The Proof is in the Pudding

I was a bit disappointed to see that the appointment of Jill to be the interim Head of Communications at Suffolk County Council had been leaked to the press, if the intention of whoever did it was to damage the reputation of the Comms team at Suffolk County Council and make her job all the more difficult when she arrives then they have achieved that, very well done.

In the difficult times ahead the Council needs to have a strong Comms team to communicate the messages about what is before us in terms of the cut in our budgets from Central Government and to enable us to make sure we are listening to peoples concerns and explaining to Residents why we are doing this and not that.

We are facing unprecedented cuts to our funding that will impact on the services we deliver. The need to communicate effectively is more important than ever. It is essential that we engage with the public and keep them fully informed of these changes as they emerge. By taking on an Interim Head of Communications, she can start work immediately and ensure the structures are in place to deliver the savings amounting to £500,000.

Communication will be making savings in the region of £500,000 which when set against what we will be paying means she will save us a small fortune, of course reading the papers there are those who say we don’t need to bring in someone form outside to make the savings surely we can do that internally.

There are those councillors who have internally and through the press and indeed the press themselves who have questions the appointment it seems to me on two basic points firstly the cost of hiring her, to some extent in each article or letter or email I have seen they have ignored the fact that we would have a head of that department anyway who would cost a considerable sum to employ and indeed why bother with having a person in charge at all, after all who needs a spin doctor!

OK why bother with having someone at a senior level in charge of a department at all just let them get on with it to deliver the savings. Really it seems to me this is all about having the right people in place, in the right positions in the organisation to deliver.

Jill is being appointed to reorganise the department, to make it better at what is does and to cut costs, she is not a spin doctor she is a Corporate Director of Communication a function that is a lot more than just dealing with the press its about running a department that has a wide variety of messages it needs to present and services it needs to promote, and running a team of people to achieve it.

Once the job is done, cuts made and department re-organised she will leave and a permanent Head of Communications will be appointed, this is sound business practice.

Of course there are those who wish to dream or for the sake of political expediency say this would have happened on its own, it would not.

David Ruffley’s illness

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks in the local and national press after the shocking news of David Ruffley’s accident and the immediate widely reported press speculation that he allegedly threw himself in front of the Gatwick Express in an attempted Suicide bid, because he is suffering from depression, news perhaps not quite so shocking to many of us locally; thankfully he survived with only minor injuries.

The press were certainly bussing around and disappointingly before anything was confirmed or even denied various people were only too ready to give press comments, its all very well for the likes of bloggers such as Iain Dale commenting on the speculation for that is his job but you would have thought that rest of us could have waited to hear David’s perspective. I am writing this blog now because at the time, it seemed to me until David or his close friends said otherwise it’s was an accident and in my opinion should have remained as such, no one is arguing the speculation was not right nor that its not the media’s place to speculate but perhaps a little discretion locally would not have gone a miss.

It’s widely reported that he is suffering from depression because of the Daily Telegraph expenses scandal which I rather think does need to be put into context, firstly he was cleared of any wrong doing, secondly those who know him will tell you that he fought a good General Election campaign in the Bury St. Edmunds Constituency and less than six weeks ago he was returned with an increased majority, more people voted for him than had done so before, a fact he can and should be immensely proud of.

As we read the stories surrounding David I think we all need to look to ourselves as to how we react to him having this particular illness; in Suffolk I have an interesting and varied role as Portfolio Holder for Adult and Community Services part of which involves working with the Suffolk Mental Heath, I receive their board papers and have regular meetings with its chief executive Mark Halliday and Chairman Lord Tony Newton, himself a former Conservative Minister of State, and what you quickly come to realise is that mental health is a complex issue.

Complex not only in its root causes but also our attitude towards it, if someone has cancer or heart problems we have learnt how to react to that news; we are just starting to learn how to react to learning a loved one has Dementia or Alzheimer’s, but it seems to me we really struggle when we heard of someone having mental health issues, all too often you heard comments about strength of character, implying its their own fault, something we do not say when we think of cancer or heart disease and they will ‘snap out of it’, again something we do not say of cancer or heart disease; the precursors to getting a mental illness are far more common than many people care to believe, as are the sheer number of people with issues. I know I have certainly changed my attitude to this illness, as I in my role, have learnt more about it’s pre-cursors, symptoms, effects and treatments.

Whatever you think of Alastair Campbell, whilst not of my political persuasion, I recall going to see him at the Cambridge Arts Theatre when he first launched his diaries and remember the openness and honestly with which he reflected on his life and career; if you ‘google’ him and read his often candid thoughts on how depression affected him, what is clear is that those of us who have never suffered from the illness cannot begin to understand it, but are often quick to judge.

What David will need is support from his colleagues and friends both at Westminster and in Bury St. Edmunds and I know from the private conversations over the past couple of days that he has the respect and support from a very large group of supporters in this area. But he will also need ‘space’ to reflect and put into prospective his job for that’s what it is, his job as an MP.

I was really pleased to hear that Matthew Hancock MP and Daniel Poulter MP will be fulfilling David’s role between them so the good people of Bury St. Edmunds constituency are well represented during David’s time off.

Sadly when you see the press reaction ‘space’ is something that few are afforded in their insatiable appetite for stories, and I suspect he will not be spared but rather hounded to answer questions, clarify his position, defend and justify himself at a time when he needs everyone to leave him alone to work through his issues in his own time, and then return to work as MP for Bury St. Edmunds and carry on the good work that got him re-elected in the first place.

Suffolk Flexicare Conference

Yesterday I hosted a major Conference at Newmarket Racecourse where about 150 Local Politicians, District and Borough Planners, Care Providers, Community Groups and Health and Social Care professionals from across Suffolk came together with the County’s ACS team to discuss how we want the care offer in Suffolk to look like in 10 years time and beyond.

I opened the day with a speech to try to set the context of what was before us and what we needed to do during the course of the day to move the debate along.

“Good morning everyone!

I am delighted to welcome you to this important conference.

I believe that the timing of today’s event couldn’t come at a more crucial moment as we consider how to effectively deliver services to older people in the unique and challenging times that lie ahead.  

My name is Colin Noble, and I am the portfolio holder for Adult & Community Services at Suffolk County Council. I am very pleased to see so many of our partners and colleagues here at today’s event.

I cannot emphasise enough how important this shared and united approach will be to our collective success over the coming years.

In preparing my notes for today I thought to myself why is today so important, and I did not have to look far, my mother is 65 and my father is 70 and they are as we say ‘getting older’ who knows what the future will bring, ideally I would like them to be in perfect health until their late 90’s and ‘drop off their perch’ quickly, but I know that might not be the case and not only will they and our family need to address their care needs, those needs may well be quite different and what I know is that we will need options.

Depending on their needs we might need support in their own home, we might need to consider a great flat in a Extra Care housing scheme, sorry as I see Judith in the Audience sorry very sheltered housing, or they might need a bit more support provided in a residential care home, options but not just for my parents but options across our lovely county for all our parents and older residents.

Looking slightly further ahead, not only will our parents need those options but so will we and the steps we are taking and will take in the future will profoundly effect the choices we will be able to make to address our future needs.

So what are the things that we believe we know in these uncertain times?

Firstly, that we face an unenviable combination of challenges.

For a start, the harsh financial environment, and I know one of our next speaker Adrian will talk about how this can affect the best laid plans, its implications are becoming ever clearer.

Unprecedented times of austerity are with us, and we cannot avoid the necessity of severe spending cuts to public services.

We also know that the impact of people living longer and needing care and support will place many pressures on the services we deliver.

The number of people with dementia is also increasing, and I know today we will heard about the alarming increases we are going to see here in this county and we must provide services to support not only dementia sufferers but also their families and carers.

Today

715,000 people live in Suffolk

140,000 19% are aged over 65

40,000 6% of them are aged over 80.

Today 10,000 people live with dementia.

By 2015 the number of people aged over 65 will have increased to 169,000 rising to 211,000 by 2025 – an increase of 50%.

