and ceremony. many hundreds lining the high street to see the march pass, gather at the laying of the of the wreaths and then into Church for the service with the Silver Band providing the musical compliment to the more military Hymns sung on such occasions.  It’s also an occasion when we remember those whom we have all lost and in church I sat next to Alex who knew my parents well and who lost his dear wife this past year, so a time to remember our own families as well.

These small acts are important and that’s why when I because Leader of Suffolk County Council I actively encourage all Councillors to be involved in these ceremonies and I am really please that more than ever Councillors represent the county and wreaths are laid across Suffolk on behalf of the county council.  It also about building community resilience as the more people who turn out to pay their respects the more they are involved in community life and this is the very synapsis of more resilient communities.  People coming together, talking to their neighbours and sharing a common purpose alongside other things like going to a camera or gardening club or helping a neighbour once in a while.  It’s really easy in these fast-moving times to simply sleep somewhere and not get involved but it does not have to be a massive commitment simple small acts, that can, if everyone did them, make a big difference and a powerful force for building stronger communities.  In part, this is also role of Councils and Councillors to try to nurture this sense of involvement and community.

On Saturday evening myself, Lisa and good friends went to see the fireworks at Ely. They are held in the Cathedral grounds and beforehand we have a quick drink in the Fountain, a pub opposite my old school, Kings Ely, and my 6th form study.  It’s the pub we never drank in, as it was where the teachers congregated in the evening and indeed at lunchtimes!  After that trip down memory lane it was through ‘The Porta’ building to the Bishop’s meadow. I can’t remember when they first held the fireworks but I was at school – so a few years ago now and I have been going every year since hence something of a tradition with me and for these past 20 years, Lisa as well. The event has never fallen on Armistice Day and it was very poignant that as a mark of respect, a minute’s silence was observed at the start by setting off a single firework and another to mark the end of the silence and the beginning of the display. Very well-done Ely fireworks organisers.

And just to ‘cap’ the weekend off, on Saturday afternoon we made our way to the railway station to see the Flying Scotsman pass by and whilst it was travelling far too fast for an old lady, it was wonderful to see her in ‘full flight’.  We all of course took pictures but what a picture can’t give you is the sound and smell of this great bygone age powerhouse.

All in all, my favourite civic weekend of the year, where young and old come together to remember what it is to be British and pay our respects to those who have laid down their lives for us to live in such a wonderful peaceful country.

Conservative Values & Budgets

CPC2006-LG-083At the moment, there seem to be a media storm in Westminster with Serious Allegations being diminished by silly ones.  Yet the business of government rolls on with important negotiation on Brexit and more immediately the Chancellors budget.

It’s also an important budget time for Councils as we debate and negotiate our way to our Budget proposals.  Here in Suffolk we do not indulge the grand unveiling in January before a Full Council debate in February for its implementation in May, we take a more inclusive approach and are about to publish our draft for public and Councillor scrutiny.  Last week I alongside the Leader of Kent CC, Paul Carter and Philip Atkins the Leader of Staffordshire CC, being the Chairman and vice-Chairman of the County Council Network sat down with the Secretary of State for Local Government, Sajid Javid MP to discuss the issues with funding we are as County Councils are facing and some of the things we would welcome in the Budget or if not, then in the Local Government Financial Settlement which follows between the Chancellor’s speech and Christmas.  Last Friday as a Conservative group we had our final presentation on the draft budget for 2018/19 before its draft publication.

A budget is one of the key pieces of work as a Councillor you undertake and it should reflect your values and polices.  In May 2017, we set out a very clear set of policies which we have translated into corporate priorities.  We won a massive majority pinning Labour back to but a handful of seats in Ipswich, one in Sudbury and one in Lowestoft but everywhere else soundly rejected as was their spend, spend, spend set of pledges in their campaign.  So, the course is set, steady as she goes, find new ways to do things and protect Front line services for the most vulnerable in our communities.

But its more than that, it has to be about our Conservative values.  Labour often take a very high-handed stance that as Socialists they are the ones with principles and indeed they are, one of them being that they always manage to run out of other people’s money, which helps and protects no one.  Eventually at a local Council or Government level the Conservatives’ then have to sort that out.  But as Conservatives we do have principle about fairness, incentives to get on in life, low taxes and a small state and finally last but not least a hand up, not a hand out.

