Heckled by Father Christmas at a Residential Care Home

Well Christmas day is over and we are back from the family so now comes the reflection on the year just gone.

We completed visits to all 16 of the County Council run Residential Care Homes as part of the work officers and I are doing before I present a cabinet paper in March which is to decide which way we are going to go about getting out of the Residential Care Homes provider game.

The good news is that we really have had excellent discussions at each of our homes and yes some of them were full and frank! Equally a number of providers are actively talking with the team about the future which is great.

As a note to finish the year on I thought I would tell you about my visit to the Excellent Hawthorn Drive Residential Care Home, it was our third visit in the day in Ipswich and I was in the process of summing up the 2 hour meeting when through the windows behind me could be hear ‘Jingle Bells’ and the unmistakable ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’ of Father Christmas as the Lions made their way past, his timing could not have been funnier and was a perfect moment to close the meeting by saying that in my time as a County Councillor I had be heckled a few times but never before by Father Christmas!

If you are one of the few brave soles who have taken the time to read my blogs this year, that’s for your dogged determination and you will be pleased to hear my New Year’s resolution is two fold, to make my blogs shorter and to improve my speelling!

Meeting with Suffolk’s MPs

Tuesday afternoon I had a meeting with the Suffolk MPs, well some of them, Tim Yeo was not able to be there due to other commitments and Matthew Hancock and Peter Aldous had secured adjournment debates and were due to be speaking in the House so they were unable to attend; so my meeting was with Therese Coffey, Ben Gummer, David Ruffley and Daniel Poulter.

The main subject of conversation was the Residential Care Homes and my promise to keep them updated every step of the way with how things are going. I had a good chat with Peter Aldous about the council homes in his patch before the meeting by phone.

Each was eager to discuss the care homes in their patches and how the visits went and what progress we were making towards which route I would be taking back to cabinet in March and they added in their thoughts and some of the comments they had from their colleagues about the experiences in other counties that have or are attempting to do much the same thing as us. I talked about the market provider consultations we had and the active discussions we are in the process of having; not to mention the discussions and visits I had undertaken with my counter parts in Hertfordshire, Leicestershire, Staffordshire and was about to have in Birmingham in January.

We discussed the Suffolk Association of Independent Care Providers and how we all wanted them to be involved in both the decision I would be presenting to cabinet in March and if the decision is to sell or transfer then for them to be active bidders so that we help build on our strengths albeit taking into account the current rules and hand tying that exists with Local Government and European tendering and procurements regulations.

We also discussed the progress of the New Strategic Direction and their support for this strategy to make further efficiency savings and delivery a Suffolk version of the Big Society.

We moved on to discuss the implications of the Comprehensive Spending revue and the level of savings this would require Suffolk County Council to make, I said It was equivalent to £27M this year and will cost pressures and inflation that amounted to some £43M in total for the coming year. With ACS being asked to save some £12.7M next year, as an example of the cost pressure in my portfolio I mentioned the 20 people a month who are coming to social services unable to continue to pay for their residential care home placements and asking us to support them in the future. I went thought some of the cost pressures in Adult and Community Services and how challenging it is to decide upon cuts at the same time as having to grapple with significantly year on year increase demands for services..

We discussed the positives about very sheltered housing and the need for this to be developed not only to replace District and Borough sheltered housing where there is increasing voids occurring but through Suffolk Flexicare programme we are trying to work better across our different responsibilities to create an environment where providers can more easily develop VSH and Residential Care Homes.

Therese spoke about Day Care and we had a good discussion on social enterprise, Ben talked about Crabbe Street Day Care Centre and the challenges it faces and I talked of Newmarket Day Care Centre that has never been an SCC enterprise, always a separate Charity delivering Day Care services, but one that was looking forward to the challenge of Personalised Budgets as an opportunity not a threat; lots of work to be done on this issue of the next year or two.

I closed by saying that SCC’s future role must be about people, the growing number of people that will need a service, the role of Suffolk Flexicare, our future role in standards of care homes and in shaping the market working with providers to deliver a more robust provision of very sheltered housing and an increased number of quality Residential Care Homes to support our ageing population. All in all a very useful and constructive meeting and I promised to keep them in the loop on this most difficult of issues before us.

Good Neighbours at Christmas time

May I just wish you and yours a very restful and peaceful Christmas and fun seeing in the New Year.

Over the past month as have battled the snow and ice and freezing temperatures my thoughts always turn to the older people in our community and the need for them to be stay warm and not be at risk of Hypothermia. The next couple of months are likely to stay the same so if you get the opportunity to pop in and see a neighbour or relative I am sure they will appreciate the company and you can do a few very simply non intrusive safety checks.

The key thing about Hypothermia is that is creeps up on people without them realising, and it’s this that makes it a killer. So pop round and simply check, does the place feel cold, yet the resident says its fine, you ask and they say they are not cold, but when you shake hands they certainly feel cold, they may be drowsy or fatigued, their speech may be slurred and they may be pale and their face puffy, or they might seem a bit confused. If you have a doubt call Customer First on 0808 800 4005 and someone will help.

Keep Warm and keep safe and have a lovely Christmas and a very happy New Year.

Today’s SCC Budget Scrutiny

It has been a busy past month at the county, as we take in the scale of the necessary cuts that will be required following the Comprehensive Spending Review by the coalition Government.

Whether you think it too deep, too quick or the right response by the coalition after a few months in power trying to deal with the consequences of Labours year’s in power; that debate is national, all we know is that in Suffolk we have to deal with the cuts that are coming.

After months of looking at every aspect of our budget, today I and the team presented the ACS proposals to the County Council’s Budget Scrutiny Committee, where we debated and were questioned on the rationale for each cut we seek to make.

In short ACS is having to make savings of £12.7M which is lot of money, particularly when we add in inflation and a 3% growth in those seeking support each year, this year alone we are seeing 20 people a month who previously could afford their own residential care costs come to the social services and asking us to pay as they have run out of money, now beyond a statutory duty there is not a single councillor amongst us who does not believe it is the role of the county to support people who need residential care but at pushing on for £30,000 for each person per year that millions of extra costs we are having to absorb.

So these elements of the budget proposals are the culmination of months of hard work by Officers and those of us in the Cabinet as we planned the impact of different levels of cuts.

From this Scrutiny and its findings we can look again at our proposals so that we are in a position to present our budget proposals to the Full Council in February along with the thing that I suspect most people are interested in what will be the Council tax rise for them next year. Since we can to power in 2005 we have been able to deliver the lowest Council tax rises in the Councils history and I for one want to see this trend continue!

Norwich North Conservative Association – Acting Chairman

Well I thought having stepped down as Chairman of West Suffolk and been elected Vice-President I thought my days of direct involvement with an Association  was over. but a few weeks ago I was asked by the Party Board if I would consider becoming the Acting Chairman of the Norwich North as they need some support ahead of the local elections in May next year in both the Norwich City and Broadlands wards the constituency covers.

I am pleased to help as I firmly believe that everywhere benefits from Conservatives administrations and anything I can do to help I will. I have had a few meetings now with the Officers and the Eexcutive Council I have been impressed by all and their desire to move the Association on and be as good a campaigning team as we can be.

I really look forward to helping out where I can and have met a great bunch of activists who are keen for the Association to go from strength to strength.

The only slight disappointment to me is that, in helping in Norwich, I will not be able to be as active a supporter of a great team of candidates in Forest Heath and St. Edmundsbury as I would have liked, but I am sure they’ll win without me nagging them!

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