The search begins

fullsizeoutput_1b91A week last Friday Deborah Cadman made her last presentation to the Conservative group before her move to be CE of the WMCA and we presented her with a bowl engaged with our thanks for all her hard work for Suffolk.

And so last Monday I spent the day at Ipswich Town Football Club with colleagues, opposition Councillors, SCC’s Senior Management team and partners from across Suffolk as we interviewed for our next Chief Executive.

The day was long for both the Candidates and some of us on the various interview panels and exercises.  The process was rigorous and as you’d expect different candidates had different skill sets but at the end of the day after all the reports from the various, the tallying of scores and much debate we did not feel that any were quite the right fit for Suffolk.  The Suffolk system is not unique but it is Suffolk’s and the right fit is far more important than simply appointing. I am sure, because I interviewed them, that every single candidate will find their next role and will be a perfect fit somewhere.

Processes like these cost a great deal of money with adverts in the Local Government trade press and the Guardian and Times newspapers alongside appointed recruitment consultants who undertake the work to headhunt for the long candidate list.  So, it was not a decision taken lightly.  However, getting the wrong person is a real problem not only for them as everyone wants to do well in a role but also for Suffolk and that is far more important that having to go through the process and cost again.

Even if selected as is the way the system works, officers usually given three-month notice of leaving for another job and it usually takes three months to get to the interview so assuming you do select someone for a particular role, if internal they simply move across and if external there is usually a three-month gap betwixt the two.  I say usually as this does not always happen, sometimes people resign form one role to take up another – as the CE of Lewisham has just done to take up the same role at Kensington and Chelsea Council following the changes there post the Grenfell Tower disaster where so many people tragically lost their lives and that council and indeed the entire Building Control, Fire Service and local Council sector contemplate how to make sure it never ever happens again.

What next for Suffolk County Council in deciding not to appoint?  We did so in the clear knowledge that we have a great Corporate Management team who can step up.  Not forever, as an organisation the size of Suffolk County Council needs to have a Leader of the officer team, but for now, under our interim CE Sue Cook, who is our outstanding Director of Children’s Services, we crack on with delivering services to the people of Suffolk and planning carefully and prudently for the financial landscape in the years ahead and that starts now with the discussion taking place on our proposed Budget for next year.

We’ll go back out there in January to see whom might be keen to come and work with Suffolk County Council as we delivery for the residents of Suffolk.

My Column in the papers

Here is the latest in my bi-weekly columns for the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star Newspapers, this one was published last Tuesday:

Last week I was in Felixstowe talking to the public as Suffolk County Council’s ‘We Are Listening’ events started up again.

Since becoming leader of the council in 2015, I’ve been committed to getting out into our communities to hear what people’s think about the council and the services we provide.

Joined by the Assistant Chief Executive Chris Bally and councillors Louis Busuttil, Steve Wiles and Graham Newman, we spoke to more than 60 people over the course of the event, with a further 85 feedback cards taken for those who were unable to stop for a discussion on the day.

We took a number of queries away to be looked into further as well. These were mostly highways issues and we’re considering what can be done to help those with problems.

These events are something I’m very keen on carrying out. Getting into the high streets and market places of our wonderful Suffolk towns to hear what our council tax payers think has enabled a better understanding of the issues important to residents.

We have to make some difficult decisions in this job and we wouldn’t be able to do it without input from the people we are here to serve.

It’s also true that all the conversations we’ve had have played an important part of the county council’s decision-making process as well as how we work with our partners.

These events are just one of the many ways we’re making the council more accessible. Council meetings are now webcast – so those who may wish to watch the debate but can’t get to Endeavour House can now tune in live or after the meeting to catch up on what’s been debated, with markers for people to get to the topic they have an interest in.

Debates in the council chamber can be heated and exciting and the more chances people have to see that happening the better.

We also have a stronger social media presence than ever before. Not only does the council actively respond to queries on Facebook and Twitter, many councillors – of all political backgrounds are signed up meaning debate can go further than the council chamber. Suffolk Highways and Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service have very active pages as well, meaning people can see what roadworks we’re carrying out or what major incidents we’re responding to.

We have two more events confirmed this year – in Haverhill on Friday, September 29 and in Ipswich on Thursday, October 26. The Suffolk County Council marquee will be on the high street in Haverhill and by the Giles Statue in Ipswich with both events taking place between 11am and 1pm. I hope to see many of you there.

I’m passionate about hearing what the people think of our services and what they prioritise, so there are plans for two other events, one in Bury St Edmunds and one in Lowestoft, in November and I will be sharing more information on those once they are confirmed.

Last week we also said farewell to our Chief Executive Deborah Cadman. It’s been a real pleasure to work with her and I wish her all the very best for the future as she moves to the West Midlands Combined Authority to become their Chief Executive. We’ve had a strong list of candidates apply to fill the position and I’m sure Deborah’s replacement will be a success in Suffolk.

I also enjoyed reading the lengthy coverage of the Tour of Britain in the paper on Saturday. To have an entire stage come to this county is no small feat and thanks to our officers who helped made it happen. From west to east some of the world’s best cyclists made their way through Suffolk and despite the poor weather it was great to see so many people out supporting them, showcasing the best Suffolk has to offer. Some of the cyclists have said they would like to come back to Suffolk, so we must have put on a good show.

I’m sure the tour act as an inspiration to many of those watching, meaning more people will be getting active as well as giving an economic boost to the county.

We’ll keep working to delivering the best for the county – and we’ll also keep working for our taxpayers and listening to their views.

My Column in the EADT & Ipswich Star

Every two weeks I write a column for the EADT & Ipswich Star, and at this anxious time of year we learn the A-Level and GCSE results, so here are my thoughts on the picture that emerged in Suffolk:

In the past fortnight, teenagers across Suffolk have been picking up exam results that could shape the rest of their lives.

Weeks and months of hard work has come to an end – for both pupils and staff, as well as governors and parents. For some youngsters, the results won’t be what they hoped. For many however, it will mean they will now be looking at the next stage of their lives.

To those who didn’t do as well as expected – it’s not the end of the world, there’s plenty of opportunities out there you to be a success. For those who excelled, as we’ve seen in many photos of excited students with papers jumping in the air, congratulations.

The results we’ve seen across Suffolk are a testament to the county’s continuing ambition to drive up educational standards.

Provisional A Level figures have shown the number of A*-E grades awarded to the near-3,000 students taking the exams as above the national average – with 98.2% of results making the grade, 0.3% above the average.

Even with the changes and uncertainty in GCSE grading for English and Maths this year, 64% of students achieved expected attainment levels – grade four (previously a grade C) and above – an increase on last year.

A number of schools saw significant increases in their students reaching the grade four threshold – and the hard work of all involved in achieving these should be commended.

More than 7,000 Suffolk students took GCSEs this year and figures collated from schools show a significant increase in the number of disadvantaged pupils achieving the threshold measure in English and maths – around 6% more students in Suffolk achieved this compared to last year.

We are in the process of reinvigorating our Raising the Bar strategy for 2018 through to 2020 and will be sharing more information on that soon, followed by a consultation. In the process of carrying out this work officers have already been out in the sector engaging with school heads to see what they think should be in there.

This strategy aims to give every child the best preparation for life before and beyond school to enable them to achieve their full potential. Part of this vision is for every child to attend a good or outstanding school.

As part of the scheme, we have seen great successes in getting people into teaching through our graduate internship scheme and school to school support partnerships – where schools build relationships to share best practice and drive up standards – have improved throughout the county. These partnerships, of which 75% of schools work in, have been recognised by the Department for Education, as well as the Regional Schools Commissioner.

Suffolk also continues to be above the national average for children achieving a good level of development at the end of Reception year – a vital step in preparing children for their next steps in education and towards our goal of enabling all children in the county to reach their full potential.

Suffolk’s students are progressing well between key stage three and key stage four– moving up 57 places from 112th to 55th across in the national rankings last year, putting our county in the top half of all local education authorities.

When we launched this ambitious approach, Suffolk’s educational standards were considered to be poor – little over two-thirds of schools were rated either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. With hard work and a common goal, the best for our county’s children, we have really managed to turn this around. Today, 88% of schools have been rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by government inspectors – a 22% increase since the strategy’s launch.

The rate of improvement is fast too – last year our county’s schools reduced the gap on the national average by 5% and we are now just 1% below the national figure.

However, we are under no illusion that our work is complete and while it is extremely pleasing to see the progress made so far, there is still more to be done and I am confident we will see our schools and education settings continue to improve quickly.

The future remains bright for our children – and we will continue to provide the best opportunities for them.

 

Local Politics – you could not make it up

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Last week we had a FHDC by-election in Newmarket or to be precisely St. Mary’s ward following the sad death of long standing Councillor Bill Sadler.  And I am pictured here with our candidate Robert Nobbs and my fellow County Councillor Rachel Hood as we finished off the campaign in the evening on on Poll day.

