Fuel Poverty

I thought the debate in the House of Commons this week on Fuel pricing was a fascinating one and Chloe Smith MP summed it up perfectly at the end, there is the time for debate and listening and there is a time to adjust the Tax base but I would say the Government does need to heed the messaging as I know this is one of the gravest threats to a country or even semi rural way of life and when people talk they are worried, very worried about how they are going to pay for fuel. Daily and I do mean daily businesses are going out of business because people will no longer travel.

This is a difficult balance between raising tax as this country as we all know is financially in a mess and the government must act carefully and with a broad sense of direction to regain our fiscal sanity. 13 years of a fiscally irresponsible Labour Government who made no effort at all to put something aside for a rainy day, has been a complete disaster and as we are seeing being played out ‘in front of our very eyes’, economically globally and in Europe unfortunately it not so much a rainy day as almost permanent climate change; when the head of the IMF starts to talk about ‘the lost decade’ you know we all going to hell in a hand cart.

To me one of the key issues is the cost of petrol and diesel in relationship to where you live; fuel poverty is significantly higher in rural communities such as mine where to enjoy the activities that are a bus stop away in the towns and cities you have to spend significantly more money. I would like to see this increasing divide addressed and it seems to me that can be done by residential address Post Code car tax breaks, a relatively easy thing to calculate and advise people of.

However along with the rising price of petrol and diesel I think there is an even bigger issue fuel poverty is also about being able to heat our homes this winter.

In my home village there is no gas, accordingly many, many people use kerosene to heat their homes, and the price of this is now fearful. I am a trustee of a small family charity started by my Grandfather some 50 years ago given a bag of coal to the old folk of the village, the charity has property it lets and uses the rental income to, over the years, provide a number of fun activities from outings to the seaside to support of luncheon clubs etc. Today it principle activity to essentially back to a bag of coal at Christmas; over the winter a number of older people will run out of oil and we help them pay for a supply, then we work with them to suggest they take out a payment play with an oil company to spread the cost. I am also aware in my home village in 2011 in order to be able to pay for that next supply of fuel or the electricity bill, older people are making food or fuel decisions that that is simply wrong.

I would say the 5% VAT heating oil is wrong and night time (what most of us still call Economy 7) electricity should be stopped, a warm home in the winter an essential, if nothing else the cost to the system of dealing with people who get cold related illnesses far outweighs the 5% tax base, for all the warm schemes, for all the insulation, heating your home is not a choice nor luxury is a basic human requirement and should no be taxed.

The future of adult social care and support: a roundtable discussion

As a part of the Department of Health’s ‘Caring for our future’ engagement exercise yesterday I attended a conference to discuss the up and coming Social Care white paper with such leading lights as Lord Norman Warner who was a co-author of the Dilnot Proposals, David Behan CBE the Department of Health’s Director General of Social Care. and Paul Burstow MP the Care Minster amongst others.

Lord Warner opened and spoke of the need for structural reform to the NHS and Social Care.

When you think that in Suffolk the Health System spends more that £4.5Billion it puts into context the figures he quoted such as 75% of NHS spend is for those with long term medical needs and that over £50% of the total spend is in the Actue Hospital Sector.

Interestingly he spoke of the Kidderminster effect where an independent won a Parliamentary election seat about saving a hospital that should have shut as a part of structural change and how there is much that MPs and the public alike will need convincing off.

He went on to say that without fundamental reform you won’t get the financial services industry to come up with the insurance and financial planning products; nor integration of the Social Care and CHC care assessment and you won’t get true portability.

He concluded that “There isn’t really another structural show (Dilnot) in town”

In answer to a question about how to drive integration of Adult and Social Care Assessment he said that in his opinion you have to define what integration means in legislation to make Health Services engage.

Next up was Frances Patterson QC who spoke about the recommendations of the Law Commission Report and right on the middle was perhaps the most significant element of al before the Social Care bill, if it results in a new care assessment process and the bar is set too ‘low’ then the costs will frankly bust local government in a one swoop!

The David Behan shared some of the latest thinking about the Social Care white papers and In answer to a question about Health and Well Being Boards David Behan said people keep asking can we do it and we have said all along that you don’t need permission.

However it strikes me that in my experience we accept we don’t need permission but Health do they need it is writing in triplicate to do anything.

Next came round table discussions and David Behan sat in on my tables and I was able to expand on the Suffolk Flexicare approach to helping shape the Care and housing markets, As Caroline Tapster the Chief Executive of Hertfordshire was sitting next to me throughout the morning I did have to acknowledge that I somewhat shameless stole their initial work on replacing Sheltered Housing with Extra Care Housing and expanded on it to drive forward Suffolk Flexicare.

