What a difference a year makes as I travel on the train to Birmingham, this time last year we were in opposition and looking forward to winning a general election, this year in coalition and facing up to what looks like its going to be a really tough day on 20th October the day of the Comprehensive Spending review.
As I near Birmingham and sit quietly planning my conference which plenary sessions which fringes which receptions and which restaurants, or is that which restaurants which drinks receptions which fringes something like that; my phone rings and my day changes when I get a call from the Central Office team that the question I tabled has got through and I am to present myself to the conference desk at 3:15pm, I am now on a deadline – clearly the recent publicity around the New Strategic Direction has certainly pushed Suffolk up the list of Local Councils to watch, err……think that’s a good thing!
So I check into my hotel, unpack and head off the conference to make myself known at the desk, a brief chat, I drew the high nubmer so go last, and its into the main hall for the Big Society plenary session. I take my place in the reserved seat for the speakers from the floor and natter to the others who are going to ask a question of the Local Government team. The debate begins and surprisingly Eric Pickles quite early on asked for contributions form the floor. Not a good start as the first name called is not there but at least that pushes me up the list, next speaker, then the next then the next, a bit nervous now as one to go before me, then in comes George Osborne and wife and Eric Pickles decides to stop the contributions from the floor and makes his speech instead, my big moment dashed! Oh well never mind!
Later at a drinks reception I am introduced to Eric and mention that he cut me short earlier in the day, he did not seem fussed at all! The next couple of days pass without incident and I enjoy talking to old friends attending different fringes on Social Care, Health, Housing and Local Government tax and efficiency. I also attended a closed meeting with the local government team which was very different from years past gone are the days of Eric giving a rousing speech of once more unto the breeches dear chums, once more push and we’ll be there instead we are getting down to the ‘nitty gritty’ of government and the relationship with us in Local Authorities.
During the course of the conference the Residential Care Home papers for the cabinet meeting on the 12th were published and nothing really happened on the Monday but by the Tuesday the press were making enquires and I agreed to go on the Mark Murphy Show on BBC Radio Suffolk on the Wednesday morning, I got up early took my notes and papers to Breakfast and was back in my room waiting for the call just after 8am sitting in my room with my notes around me, Mark Murphy was on form and it felt quite a tough interview particularly as I had not been able to hear what people on before were saying. His questions were quite quick fire but I tried to get across the maths of what we are doing and how we were going to go to all the care homes to explain our thoughts.
He then rather unexpectedly moved onto the Chief Executive’s pay following comment made by a few people the previous day, again I was out of that loop being in Birmingham and so as not quite ready for that; but was able to answer the questions as much as anything because I am simply staggered that in the face of the scale of the issues before us, people seem to be able to rally behind such calls. I suspect in part this is because it is actually quite difficult to articulate just how much she has achieved in terms of the organisational structure change that has taken place and got us to a place whereby we can propose something radical such as the New Strategic Direction and be in a position to start its implementation, something we could not have done before her arrival, equally from the start of her employment we said we wanted to become know not just as an organisation that has successfully become more efficient but we want to be known as the most cost efficient County Council in England, last year under her stewardship we can second only to Kent not a bad achievement but difficult to get across just how important both of these things are when we look towards the cuts that are coming, shielding Suffolk from the worst of those and delivering on our promise of low council tax rises.
I ‘checked in’ with my Director afterwards and she was concerned that I did not really get the maths of why we need to look at how best to deliver the Residential Care Homes. I was disappointed with her comments but really pleased to be able to have another go at doing just that on Anglia Tonight who kindly interviewed me at the conference at lunchtime and I was able to talk about how we indeed to deliver a ‘as good if not better’ standard of care at a cost saving to us.
Reflecting on the conference and writing this blog on the train home, I supposed I noticed a couple of things doing the three days; firstly the slightly surreal airbrushing out of the coalition, we won, the rest is mere detail!, as one world weary colleague put it. The second as and by far the clearest message coming from the conference was about the Comprehensive Spending Revenue in a couple of weeks time, not one Westminster MP was saying anything, which it my mind is quite worrying, clearly they have taken the decision that they did not want a conference of gloomy looking delegates with the worlds media camped on the door step and in the halls.
All in all a few good days spent talking politics, good keynote speeches, interesting fringes and good company; there were one or two receptions, a couple of kind invitations to dinners with the area teams and I seem to recall a couple of lively discussions into the wee small hours in a bar of the Copthorne hotel.