Back to the role

Following on from a very disappointing Monday morning it was back to it yesterday with a visit to both Whitehouse Enterprises based in Ipswich and then Workwise based in Bury St. Edmunds in the afternoon.

Both organisations are very similar in some ways and quite different in others, both have a team of dedicated staff who work with people with differing issues that need support.

My thanks to both Theresa and Kieran at Whitehouse for taking the time to show me around the faculties and the great and quite different product ranges they make. It was also a pleasure to meet some of those who work at Whitehouse from support staff to the employees.

Whitehouse Enterprises was established by SCC some 31 years ago as a sheltered workshop for disabled people. Over the years it has delivered employment support, training, qualifications and created jobs for hundreds of disabled people. At present there are 120 people employed at theLovetofts Drive site and in its associated businesses around the County.

They have a broad customer base form Customers Habitat, John Lewis, BHS, Tesco and Mr Fothergill’s Seeds based in Kentford.

The products I was most interested in is their outdoor furniture made from recycled plastic. This new production unit began only 2 years ago and now employs 10 members of staff and has achieved £300k in sales in the last year alone! I have asked for a stack of their brochures to be delivered to Endeavour House and I will be sending one to each Councillor as I am sure like me they work with a wide range of community groups and Parish Councils who are involved in specifying playgrounds and recreation areas all the time.

Whitehouse also provide catering in cafes and external function catering and you might have come across them as cafes the St Lawrence café in the Ipswich Centre or as Café Libra in the Ipswich Gainsborough, Felixstowe and Bury St. Edmunds Libraries or as Room One at University College Suffolk north campus

Whitehouse now has an annual turnover of £1 million. I was extremely proud of them recently at the Public Procurement Expo where they were featured this year and apparently last and they have won theGreenestCountyaward for best product for its re-cycled furniture

Recently the business has now been featured in a new national publication (April 11) from the Social Firms UK group which high lights the success of Whitehouse as a company which has transformed itself from a sheltered factory into a thriving social firm. The Whitehouse General Manager Teresa Warren is regarded as a national expert on how to set up sustainable social enterprise cafes which employ disabled and disadvantaged people.

But it is also more than a company the people who work at Whitehouse and its associated enterprises don’t just work together. There is a thriving social group and working at Whitehouse helps people to develop support networks and new friendships that they have not experienced before. Tips and gratuities from the cafés all contribute to a big Christmas party to which everyone is invited. There are race nights, theatre trips, bowling and snooker groups and concert trips. For many people who have limited family and kinship networks support from colleagues at work can have a positive effect on managing their health conditions.

As a part of the New Strategic Direction Whitehouse is planning to be divested from Suffolk county council as part of the REALISE Futures Industrial Provident Society and hopes to continue to work with disabled and disadvantaged adults to help them achieve their work and life goals.

Having said good bye to Theresa and the team at Whitehouse it was back up the A14 to visit Workwise in Bury St. Edmunds, as I said in many ways the two organisations are very similar in their aims and approaches, but work with quite different client groups. Having sat down and had a cup of tea with the senior team I was given a guided tour of the facilities and meet with a number of those who were working on their product ranges and learning new skills to equip them for employment.

Workwise was set up in 1985 as an independent charity by Health and Suffolk County Council as a rehabilitation employment resource centre for people with long and enduring mental health problems. In 1996 they became a partner provider withWestSuffolkCollegeand developed into an Employment Training Centre, again for people in secondary care.  With their main aim being to successfully train people with mental health problems in a genuine business environment to encourage self esteem and independence through Work and thus contribute to their quality of life.

My visit was to learn more about what they did and to understand first hand their funding issues and the very complex world they operate in as they work withSuffolkcounty council and the Department of Work and Pensions and the Health services. They certainly have a more complex world in terms of funding than Whitehouse and I took back to my team at the county the need for us to find a better system of funding across all partners.

With both organisations you can clearly see the importance of work, work is about providing people with some of the things they need in their lives, a sense of worth and purpose that we all need.

Equally from both visits you could clearly get a sense of the challenge Suffolk county council is making to organisations across the services it provides; Yes they will continue to require funding from the council but as a social enterprises they will be free to make their own decisions and by building up their business, thus the support will cost less and the savings made will allow the council to protect other services from further cuts, there in a nutshell is the whole point of the councils strategic direction to fundamentally lower the cost base of doing things to protect front line services from the governments necessary cuts, the question I always come back to is: the alternative to this is what exactly?

In all the words written and blogged, in the protests and marches down the high street, the alternative to this is what?

The liberals say it quite simply really, delay the inevitable, burn the reserves, after all it’s only rainy day monies and fingers crossed hope ‘the sun will come out tomorrow’, well this is not a rainy day this is permanent climate change, but hay once the reserves are gone then you can always start to whop up the Council tax just like they did in 2002 and 2003 when they put up the Council tax by 11.9% then 18.5% up over 30% in two years, however many times I write this down it still stuns me and the staggering detrimental effect that has on the lives of people on fixed income.

Or you could be like Labour; deficit what deficit?, 13 years of Labour mismanagement, nothing to do with us gov’nor! – ‘we always said we needed to make cuts’ oh no they did not!

And if we are simply going to do anything more that salami slice our way backwards providing less and less services based on the funding we will be getting; then we have to do something about the fundamental cost base of providing services, yes you want the organisation to become more and more efficient but after six years of doing precisely that and over £70M taken out of the overhead there is a limit to what can be achieved, the strategic direction is about lowering the fundamental cost base of service delivery.

Yes we need to provide time, more time for organisations both within the council and from across Suffolk to take up the challenge, but as they do we will be doing what we were elected to do; provide and protect services with the funds available to us and to keep the council tax as low as we possibly can. Nothing protects the most vulnerable in our society and those on a fixed income more that keeping people’s hard earned money in their pocket to make their own choices about their lives.

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, Park Farm Cottage, Fordham St. Genevieve, BurySt. Edmunds, Suffolk IP28 6TS

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