My motion to Suffolk’s Full Council meeting

This afternoon I proposed a motion to Suffolk County Councils full Council that would allow the Leader of the Council to respond to the Consultation on the Free Personal Care at Home Bill and was about how we ensure that Suffolk continues to provide the best possible support to people with the highest needs in Suffolk to live independently within their own home.

This is a key priority for us, as I suppose it is for most Councils and will be even more important as we face a growing demand for services in future with a budget that is unlikely to match this increase.

Of course we all welcome any additional government investment in personal home care, but its got to be used to best effect for the people of Suffolk and elsewhere across the country, not to fund a headline thought up in the wee small hours before a party conference speech.

Our estimate indicates that the annual cost to Suffolk County Council could be of the order of £14m, but frankly it’s a bit of stab in the dark as its really difficult to estimate The loss of income from people assessed as having critical needs for whom the council arranges their care; not to mention the unknown number of people who arrange and pay in full for their own care taken together with; and indeed we are making quite an assumption that not many of those who currently receive care from unpaid family carers who will seek free external care for the first time.

When you analysis the government’s own figures after the grant that the council will receive from government, the additional cost to the county council will be £7.6m.

This is double what the government has estimated and double the amount the government expects us to achieve through efficiency savings to deliver this initiative, which is very scary.

Of course as is almost the default position of central government is that any gap can be made up from efficiency saving, but unlike Government departments who have never hi their own targets, Suffolk’s record on efficiency savings is exemplary, and this is echoed by Adult and Community Services. The success of our Home First reablement service is testimony to that. However we will struggle to achieve further efficiency savings when we already face the very real pressures of increasing needs for care and an ageing population at a time when our budgets are stretched.

As I have said before that’s why we need to have a full debate around the whole subject not a knee jerk piece of Legislation as this Bill undoubtedly is; hopeful by the time it goes back to the Lords the Government will at least delay it’s implementation for a fuller debate and I just bet that when the White Paper is Published just before Parliament rises for the General election it is delayed and gets dovetailed into the Care Bill proposals so it looks like its part of a co-ordinated plan, which undoubtedly it is not!

Out Campaigning with Robin Millar in Arfon

Me, and members of Robins team; Jonathan his Agent, Laura and Hannah who helped out with the day's canvassing, standing in front of the Bangor Harbour with the mountains of Snowdonia in the background. (Robin's not in the picture as he took it!)

Yesterday, as I was attending a conference on Rural Access to Care Services today and had to stay last night in Shrewsbury as it was not possible to make the start of the conference by train on the day, I had the bright idea that rather than travel early afternoon I would get up early and travel on a bit further to see an old friend of mine, Robin Millar. I know Robin from our campaigning in West Suffolk and the hard work he has put into his adopted home and community of Newmarket and Forest Heath, both a Mayor and a senior Councillor on Forest Heath District Council.

Robin is standing in his home town of Bangor, which is part of the new constituency of Arfon, Arfon has been created from two half’s of existing seats and has the cities of Bangor and Camargon at it’s heart. If you want to look at it on a map goes to North Wales and look for the coast line and Mountains that are opposite Anglesey and you have the Constituency.

Robin is from Bangor and his family has a long history of Welsh Conservatism as Robin’s Father was the Local Bangor Conservative Association Chairman.

Having had the briefest look at the Map I promising I would get up early the previous day and travel on a bit, Robin met me at the Bangor Train station which is actually two and a half hours further from on from Shrewsbury, in total a mere six hour journey from home.

Just before we went campaigning, Robin gave a me a whistle stop tour of Bangor and part of the Constituency and talked about it’s people, history and the challenges it faces. What a lovely place, sort of reminds of Cornwall 20 years ago before the London set found it and it got the ‘Chelsea on-Sea’ make-over.

We then when to the pier and met up with a young team of Jonathan, Robin’s agent, Laura and Hannah who came along to help.

