We need homes more homes – yes to homes

I recently meet with Claire Astbury of the National Housing Federation where amongst other subjects we talked about the Federation providing a speaker for the Suffolk Flexicare:2 Conference on 5th June 2013 at Newmarket Racecourse.

We quickly got on to the subject of housing and housing numbers and she showed me their new simply but brilliant new campaign: We need homes here!

The campaign has two simple headlines:

‘Housing costs have risen to the point where millions are struggling to afford a home’

‘The solution is simple. We need more of the right homes, in the right places, at the right price.’

Whatever you think of housing and indeed more housing, in your area please do have a look at http://www.yestohomes.co.uk

@yestohomes   www.facebook.com/yestohomes   http://www.housing.org.uk/yestohomes

A simply campaign but one that sends a powerful message.

 

Suffolk Libraries go from strength to strength

Alongside the freeze in council tax, in February we Conservatives voted through a county Council budget for the next 12 months that will achieve savings of £25million – the second part of a plan to save over £50million over two years.  We are doing this as a result of reductions to our grant from the government, together with on-going increases in the demands on our services, and the costs of providing them.

The savings will be achieved by reducing management and back-office costs, cutting bureaucracy and working in new, innovative and more efficient ways.

Just one shining example of this is a secure future for our Library service following our Conservative proposal and then decision of the council to move the management of the library network to a new operating model.

Responsibility for the day-to-day running of the county’s library services was transferred to Suffolk’s Libraries Industrial and Provident Society (IPS) at the beginning of August last year.

All Suffolk’s 44 libraries and the mobile, school and prison services now come under the direct control of the IPS – a first in the country – which works in partnership with local library groups to support and expand the service.

This has enabled us to retain our library network, working in partnership with local communities, while reducing the budget by around 30% over three years, from approximately £9m to £6m.

These changes will mean that, while the council faces continuing pressure on its resources, the county’s much-valued library service will have the scope to survive and potentially grow in the years ahead, just as other Councils are closing their libraries.

In Lakenheath I am proud to have played my part in the establishment of the Friend of Lakenheath Library – FOLK www.lakenheathlibraryfriends.wordpress.com/ a group that goes from strength to strength and is making the library a more relevant and popular place in our community, in a way that only local community members can rather than professional library development officers, yes there is a professional team at the back of each library and the service overall but it’s the community that will help make them flourish.

Manifesto time

So I’ve had a good read through all the manifesto’s from the Greens wish list to Labour’s uncosted nonsense; only one still to come and surprise, surprise (and I checked goggle and their out of date web site this morning but still nothing) it is the Liberals but given their track record and the complete lack of effort they put into each year’s County budget process we can probably expect a side of A4 maybe the day before the election!

Also seen various from UKIP which reflects what my moles at Monday night’s UKIP meeting in Brandon have been saying about when Nigel Farage spoke, his passion was totally focused on immigration and Europe and frankly he seemed disinterested in local government other than a means to promote his party. These elections are not about immigration and Europe those are national issues. This is the county council local government elections and it’s about local services, protecting our rural bus services, repairing our roads, ensuring our council ‘lives within its means’ and the Council tax you pay; not Europe and European migration, that’s next year with the European elections.

So from the Greens we have a few points that are, as is their two man party in the Council Chamber one deep red, one deep green and between them they have produced a schizophrenic mixture of socialist dogma and the somewhat idealistic deep green agenda.

As for Labour’s, well take a good dollop (don’t you just love that word dollop) of socialist dogma, some things we’d all like to do but don’t have the money to and most importantly mix it all together with lashings of amnesia – at times, just as in the Council Chamber over the past 4 years, it’s as if the economic situation has completely past them by, it’s as if the cut in government grant is an optional thing, it’s as if 13 years of Labour’s fiscal madness never happened – recession what recession!

So many lovely things we’d all love to do but how can I put this simply:

We don’t have the money and the government is given us less and less of it each year!

But wait a minute – hey you do! What about all that lovely money you the Council tax payers have stashed away?

Time for Labour to come clean – what would it be this time? a repeat of the last time they were in power with the liberals in Suffolk? 11.9% Council Tax rise followed by an 18.5% rise the very next year? or just go for the 30% increase in one easy step!?

Future Council Suffolk

Last Friday Senior Councillors and Local Government officers from across the county meet for a Future Council workshop; the event was facilitated by Cllr. Peter Fleming, Chairman of the LGA Improvement Board and Leader of Sevenoaks District Council and Simon Parker Director of the New Local Government Network.

Essentially the programme is about how do we as a group of 2 tier authorities find ways to work together better and a sort of post unitary? what next?

The unitary debate was a bruising affair in Suffolk, a centralist Labour Government coming into a Conservative county with a sort of ‘man from the ministry’ dictate forcing us all (they had the legal right to compel us all to engage) into a boxing ring we did not want to be in and then fighting for their amusement spending millions of pounds in the process for a potential outcome none of us were interested in and never actually happened.

So 3 years on, how to find better ways to delivery services across Suffolk with the financial imperative of far less money.

To me the key is to harness the corporate strengths of the County Council and the local knowledge that comes with District and Borough Councils. I have surprised myself, having had the honour of being elected to my local council Forest Heath; about the more personal way in which officers and members view the area both approaches have strengths and weaknesses but together local government can be much stronger.

The conservative government’s approach is far more democratic than the previous allowing us to consider how we might work better together.

The previous process was a true reflection of Labour’s years in power:

  1. spend a fortune
  2. dictate how everything will be done
  3. Achieve absolutely nothing

During the course of the day Simon Parker presented the results for the survey of senior local government figures conducted by the NLGN and it was interesting that across Suffolk there was a real willingness to come together protect frontline services and find ever more ways to cut costs in the back office.

There are challenging times ahead but I firmly believe that resident have the right to demand that Councils across Suffolk work together to strip out every last penny of costs to deliver quality services to our residents.

Some services are always going to be delivered by local government officers, but to my mind, I want to see far more of our staff creating their own companies, their our mutuals, their own not for profit organisations and together with the all the councils across Suffolk, private providers and the Suffolk voluntary sector deliver for Suffolk.

David Cameron in Ipswich, Nigel Farage in Brandon

Yesterday the Prime Minister was at UCS Suffolk to make a key note speech to set out a fair and balanced cross-government immigration system that favours people who work hard and aspire to get on in life.

There can be few areas of the county where immigration is a bigger issue than our own. Under labour it is estimated that some 2 million people from across Europe have settled in the UK, interestingly it is also estimated by DWP that 13,000 of these are claiming job seekers allowance, which I think rather busts some of the myths that some would have us believe – that’s a 0.65% unemployment level! Of course many say ‘they come over here and take our jobs’; when I talk to farmer and business friends of mine that’s not what they say, they say without them, their crops would not get picked and their factories would not run.

In my patch we have of course always had a high number of military visitors as the USAF bases and their personnel have lived in the area since the second world war. And today we see in Mildenhall and Brandon a number of new shops catering to the predominantly Polish and Portuguese communities alongside shops targeted at the American market.

So to some extent this is why we also yesterday saw Nigel Farage hold a regional UKIP meeting in Brandon last night.

Nigel Farage is a fascinating chap, a good speaker and knows how to leverage a position well. He attempts to play a number of interesting hands all at the same time, from we are a serious party with policies, yet the first leaflet they have put out in my Division seems to suggest that 29 million Romanians and Bulgarian are about to descend on Row Heath which I think is a slight overstatement! He also paints a anti career politician stance yet he was a Surrey County Councillor and has been a European MEP for a number of years drawing a considerable European salary and staff package at the same time as telling us how terrible Brussels and European membership is.

For my part I have always believed in the benefits of immigration, but it seems to me that immigration has to be properly controlled. Under Labour this simply wasn’t the case. Immigration was far too high and badly out of control. Yesterday in his speech David Cameron spoke that ‘Net migration needs to come down radically from hundreds of thousands a year to just tens of thousands’.

I entirely agree that we must bring net migration down and we must also make sure that our area continues to benefit from it. It means ensuring that the system is fair so that we support the aspirations of hard-working people who want to get on in life and make a life here in our community as we have always done here in our community.

David Cameron talked yesterday about three key themes:

  • stopping our benefits system from being such a ‘soft touch’;
  • making entitlement to our key public services something migrants earn – not an automatic right; and
  • bringing the full force of government together to crack down on illegal working.

From what I can see in our community this approach announced by the Prime minister yesterday seems balanced and beyond the rhetoric of UKIP -a balanced approach is what we should be striving to achieve.

Now back to the campaign trail and talking about the County Council elections! Where’s my leaflets? – about protecting Front line services and how we are going to delivery 0% Council tax rises over 4 years by making the Council live within its means.

Suffolk Conservatives launch Manifesto!

Today we launch our manifesto in the run up to the elections on May 2nd and I am very honoured to be a part of a team of hard-working Councillors who not only have delivery massive expenditure savings whilst protecting frontline service but have managed to rehabilitate the Council from the dark days of Liberal and labour massive Council tax rises and the quick fix of more cash. Today the Council lives within its means and when faced with a problem finds innovative ways that delivery solutions without costing more.

I’ll be blogging the manifesto highlights over the next few weeks with my thoughts and just to wet your appetite for what’s in it I am writing about one of its good news stories.

As we have already announced this year there will be no increase in the county’s element of the council tax.  This is the third year in a row that the county council has frozen its share of the council tax.  These three years of 0% increases follow on from two years which saw record-low increases. It’s great news for hard pressed families and pensioners on fixed incomes struggling to pay their bills; with wages flatlining and fuel bill rising any increase in Council Tax is a real worry.

This compares with Labour and the Lib Dems, who ran the county council up to 2005.  They increased council tax by 40% in their last four years, including their infamous 18.5% increase in 2003.

And even better news we have promised that if elected we will freeze the Council Tax for the whole of the next term. So that 0%, 0%, 0%, 0%, 0%, 0%, 0%!

As the snow came down on Saturday I was out canvassing and the reaction on the door step was plain relieve that we are doing our bit to protect their hard-earned money in these difficult times.

Lots of other great pledges to come that I’ll be blogging about.

Green/Labour alliance defeats council tax freeze in Brighton & Hove

Well surprise surprise, following on from the true to type position shown by Labour controlled Ipswich Borough Council to put up the Council Tax just below the threshold to trigger a referendum, the Greens and Labour in Brighton have joined forces to do the same see http://www.conservativehome.blogs.com/localgovernment/

As was evident from the Full Council meeting Budget Debate in Suffolk when the leader of the Green’s Cllr. Ereira (the former Labour party parliamentary candidate in Bury St. Edmunds) reacted so badly to our announcement that, if elected, we Conservatives would freeze the Council tax for the whole of the next term; the greens are a leftie as they come.

Indeed all I ever hear from them is how Labour or the Greens are the party’s of the people yet it seems to me in Local Government what that means is people’s wallets!

And make no mistake if it weren’t for the Eric Pickle’s referendum threshold Labour Councillors, many of whom are standing to be County Councillors in May would be making a even bigger raid in Ipswich if they could, but even they know the residents will not stand for such behaviour so the rise is just below the trigger point – funny that, not!

The people of Suffolk in May have a simple choice – a Conservative controlled council that lives within its means, constantly demanding more efficiencies and better services or a pact between the Liberals, Greens and Labour to see how they can take more of residents hard earned money because well let’s face it is easier that actually doing the job of properly running the Council.

As Cllr. Cllr Geoffrey Theobald, the leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton & Hove City Council succinctly puts it “This notion, widely pedalled by the parties of the Left, that the only way to protect frontline council services is to raise council tax, is fundamentally flawed. A growing number of Conservative councils up and down the country have shown that by thinking outside of the box, by being prepared to use private and voluntary sector providers and by showing ambition in working with other organisations, services can be maintained – even improved – at the same time as keeping the council tax low.”

The 0%, 0%, 0% council tax frezze of the past three years and the promise of 4 more years comes prcisely because we have run and lead the COuncil to learn to protect people’s hard earned monies, what a far cry from the last time the Liberals and Labour were in power in suffolk when they put up the Cuncil tax up in one year by 11.9% and 18.5% the next!

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