27/02/2011 Leave a comment
Popped along to the LGA Conservative Group meeting Friday in Cambridge for a round up of thoughts post Budget day across East Anglia, all in all it was a tough few days last week for all of the councils.
Cllr. Jill Tuck, Leader of Cambridgeshire welcomed us all to their Council Chamber and we heard from Cllr. David Shakespeare OBE as Chairman of the Conservative Group on what good value the LGA was! A discussion followed about the Big Society with Cllr. Robert Gordon, I can’t list all his titles as I am told to keep my blogging shorter! Cllr. David Parsons CBE talked about the post CCA world and the need for us to stress to government to keep it lite and not recreate reporting structures by creep over the course of the parliament.
Cllr. Gary Porter lead the session on the changes to the planning system and I think many of us see opportunities and pitfalls in equal proportion!
Just before Lunch we have a good Q&A session with Stephen Hammond MP who as usual answered our questions with humour and honestly which I think is appreciated by us all.
After Sandwiches and a natter we heard from Alan Mabutt the CCHQ Local Government sage who is always interesting and has a great skill at pitching his presentation at the audience; I have for my sins heard Alan three times this year once in Swaffham, at the CCA and on Friday and he always seems to have the ‘pitch’ right for different audiences.
The event closed with Will Brooks Head of the LGA Conservative office who gave the feed back from recent polling as to what people were thinking about in the run up to the Local Government elections in May and fascinating it was too.
At the coffee break and at lunchtime the conversations were about the reactions we were having to the cuts and whilst of course these are quite local based on where the cuts were biting, there was a sense of the national picture that we need to keep reminding people that the cuts are a direct result of 13 years of labour mismanagement; as was said in one of the session the coalition government is 9 months old and its trying to sort out the biggest financial mess this county has been in since the second world war. The cuts are necessary and Labour’s fault it’s as simply as that.
I don’t care how many times Ed Balls does a Pontius Pilot and then says of course we always said there needs to be cuts, but we would do them slower, so what you get from labour is a complete washing of their hands and New, New Labour saying how much better they would do things, a bit like asking the arsonist how best to put out the fire!
Locally we have struggled with the cuts and articulating that cuts actually mean cuts; but to some extent I think that is inevitable as residents see the things they personally value affected by decisions made at County Hall, yet things they do not value continuing. I can of course make a strong case for the £190M ACS spend on the services it provides but if you use a Library or one of the other services that is currently being talked about with actual or potential closure I can completely understand people championing the things they hold dear.
Equally I think it’s fair to say getting the message across about the New Strategic Direction is proving difficult when people are trying to cope with the cuts at the same time. However getting the message across is important and we must continue to work with communities and community leaders to develop the ideas that will ultimately protect residents from more cuts, The county has, since 2005 focused on being efficient, but simply being efficient is not enough, we must find new ways to provide services; cheaper ways to provide services; if we are going to be able to continue to provide many of the services we hold dear, in the future.
On BBC Radio Suffolk’s debate on the cuts and the future , broadcast last week I was pleased to hear an old business associate of my family’s, David Bedford who along with his sons runs the excellent Bedford’s Estate Agency in Bury St. Edmunds, he was in the audience and suggested that what we are discussing and asking is a twist on Kennedy’s famous line ‘Ask not what Suffolk can do for you but what you can do for Suffolk’; and in essence that is what is being asked.
I am not saying we get the message right all the time, I am not saying it is well received and I am not saying there won’t be trips and spills along the way but it seems to me that this is far more an honest and intelligent approach to what is before us as we try to ‘cut our cloth’ according to what we can afford, a 28% drop in funding which equates to about £125M over the next 4 years, demands that the County Council must change and I am firmly of the opinion that Suffolk will be in better shape for this conversation in 4 years time that a lot of County Councils.