So we set off and the first door I knocked at Sheila’s door, whom I discovered, when I asked did she vote and did she vote Conservative? She said ‘of course I do, Robin was born next door!’ and she went on to say to Robin that she would see him later at the Conservative meeting that evening, talk about on his home patch!

Next we went down some slate steps there is a lot of slate about as we were actually campaigning in the area around the original docks that once was where Welsh Slate was transported around the world from and met Mrs Bridgeworth resplendent in Hat and Green Cape, who proudly is 90 year old on the 8th of May and she was just popping home to see her home as she was being supported to visit her home as she was currently being in a care home in a village near Bangor, she was concerned about her home being empty whilst she was temporarily in the care home, I said do you want to meet Robin and called him over, she announced herself as ‘I’m Church and Conservative!’ Robin replied ‘me too Church and Conservative!’ She then explained to him why she was home and he promised to talk with the Community Police Officer to keep an eye on her home as they past from time to time.

As we went door to door, I rang one bell and from a balcony two stories above a voice boomed out YES WHAT DO YOU WANT, so I spun round peered up and said ‘I am out with Robin Millar, your Conservative Candidate in the forthcoming general election, can we count on your vote! Back came the response from on high ‘I HAVE ALWAYS VOTED LIBERAL, WAS A LIBERAL COUNCILLOR, AND ALWAYS WILL’ I cheekily called back ‘NEVER MIND!’ and beat a hasty retreat before a bucket of water came my way!

As we turned a corner we bumped into Plaid Cymru and competed down a street called ‘Fford Garth Uscaf’ at the end of which I got a wake up call in my thinking, a lady opened the door and I started up my words ‘Hello, I am out today with……….’ to which she replied ‘Oh no dear I shall be voting for Labour, poor Gordon has not been in the job long’ to which I replied, ‘well he was Chancellor for 11 years’ back came the reply ‘no dear it’s a world recession it’s not his fault’, opened jawed I thanked her for her time and moved on.

I know Robin was slightly surprised to see them as he confirmed to me that in his daily canvassing it was the first time he has seen them out!

Later back at the hotel in Shrewsbury, I googled Plaid Cymru and their candidate and frankly I simply could not work out why anyone would vote for them in Westminster election. What a place such as Arfon needs it a strong voice at Westminster, someone who knows how the Westminster village work and came be a strong voice in Government for Arfon and that’s Robin Millar!

If you can get to Arfon I would be pleased to share a car journey with you and I know Robin would appreciate the support from his adopted home for his native home.

Good Luck Robin, it’s about time Arfon has a strong voice in Westminster.

Ben Gummer Fund Raising Dinner with Sir John Major

Me with Sir John Major at Ben Gummer Fudnrasier

Yesterday I got back from the CCA conference just in time to get home, change and leave for a fund raising dinner in Ipswich for Ben Gummer’s excellent campaign to become the next Conservative MP for Ipswich in a few weeks time. As I rushed through the house I was reminded that my penance for the two days away was to spend Sunday in the garden of the cottage we are renovating, tackling the jungle that is the garden so I was looking forward to that, not!

At the Dinner I had the honour to sit at the top table with Ben, Sophie Stanbrook his campaign co-ordinator, Paul West The Ipswich Association Chairman, Michael Irvin who was the last Conservative MP for Ipswich and Sir John Major KGE how as guest of honour. Sir John was a delightful dinner guest and put everyone at they ease, he was accompanied by Mrs. Arabella Warburton one of his special advisors from his days as Prime Minister, who sat beside me and it was fascinating talking to her about the conservative party and its changes over the years.

Sir John Major gave a speech to a packed room which reminded me of my earlier thoughts about key messages from the CCA Conference, he spoke with clarity and passion about the last thirteen years of this failed Labour Government; he spoke with passion a bout Tony Blair’s decision to got o war in Iraq and the quite false and incorrect linking of this to the 911 bombings and his distaste for Gordon Brown braking of a long standing protocol of not using visits to the Troops as electioneering positioning, when young men and women are fighting and dying for this country. Sir John finished by saying that it’s not the first time that Labour had come to power with the coffers filling up and leaves office with the coffers empty – How True is that!

