Panorama last night – An Ageing Society

I thought the Joan Bakewell peice last night really got to the heart of the issues we, as a county face, in dealing with our aging population, clearly she understands the subject fully and what I though was very interesting is that she did not seek to present nayone route as the soultion to all our problems.

What pleased me most, if that is the right way of putting it, in all the issues around this difficult subject is the approach we are taking in Suffolk. Suffolk Flexicare has as one of its objects is to create an enviroment here in Suffolk where both private companies can come in and develop significant care villages and more local RSLs can build more and more Extra care albeit on a lesser scale but perhaps more routed in comunities.

We are also, through our Home First service, a national lead on re-enablement stratergies I recall going to a the first Department of Helth Conference on this about three years ago at the Oval, it was actually a bit boring because we were already doing the thinks they were talking about doing.

Today, Suffolk Home First  is such a success that those we provide it for, and we provide the service free to the people of Suffolk, we have over a third of people do not need an on going service. Simply put this saves the Council a considerable sum of money and is better for the customer as well.

The only thing I though that was not quite right last night was that beyond extra care a residential nursing home for those people you are very frail and for higher end dementia is most appropriate and serves an important function in our community. Unspoken was nursing care facility at the heart of the Extra Care Charity home in Birmingham, which on a smaller scale would not be achievable on site.

Provision of the right type of variety of housing, care and support that remains in place during these difficult times and the Royal Commission on how we pay for it all, is most timely or as Ms. Bakewell rather intimated that politicans talk and people just get older, we need to begin to reach conclusions and start implimenting policies now!

Unlike last time, just as with Labours redicous green, white and the staggeringly uncosted ‘Free Care at Home Bill’ we will not be seeking to make our voices heard on the front page of the Times, but rest assured in the background I know a number of Portfolio Holders are  trying to help influence policies for our aging residents that are of real benefit.

I look forward to David Behan and the Care Minister Paul Burstow MP presenting the findings of the Royal Commission and their thoughts but unlike the farcical situation of the lack of finanical figures, and the embrassed looking David Behan announcing dates that were constantly missed and deadlines disappearing that dogged Labours Care Green paper; this future paper will have figures attached so we can all clearly see how and who will need to pay for it.

Fingers crossed!

Housing Conference today – Right Home, Right Place, Right Time

Have been in Cambridge for part of the day at a really interesting conference with Social Housing Sector hosted by the Chartered Housing Institute (CHI) and the National Housing Federation (NHF) packed full of Housing officers from local authorities both Suffolk Coastal and Mid Suffolk were there from my part of the world and lots of people who worked for Registered Social Landlords.

Principally the day was to launch the report commissioned by the NHF Right Home, Right Place, Right Time, Research on under-occupation in the East of England’s Social Housing sector. The report makes for very interesting reading and my particular interest was on Page 18 where it talks about ‘Housing an ageing population’ and uses as an example an Extra Care Scheme or very sheltered housing if you insist, Judith, in Ixworth that I have had the pleasure of visiting.

Once launched we then moved on to issues about housing stock and best use, how RSL’s score the right to move amongst their residents but from my point of view I was really interested in the speakers on older people housing and how to get people to transfer into extra care and sheltered housing to release larger properties in the social sector.

Clearly in this sector you can see pararels with the private housing market and the market forces that get people to down size or make that all important move, One of thing I tried to contribute is that for the social housing sector to discuss housing without taking into account the private sector was truly like having ‘the elephant in the room’; not only in terms of the fact that the net contribution to  housing stock of the country from the social sector is tiny in comparison with the private sector, they are increasingly worried that the Comprehensive Spending review on 20th October will announce that there is no public monies to fund social housing and accordingly my point was even more relevent in the way in which the social sector, Local Authorities, both strategic such as Suffolk County Council and the local District and Borough Councils with their planning powers along with Health must work together to deliver models of Extra Care that make money for the private companies who invest in them, deliver social housing with rental streams secured and certainty for those who provide the care element.

One of the points I raised was around local planning authorities and their recognition of their duty of care in respect of planning for an Aging population and the need for core strategies to be in place in their LDF; I suggested that only Chelmsford Borough Council has a strategy document in its LDF and it was pointed out that so did Cambridge City Council, a copy of which I shall search and read. A couple of people commented in the room that this is shocking and indeed it is!

