West Suffolk Council Election 2nd May 2019

Yesterday Conservatives gathered in Haverhill for the launch of our manifesto in the West Suffolk Council election on Thursday 2nd May 2019.

The new West Suffolk Council is a bringing together of Forest Heath District Council and St. Edmundsbury Borough Council. It has been a journey started in 2011 I had with the then leader of Forest Heath District Council Geoffrey Jaggard and then continued by its new Leadership of James Waters and Robin Millar. Initially it was about running two councils with half the staff and at the same time it stunning success has delivery 7 years of 0% District Council tax rises.  Over the period the idea of a new council as the staff, processes and Conservative Cohorts came together seemed more and more the logical next step.  The process has saved millions of pounds and the new Council will have fewer officers, fewer Councillors and the streamlined of processes to deliver better services.

West Suffolk Conservatives Manifesto is an ambitious programme for the next 4 years to make sure that resident’s hard earned money is spent wisely and council tax increases are kept to the absolute minimum to deal with inflation. The plan sets out how we want to deliver high-value jobs to take advantage of the success of the Cambridge sub-region. to build great places that respect the environment we live in and enhance our sense of community but deliver the numbers we need for young families and those who can’t afford a home of their own. And to work with partners to deliver the infrastructure our area needs and residents want.

I am standing for Lakenheath Ward which is made up of the villages of Lakenheath, Eriswell, Elveden and Sedge Fen. I am Lakenheath born and bred. I am standing with Stephen Frost an experienced Councillor and a good friend of mine. Against us is one independent. We want to use our influence and combined experience to be a strong voice for our villages in the ruling Conservative group.

The local elections are not about Brexit or national politics but about our local services and the communities we live in. An independent might seem a protest voice but it would mean that Lakenheath was not represented by experienced councillors with influence in the Conservative Administration merely having someone shouting from the sidelines.

If you want to have a look at our Lakenheath Ward manifesto please click.

https://www.westsuffolkconservatives.com/election-2019

Please do vote on 2nd May 2019 it’s your council and your hard earned money. Please vote for Stephen Frost and myself, so we can be a strong voice for Lakenheath, Eriswell, Elveden and Sedge Fen on the new Council.

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Planning for Retirement Seminar

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Last Thursday I was invited to speak at a morning seminar hosted by Planning Futures, the leading planning policy think tank and Lexington Communications, well-respected planning consultants, entitled ‘Planning for Retirement’.

The event was expertly chaired by Therese Villers MP, and I joined a panel with an old friend of mine Emma Webster from retirement housebuilder Pegasus Life and Michael Stanworth of Lexington Communications.

I spoke about one of the subjects dear to my heart which blends my public life, business life and indeed my family history about retirement housebuilding. I’m the son of a bungalow builder who created a very niche retirement product and sold bungalows in Norfolk and Suffolk to retiring North Londoners who sold their homes often for double what it cost them to buy one of the company’s retirement bungalow thus topping up their pensions and going to live in a lovely environment. For a time I was involved in that company and came up with the strapline ‘It’s just like being on Holiday’ – won an award or two for that one.

Fast forward and in my time as a cabinet member for Adult Social Care, Finance cabinet member and then Leader for a County Council I promoted extra care housing being the sort of latest version in retirement living. In Suffolk, we held two conferences entitled Flexicare 1 and 2, both at Newmarket Race Course. The ambition was for Suffolk to ‘light the way’ as the place providers and developers could build extra care facilities. To this day Judith Hawkshore an Officer at SCC is remembered with great affection by those of us who were privileged to know her, as a leading advocate in the country on Extra-Care housing. The aim was for Suffolk to have the best offering to older people as they looked for more suitable housing and the chance to downsize but still have an independent home but that as they care needs changed, it could help support them better.

