Lakenheath Times Article September 2010

Just has our copy of the excellent Parish Magazine the Lakenheath Times, drop on my mat and once again they were kind enough to print my ramblings so I thought I would blog it and inflict it on you as well:

‘Hello and welcome to my occasional column in this great village Magazine, as ever I am going to tell you a bit of what I am up to on your behalf at the County Council and to give you a flavour of what the Council is doing with your hard earned Council Tax.

The new Coalition government has been in place now for 3 months and as Parliament rises for the Summer recess, it’s a good time to reflect on what I think everyone can agree has been a busy time, in local government terms I think I have seen more change in these 3 months than in the entire time since I was elected to the County Council 4 years ago.

Beyond the national policy agenda, this is the biggest shake up of government since, well possibly since the 1920’s, even Margret Thatcher and the incoming Conservative Government of 1979 did not propose the shrinking of the state and cuts of the magnitude we are seeing being imposed almost day by day.

Of course it’s comforting to watch the six O’clock news and see all the announcements and think, well fair enough that doesn’t affect me, but this time it does!

So what to do! Well in Suffolk last September, 9 months before the government changed, we launched our County strategy called the New Strategic Direction. Despite the KEEP CALM and CARRY ON rhetoric of the then government it was clear to those behind the scenes that we as a nation had to do some pretty painful stuff if we were to head off the sort of crisis of confidence that has befallen other European nations.

So the challenge is actually quite simple, how do we absorb the cuts with the minimum impact to those who reply on the services the County Council provide, much of what the County Council does is not universal but targeted at those who need our help the most.

Well we have to make tough decisions and change the nature of how we do things, in coming months I want to use this column to explain our thinking and give practical examples of the way we are changing and how we as a community can minimise the impact on our village.

That’s my commitment to you in the difficult times ahead, to listen, and debate what we should and should not be doing with your hard earned Council tax; to careful weigh up what is important to our community, and what we are able to do with less money.

To this end I am extremely keen to listen to what you think so please do get in touch with me to discuss this or any issue, problem or project on 07545 423 795 or better still email me at colin.noble@suffolk.gov.uk – You can also read my blog at http://www.askcolinnoble.wordpress.com and post comments on my ramblings.

Thanks for reading.’

Last of the Summer Wine

Last of the Summer Wine

Last night a much loved British TV institution came to an end, loved by some, loathed by others as utterly unfunny, but then all comedy is like that; surfing the net you read such diverse comments, some about the show but for many it’s intertwined with their views about old age, it seems to me other than Waiting for God, the Golden Girls and of course Dad’s Army, I don’t seem to recall much comedy writing about getting old. I have read that to Roy Clarke, who has written all 31 series of the show, the break through for him was when he stopped thinking of the characters as old men and started to see then as kids; To me it reminds you that we are all young at heart and can still have fun.

My ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ has two phased, the golden years of the show when it pulled in almost a third of the total viewing public with Foggy, Compo, and Clegg strolling about up to no good no doubt; and more recently in the past couple of series particularly this last one with the brilliant Russ Abbot taking a more central role, not to mention the occasional appearance of Cannon and Ball, these are the stars of the end of the pier Summer Shows I enjoyed as a child and still love to watch perform today, incidentally going to see Cannon and Ball in Great Yarmouth on Friday night. They along with the other stalwarts of classic British TV comedies from across the years, stars I remember from my youth, pre video recorders, pre remote controls, when you planned your evening around your favourite shows and argued as to who was going to get up and channel channels!

I also recall my first visit to Holmfirth, we were staying in Barnsley for my first Christmas at Lisa’s mums and she said we could go for a drive out and see where they film Last of the Summer Wine’ at the time I suppose I assumed that they just used a series of locations to fit the look of the series and did not know most of the location filming took place in one place, anyway it was not that far form Barnsley and the Dales did not disappoint as it had snowed the night before and was quite spectacular for my first visit. We wondered around the town seeing all the sites where Sides Café was and the famous steps where Compo harassed Nora Batty or was that the other was around. I was like a kid in a sweet shop, Lisa and her sister were slightly more bored and just wanted to stay in the warmth of the shops.

The ending of the series is a great shame and its amazing surfing the net the comment it has had about its appeal and its place in our culture.

From a Adult care point of view its been interesting to read the comments about ageism, particularly the one from Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director for Age UK

“Despite living in an ageing society with more over 60s than under-18s, the media remains obsessed with youth culture and older people and viewers are often sidelined. Television is incredibly powerful and if ageism is to be stamped out in society generally, the media needs to represent positive images of older people. Time and again the public have made it clear they want to see older people treated equally, whether on TV or in the workplace. Broadcasters must take this lesson to heart.”

It seems to me that there is an obsession with youth and its all rather understandable, basically the world is run by men and women in their late 30’s, 40’s and early 50’s and most I suspect look back to their lost youth rather than forward to their old age, their undiscovered county as someone one put it.

In my role as Portfolio Holder on the County Council I am privilege to meet with older people and discuss services for us all as we get older and the thing that strikes we most is that there is a resource and wealth of knowledge experience and skills that we must tap into if we are to cope with an ageing society.

The other thing that I often ponder is why older people are not a bigger voice in our society and I suspect as the baby boomer generation start to look at their older age I think we are in for a new era of Foggys, Compos, and Cleggs who not only grow old disgracefully, they will get organised and start to have a bigger voice in our society and frankly become far more demanding in our society than the generation before them.   

Interesting times ahead but I for one shall miss that gentle funny Sunday evening treat of a new episode of ‘Last of the Summer Wine’.

Demand Responsive Transport – That’s a bus to you and me

This morning I went to Wickhambrook for the launch of the first on demand bus service in West Suffolk. Not a particularly impressed group of people gathered to hear how the service would work, which is a shame really because where its been piloted near Woodbridge people have nothing but praise for the service.

I have for a couple of years now been pushing for us to start the introduction of the service as I get to see just how much money we spend supporting a rural bus services and how little they are used. If you use a bus it’s a life line, often literally as it is used to get to Doctor and Hospital appointments, when I talk with older residents its a vital part of there lives and often community groups use them as part of how they plan their activities, yet at the same time many rural buses are virtually empty and rarely run at convenient times for people to go shopping or get to work.

Equally as fuel gets more and more expensive more and more people are going to need public transport, in towns and cities across the country elections are won and lost on the strength of the bus service, in Barnsley a Town I know well its bus station is one of the most funky new buildings I have seen in a long time, its right in the town centre and next to the rail station and buses trundle around the town stopping every 10 minutes are at hundreds of stops. But of course Barnsley is a large town with a relatively compact layout and so the bus company runs its services at a profit; in Rural Suffolk our population is rather spread out to say the least, and most of the current rural bus services requires the County Council to supplement each and every journey, and in this brave new world of ours can we afford to continue to provide, if we do not provide a rural bus service does that make life untenable for anyone who does not use a car and does it effectively make rural village unsustainable?  So if a rural bus services is the part of the rural community backbone we rightly should provide a service but can we do it better, yes we can.

 A couple of years ago I and some of my fellow Councillors challenged Officers to find a better solution, certainly in my case not really having a clue of how we could do it better just that I wanted it to be better. Anyway Officers looked around the country and came up with what is known as ‘wiggy’ buses now that’s not a reference to John (sorry bit of a private joke) but the nick name given to a system of transport provision that is sort of hub and spoke; where you have ‘main line’ buses run between hubs or towns as we might call them! and a sort of on demand service you can book a bus to pick you up that either takes you to each end of the hub or a bus stop on the way between the two.

With the use of an operator based in Ipswich and technology the theory is that you can received calls from people wanting to book the bus and that it can then trundle around an area picking people up and dropping them off that is both convenient to them and allows them to make connections into the main bus routes so that they can travel from their own front door to their destination. It’s not a taxi services but it’s as close as you can get with public Transport; and its green, yes the services will naturally be dodging here, there and everywhere but it will use less fuel that just travelling from A to B often completely empty. 

Of course to pay for this we have to withdraw other services and that was the clear issue for the residents to came to the launch in Wickhambrook; having seen the pilot near Woodbridge I am convinced this is the way forward but know when I get it to my Division I shall have a full post-bag of letters from concerned people as we roll it out, I naturally hope to have just as full a post-bag of letters from people saying they love the service once its is bedded in, yeah right!

Sudbury Resource Centre

Yesterday at the invitation of Cllr. James Finch I pop along to the Sudbury Resource Centre, a training centre and place of work for those with learning disabilities in the Sudbury area and met with a number of the staff and the Chairman and Hon. Secretary of an organisation called Helping Hands which works to raise monies for the centre and support them in their endeavours.

Clearly at this difficult time of funding and as we look at all aspects of what the County Council does through the New strategic Direction they are concerned as to what that means for the future of the centre and for their family members who use the centre.

 Beyond the obvious that the decisions we take in Endeavour House has a real effect on the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our communities which requires us to focus in an effort to make the most considered decisions we possibly can. As I was shown around a couple of things really hit home with me, firstly its the nature of work and social interaction the its importance in our health and well-being.

Most of us, me included, work to pay our mortgage and occasionally go out and have a laugh and a chat with friends, one parent was telling me that his son comes home from ‘work’ at the centre and his Dad asks him how the day went and we proudly tells him he has packed 3000 boxes, this has become the norm so now as he comes through the door having been dropped off he proudly announces the number even before he takes his coat off; quite a contrast as I come thought the door and demand my gin and tonic and occasionally am asked how my day went and I say alright with a shrug. The value of work can be far more than just the money we get.

The other thing that struck me which I did not now was that the work and activities have to take account that those with learning difficulties their ability to do different tasked based on their abilities ebbed and flowed that they might be able to do a relatively complex activity for a period and that might them become too much for them and the programme has to be individual and take account of these changed.

It was a pleasure to meet with staff, customers and their parents and as we think about the future shape of services in Suffolk I shall be mindful of  different customer groups and that actually our needs are not all the same.

Judith Hawshaw MBE

This morning I attended the sad funeral of Judith Hawkshaw MBE and there was hardly a dry eye amongst the hundreds who turned out on a rainy morning in Ipswich to mark the sad passing of such a strong character.

I was asked to say a few words for her obituary and said “Judith’s commitment to Suffolk’s Very Sheltered Housing was truly outstanding; our job now is to continue her work for the good of the people in Suffolk and in honour of a remarkable Lady” and continue her work we will.As a fellow Councillor said to me “She seemed to be able to make things happen when everyone else made out they couldn’t be done.”The very sheltered housing that she was so proud of are a testimony to her practical determination to make thing happen and not just be talked about.It’s true to say that the current residents enjoying the very Shelter housing in Suffolk due so because of her no nonsense “say yes” approach to everyone in the statutory, private, voluntary and independent sectors!I recall when she was showing me around the Exning Court development in Exning that really “everything I do is based on what my Mum would like”, it struck me then and has stayed with me that that’s not a bad test, as you sit in a meeting looking at this statistic here a flow chart there and every where percentages of this and that.Actually thinking about what your own mum would understand and want to see is not a bad rule of thumb at all; for all the complexity it’s possible to get bogged down in it’s actually all about people and how they want to be serviced and treated.I know I speak for all those who worked with her that she will be very sadly missed and that her Mum and family should be very proud of her.

Free School Milk

I thought the debate that raged yesterday about the discussion about free school milk was very interesting. Firstly I think Number 10 got it spot on, politically speaking. Some commentator have suggested that the issue got along way down the line before it was stopped and I simply don’t see that; a junior minister sends a ministerial letter to a Scottish Executive office opening up the debate.

Indeed that debate seems to be centred, quite rightly, around the issue of a universal offer or should the provision be targeted to help poorer families with they children’s nutrienial needs; the ending of universal benefits must be right in the current economic climate, but should that include free school milk at £59million maybe not; not to mention how a school would administer who got the free milk and who did not, and then those who were not entitled to it but whose’s parents had paid and what about those kids who decided they then wanted the milk but had not paid, most 5 years olds don’t tend to carry much cash with them!, a nightmare as one teacher pointed out to me.

At a very pleasant lazy sunday afternoon lunch with friends I asked around what people thought and the general feeling is that programmes should be targeted at those who most need it, and so they should, but perhaps milk should be left alone.

To my mind the more interesting bit is around the command structure of Government, gone are the days of centralised paranoid control and it seems to me what David Cameroon is trying to do is create a culture whereby the intellectual prowess of MPs, Civil Servants, and those who are involved in the various think tanks is allowed to proposed debate and refine policy to get us out of the mess this county.

So on that note, I thought the debate is worth having, and debates such as this should continue to be had but then it’s right for David Cameroon and his team to say ‘I see what you are proposing and no don’t like that one’.

To some extent this is mirrored in local government, as we face the cuts lots of different saving are proposed by Councillors and Officers and its the role of the Leader to take each idea and to say, don’t like that one.

But I also think residents have a great role to play in this debate about what we do in the future, and that is a part of what is proposed by the New Stratergic Direction, we want people’s input to what is proposed so that we can make more informed choices; I ask at every forum I attend from surgeries to Parish Council meetings to the articles I write in various local magazines for people to let me know what they think, how they should shape future services and where they would make the cuts.

So let me know!

The new order – 3 months in

The new Coalition government has been in place now for 3 months and as Parliament rises for the Summer recess, it’s a good time to reflect on what I think everyone can agree has been a busy time, in local government terms I think I have seen more change in these 3 months than in the entire time since I was elected to the County Council 4 years ago.

Beyond the national policy agenda, this is the biggest shake up of government since, well possibly since the 1920’s, even Margret Thatcher and the incoming Conservative Government of 1979 did not propose the shrinking of the state and cuts of the magnitude we are seeing being imposed almost day by day.

Of course it’s comforting to watch the six O’clock news and see all the announcements and think, well fair enough that doesn’t affect me, but this time it does!

So what to do! Well in Suffolk last September, 9 months before the government changed, we launched our County strategy called the New Strategic Direction. Despite the KEEP CALM and CARRY ON rhetoric of the then government it was clear to those behind the scenes that we as a nation had to do some pretty painful stuff if we were to head off the sort of crisis of confidence that has befallen other European nations.

So the challenge is actually quite simple, how do we absorb the cuts with the minimum impact to those who reply on the services the County Council provide, much of what the County Council does is not universal but targeted at those who need our help the most.

Well we have to make tough decisions and change the nature of how we do things, the key it seems to me is how we involve residents in those tough decisions and how we need to work together to minimise the impact the cuts have on their own communities.

Politically I think we are entering the most challegning and thus interesting time.

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