A short Speech

A few weeks ago I did something new!

I was contacted by the Dioceses of St.Edmundsbury and Ipswich who run a progrmme for church elders to provide a ministry to older people, they asked me to come and address the opening of their next course and not thinking I said yes, happy to. Having said yes I asked how long they wanted thinking, 5 maybe 10 minutes, and they said casually ‘oh about 40 minutes maybe with a few slides and then Q&A’, glup!, I don’t think I had ever spoken for more that 10 minutes in my life, but in for a penny in for a pound! – here is what I said:

“A ministry to older people

Good afternoon, my name is Colin Noble and I am the portfolio holder for Adult & Community Services at Suffolk County Council. This means I have responsibility for adult social care, which includes the many varied and innovative ways of supporting Suffolk’s older population.

I would like to say a big thank you for inviting me to talk to you today.

I am going to be speaking about how the county council is working with its partners in Suffolk to enable older people to live independent, longer and more fulfilling lives.

At the end we have a hand out and a copy of the slides and I will send on to Kathleen a transcript my words and any questions and answers we discuss today.

To start, I would like to begin with an overview of the environment in which we are working. This will be the first half of my presentation, and I will then invite questions. The second half will focus on the range of services available to support older people in Suffolk.

It is certainly true that we live in interesting times. The public sector is facing unprecedented change, largely brought about by the government’s priority to reduce the deficit. For local government on a national scale, this means in year cuts of some £1.165bn, which in turn demands some serious thinking about delivering services that are more cost efficient and more joined up.

But it’s not just an issue that affects local councils. Health is in a similar position, with the recent announcement to have a major reshuffle to the NHS with changes to strategic health authorities and primary care trusts. Our latest thinking is about the many ways that social care and health cross over in people’s lives, and how we can work better on a more local level to reduce costs and improve the care and support that people receive. This has to be good sense as it saves unnecessary hospital admissions and the number of people who need long term, more expensive care.

These far reaching changes will also impact the police and voluntary and independent sector partners, many of whom supply services to the county council.

Suffolk’s demographic profile is also of interest here. Suffolk is a large county, and is home to around 715,000 people. In figures just published by the Office for National Statistics, Suffolk outstrips the national average for residents aged over 65 over the next 20 years. This means more pensioners than people under 16. On the one hand, it is very positive that people are living longer in Suffolk. On the other, demand for local services is likely to increase in direct proportion to the rising elderly population.

At the same time, the number of people living in Suffolk affected by dementia is set to rise by 65% for those aged 65 and over – from approximately 10,000 people in 2008 to more than 16,000 people in 2025.

So, what is to be done? While we face key challenges, many of them financial, we also have a golden opportunity to do things differently.

The county council is meeting these challenges head-on with its New Strategic Direction. This is a blueprint for how we will work to become a leaner, more dynamic organisation over the coming years. It is a direct response to central government’s call for more responsive services delivered locally, and to the formidable and sobering target of working with up to 30% less funding. Of course we’ll know more after the government announces the results of its Comprehensive Spending Review next month.

All of this will be possible only if we accept that no single organisation can work on its own. The county council is excellently placed to spearhead this collaborative approach, and to do so we must work much more closely with our partner organisations.


It is also the case that we must empower people to do more themselves, within their community. To use just one example, people in Debenham in Mid Suffolk have set up their own local support network for people suffering from dementia, their families and family carers. This is only possible with the enthusiasm, commitment and energy of local people to run lunch clubs, produce fact sheets, provide friendly local support with day to day tasks, and a whole host of other supporting information.

This theme of encouraging people to do more themselves will be more embedded in the way we do our business over time. Please don’t think this is about the county council shirking its responsibilities – far from it as I hope you will come to see by the end of this presentation.

We have just commissioned some local research with older people across the county to determine their expectations from the state when it comes to receiving services and support.


The vast majority of participants told us they were firmly of the opinion that they had to take responsibility for their wellbeing. This could be everything from getting involved in local clubs, organisations, to learning new things through adult learning to keeping a close network with friends and family.

Older people taking part in this research were well aware of the challenging financial circumstances that we face, and gave us plenty of advice about promoting the many positive ways that people can stay active, keep healthy and get involved. We will be using the outcome of this research to promote the many ways that we can encourage this self-sufficiency.

In her work around the psychological aspects of ageing, Dr Ellen Langer identifies a self-perpetuating cycle in which many people believe they get worse and worse over time, and therefore can do less.

As she puts it: “People assume that everything is to do with age – from forgetting keys to aches and pains – and don’t take steps to make changes. If you believe you can’t do something, you don’t try, and if you don’t try, you get more and more evidence that you are not able to.”

Of course, this positive attitude approach is not always possible for people who have an acute illness or disability, or need more intensive support.

However, if we can give people the support they need at the earliest possible opportunity, we may be able to avoid them getting any worse. In other words, we can help people sooner, therefore benefiting them mentally and physically, which will ultimately reduce costs for social care and health with fewer unnecessary hospital admissions or demands for long term care.

At this point I would like to take a short break by inviting any questions on what I have said so far.

So in this Part 2, I am to give you some examples of how our approach to supporting older people to remain independent is operating in practice. On the broadest scale, social care is working closely with health to keep people in their home for longer. We are considering plans to bring together community matrons, social workers and many other crucial staff from both NHS and the county council so that people can benefit from their combined expertise and skills. This means better, more responsive services for people in their area, and in theory only one professional visiting a customer’s home to give them the support they need.

On the subject of working with our partners, I am also proud of the steps we are making when it comes to accommodation and housing for older people. We have an obligation in Suffolk to consider current and future housing needs. With the rising older population in Suffolk, this is going to be more important than ever. Time and time again, older people state that they want to remain in their own home. This is essential for supporting a longer, healthier life and the number one priority for us in reducing the number of people going into long term residential care unnecessarily.


In the summer I invited colleagues from district and borough councils, housing associations and provider organisations to commit to a strategy to create a vision through to 2020. Suffolk Flexicare is the result, and will be crucial as we plan ahead to deliver a sustainable infrastructure for housing, technology and innovative services in the years to come.

But there is plenty that we are doing now. Major advances in technology mean we are installing special equipment in people’s homes, making it easier for them to carry out day-to-day tasks from getting out of bed in the morning to boiling a kettle.

We have introduced a 24 hour telephone support service, linked to a community alarm, which gives people reassurance at all times of day and a quick response in an emergency. Finally, people are taking up the opportunities provided by the Disabled Facilities Grant to adapt and improve their home. This council grant offers significant support for people who are frail, or who have a disability, making it possible to install essential home modifications from handrails to moving bathrooms downstairs.

One of the points of interest about delivering services in the new world is that the county council is not necessarily the best organisation to provide those services. You may have seen recent headlines to the effect that we will be handing over responsibility for delivering some aspects of adult care to other organisations.

This is only one possibility, but with a very well managed and effective network of local organisations proving support locally, it would make sense if they were to take on more responsibility over time.

The second consideration is how we give older people choice to take the decisions that affect them. This is key to keeping people safe and well in their own home, and studies have clearly shown that greater choice prompts more control, and this is better for all.  

Everyone benefits from having a network of people around them, from neighbours to friends and family. This is what central government wants to see as part of its ‘Big Society’.

Take the example of the ‘Home from Hospital’ scheme which we run alongside the British Red Cross. Consider this: if someone is going into hospital, who is going to look after their pet, or put out the rubbish? This can create a huge amount of anxiety, and with this scheme, help is at hand from volunteers to do just that.


We’re also taking theBig Society’ theme one step further with the introduction of the Suffolk Circle. This is a pioneering project based on a similar idea in Southwark in East London. The Suffolk Circle is a membership organisation which enables people to volunteer their skills to help others, from fixing a leaky tap to doing the shopping.

It means that older people can register to find out what services and support are available in their area. If they choose to do so, members can then pay for tokens which entitle them to a specific task provided by a volunteer such as mowing the lawn, or taking the dog for a walk.

But volunteering can of course be free, and we would want to encourage more communities to get involved with helping one another.


I cannot overstate the important role played by the less formal networks and groups that run in our communities. By this I mean the lunch clubs, book clubs, family carers’ networks and others.

Much of this work is carried out by volunteers who offer their own time and skills to help others. The selfless contribution from Suffolk’s 98,000 family carers is hugely important for two reasons: firstly and most importantly for the many friends and loved ones who benefit from their support, but also to our local economy. The economic contribution made by family carers throughout the UK per year is a staggering £87billion, so we cannot for one minute underestimate the major role that family carers play in our society.

In recent months, there have been plenty of innovative services to support family carers. I could name many examples, including support for carers to plan ahead in case anything should go wrong, accessing better information, and identifying short breaks through the pioneering Time For Carers website.

In Suffolk we enjoy a positive working relationship with Age Concern Suffolk and others with our Partnership for Older People in Suffolk, or POPS. The purpose of POPS is to bring together older people with others to look how they can be supported to remain independent and have an enhanced quality of life. This includes all aspects of healthy living, promoting positive attitudes to ageing and challenging perceptions of what older people want and what they can and cannot do. POPS has established forums across the county for discussion and debate on these topics and more.
Local agencies also signed up to a Charter for Older People, a joint commitment which outlines:

  • the rights that older people in Suffolk should be entitled to enjoy;
  • the opportunities they should expect; and
  • the responsibilities and aspirations of those who provide their activities, services and support.

In addition, the Voice panel consults older people from their home, employing short interviews to enable people to have their say when influencing the way their services are provided. 

The latest Voice report, entitled ‘My House: My Home: My Life’, found that 60% of participating older people lived on their own, and of that number 17% had no close network of support. In the same report, people were asked what made them most happy about where they live, and answers included the location, being near family, friends or amenities.

These are the challenges that we must confront with our voluntary sector partners, and with the organisations that provide services to older people. We must get better at doing more to spot potential problems early on. The Home Shield Plus service is making great inroads by ensuring that anyone visiting an older person in their home can report any maintenance or related problems to be fixed by the relevant agency.

By calling our Customer First service and reporting the problem during or after a visit, hazardous objects, leaking pipes or faulty smoke alarms can be fixed without leading to any further problems. In this way, the wellbeing of older people becomes the responsibility of every home visitor.


Customer First is the county council’s dedicated first point of contact for social care enquiries. Staff handle around 4,000 calls every week – that’s over 200,000 calls per year! If you consider the sheer variety of services provided by adult social care – everything from simple information and advice to the specialist expertise needed to manage often sensitive adult and children safeguarding enquiries – this is no mean feat.

Libraries are a lynchpin in the community when it comes to information and for opportunities for people to get involved. Take Top Time for example, with its combination of book and theatre groups, arts and crafts and local history. Top Time events are organised in libraries across the county, with many older people getting involved and meeting others. LEAP centres are now an integral part of some of our libraries, offering courses and opportunities for people to try something new or learn a skill.

For many years the perception has been that older people ‘do not do computers’ but this simply isn’t the case. Recent studies into the way we use media at home and work shows that older people represent a significant share of the market when it comes to regularly accessing broadband to surf the web.

Libraries offer free Internet access, and there are many more opportunities to join the worldwide web for all ages. In the 21st Century, the county council, like the majority of other organisations, is relying more than ever before on the website as a source of information and advice.

As part of the ethos for encouraging people to do more themselves, we have created a web directory of local services, from clubs and societies to GP surgeries, called Suffolk InfoLink.  This website contains a wealth of information so that people can find what they need, when they need it.

Intergenerational projects are worth mentioning, and run in conjunction with our partners such as Artlink. These fascinating projects encourage people of all ages to work together on projects from Suffolk’s history and heritage to a photographic catalogue of our countryside. 


Finally, I would like to reiterate that we face a great opportunity in Suffolk to transform the way we work together to support older people. This is as much about challenging perceptions and myths about ageing as it is about offering choice enabling people to do more themselves. It is true that we are facing acute challenges in the cost of providing services with the backdrop of reducing funds and growing demand. But I hope I have illustrated the many ways that we are working together to offer the help, advice and collective support for older people to live better, more fulfilling lives than ever before.”

If you read thought that lot, thanks and well done!


About askcolinnoble
I'm a Conservative politician-lite, I dabble a bit in Party Politics with my main focus of working hard and being a strong voice for my community making sure local government delivers quality services and fellow residents get value for money for their hard earned money they pay in Council tax | Where this Gravatar appears and I am expressing my views or liking something I do so in a personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Suffolk County Council, Forest Heath District Council, the Conservative Party or come to think of it anyone else | But having said the above at an election time and to stay legal anything I write is promoted by Lance Stanbury on behalf of Colin Noble, both at West Suffolk Conservative Association, Unit 8, Swan Lane Business Park, Exning, Newmarket, Suffolk CB8 7FN

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