Did we achieve this? – A resounding no. None of the Districts councils in Suffolk adopted planning policies to enable it to happen and this disconnect between the challenge and responsibility for an ageing population and the delivery resting at a district or borough level in two-tier areas is at the very core of my thinking about two-tier councils area’s being unfit for purpose. But across the country, it’s not happened either. Pegasus Life and others are still nice developers of great schemes, but the quantum shift in the number of projects being build has not taken place.

So it was interesting that across the panel, we spoke of the planning ‘use class’ problems and the lack of an understanding and knowledge of the differences between Residential Care Homes, Nursing Homes, sheltered accommodation, and extra care amongst planning officers and councillors on development Control Committees.

Planner and Councillors across the country seem reluctant to land extra care, usually on the wrong preconception that it imports older people which is not the evidence, unlike the people who brought my father’s company’s bungalows! The evidence is where schemes are built; it’s local older people who move. Unlike the concept, my father sold to retiring North Londoners all those years ago! This has perhaps something to do with the differentiation of a cohort of just retiring and the final move we make in our older age the difference between the two age profiles is far greater now as we all enjoy a longer life. Older people need better choices than many face today between struggling on in their family home or some form of residential care home.  If someone has dementia then often a residential setting is the right choice but if you as just increasingly frail in older age that can seem like a death sentence. when I am old and frail I will want support but I will still want my own front door and my lifetime’s worth of stuff with me. I might not be able to cook but I will still want my own kitchen and that choice that extra care schemes provide is just not open to many yet.

So what to do? Firstly change the ‘use’ classification last given a major overhaul in the 1980’s! As per the recent recommendation from the Local Government Commons Select Committee recommendation so that Extra Care is a use classification of its own and clearly explained as such.

And from Housing Associations and local councils re-entering the building of homes game – let’s see a significant focus on older people extra care housing across all tenures. Let’s finally address the needs of our ageing population, providing suitable homes to aspire to.  So as the number of people living for far longer increases both in numbers and age we build extra care schemes close to where people live and that are suitable for them, to help them cope with old age and to support them better. Thus removing the stark choices that face many in older age, struggling on in unsuitable family homes or going into residential care. People deserve better choices than that.

The government rightly talks a lot about the additional homes we need, Kit Malthouse’s additional 100,000 more per year, but let’s also talk about housing for older people and extra care in the same breath and the coming Health and Social Care green paper.

A new role in a new organisation – ICCAN

ICCAN

I am honoured and delighted to have been chosen to be a commissioner, one of four, on a new national body called the Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise, which has been established by the Department of Transport to advise the government on the impact of civil aviation noise.

Its remit is to support residents and businesses across the country to have a national voice in the debate of aviation expansion so vital for our post-Brexit economy.  The country is set to see a significant expansion of air traffic over the coming years.  Our airports like our ports are significant hubs of that growth yet sit next to communities where noise is a growing concern.  As plans develop it’s vital that everyone can have their interests raised and concerns listened to and so the government has created our Independent commission to do just that.

I was headhunted for the role, I think, because of my experience in community engagement gained from being a former Council leader and social care Cabinet Member able to engage on the difficult subjects councils have to address with residents and communites.  And also as a local Councillor, where relatively uniquely, aviation noise is also central to my role, as I live in Lakenheath.  In representing Lakenheath and Beck Row aviation noise is ever present in the lives of our residents and community, from two of Europe’s largest and busiest military airbases, the runway at USAF Lakenheath is literally 300 metres from my rear garden and I do mean literally.

It’s going to be a challenging role and one which blends in well with my council and lived experience.  From our initial meeting, I am looking forward to working with my fellow commissioners as we seek to forge a new organisation with an important remit to work independently of but with Government, business, pressure groups, communities and residents around our country’s airports and below our airspace.

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/independent-commission-on-civil-aviation-noise/about

 

After Carillion: The future of Public Sector Insourcing and Outsourcing

fullsizeoutput_2ca6Last Thursday I was pleased to chair a DODS Westminster Briefing conference entitled After Carillion: The future of Public Sector Insourcing and Outsourcing.

I was asked to chair the event I think because I have politically lead on many of the outsourcing contracts at Suffolk County Council and have experience and some knowledge of what works and what does not. And, I suppose, from a local government perspective, I’ve formed a clear picture of the sort of services you can and perhaps those you should not, outsource.

For me, these events are a chance to learn more about these critical aspects of service delivery to the Government and Local Government sectors. Done well, services, both outsourced and insourced, are at the heart of a well-run council and government department, saving money, being efficient, protecting front line services and delivering for the residents of an area. Poorly done and it can have a real negative impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, look at the rollout of Universal Credit.

The day was divided into two sessions the mornings being Outsourcing: Effective management, communication and regulations of contracts, the afternoon’s was entitled Insourcing: Competing effectively with the private sector.

In the morning we heard from, Andy Hobart, Commerical Director MHCLG, who’s background includes heading up Wates Housing Division. Emma Wilson, Audit Manager from the UK Audit office; Christopher Ford, Principle – Government Affairs DXC Technology the second biggest ITC provider in the country which I think it is fair to say few of us have heard of; and Roopali Khurana, Local Government Services, Capita Southampton Limited who works to provide procurement services for Southampton City Council.

All of them spoke of the need to make sure that contracts are managed not just signed and hope for the best and the need for the procurement team to be a part of how you source providers – as with any relationships it about the focused work that needs to be put in to make the best of them. One top tip from Roopali was about bringing in the procurement team at an early stage and meeting the actual people who will deliver a contract not just those brought in to go through the procurement process.

In the afternoon we heard from Trevor Ingham, Head of Procurement at Liverpool City Council who spoke of this councils attitude to price and social value considerations, and how that plays a significant part in his Councils procurement processes. In Suffolk, we call that the Suffolk pound and its place in procurement has always been an interesting debate. And last but not least we heard from Abby Semple, Independent Consultant, Public Procurement Analysis. Abby made, for me, an important observation which I reiterated in my conference summing up, when she said it’s essential that as a ‘fire’ breaks out with the likes of Carillion and unbeknown to us at that time, but indeed coming as no surprise the next day, Interserve going in the receivership. Just because a ‘fire’ starts in some of these big outsourcing contracts it should not, it must not lead to a stampede to insourcing as there are reasons why and lessons to learn not a simple knee jerk approach to this complex world.

In my summary, I spoke about the political imperatives that also exists around services and the mistake to assume just because its the blue team or the red team in control it means they are in favour of this or that approach as often it’s more about the history and culture of an organisation than political ideology. But above all its about how best to deliver services. The trick is to know which should be internal or external and to manage them well irrespectively.

When I chair conferences, I am incredibly keen to hear of the experience in the room amongst the delegates as well as from the speakers. Last Thursday during the day the attendee’s were great, and we have many interesting thoughts, comments and discussions on this important subject. All in all, a day where I learnt a lot and hoped those who presented and were delegates, did the same.

More, Better, Faster – new Homes

fullsizeoutput_2c7eLast Wednesday I attended the latest annual Local Government Association Planning, Housing and Infrastructure Conference where Leaders, Councillors with a focus on housing and Officers from across the country gathered to hear the thinking on housing delivery and best practice from around the country, as Councils step up to the release of the Housing Revenue Account restrictions and encouragement to start building again. The LGA and many of us have for years been telling Government that the limits on Councils building homes has been a massive mistake, thankfully now being rectified. Along with Housing Associations, Councils must have a real focus and funding to address this national crisis.

I am delighted to see that West Suffolk Councils are continuing to develop Barley Homes which I started when Leader of Suffolk County Council jointly with West Suffolk Councils. I think it’s a mistake that the new leadership at Suffolk County Council have walked away from this direct ability and responsibility to deliver more homes, thankfully a view not shared by most other upper tier Councils alongside District and Boroughs stepping up to the challenge.

First up was Kit Malthouse MP Minister of State, Housing Community and Local Government. This was the third time I had heard Kit speak in as many weeks and his determination to see this country finally start to solve our housing crisis is infectious. Its quite clear from the trade press dispatches this week from MIPIM in Cannes, his department’s off-gov agency Homes England is starting to have a real voice in our housing debate and money is beginning to flow to drive forward on increasing housing delivery numbers.

Much is said and written about a new dawn for modular housing, built not in fields but factories but we were reminded by Kit Malthouse who challenged the room to see if we are going to build the Conservation areas of the future. Or repeat the mistakes of the ’60s and ’70s the very housing in some parts of the country, Councils and Housing Associations want to put down to build better homes, spaces and mixed tenure communities.

In the following session, Claire Bennie, Director of Municipal Consultancy continued this theme that one size does not fit all and to see a return to the sort of poor shared space and boring designs of the ’60s and ’70s council house estates would be a real mistake. I quite agree communities develop in part through great design and massively though mixed tenure. The sort of ‘model T Ford, any colour as long as its black’ approach to modular housing whereby you can have anything as long as its unit model 1 or 2 or 2 or 1; that seems to be being proposed by many modular housing providers. These limitations in design do not sit comfortably with the aspirations of Kit Malthouse when he talks about the conservation areas of the future, with great design sympathetic to its setting and the creation of new and exciting spaces and places to live with a wide variety of residents. This will require MMC built homes which are flexible enough to be produced in short build runs as well as making all the savings and technical improvements to housing that factory built can offer.

One of the most interesting presentations was from Cllr. David Bittleston, Leader of Woking Borough Council who presented his Council’s innovative scheme whereby tenant’s swop their right to buy for a deposit scheme called ‘Earn Your Deposit’ – just brilliant.

http://www.earnyourdeposit.org.uk

Its strapline is: Giving everyone the opportunity to own their own home – as the scheme does precisely that.

As I go around the country talking about housing and my company’s approach to MMC modular homes I shall also be pointing organisations in Woking’s direction.

Whether its Councils or Housing Associations the 2020’s must be the era of building homes. As Kit Malthouse says ‘More, Better, Faster ‘ – I could not agree more.

‘Powerful Partnerships, Healthier Places’ Conference

Local Government Association Logo

Last Wednesday I attended the annual joint Local Government Association and NHS Clinical Commissioners conference in London entitled ‘Powerful Partnerships, Healthier Places’. Where Leaders, Chairs and Board member of Clinical Commissioner Groups gathered with Cabinet Members for Adult Social Care, Health and Wellbeing Board Chairs and Officers from across the country to look at the current state of play of Health and Wellbeing Boards Integrated Care systems and joint working cross Health and Social Care.

Throughout the day we heard from different areas about what is working well and candidly about things that still present a challenge. We have all grappled with the changing landscape of Heath, and Social Care as the realities of an Ageing population starts to hit home. The solutions rest not in ever more advanced medicines and equipment, but how we help the vast majority of people in our communities. People, who as they get older need support with the issues that age brings and that support is more appropriately, cost-effectively and better delivered in communities, not hospitals. Hospitals, of course, are vital and have an essential role to play when we need medical intervention but for the vast majority of people, its day to day support which is the critical issue for the system of how we redesign services to address these changing population needs.

It’s also about the wider determinants of health from better public health, exercise housing and the support we offer people at tough times in their lives. This week the County Council Network has published a report on the impact of Public Health moving across from the NHS to Local Government, and it makes for interesting reading.

https://www.countycouncilsnetwork.org.uk/removing-public-health-functions-from-councils-would-be-a-deeply-retrograde-step-councillors-argue/

Showing how Directors of Public Health have been able to influence their communities in a far more tangible way than previously when part of the NHS and this is having an impact on local government focus and the health of populations and our communities.

During the day there was a couple of workshops, one of which I facilitated both called ‘When worlds collide’. The workshop was a taster session run in parallel one for NHS leaders and one for political leaders. As I prepared the slide deck for the workshop, I thought back over the past eight years from Andrew Lansley’s notion of a different way of working across Health and Social Care. Through the, then newly created, joint boards to where we are today, lots have been achieved, but there is still far more that can be done to share best practice and deliver the sort of service residents think already exists now which sadly is not the case everywhere.

One of the key issues continues to be the very different worlds that exists in Local Government and the NHS, and so the workshop which is jointly being rolled out across the country is about helping leaders from both worlds understand the other. Following on from my work with Public Health England and the Improvement programme for Local Government in both of which I have delivered many days workshops on Working in a Political Environment’ and this new 1/2 day is a distillation of much of those workshops helping people understand the political system which is the backbone of Local Government.

Helping Leaders from both worlds is a significant part of how we bring together two entirely different ecosystems. Both in the way in which Health and Wellbeing Boards can be more effective and how we co-design services for the residents we all serve. Rather than residents having to navigate two parallel systems the organisation that serves our residents focus on them rather than the other way round, there is a long way to get to get this right but as we have seen in the best examples such as here in West Suffolk. There is an old saying ‘progress occurs at the speed of trust’ and it as true in complicated relationships, such as the NHS and Local Government, as it is anywhere else. When everyone trusts each other great things happen, and this needs to be the focus over the next few years to truly design services and a system that serves residents.

The CCA Conference

Each year Conservative Councillors gather for our annual Association conference.  This year’s was just outside Oxford where Councillors from across the country heard the results of the Board elections and gather to discuss the key issues Local Government face and discuss those with the Ministerial team from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

Across the two days, we heard from the MHCLG Secretary of State James Brokenshire MP and his ministerial team including Claire Perry MP and Jake Berry MP.  Alongside the impressive Heather Williams MP and Kit Malthouse MP confusingly both Housing Ministers, both of whom spoke passionately about the need for this country to increase housing supply and a focus on Modern Methods of Construction to achieve the additionally we need – obviously dear to my heart given what I do for a living.

On Friday afternoon, we said goodbye to the excellent outgoing Chairman Rory Love and welcomed Mark Hawthorne, the Leader of Gloucestershire as our new Chairman.  I was honoured to get elected as a member of the CCA Board representing County Councillors.  Shortly after the AGM, we held our first board meeting where we started to discuss the issues the Association faces over the coming year, and some of the feedback the new Board members picked up as we each fought our campaigns.  I certainly look forward to working with Councillors from to cross the country on how we can improve the Association.

On Saturday morning in parallel to our conference, the National Convention of the Party gathered, of which I am a member, and so was slightly torn between the two meetings.  I chose to hear the debate on our Local government finance, and it was stressed to Ministers the need to make sure the coming Fairer Funding review takes account of the views of the Upper Tier Authorities who year on year spend more in real terms and more as a percentage of their overall budgets on Adult Social Care.  The views of the CCN play an essential part in, and their latest reflective piece on their website makes for interesting reading:

www.https://www.countycouncilsnetwork.org.uk/counties-welcome-the-governments-fair-funding-proposals-but-voice-concerns-over-adult-social-care-formula/

At the break, I had a chance to catch up with Kit Malthouse MP and discuss MMC Modular Housing and how it is slowly being taken up by Councils and Housing Associations.  After that, we heard from the Party Chairman Brandon Lewis MP whom I have known as the local MP for Great Yarmouth for some years.  He spoke of the important local elections ahead and the need to stress to people that Conservative Councils are simply cost you less in Council tax – on average by £100 per year.

After his speech, Brandon introduced Prime Minister Theresa May MP who spend the next hour or so talking about all the challenges the government faces including Brexit but also the opportunities that lay ahead.  As always, the Prime Minister, was open and honest with CCA members present, talking about what can we achieve across a wide range of policy areas over the coming year.

As always a fascinating conference for Conservative Councillors from across the various tiers of local government, and I am pleased to now be on the CCA board.

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