Then came a session with the Care Minster Paul Burstow MP and a number of searching questions were put to him including one from me about the need to have it legislated to allow monies to shift around the system if savings are made and that if this meant that Acute Hospitals wards closed as a result the Heath and Well Being Boards have a Leadership Role to play in explaining to Residents why this was a great step forward as a more intelligent spend of the systems monies rather than cuts. David Sprasons my fellow regional Chairman of the Lead Member Group form the Midlands made the point that if we could shift 1% of the money by making improvements to long term care needs, getting older people out of the acute Hospitals wards and into Residential Care with medical supervision, a far better place to rest and recover and find new ways to better support people and prevent them presenting to the Acute’s in the first place we could pay for all of Andrew Dilnot’s Proposals without any need for additional monies to come into the system.

In answer to both of these Paul Burstow welcomed the thoughts and said this was in part about creating the framework to allow these things to happen and he hoped the Social Care White Paper would address these points and it was in part about MP’s and the General Public understanding what we are about.

After the sandwich lunch we then had a meeting of the Chairmen of the Regional Networks to discuss the morning and action points we could take away to discuss with our respective MPS to lobby for the Changes the system needs, the changes older people need, the changes we all need.

Now just leaving to go back to London for the very first meeting of the National Learning sets ministerial launch event for Health and Well Being Board early implementers, as I am Suffolk’s lead on this, but more of that later.

Remembrance Weekend

On Friday at the 11th hour of the 11th day I was at Duxford Air Museum for a political Lunch and took the opportunity to have a good look around and observed the 2 minute silence standing between a Spitfire and a modern euro fighters quite a fitting place to be really.

On Saturday morning I attended a small quiet ceremony in West Row and laid a wreath to honour the fallen from that small rural community.

Yesterday was a very busy Sunday, first at the War Memorial in Beck Row at which I again laid a wreath on behalf of Suffolk County Council, then a quick drive to the Church for a ceremony at the War Graves, at the back of the church, before a Church Service.

The War Graves is the final resting place of 51 American Aircrew, 14 Canadian, 5 Australians and 4 from New Zealand all of whom fought their Second World War from Mildenhall and Lakenheath Air Bases and who paid the ultimate sacrifice, in the Roll of Honour special mention is made of a young man who was killed after 22 successful missions and found to be only 17 years old.

In the afternoon I was again honoured to lay a wreath in my home village, the sheer numbers of people who make the effort makes me really proud to come from Lakenheath; as over 120 of us young and old from the primary school pupils to old soldiers who fought for this country in many conflicts since the Second World War march from one end of the village to the War memorial with the splendid Lakenheath Silver Band at our head as we watch many hundreds of people turn out to pay their respects.

It really is quite an honour to lay a wreath at the foot of the memorial where so many names from my extended family and the village are recorded having defended our way of life with their own. Once the wreaths are laid we march to the village church for a Service of Remembrance with standing room only, instead of the organ playing, the hymns are accompanied by the Silver Band it’s quite a noisy but fitting sound.

At the end of the day after we have march on to the British Legion for a cup of tea, I walked home thinking of all the services I have attended in the Village Church over the years from family baptisms including my own, to weddings and indeed funerals and these Remembrance Services over the years and the sense of community that exists in the village that sees so many people take part in these important acts of Remembrance to those who gave their lives for all of us.

John Klaschka 1940 – 2011

On Thursday I attended the funeral of Cllr. Dr. John Klaschka. The little Parish Church of Kesgrave was packed with Family, Friends, Neighbours and his political colleagues on Suffolk Coastal District Council and Suffolk County Council, councilors and officers alike.

The opening reading was given by John’s fellow District Councillor Sally Ogden and was that lovely poem by Max Ehrmann ‘The Desiderata’ which is as relevent today as it was when he wrote in the 1920’s.  Both the Leader of Suffolk County Council Mark Bee and local MP Dan Poulter shared some of their memories of John and then his son Robert and stepson David spoke of their loving memories of their lives with him. As they spoke I pondered the many aspect of his life that I knew nothing about and how interesting it would have been to get an insight to some of the things he has done both as work and in his leisure time.

Today people set out their lives, their triumphs and occasional disasters on Facebook where in few minutes you can see just about everything someone has ever done. Yet with John it was always about what he wanted to do next, not what he had done or achieved which was considerable; I recall the week before he died we had a conversation at the group meeting about the work of Audit in the months ahead and some of the difficult subjects it was currently looking at.

