All good things….

I see that the Telegraph has reported that a number of advisors to the Department of Health have resigned in protest at the government’s decision not to introduce minimum alcohol pricing. Apparently Nick Sheron, Co-chairman of the department’s alcohol network responsible drinking programme has walked, as have the Faculty of Public Health, UK Health Forum and Cancer Research UK  – says it all really.

Not to mention, do not get Suffolk’s Director of Public Health going on the subject!

Social Media? What’s that about?

So many tools, which to use?

So many tools, which to use?

Last night I attended a Social Media session at #FHDC hosted by Kim Morrison of Bury St. Edmunds based Morrison Social Media. She was hosted by Cllr. Sarah Stamp who leads the way for St. Edmundsbury and Forest Heath on Social Media and incidentally who’s Klout score is constantly higher than mine, not much of an ambition but one day, just one day, I’ll peak higher than her, screen print it and then give up!

Kim whizzed through the various tools at a Councillor’s deposal from Twitter to the new kid of the block Pinterest, and even touched on the really interesting project I have recently been involved in called ‘The networked councillor’ by the excellent Public-i. If you hadn’t read the report nor their excellent blog please do, http://www.public-i.info/blog/tag/networked-councillor/

A couple of things struck me as we discussed various yesterday evening, firstly for those yet to dipped their toes in, it’s quite daunting. In terms of the kit, FHDC is quite a long way away from enabling its Councillors to be connected away from their home computer, (but last night was a good first step); how to use the actual software and real concern about where to find the time to write stuff like, err. this blog. For me this has always been about accessibility so whether its picking up the phone, send an email, popping into a surgery, stopping me in the checkout queue at the local co-op, or tweeting a question; residents must be able to be contacted you, to resolve problems or not, take things up on their behalf and debate local issues. With regards the time social media takes, frankly it simply has to come out of some other activity area and it’s about balance.

P.S. Precisely 300 hundred words, as Kim recommended last night!

Bright Shiny Packaging and Politics too

Plain cigarette packaging

Plain cigarette packaging

Last week I watched as a very uncomfortable looking Anna Soubry MP the Parliamentary under Secretary of State for Health who gave an extraordinary performance at the dispatch box clearly doing her best to hide her own discomfort with the announcement that the government has decided to shelve the proposed plain packaging for Cigarettes and this is alongside the announcement that the proposals for a minimum price for a unit of alcohol was to be scrapped, sorry shelved.

I digress, but in my younger days when TV was 4 channels and ITV was regional to boot, at home I could get a signal from the Central TV and one of its more interesting shows was Central Weekend Live which was a confrontational debate show in terms of its audience and topics, presented for many years by Nicky Campbell. It was broadcast late on a Friday night, and debated various topics and current affairs issues – usually subjects that had been featured in the week’s news. A young Anna Soubry was one of its fire cracker presenters and as I watched her performance at the dispatch box I wondered what that younger version of herself would have made of it all; a totally unfair comment but what I was thinking.

Now that Public Health has come across to Local Government and as a part of this responsibility transfer we are developing strategies in our Health and Wellbeing boards, so this is very much an issue for local government. Equally at the LGA Community Wellbeing Board we are debating our collective response and broadly speaking I think most of us involved in this, cross party on the political side, are not impressed with this step back. But we’re told it’s not a uturn as the matter is still under review pending the early results from the Australian plain packaging scheme, but hey we all know what that means.

Of course I get the politics of it’s all and the BBC is touting the line that Linton Crosby is at the back of it worried about the C1 & C1 voter kick back against a ‘nanny state’ and seeking to attack them as we run into the general election. Not sure if that’s true or not but the arguments against proceeding look rather weak to say the least, I suspect that up and down the county those of us who have seen reports to our Health and Wellbeing Boards would rather agree.

I would also say this is perhaps the first real test of Duncan Selbie, CE of Public Health England and what he has to say or does he tow the government’s line or will he speak out against this regression,  I am sure the many Directors of Public Health  up and down the country will be urging him to do, of what we all know to be true if you introduce a minimum price for alcohol and lain packaging for cigarettes there will be a significant improvement to public health and in the all-important teenage cohort a drop in the levels of drinking and the starting up of lighting up.

An Odd Relationship

Last week’s #LGAConf13 was, as always, fascinating, thought provoking and as usual something I come away from with a long list of new ideas and strategies to implement in Suffolk. Indeed it’s this new thought formed in the many plenary, breakout and fringe meetings and then debated over many a coffee that makes the time commitment required to be away for 4 days worthwhile.

From its beginning with Chairman Sir Merrick Cockell opening speech seeking to redefine Local Government’s relationship with Central Government to see Eric Pickles interesting conference speech and even better Q&A, he’s far more natural on his feet than being constrained by the words before him. For me these two opening speeches rather summed up and formed the theme of the Conference i.e. the interplay between the centre and the delivery of much of government policy on the ground can at times seem at odds with each other, under a Labour government this is no surprise but somehow it feels as if it should be better with your own party, better yes, but not quite as good as you would wish it. Perhaps until we get Whitehall on the same page as the politicians this will never quite happen, I am older by my elders ‘was it ever so!’.

The conference was closed at 4pm on last Thursday afternoon by Jeremy Hunt MP who gave an excellent unscripted, thoughtful, speech about the relationship between Local Government and Health.