Whilst there was lots of really good energy in the room, over coffee and in the workshop session I spoke with a number of people who said how frustrating the lack of joined up thinking really is.

On the one hand studio and 1 bedroom sheltered accommodation has an increasing void rate as older people do not want such accommodation as either they are still together and want 2 bedrooms or they want the ability for a carer or a family member to visit or stay; and on the other hand both in terms of Registered Social Landlords point score single older people out of having the extra bedroom not to mention the rumblings from Westminster that Housing Benefit will be restricted so that social tenants cannot have an extra bedroom.

When you think about the thinking around Extra Care Housing and the need to be building 2 bedrooms units both from a care point of view and  potential open market selling prospective, clearly we have a long way to go before we have joined up thinking, but hey that’s what we are here for!

The Mark Murphy Show

Today I was interviewed on Mark Murphy’s show ahead of the BBC One Panorama Programme with Dame Joan Bakewell tonight, talking about our aging population, who is going to pay for their care and some of the initiative ways people are taking care of themselves.

Tonight they will discuss the national figures and I suspect it will make for worrying reading, in Suffolk what we know is that today there are 715,000 people living here, 140,000 some 19% are aged over 65; 40,000 6% of us are aged over 80. Today 10,000 people live with dementia Suffolk.

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%; the number of people aged over 80 will have increased to 46,500 rising to 67,000 by 2025 – an increase of 63% and by 2015 the number of people with dementia will have increased to 11,700 rising to 16,000 by 2025 – an increase of 60%.

It is too easy to think we face an overwhelming challenge, but as I said to Mark with all of this in mind we are working hard to work out ways Suffolk can be at the forefront of aging well.

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.

To start with Suffolk County Council has to change, last September we launched the New Strategic Direction because despite the then Labour Government saying KEEP CLAM and CARRY ON, we knew cuts and big ones at that were coming our way at a time when we also know we need to do something radical to address our aging population.

Different Councils are starting to talk about how they are going to deal with the coming cuts many are talking about becoming more efficient which whilst we will continue to be more efficient we know that other Councils have not been on the sort of efficiency journey we have been on since the Conservatives took control of the Council in 2005, we have saved over £60M of operational costs and are now rated as the second most cost efficient County Council in England and so we cannot find the savings that way.

That’s why we are changing through the New Strategic Direction vision.

That’s why we have launched Suffolk Flexicare which is about all local public services and providers looking at our whole care structure from housing to health care with all of Suffolk’s public bodies engaged in this work.

That’s why we are launching Suffolk Circle to change people’s perception of help and networking, support not charity.

That’s why we are working on new ways for our strong third sector, charities, community groups and social enterprises to be empowered to delivery services.

Beyond the national debate about how we pay for care for our aging population, beyond the demographics, we are determined that Suffolk shall be at the front of changing the perception of getting older and of caring.

Maybe just maybe tonight the programme will touch on the very embryonic thoughts about the value of caring, not just the unbelievable difference you can make to the life of another person whether they be your partner or parents but to the economic success of the country. In Suffolk there are 98,000 carers and if they stopped caring tomorrow the county care services would collapse, conversations about how we as a nation value that care is really important, conversations are just starting up around this and I hope the Royal Commission takes this debate on board.

I hope tonight’s programme picks up on the first conversations around, how we as a nation, value carers and encourage caring for another as a worthwhile profession; in short, how do we recognise that without making payment which we simply cannot afford.

Professor Heniz Wolff calls it care4care and we are very keen on this debate, its very very early days but we are working on it , so you heard it here first, Suffolk care4care, as with all the very best thinking we are determined that Suffolk should and will be at the forefront of such things. 

But what is care4care well it’s the theory that for every hour you spend caring for another, whoever that is, you bank that hour and one day if you need care yourself you can cash it and another person provides the care you need for free in the knowledge that they are banking that hour as well; and because everyone is giving of their time freely it cost the county nothing beyond the administration. Sounds simple, but is in fact full of if’s, but’s, and maybe’s that make it a very complex thing indeed, but we are working on it.