His passion and belief in the usefulness of Audit to help the organisation move forward will remain in my mind as will his kindness to me as a new Councillor when I joined his Audit Committee and the time he generously gave to provide me with a better understanding of its role and of the organisation. I now sit on the Audit committee of Forest Heath District Council for the very reasons and values he instilled in me.

John had talked about his wife’s June’s illness and the difficulties they were both facing together; his ability to reflect on the tough times ahead was a true testament to his character. At the gathering after the funeral June spoke of her battle and how she would sadly be joining John soon, it struck me that by then Heaven will, if not already, have an Audit committee and John would be on it!

He took the role and responsibility of Councillor very seriously, yet could, for all that, laugh at the occasional political absurdity of it all.

The people of Suffolk have lost a true servant and somehow SCC will not quite be the same without him.

School days have changed!

Yesterday I was at the official Opening Event of the new build at Lakenheath Community Primary School and was shown around by two very well drilled pupils who had a route and knew what they were to point out.

I asked them about the star system the school uses and about the various names of the classes and what they thought of all the changes, they were rightly proud of the great improvements. One of the things that really impressed me was the computer interactive white boards as my mind drifted back to my own school days with Mr. Jones, a maths teacher of the ‘old school’ his black gown grey from was wiping of chalk off the blackboard he used this instead of a blackboard rubber for that was for the throwing at pupils who were not paying attention, soft felt one side block of wood the other!; and I am not joking, his theory was that if he throw it and it hit you it proved his point that you were not paying attention, for if you were, you would have ducked! If it hit you it really hurt, and it did on a number of occasions! oh how times have changed!

The new school buidlings were officially opened by Graham Cook in recognition of him being possibly the oldest living person to have gone to the school. As I walked around I was delighted to see the promises the county and I made three years ago come to life in the great new facilities, not only new classrooms, new toilets and an IT suite but also how the building works have brought together the different extensions to the school over the years, to create a far better flow and layout.

Over a cup of tea I chatted with the Head teacher Emma and we discussed the future for the school and the great changes that the Government was proposing to the school structures.

We discussed the changing role of Head teachers, Governors and the county as the Education Authority and how we all need to work together to give the kids in the village the best possible start to their education.

Across the world Education is the key to the success of the nation state, it is no different here and we all need to value teachers, schools and the role of education in our future prosperity.

From Greek Farce to Greek Tragedy now we are watching the Italian Job!

Currently in the morning on BBC there is a Children’s History educational video screening covering the post First World War and pre Second World War period in Germany and their economic ups and downs and the rise of German National Socialism and its horrific leadership. History is always great, as we know the end game and we can analysis how our predecessors arrived at a particular point or disaster.

It struck me that as we watch the news unfold as to the problems with the Euro are we watching a economic meltdown, there are momentous events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and how that brought about good which are clear to see and understand.

What is happening now is a series of events, of course in the modern world these are being played out in a matter of weeks and months whereas the economic meltdown in 20 and 30’s took 10 years to transpire and for a darker atmosphere to emerge.

I also wonder if in this country many of us watch all this in the false believe that it’s over there and does not effect us, an attitude I think was prevalent in the 1930’s and one that certainly is as untrue now as it was then. As uncomfortable as it is for many of us, the problems Europe face as much ours as theirs and whilst nowadays, hopefully we are talking economics, that is a lesson from our history we should learn.

Europe needs great Leadership at this time on both sides of the English Channel.

Library Decision

Really interesting Suffolk Cabinet meeting yesterday, lots of people asking questions and sharing their opinions about the Library proposals. It seems to me the acid test will be in a few years time as to the library usage. I have watched other county services simply address the savings needed by opening less which to my mind is hardly the way to make the libraries more relevant to peoples lives.

The great challenge now is not so much the savings that must be made, as I personally think the proposals will achieve those, but the degree to which the energy displayed in the debate on the Library service future continues and local residents make Libraries more relevant in community life and that will be self evident by the number of users registered and borrowings.

It seems to me the library service is outstanding, money has historically been lavished on it, my local library is outstanding, bright, modern, very well equipped and with a great member of staff. Yet it has 420 registered users, 1000 people signed the petition which ran for weeks and weeks in the local Co-op and the local newsagents, 80 people turned up at the public meeting called weeks in advance and extremely well advertised and I now have 6 people on the working party looking at how we get more involved, which is great; but the challenge ahead is to get far more of the 5,000 people who live in my home village engaged, using the library to borrow a book, log onto the internet or simply read the papers, that will be the true measure of all the debate.

%d bloggers like this: