Next Generation Alumni and Council tax rises

On Saturday I attended the Next Generation Leadership Centre Alumni event where those who have worked with Christina Dykes on a yearlong journey to better understand the role of Councillors as political leaders come back together to discuss the topics of the day and feed into national Politicians, on Saturday we were joined by Bob Neill MP and we had our usual lively debate.

There is a wonderful programme of training offered on every connectible subject for Councillors from the LGA but for all its strengths it is all entirely a-political in fact every session starts a bit like an AA meeting with the two basic rules ‘Chatham House’ and ‘we must not be political’ stated, chanted and agreed.

The great strength of the Leadership Centre for Local Government is precisely that it is different it’s training is entirely political delivered in three stream one Conservative and two other’s; one something to do with how best to sit on the fence and the other focussing on spending all the money in the good time and saying nothing to do with us gov’n now that it’s all gone wrong.

On Saturday amongst the many subjects we explored we discussed the almost unbelievable news that some Conservative controlled Councils are putting up their Council tax and not taking up the rebate offered by the Government. To my mind this is quite simply staggering; in these difficult times government has offered to help and we should take it up.

We all know that we cannot continue to offer 0% forever as each year this is in fact a cut after inflation; this year Suffolk’s 0% is more like a 3% cut.

In my own Council, officer talk about the business of the council and that 0% is unsustainable but we are not businesses we are Councils and our role as Councillors and politicians is to be demanding in the way we hold the Councils to account. As politicians we are here to represent our communities and my community tell me load and clear the best thing I can do to help them in these difficult time as they try to balance their household budgets is to keep Council tax down, this is also the number one fear of my older residents who struggle to live on their pension as it is.

I utterly reject the notion of putting up the Council tax this year and am extremely proud that Suffolk Conservatives are so demanding of the organisation that it is making savings; the majority of which are in the back office rather than hurt people in these difficult times by putting up Council tax.

There are many aspect of being a Councillor that have nothing o do with politics but I say there are just as many that are political and that defining what it means to be a Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Labour Councillor is just as important as learning community leadership, in fact I would say it was an integral part of community Leadership.

There are great rumblings as to what the future holds for the Leadership Centre, I for one hope it can flourish and deliver more training courses some long, some short, all focused on being political.

To Brussels and back!

A couple of weeks ago it was agreed at a meeting of the East of England Local Government Group Lead member for Health and Adult Social Services Network, where we come together to discuss all things Public Health, Health Services and Social Care that we would become a founding member of a new organisation called the European Regional and Local Health Authorities or EUREGHA for short.

And so on Thursday after a full day’s work, I travel to Brussels; I managed to get to the hotel at 7:30pm just in time to check  and off to a meeting with Paul Laffin to finish drafting my two speeches for the following day, then off for a Belgium steak frites in his local; thankfully his office the East of England European office was only a few yards from the hotel.

On Friday morning we met up and walked to the founding General Assembly in the splendid surroundings of the Congress of the Regions.

I think that love or loath the European Union and putting aside the seismic battle that is taking place to save the Euro whatever the currency there is a lot of funding worth chasing down as we work to find ever better ways to help and support our ageing population.

The previous membership of the forerunner to this organisation was a key factor in Suffolk leading being successful late last year with a successful funding bid to the European union with our ACS team now leading a work programme across Europe on Active Ageing and we, little old Suffolk won 375,000 euro worth of funding to lead it and pay for it, a great achievement and in part I am in Brussels to cement this and build on it for the whole of the Eastern region’s Health and Social Care sector.

The aims of the new organisation are very much along the lines the Network  to share our different approaches so we can help each other not waste time and money ‘reinventing the wheel’, or worse doing things by trial and error. We have influence and power and with power comes responsibility; to make sure that we are making the right moves and we do that by making sure that we learn from the best and indeed from what has not worked elsewhere.

Importantly the East of England membership is free, a price I like, in fact better than free because it was proposed that our East of England office would provide the new organisation with office space; one desk in lieu of the 5,000 euros membership fee and one desk to be rented to the new organisation actually allowing us to reduce the running costs office, brilliant.

The opening sessions were very much along the lines of what I was wanting to hear, speaker after speaker talked about an ageing society and the need to better integration of Health and Social Care services; I wanted to hear this as my agreed task was to push for the organisation to focus on this very issue. We also receive updates on findings so far on the important on-going work streams around eHeath, Cancer treatment and Benchmarking that are going on across Europe.

After the morning sessions we walked to the European Parliament and had lunch to discuss the progress of the organisation, it was here that I made my ‘intervention’ strange term but that is what a proposal is called in Europe, asking that we add Social and Health care integration as the next work stream to look at; this seemed to be broadly speaking agreed as the next stream, half the task for the day completed and a nice lunch and ice breaking session to bott!

After lunch we walked to the European Regional offices of Lower Austria the second set of speeches and the formal signing of the charter document. That done I rushed back to my hotel which was opposite their office, collected my bags and onto the metro to get back to the Eurostar station Gard du Midi just in time to catch the 5:56 to London as I was attending a dinner in London on the Friday evening ahead of a mini conference the next day for the Next Generation of the Leadership Centre Alumni.

All in all a fascinating day’s work; meeting and working with my opposite numbers from across Europe and hopefully the start of us in the Eastern Region being better and better at unlocking European funding, the big push for the new organisation will be for the 2014-2020 funding round where across Europe there is 446 million euros being made available for suitable projects now that is funding we need to be extremely focused on and membership of  EUREGHA is a corner stone of our Suffolk and East of England approach.

Not only is there funding out but there is also real learning to be had from other regions of europe.

Tomorrow I am meeting my opposite number in Lower Austria and I really want us to learn from their integrated Care model across health and social care. Sweden are also at the meeting and their Dementia services are something every one is keen to understand better.

Whatever you think of Europe we are all facing an ageing population and the one thing I know is its really daft to use a trial and error method of doing thing’s.

It’s always far better and cheaper to get out there, engage and find the best ways to be something, learning from the best.

Anyway enough of that back to the mountain of papers to be read before my meeting this evening.

Lobbying Mr. Pickles

Last night I attended a reception at No. 10 Downing street and as promised to the East of England Network for Adult Social Care at our last meeting, if I got the chance to speak with Eric Pickles I would lobby his about the Dilnot proposals.

I did get that chance and in those few brief moments I talked about the costs, he said ‘its very expensive lad’ I said indeed but if we shift monies around the total health system in each county we can pay for, he ‘ehy but can you’ I said yet we can and that’s what the Health and Well Being Board can achieve, he pause, looked me in the eyes and then moved on!

A11 Update – The Brandon question

Had a really excellent meeting on the duelling of the A11 yesterday at Endeavour House. The meeting was chaired by Cllr. Guy McGregor Portfolio Holder for Transport from Suffolk County Council and Matthew Hancock MP for West Suffolk.

Over the years I have attended many meetings on the duelling of the A11 some even before I was a Councillor as the West Suffolk Association Deputy Chairman usually with Richard Spring MP for West Suffolk, now Lord Risby of Haverhill, as he did battled to see its duelling.

The meeting was packed with Representatives from Brandon and the local community with every layer of Council well represented both by Officers and Councillors both in Suffolk and Norfolk. We heard a presentation from the highways Agency that was both encouraging and discouraging. They opened with the Bury Free Press front page article exposing plans that traffic might be diverted through Brandon as the A11 closed during construction, they also read the email they sent to the BFP and to be very fair to them the article was less that supportive and a very sensational illogical conclusion to what they were actually saying.

In very flat engineering references they talked about the road staying open as traffic is managed from old to new carriageway and they there may be moments the road might have to close for safety reasons but they would do everything they could to make this the dead of night and as little as possible.

As this point I stressed the need for the Highways Agency to work with Cllr. McGregor and his team who are well used to dealing with the local press and know how to discuss matters with them and get them to understand what is being said. I also said they should, from now on in, make sure that all of us local Councils, Councillors and Community groups are sent something as simple as an email to keep them informed

We can but hope they listen, nobody is expecting Highway engineers to be experts at public engagement but working with our communities is our ‘bread and butter’ and they must use our networks as a apart of the construction if they wished to keep people informed and take our communities on this good news journey, yes there will be some disruption

Matthew Hancock, the new MP for West Suffolk gave reassurances to the meeting about the plans to get on with it and all in all people left the meeting in a far better mood than that in which they entered.

I think our communities have been very patience waiting for this major error to be corrected, MP’s both old and new have battled hard to keep this in the political arena not the long grass.; campaigners whilst they have seen the road constantly diminished with shortened entry slip roads and no proper solution for the Barton Mills roundabout. And in my own Patch the communities of Lakenheath, Eriswell and Icklingham restrained in their disappointment that the B1112 will not have access up onto the new road merely an underpass.; Tuddenham, rightly, remain very worry about the way in which their road crosses to get to Barton Mills and I have and will keep up the pressure to see a speed camera to protect this dangerous crossing.

I look forward to the official opening with Matthew Hancock MP and Lord Risby of Haverhill cutting the Ribbon. We will then  go straight to Barton Mills Village Hall and I’ll host the first meeting of the A11 action group to start the campaign for improvements and a proper flyover at Barton Mills, such is life!

New Planning

One of the more interesting aspects of the Localism Bill that is making its way on to the statute books is the new Planning regime and the changing role of Councillors in the decision making process; more that administrators of tight directive nation policy it will be for Councillors to have opinions and make real decisions based on their debate The days of Councillor just going along with those who shout loudest in a Community usually the NIMBIES, are gone.

Councillors, me included, have long argued that we should have the power to decide what is built where but with power comes responsibility, a responsibility to show real leadership of their communities, often when communities themselves are not immediately in agreement real leadership to delivery economic grow through planning commercial build and real leadership to delivery new homes both private and socially rented to those who need homes in our community but just can’t afford the full market price.

Beyond commercial and residential development since I have been the Suffolk County Council Portfolio Holders for Adult and Community Services my focus has been on how we are addressing and are going to address the housing needs of our aging population.

This week I spent couple of days at Warwick University looking at the implications of the New Planning Regime and using the time away from the day jobs, really thinking about the how the changes will effect Suffolk FlexiCare, our system wide approach to working with the District and Borough Councils looking at the projected growth and housing demands of older people not at a strategic countywide basis but in each town and village.

Getting this message across to the experienced Councillors and Planning Officers in each planning authority is a challenge but with the introduction of the neighbourhood plans that challenge is even greater. To help individual communities as they draw up their plans to understand what planning for an aging society really means from buildings for life standards, to allowing land allocations for ExtraCare and Residential Care Home developments.

The quality of life for all residents is affected by good planning and the future needs of an aging population must be in everyone minds that will have influence of the future of housing and development in our communities.

A meeting far away

Last Wednesday I travelled into Essex, for a meeting of the East of England Local Government Group Lead member for Health and Adult social services Network, where we come together to discuss all things Public Health, Health Services and Social Care.

The network is where member from across Eastern Region or as I like to call it East Anglia, gather to discuss all things Public Health, Health Services and Social Care so that we learn from each other and try not to “re-invent the wheel”.

I have the singular honour to be its Chairman and reach meeting is hosted by one of the group this quarter’s turn was Essex and so the splendid surroundings of Essex County Council we heard from officers working on the Health Watch agenda both from the Department of Health perspective and the work that Essex CC are doing in establishing theirs.

It’s a great group and I think by sharing our different approaches we can and help each other not waste time and money ‘reinventing the wheel’, or worse doing things by trial and error. We have influence and power and with power comes responsibility; to make sure that we are making the right moves and we do that by making sure that we learn from the best and indeed from what has not worked elsewhere.

I suspect we all think that the changes and the development of the Health and Well Being Boards are a really good development, so good in fact that I suspect most people something that most of us thought it existed already!

Paul Laffin from the East of England European Office presented a paper on why we as a network should become a founding member of a new organisation in Europe called the European Regional and Local Health Authorities or EUREGHA for short.

We all agreed that  we can and should learn from Europe where we know the Lower Austrian Region has been integrating services for years and other places are exemplars as to how go about things such as the Swedish work on dementia Care services, the whole of Europe has the same issues we face with an ageing population and we should be learning from each other.

The first question that sprang to mind is that we are Lead Members and Portfolio holders predominantly for Social Care and often Public Health but that other than the influence in the Health and Well Being Boards we are not ‘Health’. If was discussed that in fact Health at the moment is not organised with Democratic representation and that our network was the closest thing we have to a Regional Democratic health Structure, my mind cast back to my thoughts on Health Commissioners but I digress.

The second question was how much, I was very much aware that our previous membership of the forerunner to this organisation was a key factor in Suffolk leading a successful bid late last year and getting 375,000 euros of funding for our active ageing research and work programme. Our membership would be free, a price I like, in fact better than free because it was proposed that our East of England office would provide the new organisation with office space 1 desk in lieu of the 5,000 euros membership fee and one desk to be rented to the new organisation actually allowing us to reduce the running costs of the East of England office in Brussels.

The it was resolved that we should as a group representing our region become a member of a new organisation and that I am Chairman should attend the opening General Assembly and be a co-signature to its founding.

It seems to me that Europe is a bit like marmite but whether you love or loath it; there is vast amounts of funding available for projects to make improvement in all areas of local government’s delivery of services and we should hunt that down,  just as the rest do; Brussels here I come!

Police and Crime Commissioner what about a Health and Care Commissioner

This week the Prime Minister David Cameron said that he wants health and social services to work better, work differently and work together for the benefit of all but especially the care and support provided to older people. I could not agree more. It now looks like their will be a formal duty to co-operate, which is essentially the requirement of the Health and Well Being Board.

This government has done more in 18 months to shift the decision-making on Health than the previous government did in 13 years. The creation of the Health and Well Being Board is so fundamental, so significant, yet few outside the system realise the beneficial impact it will have on the stated aims of our Prime Minister and the aspirations of many of us, patients, families,and  staff, including myself in my role, who have to grapple with the system on a day-to-day basis. A system that the Prime Minister rightly says must do better.

Yet it also seems to me this is but a step and should only be a step towards a Health and Care Commissioner. The Police service is an incredibly important part of our lives but in terms of public interest, spend and number of people employed the Police service is but a minnow compared to the health service in all its many forms, it is true to say the police service is one organsiation whereas health is and will remain a collection of providers and services but all the more reason, I say.

As with the Police and Crime Commissioner an accountable person who has the mandate to hold Health’s Hospitals, GP’s and a range of services providers and the social care system to account in each area and to be held to account on this issue that after the economy is of the greatest concern to all of us our National Health Service.

I have the political responsibility for the care services in Suffolk, and as such am accountable for them. It is a significant responsibility but social care is only a part of a person’s journey and at times it feels a bit like playing tennis with one hand tied behind your back very, very restricting. Whilst the Health and Well Being Board is the place we can begin to join services together; ultimately elected Commissioners would have the mandate to drive and deliver the vision David Cameron set out last week.

The police service in Suffolk employs 2,400 people, the health and care services across Suffolk employs tens of thousands of staff. The police service has a net annual spend of £114.6 million; the health and care services spend runs into the billions, it is so vast in fact, that one of the first jobs of the Health and Well Being Board is to try to put down in one place exactly how much and how many people are employed across all the services. Adult Social Services alone spends more supporting older and vulnerable adults than double the entire police budget.

As was reported in various commentaries the most thorny outcome of a better service was sumed up by the NHS confederation’s deputy policy director, Jo Webber, said: “Integrating care will improve services, particularly for people who are frail and those with long term conditions. But it will also involve making some really difficult decisions as hospital activity is reduced and moved into the community.” Who better than an elected Commissioner to explain to communities why this traditional ‘red line in the sand’ for most residents and indeed Politicans is in fact a good outcoem not some thing to take to the streets over.

If it is right to have true democratic elected leadership in the policing service it is right in the health service, it’s a simply as that.

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