Ipswich – the next English City?

Here’s the column I wrote for the EADT and the Ipswich Star newspapers last week ahead of the City Bid motion I presented to SCC’s Full Council meeting last Thursday, which as voted in favour of by almost the whole council with the exception of just one Green and one Independent Councillor:

 A strong and successful Ipswich is the key to a strong and successful Suffolk.

Ever since becoming leader of Suffolk County Council, this is something I’ve believed in and my motion put forward at this week’s full council, shows I’m behind it.

Seconded by Paul West, cabinet member for the town, we recognise Ipswich as the fast-growing, economic centre of Suffolk, driving growth to all areas of the county.

City status would be a real positive for Ipswich, and for Suffolk. Also, how great would it be to be able to say, finally, that Suffolk has a city?

We’re willing to put the work in – and it sounds like our partners are too.

In all but name, Ipswich is a city. It is thriving, with an array of businesses, shops, restaurants, bars, cafes and communities. It has good links to other cities by road and rail and is little over an hour away from Stansted Airport.

The town brings in a number of sporting events – hosting the first ever Great East Run, East Anglia’s version of the hugely popular ‘Great Run’ series, and staging parts of stages in both the Tour of Britain and The Women’s Tour. We also have the Great East Swim here, another fantastic sporting event.

There are also a great number of events in the parks as well, bringing the communities in the town together.

We’re going to have the nationally significant Upper Orwell Crossings too. Once completed, these will bring massive economic benefits to the waterfront area of Ipswich as well as the town centre – far outweighing the cost of building them.

The communities around Ipswich will be growing, bringing in more people who can work in town, spend money in the town’s shops. The University of Suffolk will continue to attract the best students, I’m sure. But Ipswich becoming a city would boost the attractiveness for those wanting to further their education, both from here in Suffolk as well as across the country and outside of the UK.

City status would also make Ipswich, and the rest of Suffolk, a more attractive place for investment. Gaining that status would, more than ever before, “we are open for business”. Businesses are more likely to invest in an ambitious, positive city.

While we don’t know when the next city statuses would be awarded, we ought to be prepared for when it next comes up. Being ready to put our name forward with a plan ready to be tabled would be a real signal of intent – because who knows – there could be a city status awarded to mark the wedding of Harry and Meghan next year, or further down the line, for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

It’s pleasing to hear that there is a lot of agreement on this motion from all sounds of the political spectrum.

At a time when savings are having to be made, there is concern over the cost of this move. At this stage, the bid would not cost the council, or taxpayers anything. But we must also think about the positives of a successful outcome – the extra money generated from the bid would far outweigh the cost of an application to become a city.

There are and will be people who aren’t necessarily behind the idea so far, but I will work hard to convince people what this would mean and what it would bring to Ipswich.

But I must be clear – this is a very serious bid to talk about the town and what it needs in the future, improving the investment already given here and boosting our already prosperous county.

Let’s all get behind it and make the city of Ipswich a reality.

 

At what age do we become ‘old’?

Here’s the column I wrote for the EADT and the Ipswich Star newspapers last week:

 I’d like to begin this week’s column with a question.

At what age do we become ‘old’?

As language changes and adapts, we as a society are good at filtering out certain anachronisms. The use of the word “elderly”, for example, is less common now. But we frequently use such catch-all terms as “older people” which, after all, is so general as to be almost meaningless.

We are all ageing and I would claim with some confidence that we all want to age well. So, if we are not “older people” now, we will all fall within this category one day.

We know that more of us in Suffolk will be aged 65 years or over in the coming years as a proportion of the population. We’re also living longer, with the gap between male and female life expectancy closing.

In addition, Suffolk is a fantastic county, with incredible assets, so it is no surprise that many people enjoy living here, retiring here and ageing here.

Unlike many other parts of the UK, we are a county without a city. Many of our greatest strengths centre around rural, country living with the benefits this provides as we support one another and look out for our neighbours. We enjoy significant formal and informal networks of support that see old and young living and working together, bringing out the best attributes of supportive communities.

I would argue our rapidly ageing population can be viewed in one of two ways: as an insurmountable, growing threat to our health and social care services, or as a great opportunity to adapt, innovate and prosper as a county.

I see this as an opportunity to be a forward-thinking county that values and welcomes its growing older population.

No single authority, organisation or sector can create this environment alone. We must work together and engage our communities if we want to see meaningful, sustainable change.

The last 10 years have seen major change. We have seen a move from centralised control to more personalised support and care delivered in the community. The coming years will bring about increasing change to our health and care services.

Inevitably, we will be working later into life which means the nature and shape of the county’s workforce will change.

Our predominantly rural setting also provides a challenge to the way  we reach potentially isolated communities. But we are already seeing examples of this in abundance, from well established schemes such as the Debenham Project to emerging opportunities created by social prescribing.

Thanks to the foresight of our health and care teams, we are already seeing the benefits of  learning what works well elsewhere. In the west of the county, we are testing out the Buurtzorg model of integrated health and personal care delivered by small teams of self-managed nurses working in the community, based on an approach developed in the Netherlands.

One issue that is perennially in the headlines is housing; more specifically, the need for more housing that caters for the changing needs of the UK population. If we are to curb the trend of 30-40 year olds living at home because they cannot afford to join the property ladder at one end of the spectrum, and 80 year olds living on their own in a five-bedroom home at the other, we all have to act now.

But the need is wider than this: as we build and adapt our homes, we must ask ourselves if they are they hardwired for the needs of an entire population. Is the surrounding transport network responsive to the needs of an ageing society? Above all, are we providing affordable, shared space that encourages an active lifestyle at every stage of an individual’s life?

Ultimately, we need to provide support for those with more complex needs, while enabling others to remain active and independent, without the risks of becoming isolated.

When it comes to being connected, the myth of an older generation out of touch with modern technology is not borne out by the facts. Nationally, more than three quarters of 65-74 year olds and over 40% of those aged 74 and over used the internet in the last three months.

From open access at our libraries and other information points, to the investment in countywide broadband, our older population is more switched on to new media than ever. This is clearly not the case for all, but the many advantages this brings – from online shopping to connecting with family – are often a valuable antidote to social isolation.

Which brings me back to my question: what we mean by “old”? There’s the old cliché that you are only as old as you feel, and that age is just a state of mind; with people living and working longer, and the cultural changes that this entails, we may be moving  closer to a society in which we need to reconsider and redefine every aspect of what we mean by ageing.

Most of us enjoy better life chances, and a higher life expectancy, than previous generations. Though not without exceptions, this affords us the opportunity to think about ageing differently.

 

 

 

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.

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