After all the ups and downs of the past few months in politics, it was good to be out on the door steps in what was a very local election.  As we always do, we found a great candidate Robert Nobbs who is the manager of the Heath Court Hotel in Newmarket and who has worked his way up from porter to General manager over the years and is what Conservatives are all about hard work, determination and with skills, business skills, that we try to bring to the Council decision making processes.  With our literature he talked about the changes he want to make and how he go about our business.

On the opposition side of things, we had Labour with the Candidate who has manged to lose 4 general elections as the West Suffolk Constituency Labour candidate and been on and booted off the District Council at the next election, twice to my knowledge.  And what a contrast from our literature which was local, upbeat and full of what we want to do.  Whereas Labours was national, socialist and on two specific aspects quite a surprise!   Firstly, he commented on the Local Secondary school where, as its deputy Head teacher, it was one of the worse performing schools in Suffolk.  Since he left, the school has joined a star Academy group which started here in Suffolk at the Samuel Ward Secondary school in Haverhill and its results are improving with a new drive and determination to deliver the best possible education for its students.  So that was a surprise!

He also put in his literature he said if elected to FHDC he would spend more on the Memorial gardens in Newmarket that Conservative FHDC ever did.  Only two issues here, firstly it’s not the responsibility of FHDC and secondly, and he must know this because, as a Town Councillor he was Chairman of the very committee at the Town Council that has not spent the money on those very same gardens, he says he will if elected to FHDC.  You could not make this stuff up folks!

So to the results:

Conservative 338

Labour 276

Greens 60

Total 680. T/O 16.86%

Accordingly, Robert was duly elected with a 62 majority

Politics s is a funny old game but thankfully even with a traditionally very low by-election turnout our Candidate won the day and on FHDC we have a bright, younger energetic Councillor with great business skills representing the good people of St. Mary’s who has already hit the ground running sorting out issues he picked up during his campaign.

 

 

 

 

Suffolk Broadband passes 90% on its way to 100% coverage

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For many of us Broadband is something we consider to now be the forth utility and if you have ever streamed a movie or tried to fill returns on line it a vital part of our leisure and work lives.  So I’m really pleased that Suffolk Conservatives drive to expand the Broadband network across Suffolk continues at pace, when we recently reached another Broadband milestone with 90% of Suffolk properties now have access to fibre broadband. Around 315,000 properties now have the option of using fibre broadband, an increase of more than 127,000 from when the Better Broadband for Suffolk programme started deployment in 2013.

I say ‘option’ as another important point to make is that the switch to fibre broadband will not be automatic. Each household or business will need to contact its broadband service provider to upgrade, once the cabinet system near you has been upgraded.  Providers usually direct mail an area so residents know they have the option but at the moment only about 40% bother.  I sometimes ponder that people think there will be an improvement anyway, there won’t or that it will cost more; often with the various deals around remarkable little extra on what you might pay already and if you have things like Virgin or Sky often the packages are very competitive.  The key as with everything in life is to ‘shop around’.

Of course while it’s great that 90% of Suffolk homes and businesses are now connected to fibre broadband, there is still more work to be done to get the entire county connected to high-speed internet. This includes lobbying Government to support full rollout to the most rural areas and we are working on plans to ensure every Suffolk property, regardless of its location, can access high-speed broadband services.

So, we have agreed to extended the agreement with Openreach, the local network business which is part of BT Group, to make high-speed broadband available to around 50,000 more properties, reaching 98% of all properties during 2020, and we have made a commitment to ensure every Suffolk property, regardless of its location, can access high-speed broadband services.  We remain committed to delivering that, and making sure that no-one is left behind.  So really pleased that at Suffolk County Council, my Deputy Leader Jane Storey, on behalf of the council, has agreed a new contract with Openreach to extend coverage to 98% during 2020.  This new agreement to reach 98% during 2020 is a big leap forward, and adds to the significant increase in broadband coverage since we started this work in 2010.

If you have not got it yet, please check if your property can access superfast broadband, visit the website at www.betterbroadbandsuffolk.com and check your area for coverage. The roll out is ongoing and Suffolk County Council is committed to completing coverage as quickly as possible. – no-one will be left behind.

Suffolk County Council ‘Our Priorities”

SCC Priorities Doc front page

At any election, you stand on a manifesto and if you win you have to translate that manifesto into a document that the organisation you will be running for the next term can make sense of what you are about and what as an Administration you want to achieve and the way in which you want to go about it.  So, it’s fitting that post the AGM of the Council at our next meeting on 20th July, I presented the first strategy document of the New Council the Conservative administration’s ‘Our Priorities’ document which was debated and passed almost unanimously as we Conservatives detail the SCC priorities for the coming 4 years. This will also inform our budgets and business plans for the term.