So, there you have it in a nutshell, Suffolk has an aging population and is getting less and less funding from Central Government to deal with it; but we are working on it, with Suffolk’s New Stratergic Direction; with Suffolk Flexicare; with Suffolk Circle; with Suffolk’s care providers and the third sector and long-term with all of us here in Suffolk working towards the Bigger Society David Cameron is talking about nationally and that’s what I told Mark Murphy this morning.

Hard Choices

On 22nd April I blogged about the visits I and county officers made to the Care Homes across Suffolk that would directly be effected by our PFI Funding bid for three new state of the Art Care Homes we were planning to build; and the many great people, staff, carers and customers that we met.

Now that seems like an age ago and the KEEP CALM and CARRY ON attitude towards the finances of this country has rightly been replaced with a realism about the national debt and the need to get it under control.

But for us that means we have hard choices to make about the things we want to do and the things we can afford to do. Simply put we do not have the budget to carry on with the proposals.

At the Cabinet meeting Tuesday I presented a paper and reiterated an important principle, at an unprecedented time of change in local government, we must be prepared to take difficult decisions if we are to provide, value for money and maintain essential services to Suffolk taxpayers.

This is why one I proposed we take is stopping work to pursue a Public Finance Initiative project to create three new care homes in Suffolk.  In making that decision I thought long and hard about the potential missed opportunity but can clearly justify my thinking for three reasons:

  1. Our financial assessment showed that the project would cost the county council an additional £3m in the first five years. This is simply unaffordable in the current economic climate.
  2. The county council owns 17 care homes and operates 16 of them. While the PFI credits would have benefited part of our overall estate, replacing four of the homes with three new ones, we need to consider the homes estate as a whole. This should be within the wider context of a need to develop a range of services for older people to meet their changing expectations. Options must be affordable, sustainable, and most importantly be truly fit for purpose.  
  3.  Our care homes provide a range of services which are important for the wellbeing of many older people, but we cannot provide these services in isolation. As part of Suffolk’s Flexicare vision, we must ensure we are working with partners to consider the long-term needs for older people in Suffolk. This includes delivering better services in a climate in which a growing ageing population will push up demand for services and when people expect to be able to have more choice and control over the care and support they need.

That said at this time I believe it is more important for us to consider how we can work smarter and more effectively, by reviewing alternative options to meet the needs of all older people in the coming years. 

Our work to develop the PFI option included a period of consultation earlier this year, which produced valuable and insightful feedback from many people.

Just before I wrap up my blog and as I said on Tuesday in presenting the papers I would like to publicly thank everyone who took the time to send in their comments about the PFI proposals and in particular those good people who took the time to meet myself and the team as we presented the proposals to people living in Mildenhall, Haverhill and Lowestoft; and would like to reassure them that their feedback will most definitely influence my consideration of future proposals.

To Board or not to Board

On Tuesday I presented the annual report from the Suffolk Adult Safeguarding Board to Suffolk’s cabinet, as we discussed the report, a number of opinions were aired about the role of Boards in the brave new world we are entering of localism.

What role do the various Boards across Suffolk play if they are not statutory requirements, demanded by a centralised Government, I was mindful of just how far and how quickly the Conservatives and Eric Pickles MP in particular were moving things along.

I can name many a Board that I for one would like to see cut, measured simply as not contributing to the life of the people of Suffolk, but the Adult Safeguarding Board in not one of them.

With the importance of protecting the most vulnerable people in our communities never higher, it is heartening to see so many positive examples of joint working between our colleagues not just in the county council but with partner organisations.

This is vital if we are to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the people in our society who need it most.

It seems to me the report has three key themes:

Firstly, the adult safeguarding board has significantly improved its governance arrangements over the past year. This is all due to a major training programme and better engagement with our providers, which has contributed to putting safeguarding higher on the agenda for organisations across Suffolk who make up the board.

Secondly, our programme of raising awareness of the importance of reporting cases of suspected abuse in whatever form it takes, has led to a better understanding of the issues involved. The number of referrals has increased but let’s be clear that this is largely due to raised awareness of the process at all levels.

Obviously but something that still needs saying is that we cannot take action to prevent abuse unless people report it, so I welcome this rise in referrals. It is also worth noting that a greater proportion of the past year’s referrals have come from service providers and our health colleagues.

And last but not least, we have also seen some major steps forward from the adult safeguarding service thanks to the commitment of our teams and partner organisations. For example, the average time for case closure has decreased from an average of a little over 15 days to 10 days. Thanks to improvements in our case recording technology, the new CareFirst 6 system is helping us to better understand the form and nature of abuse taking place so that we can more effectively target our response.

Safeguarding is important and its only but coming together that knowledge can be shared and prioritising safeguarding in the work of front line staff can take place. Long live the Board, and its not often I say that!

Seismic cuts and savings required

Much is written and often said in the press about how to deliver the cuts we need to make both at the national government level in all departments and across the nation in all Councils and of particular worry to us here in Suffolk at the County Council.

Suffolk County Council is rated the 2nd most cost efficient in England and I think its good to reflect on how we arrived at this position and can the same strategy deliver the seismic shift in local government that is now being asked.

To date we have moved from a frankly very inefficient Council in 2005 run by the previous Liberal/Labour administration precisely because since we took power we have carefully used of interims and external advice to constantly delivered cost savings far, far in excess of the cost of their fees.

Often people say surely you have the expertise in those you employ to deliver these savings without the need to employ external consultants or interim Heads of this and that, well no the County Council is the 2nd most cost efficient in England because it only employs full time and long term the people it needs to do specific jobs, change management is not a full time post within the organisation and is different and thus requires different skills and experience in different department, so we bring in the best we can find to deliver precisely what we need when we need it and no more.

Headline wages always cause a stir but the careful use of different teams, companies, and individuals that has delivered savings far in excess of Government targets, year, after year, after year, that’s how we have delivered the lowest ever Council tax rises year after year after year, and this careful use of professional external advice as we seek to do more with less is how we will achieve the sort of cuts and savings that the new government has discovered we need to make in order to cut the deficit and hopefully to eventually balance the books.

I know with the New Strategic Direction and our determination to see this process through we will achieve what is going to be a very difficult process.

As we recently saw on the telly last night with the Protests outside Durham Council as they start to address the ‘in year’ cuts they face, none of this is going to be easy, we will not be popular, but if we do it by redefining Suffolk County Council and involve our communities as we go, we will come out the other side of this facing our election with people prepared to vote for us because we are seen as competent and capable of delivering radical change that has helped cushion the people of Suffolk through a very tough few years.

The Subject of Pay

At full Council on Thursday Cllr. Martin, Leader of the Labour group on Suffolk County Council, put down a motion to full Council which was frankly particularly by the time the Liberals had chipped in with an amendment was nonsense and was rightly heavily defeated as it should be.

However it does raise the question of the salaries of the Senior Staff at Suffolk County Council and its worth reflecting on, so here goes.

If we start going around the country jumping up and down and pointing fingers at every public servant who earns more money than someone else, we will find ourselves further down the line in a seriously awkward situation.

For years, local government was seen as the poor relation to central government, the place for rejects or unsuccessful civil service applicants. Over the past few decades local government has managed to shake off this stigma and we have been able to attract some extremely talented, bright and dedicated people to work in Suffolk.

The point I made in the debate on Thursday was around the going rate, we have and we will continue to pay the going rate, hopefully, as was said by Cllr. Bill Sadler, the going rate will fall over the coming few years and I very much look forward to that.

It is a fact that over 13 years of a Labour mismanagement public sector salaries have been raised faster at the top end and in many cases are on a par with the private sector; which begs the question is this right or wrong?

I suppose there are three things that spring to mind, first and foremost I think if we start reducing salaries for certain jobs due to media hysteria, we could potentially lose out long term. Secondly I think it’s fair to say that local government is not the same as private business, the billing is compulsory and failure is not usually rewarded with the sack or bankruptcy, more often a polite side ways shuffle.

But make no mistake the work of a council often has far more impact in society than any one individual company and in the case of Suffolk County Council is Suffolk largest employer and whilst it’s a slightly different thing, if spending is equivalent to turnover then the close to £1Billion Suffolk spends makes it the largest company in the County.

Irrespective of whether you think the County does a good job, if it started to go wrong you would soon be complaining about it, and rightly so.

Therefore the calibre of staff does matter and none more so that the calibre of those at the top of the organisation. But if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys, after all, So whatever is the going rate should be what we pay to get the best people with the most talent for Local Government to come and work with us in Suffolk.

%d bloggers like this: