Annual Conservative Councillor Association Conference in Leeds

Last Friday I packed my bag and left early to catch the train to attend the annual Conservative Councillors Association (CCA) conference at the Queens Hotel, Leeds which conveniently has an entrance right in the station concourse, so it’s a long way but very easy to get to by train!

Cllr. Robert Gordon, Leader of Hertfordshire, opened the one day conference in his role as Chairman of the CCA and was later re-elected along with most of the existing Baord members.

The only change was that Paul Bettison, the Leader of Bracknell Forest was elected back onto the board which was good to see.

The session before lunch started with an opening address by Bob Neill MP and then a Q&A session with him and Greg Clark MP.

After lunch we had the whole local government team of Eric Pickles MP, Bob Neill MP, Greg Clarke MP, Grant Shapps MP and Baroness Hanham; and we got a clear sense of their frustration with Local authorities who have put up their element of the council tax and they did not spare the Police authorities in this criticism, indeed there was much comment about the forth coming Police and Crime Commissioner and how they might be better at getting the police to understand the need to live within their means, than evidently is the case this year.

Mr. Pickles said he was pleased that over 90% of authorities including Police and Fire authorities have delivered a 0%; he went on to say how the more disappointing those such as Surrey were and if they truly thought that was the best way to serve their residents they should have the bottle to put their increases to referendum.

We then went into the breakout sessions and there were lots of interesting sessions discussing everything from Mutuals to the use of twitter:

Learning for the 21st Century – Councils role in Adult Skills and Lifelong Learning.

The localism Act: Innovations, Entrepreneurship and Local Services

Strategic Asset Management – Key to Service Transformation?

Enabling and Encouraging Communities.

I attended the Using and Twitter session to learn more about blogging and my use of twitter.

Then I attended the ‘Be a Councillor’ campaign update session which is something I am very passionate about and lead for the Conservatives in Norfolk and Suffolk on.

In the evening Matthew Hancock our West Suffolk MP was the guest speaker at the dinner and spoke of the issues the national government face and the important role Councillor’s play in delivering the very difficult job and message of shrinking the state. He also spoke about the Unions and that Council Tax payers would be shocked to learn that we have salaried staff who we allow to spend time partly or fully undertaking trade union activities and that we should not wait for the Department of Local Government and Communities (DLGC) but to tackle the issue now ourselves.

Afterwards Matthew and I agreed to have an early breakfast and chat about Constituency matters before he left for home, so I arrived at 7am and who was sitting with Matthew, Eric Pickles and whilst we did not get a chance to talk about West Suffolk we did have very interesting hour discussing councils and conservative values, and of course I did not miss the chance to gently lobby the head man on a few thoughts of my own.

More plenary sessions followed and ended with Mr.Pickles giving the closing address talking about the truly amazing chances that are coming with the introduction of the different elements of the Localism Bill not least the removal of pre-determination.

He then spoke of ‘Pilgrims’ and this is what Matthew Hancock was speaking about those salaried employees we allow to spend part or all of their time on Union activities.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this practice but from my perspective I want to hear what Council Tax payers I represent think to the practice before I make up my mind, after all its their money.

All in all it was an excellent quick conference, back on the train and home, did not get to see much of Leeds which is a shame because it’s a great city, that I have visited quite a few times and really enjoyed.

Suffolk County Council – 0% Council tax rise for the 2nd Year running

Last Thursday at Suffolk County Council we voted for no increase in the County element of the Suffolk council tax for the second year running.

I am delighted with this and passionately argued that this was right and proper in the 3 hour debate.

A few weeks ago we heard that the liberals were going to present an alternative budget but at the start of the debate we had the extraordinary scene of their Budget spokesman saying he had got it wrong on the Radio and in fact meant to say they would only be presenting an amendment to our Budget proposals, simply staggering, because he was actually pushed on it by the Radio presenter and he confirmed an ‘alternative budget’ not an amendment. This very disappointingly amounted to less than a side of A4! – But to be fair that was more than the Labour group who tabled nothing at all and who in my opinion, when they speak start to sound detacted from the world about them, as if the financial troubles we are all facing together have no relavence to Suffolk.

Both of these parties are going to go to the polls in 15 months’ time; hopefully between now and then they might take it a bit more seriously and actually put some effort in.

I am one of those who simply does not agree with increasing the Council Tax unless you absolutely have to.

As a cabinet member in Suffolk I am very aware of the pressure that 0% brings, I have had sleepless nights thinking about services and the effect on staff as many lose their jobs but I am convinced organisations must look to themselves before simply increasing Council Tax. The sort of reckless behaviour of the last liberal/labour adminstration in Suffolk where in one year they put up the council tax by 11.9% and the following year 18.5% must not ever be allowed to happen again. On thursday the opposition looked very uncomfortable at the mention of this but if they can do it once and think it acceptable behaviour then they can do it again.

The key priority of a council must be to provide services and protect the vulnerable and more than that to provide quality services to support people. But time and time again I come back to a fundamental fact the vast majority of people do not look to council services, the vast majority of those on fixed pensions do not look to the councils for services to help them in their old age and increasing the council tax would hurt them.

We are Conservatives and I do not ‘buy’ the argument by officers that Council Tax has to rise. Yes we all agree that no increases is ultimately not sustainable as inflation will of course have to be dealt with, yes we all agree that different councils have different pressures and yes we all agree that the needs in some council areas are very different; but whilst the Government is able to help, whilst we can still find further cost efficiencies we should not hurt the people who elected us to protect them from the liberals and labour!

Conservative Eastern Regional Conference with Andrew Lansley as the Key note speaker

On Saturday I drove with a couple of fellow party activists to Soham Village College for the biannual Eastern Regional Conservative Conference.

The day was wide ranging from the opening session on Police and Crime Commissioners to the closing key note from the man in the spotlight Andrew Lansley, Secretary of State for Health.

At lunchtime I had a catch with the other 3 Eastern Regional Chairman and over the school Lunch in the school Canteen we chatted about the increasing numbers and excellent calibre of people coming forward to be considered to be the Conservative candidate for the Police and Crime Commissioners.

The conference was closed by Andrew Lansley and he was greeted by a supportive round of applause when he stood to speak, and by the time he sat down we saw the conviction he has for the changes he is championing, during the Q&A session we saw the great depth of knowledge he has, I asked a question about the Dilnot proposals and his understanding of the work to date was very impressing and indeed encouraging.

As Portfolio Holder for adult and Community Services at Suffolk County Council I sit on the Health and Well Being Board for Suffolk. I chair the network of Lead members for Adult Social Services and the key work of that group is considering the emerging reforms. I also work closely with senior Management teams of Suffolk and the Great Yarmouth and Waveney PCTs as well as the Chief Executives and Chairmen of the Acute Trusts that’s the Ipswich and West Suffolk Hospitals to you and me. I am also actively building relationships with the leaders of Suffolk’s emerging Clinical Commissioning Groups. Nationally I am member of the NHS Learning sets looking at the Well Being Boards and the emerging Health and Social Care Bill. Also as a Council we have made extensive representations to the various consultations that have been produced during the bills progress. As such I consider that I am reasonable well informed and able to comment on the proposals and I have to say I absolutely think that what is proposed is a set of reforms that gently tip the balance of power and focus to where it need to be; the objections seem to me to be about vested interests looking out for their members, T

The recent Commons select Committee for Health have under the great chairmanship of Stephen Dorrell MP have produced a very challenging report on the state of Health and Social care and its integration or lack of it.

The Health and Social Care bill is but a step on a journey to a more responsive, better integrated service to serve all of us and I fully support it. If the proposals are anything they are an opportunity to do better and help create a more integrated service and I for one am very supportive and think we need to see just how far they progress us.

As usual a thought provoking Conference that was a great mix of high level thinking, practical on the ground solutions, how to improve the party structure and really good debate about how to improve the services we provide our communities.

Cllr. Russell Harsant

Very sad funeral on Tuesday morning for my colleague on Suffolk County Council, Russell, who passed away after a short illness.

As is always the way at funerals you learn aspects of a person’s life you simply were not aware of, not least that Russell was 78 year old he always appeared much younger particularly in his outlook on life. Ben Gummer MP spoke with great eloquence about his friend and his words got me thinking about the first time I met Russell and his wife Liz long before I became a Councillor as I campaigned in Ipswich.

Russell was a committed campaigner and Councillor and I always recall his relaxed nature when out campaigning, he always had a sparkle in his eyes and enjoyed the banter out campaigning as much as I do. His commitment to Ipswich was unreserved and the turn out from across the political spectrum was very noticeable and was perhaps a mark of respect for a man whose committment to his town transcended politics.

When I became Portfolio Holder he would often come to talk to me about a resident whom he had concerns for and he was truly dedicated in the way he worked for those whom he represented.

Liz and Russell had politics in their blood and those he represented will miss his dedication.

But I am sure he is already getting involved in heaven taking up with the administration concerns of those on the clouds in his area.

‘Be a Councillor’

Long day last Wednesday, with an early start to get to the NHS Health and Well Being Board Learning set Conference in the splendid surroundings of the BMA in Taverstock Square, London where we spend the day with the other learning sets discussing our work so far in this year-long project to share best practice as each Authority area sets up, forms and make their respective boards take shape.

Then it was on the Terrace of the House of Commons for the Launch of the ‘Be a Councillor’ 2012 campaign; a splendid setting for a really worthwhile campaign. Chatted to lots of people missed the 9:15 train and so did not get home until pushing midnight.

Last year I was the Conservative lead in East Anglia for the campaign and whilst it was not a great success I certainly did feedback the elements I thought needed to be changed to get the programme going. So this year I was asked if I wanted to arrange a county pilot and I jumped at the chance to see if we could make it more relevant, and actually find new people to stand, so far I have secured £20,000 of funding from the LGA and Improvement East – the Suffolk campaign starts next week.

You know if you saw an Advert: Be a Councillor? You would think the ad would carry the wording ‘If you are not white, male and over 60 please do not apply’, now of course that ridiculous but if you looked round the average Council Chamber you would think it, so the challenge is to find more women , more BME candidates, and younger people to stand for Councils. This is not about trying to recruit people to stand as conservatives, that is not the point; the point is that we need to have an effective campaign that encourages different people from different backgrounds to come forward irrespective of their political persuasions; all our Councils will be stronger if they are more representative of the poeple they serve, its a simply as that.

I look forward to blogging and tweeting what we are doing over the coming weeks.

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