Ben Gummer then gave a really good speech in which we spoke about the long history of Conservative representation in Ipswich and the need for Ipswich to return a Conservative to Parliament to better represent them. Ben also talked about how much he enjoyed meeting residents and the some of the funny storey he has gathered on his travels.

Ben really understands the issues that make Ipswich tick and his hard work campaigning across the town is starting to be mentioned whenever I go to a community centre or older people housing scheme; he is campaigning hard for Ipswich and I truly hope he gets elected, he will make an excellent MP and will work for the people of Ipswich in Westminster unlike Chris Mole who seems to me has just used it as a means to an end to get elected and spend his time in Westminster, occasionally remembering the people who put him there with the odd flying visit.

A great night and I certainly will be going to support Ben and Peter Aldous in Waveney as much as I can during the campaign to bet them elected.

As Ben said both Ipswich and Waveney are right on the tipping point to of a conservative overall majority, so wherever you are on the evening of the election day listen in to the results in Ipswich and Waveney and if we win these seats we have a conservative government that can start to sort the problems that 13 years of Labour have caused use and get the country going again.

Jst think wouldn’t it be great to if you would like to join me in supporting both campaigns just reply with your email address or your contact number and I’ll make sure you get the full details when you could go along to help, please do.

My thoughts on the Conservative Councillors Conference

Friday morning I caught an early train to London for the Annual Conservative Councillors Conference to hear David Cameron opened proceedings. In a packed room of 350 people he set out the Party’s vision for their relationship with Local Government. After his standing ovation, Caroline Spelman MP took to the floor and put the flesh on the bones and went through some of the finer details of how we are going to change the nature of local government in this country, as did Bob Neil MP the following day. The new relationship has many extremely positive aspects for local government not least the ability to directly gain from commercial and housing development and the ability to raise funding for vital local projects. I like everyone in the room welcomed Bob Neil comments on the Saturday morning that the notion of differences in delivery of services are not as this centralised control freakish Government would have us believe a ‘Post Code lottery’ but more the trust in local politicians to deliver services that actually matter and reflect the aims, needs and aspirations of the communities we represent.

She also expanded on the finer detail about aspects of the recently published Conservative Planning Policy, as did Grant Shapps MP in his excellent after dinner speech in the evening. This is something of interest to me as I have spent my entirely working life dealing with planning and development matters, yes I like most in the 19th Century industrial era attempt to attend to reconnect the old maxim that development brings infrastructure and should be welcomed for its positive effects; I also welcome the proposals that Councils and communities will be directly rewarded to deliver planning permissions for Private developers and Housing Associations by the promise to match fund the Council tax revenues generated by 100% it the case of a private dwelling and by 125% for an Affordable Housing unit, in both cases for 6 years. But to be honest I have some concerns as to the radical approach being taken by the policy proposals, ‘Throwing all the balls in the air simultaneously rarely ensures that they fall neatly into the expect, let alone, the correct, pattern when they hit the ground’ I have unashamedly lifted this comments from the article by Nick Raynsford in the MJ – Municipal Journal 04.03.2010 page 13; yes a former Labour Planning and Communities Minister but he is right in this regard.

A year or so ago I was one of those who was invited to spend the day with the then Housing Minister Jackie Lait MP in Birmingham a year or so ago and suggested  some caution that the reform of the planning system must be organic and timed to create a frame work that can deliver housing from the start, I was reminded in a speech by Sir John Major on Saturday night at a fund raising event for Ben Gummer’s campaign to win Ipswich, that this government have managed to create a economic climate in which last year we built less houses in this country since 1942 at the height of the second World War, quite a staggering statistic and an indication of how bad things have become.