By 2015 the number of people aged over 80 will have increased to 46,500 rising to 67,000 by 2025 – an increase of 63%.

By 2015 the number of people with dementia will have increased to 11,700 rising to 16,000 by 2025 – an increase of 60%.

With all of this in mind, it is too easy to think we face an overwhelming challenge. But it is with this challenge in mind that we are holding this conference so that we can start the work to meet this challenge together.

If we are to succeed, we must make essential changes that could amount to revolutionising the way in which we offer care and support to Suffolk’s older people in future.

We have a lot to be proud of in Suffolk, our next speaker, Sue, will talk about some of the great services things that are being provided today in Babergh District, across

Suffolk we can also be proud of our pioneering approach to our extra care or very sheltered housing.

However we cannot afford to stand still and we must keep moving forward if we are to respond to the challenges that face us.

We have to recognise that the expectations that people have of public services are very different and we need to adapt and innovate to keep pace.

We must create an environment here is Suffolk where demand is recognised not is some global sense but in each town and village where we live and re-shape all aspects of our organisations so we are ‘open for business’ from granting planning permissions to commissioning and supporting care providers if we are to have the capacity to meet that demand and the expectations of those people we serve.

The Government’s strategic direction for adult social care is epitomised by the personalisation of social care, and this approach is also being reflected in the future direction for the NHS.

By putting the emphasis on people as the best judges of the decisions that affect them by taking control of their lives, we will have to think very differently. This is especially the case for the county council and NHS in their roles as commissioners, purchasers, providers and planners of services.

The county council’s Cabinet agreed the Flexicare strategy in December last year as a response to these challenges.

Today’s conference presents us with the opportunity to agree and endorse this joint approach. This means all of us leaving this conference with a clear understanding of what we will do and how we can contribute to bringing services for older people into the 21st Century.

We produced the Flexicare strategy because the challenges and issues that we face are so pressing that we believe we should take a lead in enabling the partnership working that is central to the way we meet these challenges.

The Flexicare strategy is founded on the recognition that none of the challenges that we face can be tackled alone.

There is no problem that impacts only on one agency or organisation; to get the best outcome for Suffolk people we have to work together to make a difference. 

At the same time as providing outstanding and truly modern services, we must make sure they are as efficient and cost effective as possible.

Flexicare is about giving people ‘control and choice’ over how they maintain their independence and live happy and healthy lives.

This spearheads the personalisation agenda by empowering people to take the decisions that affect their lives. We need to think differently about how we develop a range of services, including care and support in the home, housing and supporting Suffolk’s family carers.

The third element of the strategy is prevention. We cannot champion and enable independence if we do not work together to minimise the impact of long-term conditions that affect every aspect of older people’s lives.

This is not only about having the services and support in place for older people but also how to enhance the health and well being of Suffolk people as they age.

If more, older people could enjoy active and healthy lives, involving exercise and social opportunities, they will not only live longer but may never need more intensive support such as home care – a significant saving.

Collectively this is our strategy, which proposes a clear way ahead.

It gives us an exciting opportunity for us to deliver together in a way that will improve services for a generation.

I would argue that we cannot fail to seize and do all we can to make sure this strategy is a success.

Today’s programme is designed to make us think about what the future should look like, what we should be doing and how we are going to do it.

With our collective imagination, hard work and creativity we can really ‘make a difference’.

Today will be challenging and hopefully enjoyable as we look ahead to where we want to be and I am looking forward to working with you to make it happen!

Thank you.”

It truly was a remarkable day with a wide range of speakers from private care home developers and providers talking about their difficult planning journey; County Council staff talking about the new services we are rolling out; to a community groups talking about what they are setting up in their community to help people with Dementia.

The 4 different workshops ran through the day and asked the very difficult questions about what services will we deliver in the future and how can we improve the lives of older people across Suffolk in the years to come, there certainly was no chance to sit at the back and have a snooze

At lunch time I asked the Councillors in the room to joint me and senior ACS staff to a private room and over a sandwich or two, we have a ‘Chatham House rules’ debate about the political challenges about what we want to do in the future in our two tier local government structure, to say this session was useful is an understatement and I got a real sense of what we need to be doing to move the agenda forward in a political context.