There will of course be many more documents to come as we look to how at the wider Suffolk system across all tiers of local government and with our Police, Health partners alongside Businesses and Voluntary organisation plan for Suffolk’s future.

The ‘Our Priorities’ 3 themes are:

  • Inclusive growth – improve education standards, protect our unique natural and historic environment, support business growth, develop skills for future employment, improve transport and digital networks
  • Health, care and well-being – keep Suffolk safe, reduce mental health issues, improve life styles, support vulnerable people, support for elderly and disabled care
  • Efficient and effective public services – maintain our low tax status, make our services more accessible, find savings in our operations, reshape our workforce to improve services.

You can click the link below to read and download the document.

Suffolk County Council ‘Our Priorities’ 

EADT – A new weekly column

On Tuesday in the EADT and the Ipswich Star I wrote the first of a weekly Column as Leader of Suffolk County Council, well I say weekly it will be every other week as I shall alternate with SCC’s Cabinet Member for Ipswich Paul West who will write more about Ipswich issues as I concentrate on a pan-Suffolk approach.

These will be a mixture of the issues that are happening as the papers go to print and some of my thoughts about how we develop Suffolk as a place to live and work over the next 20 years.  Suffolk County Council is a large organisation delivering services to some of the most vulnerable people in our Community but it is but one players and how we work in partnership across the Public sector, with private businesses and voluntary organisations is key to how we build the place we all want to live.

“Yesterday in Lowestoft, as I witnessed the initial stages of the ground investigations that will shape the final design of the Lake Lothing Third Crossing, I saw the good of our democratic bodies working together.

The investigations, taking place on land behind the offices shared by Suffolk County Council and Waveney District Council, is another step in the right direction to getting the £90million project, funded by both central government and the county council, completed. The benefits will not only be reaped by those living in the town, but across the wider area too. We simply would not have funding for the project had this not been the case. The business case for this project, along with the Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich, was put together by people who work very hard and want the best for our county.

This also rings true for the senior bosses and directors who work on our behalf. They all, like the democratically elected councillors, work hard to make a difference to Suffolk and those who live and work here. Pay in the public sector has always been a fiercely-debated issue, and even more so in recent times. It’s not just politicians and those working in the public sector – we’ve all seen the furore over the salaries awarded to the highest earners at the BBC, as well as the gender pay gap.

Last week we published our accounts, as we do every year and are required to do so. As has been reported, the majority of our staff received the 1% pay rise, in line with other public sector workers up and down the country. However, a select few members of staff received honorariums as they stepped up to fill roles, either on a temporary or permanent basis.

Indeed, they are pay rises, but they are reasonable, considering they come with greater pressures and expectations. There is no hiding from the changes that will be coming to the United Kingdom in the next two years and these people will be there assessing and dealing with those challenges. Alongside that, as an organisation we are looking to save £56million over the next four years and, along with the cabinet, these people are key to making difficult but effective decisions.

Bringing in new people to the roles would have cost the council even more money. Not just for the roles themselves, but for the cost of advertising the position. Then there is the time element too, as staff will be taken away from working on policy and serving the community as they filter applications and sit in interviews.”

Our recently introduced priorities are based on three core principles; inclusive growth, health care and wellbeing, and efficient and effective public services. These are ambitious targets – but ones I know we can achieve during the term of the administration.

This is because of the hard work and commitment of our staff, regardless of pay grade, and our councillors – and not just those in control of the administration, as opposition provides checks and balances and the chance to challenge us on policies.

Sound financial management is needed, along with careful planning and the will to find new ways to deliver and protect our frontline services. One of these methods Suffolk is leading on nationally – inspired by the work of a Dutch community, using the Buurtzorg model of care (to deliver dedicated personal and healthcare to patients in a neighbourhood) in the west of the county with our partners in health.

The work we have been doing here is something I am proud to champion in my position of Health and Social Care Integration spokesman on the County Council Network. It is something I truly believe is a strong contribution to the national debate about how we re-shape the healthcare system to serve the ever-changing age profile of our communities. I’m sure there will be more of this to come in the weeks and months ahead as the trial continues.

We, and our partners, work extremely hard to provide the best for our residents. Despite the challenges we will come up against, our staff continue to excel every day in a concerted effort to make savings and provide a better life for those we serve.

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