If the overriding imperative of an incoming Conservative Government is to cut spending and lower the deficit, the close second must be to get house building moving again; it’s good for jobs, it’s good for the tax revenues, it’s good for business but most of all it’s right and proper that young people can leave home, form a relationship, start a family and live a full life in housing that matches their needs. Then where we get old, once again, we must have the housing that allows us to live independent and rich life.

I know this is my business and my trade but decent appropriate housing is central and fundamental to the life of this nation and needs to be treated as such, decent housing is not an investment, it is not a commodity, it is not a luxury, it is a basic human right.

The second day was kicked off by the always excellent Stephen Gilbert who went through the figures as he does, and you can clearly see that the numbers that matter and are focused on, however the detail to which things are looked at does raise a few questions in my mind, I know the degree to which peoples thinking is analysed, I am just not that sure when you add the sum of the component parts together it is the collective balanced, clinical if you will, view that makes your final decision as to which way to vote. Somehow voting is more organic than that, who do I want to believe?, who do I like trust?, they seem nice, I like her, these are all emotional responses and I think which party to vote for, is as well at least in part.

In 1997 I think what worked best for Labour was not their policies, lets face it they had few, but it was more a feeling they portrayed a new era, a generational jump, ‘Brit pop’ and the third way, wasn’t that quickly dropped for the smoke and mirrors that it was!, and no doubt they analysed to a similar way to the Conservative Party today but its seemed to me that they had at this stage in the run in to an election build a narrative that threaded thought their vision better. Then again today I see a very different time to 1997 and perhaps people are less receptive to the messenger that before.

The conference was closed by the always entertaining and thought provoking Eric Pickles MP, I have met Mr. Pickles on a number of occasions and he was kind enough to be the first year sponsor of the Leadership Centre for Local Governments Next Generation programme, on which I was a part of the first cohort. He is always interesting, thought provoking and has a steely but easy style about him with connects well and speaks in a way that then lets you use his words when out on the door steps.

The next few weeks will be politically absolutely fascinating and I really hope the party can get across the passion, conviction and determination our senior politicians have to sort this country out, if they can get that across then we will win and The Conservative Party can get on with the vital task of sorting out the mess that thirteen years of Labour has left us with.

Mr. Angry letter to First – the Councillor’s Weekly

Today I wrote my first ‘Mr. Angry’ letter in response to a letter published in First, the Councillors magazine (issue 454 dated 28th February 2010) Cllr. Rory Gibb a Labour Councillor from Leicestershire wrote, criticising the letter that featured on the front page of the Times, as follows:

‘Elderly Care – sensible debate.

I was not one of the signatories to the Times letter criticising the government’s proposals free care at home.  It was obvious that it was designed to stoke up the politics on this issue.

If councillors have legitimate concerns then there are many established channels in which to raise them, not least through the LGA.

As we all know, the future of elderly care is an issue of central importance for national and local government.  It is also an issue that demands a sensible and informed political debate.  As lead members for social care we should be leading that debate but doing so on a sensible and informed basis.  The Times letter was not a helpful contribution.’

Accordingly with the agreement of my fellow letter drafters, I responded on behalf of our little group and indeed the 70 or so other Portfolio Holders who were kind enough to put their names to the letter, as follows:

‘I write in reply to the letter from Cllr. Roy Palmer (Lab) (first 454) who suggests that the letter published in the Times criticising the government’s proposals on free care at home ‘was designed to stoke up the politics on this issue’ and that ‘there are many established channels, not least the LGA’ that we should have used.

As one of the original co-authors of the letter I can assure Cllr. Palmer that the reason we sort to write to The Times was not politically motivated, it was motivated by our respective officer teams coming to us with their grave concerns that the government has significantly underestimating the numbers who will come forward, the costs involved and the impact it will have on service delivery in other important areas, as we struggle to pay for this proposal.

I would also point out that clearly, by so many of our fellow lead members readily agreeing to put their name to the letter they are worried too, not to mention the same being voiced to Government by ADASS and SOCT, again open letters, again motivated out of deep concern, I presume you are not accusing them of political bias.

As to responding through ‘appropriate channels’, Suffolk has and will continue to responded through the ‘appropriate channels’, if you are suggesting that accordingly I as an elected representative and my colleagues should keep quite and not raise our voices beyond government circles then you are mistaken sir. I fully accept that those Labour lead members who were brave enough to add their names, subsequently had to withdraw them following its front page reporting, but that does not diminish their concerns.

I entirely agree that the future of elderly care is an ‘issue of central importance for national and local government’, I entirely agree that it is also ‘an issue that demands sensible and informed political debate’, I also entirely agree that as lead members for social care we should be leading that debate, and that is precisely what so many of us are trying to do! If government is going to propose something, it is absolutely vital that they get their sums right, and if they don’t then it is absolutely vital that we voice our concerns by every possible avenue so that they listen, that’s not politics that’s doing what we were elected to do.

Colin Noble.

Suffolk’

I would love to hear your comments on such an important issue.

Funding and Carers Debate on Radio Suffolk

Today I was invited to be on the James Hazell show on Radio Suffolk in Ipswich along with opposition spokespersons for Labour and the Lib Dems. Whilst I have done many a ‘down the wire’ interview on different Radio Stations and the occasional face to face with a roving reporter and a microphone; this was my first Radio debate sitting in a studio with the headphones on waiting for callers to phone in to ask their questions, as well as debating with my fellow councillors. I must admit it was quite nerve wracking at first but then of course you get over that quite quickly when the opposition start on with their nonsense.

The debate started around the funding cuts that an incoming conservative government are going to have to make and the effects that this will have on Council services. Frankly even if people are totally daft and do not get rid of this failed labour government there will still be significant cuts needed, it’s just that they are not being honest about it. Given that it was the start of Carer’s week the session quickly moved on to a discussion on the effects of cuts on carers and those they care for. Jackie Martin from Suffolk Family Carers phoned in and as always put in a passionate argument for carers, their web site is http://www.suffolkfamilycarers.org or call 0844 225 3099, they are an excellent organisation that does so much for those with the dedication and sense of commitment who devote their time to looking after another. Daphne Savage for Age Concern Suffolk http://www.ageconcernsuffolk.org.uk or call 01473 359 911, also contributed and again this is another organisation we work with to deliver services for our older residents.

Then there were lots of questions from listeners around the need for the council to protect services that support Carers and frankly I could not agree more, carers perform an invaluable role in the lives of those they care for and in saving the council from being completely overwhelm by those who need support. As I said in answer to some of the questions posed, 80% of Residents in Suffolk look after their own care needs in later life, either they are fortunately enough not to need care services or they make their own arrangements; in keeping Council tax rises as low as we possibly can we are protected those on fixed incomes and this is an important part of our promise to those who elected us.

Equally we are rated the second most cost efficient Council in England after Kent and we are working hard to take that coveted top stop so you can be assured that we spend as much as is possible of the precious money residents entrusted with to delivering services not run the organisation. To do this we need a team of the very best people and as I said in reply to one of the listens questions about pay, we want and need the very best people if we are to be the most cost effect council and if you do not pay the going rate then you can’t expect to be the most efficient.

The Budget deficit is not a distant surreal thing or something that is going to take care of itself; it will require significant cuts in public spending. As we enter a different era for Local government and seek to manage the funding cuts that will be coming our way, we will have to make extremely difficult choices as to what services we can provide and must provide. There is a simple saying that has become something of a slogan for older peoples groups ‘nothing about us without us’ it is a simple but powerful maxim. Yes there will be staffing level cuts, yes we will work hard to be even more cost effective but ultimately what we will all have to do as councillors and residents is talk, discuss, debate, about where and how we are going to make the saving that will be required.

My thanks also goes to Radio Suffolk and James Hazell for allowing us and residents to debate this important subject and hopefully listeners were able to make some sense of the challenge we all face over the coming years.

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