For me and I said so in my summing up of the day in the late afternoon, the litmus test for any conference is how many people stay to the close and remarkable over 80% of those there at the start of the day saw it through to my closing remarks. The Waverney table stayed until the end and most of them had a journey of over an hour and a half to get home and on a Friday night to boot!

The key challenge from such a complex and great day is to keep the momentum up so from the conference will come a number of briefing papers aimed at different groups and the launch of Suffolk Flexicare 2 coming to a venue near you, if you would like to get involved in this care revolution please let me know and I’ll make sure you are added to the list.

A meeting at LGA House

Yesterday I was asked by the Leader of Suffolk County Council Jeremy Pembroke to attend a meeting at LGA House in Smith Square, London of the LGA Strategy and Finance Policy Review Group as he could not go, due to attending a very sad funeral.

The meeting was addressed by Dr. Tony Travers (Director, Greater London Group, London School of Economics) and he focussed on about the possible Local Government Settlements we are to see over the next few years and frankly they made for very depressing telling. The cuts that are coming are going to be deep and far reaching and will demand a complete review of how we do business, I am minded that in Suffolk we control the County Council and are implementing our ‘New Strategic Direction’ to do precisely this body of work; its not going to be easy and not without controversial cuts but the county is in the worst financial position since the great depression in the 1930’s and simply we cannot afford the State 13 years of Labour mal-administration has left us with.

Looking forward to next Tuesday I think we are going to see the most stunning Budget in a generation and not in a good way!

Day out at the Suffolk Show

Yesterday I had a chance to go along and see the excellent Suffolk County Council Stand at the Suffolk Show held at Trinity Park, Ipswich, after a couple of hours on the stand I then have a stroll around seeing some of the other great stands and pausing to watch the show ring displays and demonstrations, all the while enjoying the fine weather.

Getting there, much to some people surprise, I took bus laid on by Suffolk County Council from the London Road ‘Park and Ride’, this follows from the comments last year by Cllr. Rosie Clarke who said how easy it was and indeed it is; for a modest £2 I got to sit on a great coach and watch as it passed all those cars queuing to get into the show car parks. I can’t imagine why more people don’t get to the show this way; it really was very easy and hassle free.

The theme for this year’s SCC stand was Building Stronger Communities in Suffolk, showcasing our work and that of other organisations to make communities throughout Suffolk stronger and more vibrant places to live.

It was really great to see 15 other organisations – voluntary groups, charities and partners join the County Councils stand to show visitors how we are working together to improve the quality of life in the county.

It was also great to see so many people taking part in a wide range of activities for all ages, as well as getting advice, watching demonstrations, dancers and musicians on the stage, visiting one of the counties excellent library vans which this year was parked at the front of the stand rather than behind the marquee like last year, good to see someone was listening to quite a few of us, not to mention looking at the big shiny new fire engine or many like me simply buying a cup of tea from the county catering van and enjoying the sunshine.

In the morning Mark Murphy from BBC Radio Suffolk helped Cllr. Rosie Clarke, who is the lead councillor for stronger communities launch Trading Standards new ‘Trusted Trader’ scheme. This scheme aims to give people protection from disreputable traders and gives businesses more incentive to provide good service at a competitive price, something I know from my election campaigning last year was a big concern of older people and hopefully the new service can make getting things fixed a less worrying thing to do.

I really liked the Big Map of Suffolk where visitors could put their community facilities on the map to tell others what’s going on in their area, or tell us what makes a good and strong community – anything from a community centre, to a post office, pub or play areas, or perhaps even their friends, family or next-door neighbours.

As the end of the day, it’s my tradition to pick up a bottle of the Show winning wine before heading home to share it with Lisa, and I am pleased to say it was delicious and delicate white, well done to Charles and his team at Ickworth House keep up the good work!

Each time I visit the show I am struck by what a diverse show it really is, I suspect some of those I talk to who have never been think it’s all farming and nothing else, oh boy how wrong they are, it really is a celebration of all things Suffolk and a great day out!

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