I have over the past few months I have described this as the ‘undiscovered country’ in many meetings including the presentation I gave to the LGA’s Rural Commission and as recently as the speech I gave at the Conservative Women’s Organisation luncheon last Monday week. As George Osborne said in his spending revue and repeated by Jeremy Hunt, government is finally indicating to Health that the thing we have been awaken to in Local Government for a few years now must be tackled. Unless we address the issues for an ageing population our Health and Social Care system will fail and it is only by focusing on the social preventive agenda we will be able to cope with the demands that are going to be put on the system in the future.

A fruitful few days away.

Back in Manchester

Chairing Supporting People or Social Care? session at NHF Conference

Chairing Supporting People or Social Care? session at NHF Conference

Listening to a response from the platform

Listening to a response from the platform

Wednesday I was back in Manchester at the National Housing Federation (NHF) conference called ‘Rethink Refocus’- Care and Support representing the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board speaking and chairing a session entitled ‘Do we need to spend more time expanding our role in social care, and less time talking about supporting people?’.

I was joined on the platform by Patricia Kearney, Director of Innovation and Development, Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) and Mike Lawlor Regional Manager, Riverside. Clearly from the questions from the floor after our presentations there was a concern that in all the cuts and removal of ring-fencing firstly the monies will be diverted to other services and that whilst the big issue group, an ageing population, will get focus other vital more specialist but hidden supporting people work around supporting those with mental health or drug and alcohol issues.

I said that “clearly the prime concern of our government was the rising cost of the NHS as it consumed a 6th of the national spend. The primary cause of this is our ageing population and so I think from the conference speech last week across the road at the Manchester Central by Jeremy Hunt, the £3.4billion announced by the Chancellor couple of weeks back to be ring-fenced for social care and in a more private meeting with Norman Lamb they collectively grasped the need to put money into preventative services to keep older people from going to hospital in the first place and to then get then out quicker which is good for the older person and for the NHS budgets, but yes if the focus is on this area there is a danger other services will suffer, so you have to be advocates for those other services.”

The rest of the conference was a really interest mix of social care, health and housing. The reason I agreed to travel so far and attend and speak was that this triangle of Housing the NHS and Social Care support are the cornerstone of how we delivery better outcomes for our communities. Get it right and in this area we should be able to provide better, more person focused support and health care along with better life enhancing housing.

All for less money, it is achievable? – Debatable but it’s certainly challenging.

Comrades, Brothers, we will shall not move forward!

Unity Union Protest outside LGA Annual Conference in Manchester 03.07.2013

Unite Union Protest outside LGA Annual Conference in Manchester 03.07.2013

The LGA conference is cross party and beyond ‘closed’ party meetings that take place, the fringe sessions are open to anyone who is a delegate. So last Wednesday I took the opportunity to ‘cuckoo’ in on a Unison fringe called Rebuilding the future – a central role for local government (UNISON) which looked interesting to see another prospective.

The blurb said “Come along to the launch of a new report produced for UNISON by the Centre for Local Economic Studies (CLES) Consulting. The report reviews the economic and social impacts of local austerity cuts, and assesses the effects on local government’s place stewardship role. Local government is central to the life of local places. Councils are a key element in a network of relationships and collaborations which support people, communities and business.  Austerity cuts mean councils now have less resource to ensure that effective connections and collaborations are made.
The report proposes a six point approach to help local government create demand in local economies and rebuild resilience in communities. This fringe meeting will be an opportunity to debate an alternative future for local government.

With speakers: Heather Wakefield, UNISON National Secretary – Neil McInroy, CLES Chief Executive – Jack Dromey, Shadow Housing Minister – Sharon Taylor, Leader Stevenage Council”

I’ve not put up a link to the paper as it was not much of a read and seems to tout the central Labour party’s line that we can borrow our way out of the fiscal mess, so no surprises there then.

What was a surprise to me was the language used by each of the speakers, in Conservative terms we obviously are not being complementary when we call someone a Socialist but we debate the need to balance the rights of those who employed with the need for companies to have Labour laws that allow them to be competitive. At the same time we work on how to provide for the most vulnerable in our society and protect the low paid. A sensible debate about rights, profit and the need to strike a balance. But to listen to the speakers you’d think we plotted with the bosses to keep the workers down, a sort of 1970’s rant that I had not heard for some time coupled with an approach to benefits that absolutely gets us to the point that is trying to be addressed now, completely de-incentivising the notion of work.

I like to think the Conservative party is about people getting on and a progressive approach to our society; it was clear to me as I sat at the back of the meeting that is a Conservative thing and Labour have not learnt anything from their debacle in office.

#LGAConf13

Last week I and a couple of thousand other Councillors and officers decamped to Manchester Central for the Local Government Association’s Annual Conference.

For me it had an added dimension to previous years because the previous Thursday I was, to my surprise, elected to the Conservative Group Executive essentially a small group of Councillors who are elected to represent the Conservative side of the organisation and hopefully seek to represent our fellow Conservative Councillors and their thoughts, aims and aspirations. At the head of this blog you can see my manifesto/CV for the post which set out my thoughts and issues I want to try to influence.

During the course of the conference a number of colleagues sat down with me to discuss what they want me to achieve for the organisation going forward and were really very helpful as to how I might influence its thinking. Our first Executive meeting in on 18th July and I am looking forward to it.

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