At times, Conservative Principles seem more difficult to express than socialist dogma.  So as a part of our budget setting process as a Conservative group in administration on SCC we had the first of a series of sessions from one of the brightest thinker I know in Conservative Local Government.  Christina Dykes has spent the past 9 years leading the LGA Flagship political training programme the Next Generation.  Whereas most of the LGA Councillor work is cross-party, the Next Generation programme has been entirely different in that each political party run their own elements of it and each year she has been able to work with about 20 Councillors the next generation of Cabinet members and Leaders, on a year-long journey about being Conservative leaders in Local Government. (the above picture is Christina’s Next Gen 1 cohort at the launch of the programme at the BIC in Bournemouth in 2008, when the party conferences were at the seaside (that’s me on the second right, just behind Sir Eric Pickles in case you did not recognise me after 9 years in Local Government!)

I shall not go into the details of the workshops here but they are built on her years of knowledge of councils and councillors and she challenged the foundations of what we as Conservatives want to achieve in Local Government and then she get us to rebuild our vision so we are clear in our policies and our decision making what is right for our communities and this is reflected in the draft budget we will publish shortly.

My bi-weekly Newspaper column

 

Here is last weeks column I wrote for the EADT & Ipswich Star, enjoy, or least I hope you’ll find it worth a read:

Savings are, unfortunately, part of life working in the public sector.

Every authority is having to do it, including us. There’s no shying away from it. But as we continue to work on forming the budget for next year, there’s a chance to reflect on where we are and how we need to continue to work to deliver the best services for the best value.

Since 2011, we’ve saved £236.2million – no small feat. However, we do still need to save more. By April 2021 we plan to have saved an additional £56million.

These savings will help us prepare for the future. While we’re in a good place, Suffolk will change massively in the next 20 years, therefore we all need to do what we can to ensure the public purse is in the best position to face the challenges predicted.

Life expectancy in Suffolk is higher than the national average already and one in five people are over the age of 65 and by 2037 that is estimated to increase by 50% to one in three.

This is a success story in itself that people are and will be living longer, but Suffolk, its communities and its economy will change – along with the demand on the public sector.

The cost of caring for over 85s will be nearly £300million and the number of people living with dementia in Suffolk is likely to almost double in the next 20 years – 24,300 people. Most of these diagnoses will be in those older than 85 years old.

Based on current admission rates and lengths of stay, an additional 792 acute beds will be needed – that’s nearly enough to fill another two West Suffolk Hospitals.

And while we have a higher percentage of people employed when compared against the rest of the county, but wages are low. This results in lower labour productivity and when you also factor in rental prices, which are forecast to rise twice as fast as incomes, by 2030 around 40% of under-40s will be living with their parents, compared to 14% now.

There are also other statistics that mean we need to prepare for the future. It is estimated that by 2037 the working age population will be similar in size to the dependent population. At the moment, there are around six people of working age to just over four dependent people – in 20 years it is estimated to be closer to five people of working age to five dependents – three older people and two children.

These figures show how different the county will be. We need to be prepared, but also look at what can be done at this point of time.

We must also to ensure the benefits of economic growth in the county – of which there can and will be plenty – are shared by all. We, along with our partners, must also look at addressing housing provision because the current approach will not compete with future demands.

Everything is being looked at. Funding, grants, provision. We’re having to be innovative in how we work, and instead of going it alone, we’re having to work collaboratively with our partners to get the best possible outcomes for the people of Suffolk.

For those starting out in life, we need to continue our focus on the value of a good education. For those carrying out their business, or working in Suffolk – we need to make the county as attractive as possible in order to create jobs and investment. For those retiring, we need to look at how we currently provide health and care. Our current models will not be able to cope with the increases predicted.

One way that we’re looking at changing how we provide health and care is using the Buurtzorg model of care, delivering dedicated personal and healthcare to patients in a neighbourhood. We’re working with our partners in health to deliver this in the west of the county. We’re leading this nationally I’m proud of the work we’re doing so far to change things for the better.

These are challenges that won’t be easy to tackle. But we are ready to face them, head on, with our partners, and get the best for those living, learning, working and retiring in Suffolk.

 

Letter from the CCN to the Secretaries of State for Health & Local Government

fullsizeoutput_1cbeLast week I attended the National Children’s and Adult Services Conference in Bournemouth.  On the way down as Leaders from across the Adult Social Care Councils including me, received an email with a letter attached from SoS DH Jeremy Hunt and co-signed by SoS DCLG Sajid Javid about Delayed Transfers of Care, these happen when a person is medically fit for discharge form a Hospital and we are unable to put in place a suitable package of home or residential care quick enough, this is known in Health and Local Government as DTOC.

As winter approaches and with one of the worse Flu epidemic in the Southern Hemisphere seen in recent years (if you have not yet had the flu jab, I would recommend it, I paid £10 at my local chemist and apparently ASDA are doing them for £5) the NHS is extremely worried about the stress on hospital beds over the winter months, as they are expecting significant numbers of admissions for this simple but dangerous virus to vulnerable groups’.  So the need to feed up beds is important and there are two areas where local government is involved preventing people going to A&E in the first place and how quickly we can facilitate those who need a care package when they are ready to leave hospital obviously the more effective the system the more beds the NHS will have free to cope this winter.

The letter were somewhat condescending and effectively suggest we alongside the other 80 or so local councils responsible for DTOC are failing.  However it was a step back from the threats made earlier in the year about fines and direction of budget if the situation did not get sorted out.  Very DoH, not very DCLG but in this repsect DCLG is very much the junior partner to the might DoH.  During the course of last Wednesday at the conference it emerged that there were in fact three different letters issued, and our was the middle one not praising us but not summonsing us to Department of Health (DoH) as about 32 Councils will find themselves having to go before a panel of experts at DoH, and for experts read people who work in Whitehall, or more precisely civil servants who work in DH in Whitehall who will want to see plans for a lower DTOC target in those areas or they will re-direct monies spent of Adult Social Care to hospitals which will not deal with the issues and probably make them worse.  Adult Social Care cannot be fixed by a summons from DoH, it needs careful partnership working on the ground in each area surrounding a hospital. .  At the conference, we referred to these as naughty step letter and which one you were on – a very flippant comment given the seriousness of the issue but given the patronising letters, as if our social work teams are not working hard to provide the care packages, which they are, its the right term to use.

The issues are complex and the impression you get from the letters is that its entirely Local Governments fault and so DoH can swoop in, divert money to hospitals and all will be right with the world, sorry but this is nonsense.   Fundamentally Local Government needs funding to provide the care, it’s as simple as that, and the threat is that if local Government does not improve then it will have funding withdrawn is worrying.  this is not about simply demanding more money for Local Government has stepped up and made the savings the Government has called for but there comes a point.  Across the county grown up discussion with Hospitals and Clinical Commissioning groups are building a long term system to handle discharge and withdrawing money will not improve that one bit, quite the reverse in fact.

So, on behalf of the County Councils Network on Friday I wrote to both Secretaries of State pointing out the position of CCN member Councils and our concerns.  In Suffolk we work closely with our Acute hospitals planning prevention, avoiding having to go to A&E and when people are admitted discharge planning starts straight away, in West Suffolk the hospital’s enlighten CE Stephen Dunn has contracted beds in a Care Home with nursing to provide people a different setting to recover, what used to be called Convalescence.  As our population ages we are going to need to see a return to this sort of step down care, from our hospitals.

This weeks EADT Column – a postcard from Manchester

Here is this week’s column:

Last week I attended the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester and as it got underway there were two news stories dominating the world headlines; the terrible mass murder shootings in Las Vegas and the ugly scenes of the referendum in northern Spain. As you made your way into the conference secure zone in Manchester surrounded by the army of heavily armed police with armoured personnel vehicles parked in the side streets, the helicopters overhead and police marksmen placed on tall buildings around the venue, it reminded me that the world and our country is a far less secure a place than any of us would want it to be. The pictures from Spain also underlines that democracy is something that we constantly have to reaffirm and whatever the rights and wrongs of the Catalonian referendum, scenes of masked police seizing ballot boxes and fighting in the streets with firemen reminds us that democracy is a precious thing and it’s important that we all take part peacefully and respectful of differing opinions.

Whilst on the TV we see the big set speeches from the conference floor it’s in the fringe meetings and roundtables that much of the new thinking on issues is debated.  For the Conservatives, there was much analysis of the General Election in June and its successes, for which there were many, to the loss of the majority. Equally there was of course much talk of the biggest issue this country faces, Brexit. The government must make the best of the negotiations and here in Suffolk we have significant businesses relying on us balancing access to the single market with free movement of people or rather the restrictions we seek to impose.  Many of the farmers, builders and care providers I speak to are extremely worried if it becomes harder for Europeans to come work and settle in the UK they will have a crisis of labour supply.

Beyond the election, beyond Brexit, there are more domestic issues the county faces that have to be addressed – everyone is weary of austerity yet we still have an economy where as a nation we are spending more than we are raising. The gap is narrowing but there is still a way to go. The debate may be about how quickly we get there but the debt mounts daily and we have not even started to think about paying that down.

Equally the country has to debate the issue of a socialist Britain as promoted by Labour or a modern entrepreneurial Britain where hard work and effort are properly rewarded but equally a modern Britain where everyone has a chance to get on in life and to live in a safe and fair society.

I think some of this comes as a bit of a shock to any of us old enough to remember Britain in the late 1970s, the winter of discontent, Dennis Healy’s humiliation as Chancellor relying on a loan from the IMF to keep the lights on and then the sweeping aside of the old Labour order as a new modern Britain emerged where success was celebrated not treated with suspicion. But then again at least two generations of readers and voters will not remember that, so the Conservative Party has to once again set out again why Modern Capitalism is the right way forward for our country.

But at the same time issues have to be addressed and solutions offered. One of these is housing and much of my time at the Party Conference was spent in meetings looking at this vexed issue.

Most agree that we need to build more council homes, more social housing, more affordable housing for younger people and more homes better suited for our ageing population but almost everyone seems to agree, just not here!

Of course, housing growth is the remit of the district and borough councils across Suffolk but together with the county council they and us are planning for the future, to make sure whatever your circumstances you have access to a decent home to live and raise your family.

Today we will debate and decide on the council’s position and views on the Local Plans of all the district and borough councils across Suffolk. Over the coming months district and borough councils, with the county council, will be looking at the infrastructure we must deliver to make sure as housing growth comes we invest in our roads, buses and rail services and such vital things as better access to local GP services.

We live in a great and beautiful county but it is only great and beautiful if everyone has a decent home, whatever your circumstances.

 

My Column in the papers & a new road

fullsizeoutput_1c1cHere is this week’s column for the East Anglian Daily Times and the Ipswich Star:

Yesterday I joined councillors, staff and partners who have helped deliver a vital relief road to the east of Bury St Edmunds.

The Eastern Relief Road is a long-time in the making, with Suffolk County Council investing £2million into the £15million project, which was also funded by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and St Edmundsbury Borough Council.

A huge amount of work went into the delivery of this project. From putting a strong business case forward to laying tarmac on the ground, this showed what partnership working can do.

Although the route is only a mile or so long, a 67-hectare area of land will be unlocked for economic development, creating 15,000 jobs and boosting the area by millions of pounds. It will also relieve congestion in Bury St Edmunds and in light of that, we’ve improved junction 45 of the A14.

Without these benefits, we would not have been able to get this road built.

Now the road is open, business development should begin to increase in the area. From the road, you are within an hour from the internationally-significant Port of Felixstowe. This is a prime area of land that hasn’t been able to be used before and I’m positive manufacturers will want to be based in Suffolk, with the benefits it brings.

Bury St Edmunds will see a boost too, as the creation of jobs will mean more people can work in their home town – reducing a need to commute out of Suffolk. More people will be using the town’s shops, bars, and restaurants as well.

This road shows how we and our partners can work for you to deliver a sustainable future for the people of Suffolk.

There’s further good partnership working in Bury St Edmunds, for the benefit of all road users – the schemes in the town centre we’re carrying out to improve the movement of traffic through the town and the safety of all road users.

Work has also begun on the Beccles Southern Relief Road. Costing £7million, this is further evidence of how we can improve things for people – with better journey times for all road users and an economic boost to the business owners in that area.

While on the topic of partnership working and delivering new routes for those using our roads, we’ve extended the consultation for Lowestoft’s Lake Lothing Third Crossing, with an additional event at Pakefield Church Hall on October 5. So far we’ve had a great response to the consultation and we want to ensure everyone has their say on this significant project.

Work is continuing on delivering the Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich and as part of a differing set of works in the town, we’ll begin working on the first junction improvement scheme, at Landseer Road and Clapgate Lane.

We’re currently consulting on proposals for Suffolk’s Energy Gateway in the east of the county, and we continue to study the possibility of a relief road to the north of Ipswich, as well as one in Sudbury.

All of the above wouldn’t be where they are without the combined working of us and our partners, to deliver the best we can provide for our county. And it doesn’t just count for our roads, we work with our partners in Clinical Commissioning Groups and the NHS with regards to caring for our most vulnerable.

As you will have seen in the news this past week, party conference season is upon us. Journalists are basing themselves in and around the bases of each major party, trying to find out what they can before the announcements are made on stage to the nation’s media.

The Liberal Democrats have held theirs, in Bournemouth, and Labour are currently hosting theirs in Brighton.

The Conservative’s annual conference starts on Sunday and I will be going to Manchester to represent Suffolk, discussing how we can play a bigger role in the national picture. I’ll be reporting back in my next column about my role and how the conference went.

We’re doing the best we can for the people of Suffolk – and our partners are doing so too.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: