Same Old Labour

Monday I blogged about the proposals we have put forward for next year’s SCC budget and how to get involved. Today I thought I write a bit more about the guiding principles the Conservative administration hold dear.

As the National Government changed and the smoke and mirror hiding the financial mess were lifted there is no doubt that Local Government has had to enter uncharted waters which are not so much ‘choppy’ more blowing a gale force 9. The Conservative controlled County Council decided that our guiding principle would not be to simply go and raid resident’s hard earned money in Council tax demands unlike the previous Lab/lib coalition, who when last in power raised the council tax by 11.9% in one year and whilst people were reeling from that shock put it up again in the next by 18.5% at the same time as receiving an increase! yes an increase! in both years in the Government settlement grant, I almost have to double check these words as I write them as it is truly unbelievable but they did just that.

But you can imagine I was not remotely surprised to see the Labour leaders’ initial response to our proposal, with his party’s usual ‘head in the sand approach’ to reshaping services, the savings that are proposed in some area, his press release states, will increase costs to the system in later years. Of course it’s just the same old mantra but what he fails to say is that rather than address the need to change, he would ?…… well we all know from their past experience they would simply go back to the dark old days of massive Council tax raids, after all they thought you’d roll over in the early 2000s so why not now!

The proposals we are putting forward are about how to protect front line services for the most vulnerable in our communities and delivering the services that people value in as cost effective way as is possible by working across partnerships and finding ways to delivery services to those who will benefit from them most. Better defining of services will support the very people Labour say will result in increased costs later on to the wider system.

At the same time we will deliver on our election promise of no increase in the County Council element of the Council Tax for next years which builds on the protection we have been able to provide for the past 3 years of no increases. Keeping this promise over the life of this Council term will mean 7 years of 0% increases which if you take inflation at 3% per annum is a real terms cuts of over 20% in Council Tax over the 7 year period, which goes someway to redressing the appalling tax hikes of the previous Lib/lab coalition that ran Suffolk.

There is lots more information on the County Council website – just click on the budget tab. Your taking part in this the Biggest Budget Conversation SCC have ever undertaken ahead of the final proposals being debated and voted on at a Full Council meeting in February 2014, is important.

Have your say on Suffolk’s Budget Proposals

Last week saw Councillors who sit on Suffolk County Council’s Scrutiny Committee have the opportunity to question myself and fellow Cabinet Members about our proposals for next year’s County Council budget. Proposals that would save £38.6 million from Suffolk County Council’s annual budget. This scrutiny process sits alongside a wider Suffolk strategy, I and others have worked hard to champion and design, to engage discuss and debate more that ever before.

It’s an approach that is all about listening to what people have to say and so we are undertaking the biggest conversation in Suffolk history, bringing our thoughts forward, asking the scrutiny committee to look and look again at our thinking, reflections on the recent MORI polling, promoting the survey on the front page of the county’s website, and undertaking the biggest programme of presentations and discussions in the county councils history as I and fellow Councillors present to different groups, associations and residents. All of which is all about testing out what people think and how we might refine the proposals, before presenting the finalised version to Councillors at next February’s Full Council debate and vote.

After winning the election in May we have spent the past 6 months grappling with the implications of central government’s need to address the budget deficit and fiscal madness of 13 years of Labour misrule which culminated in that now infamous note ‘there’s no more money’. In Suffolk we have had to address and deliver a £90 million real terms reduction, made up of less government grant, inflation pressures and increased demand for services from our ageing population.

This coming Budget is the first part of a four year plan where we have to address a further £156 million of budget gap, and the great challenge to everyone who takes part in this debate over the coming 3 months is if we should not make a saving in this area then they must say where they feel we should make that saving; for we are by law required to deliver a balanced budget. Of course it’s not all bad news as in the same 4 year period we will spend some £1.9 billion on services for the residents of Suffolk in this period.

So please do take part if you received one of the Ipsos MORI polls through the post please do fill it in carefully with your thoughts and get it back to us, or go on-line to and click through to the budget survey or attend one of the presentations we are rolling out across Suffolk or go to a Parish Council meeting here your County Councillor will be there to talk about the Budget proposals or simply call email, Facebook, or twitter your Councillor with your thoughts.

The Networked Councillor – The next steps

Late last week I went along to the East of England Local Government Association Strategic Leaders Meeting at the fine offices of South Cambridgeshire District Council in that impressive new town just outside Cambridge called Camborne. I was there to represent Suffolk County Council, and to present one of the Agenda items – the Networked Councillor Report, commissioned by the East of England LGA and written by Public-I; and to talk about the launch of its next steps – the Networked Councillor programme, which aims to tackle the challenges and opportunities that face elected members operating in an increasingly networked and digital society.

As I have previously blogged the report lays out the evidence to support the idea that we need all our elected representatives to be comfortable and effective in the online space and recommends the need to develop new models of training, mentoring and support to help councillors be effective in a digital and networked world.

Essentially to make sure it’s not just another one of those reports that get read and then popped on a shelf to gather dust, the team are now in the process of implementing the report’s findings and are looking to identify two pilot areas to trial an action learning programme. The pilot will be funded by the East of England LGA and pilot areas should encompass a whole county area, including representation from both tiers (where applicable).

Of course while many of the skills and issues are common, councils will approach this process differently and with a different idea of how they, as councillors, want to achieve online and the type of relationship they want to have with the public. This programme is designed in order to provide the opportunity for each council to shape its own response to this new landscape and not simply learn by rote.

All of us involved in this work are focused that the programme will introduce the concept of a Networked Councillor and encourage a discussion about the kind of relationship they will have with the public in the future, based on the scale of communicative to co-productive that formed the central thrust of the report. The key will be that the approach will revolve around practical examples and will model the practice of leading councils and already prolific social media members.

At the end of the programme hopefully a member should have an understanding and considered digital footprint and network which reflects their needs.  Underpinning all of this will be a series of supporting materials that will develop practical technical skills

Suffolk will be the first place its rolled out and the programme will work with a cohort of around 20 members and run over 3 workshop days each concentrating on a different theme: ‘Understand your digital footprint and current network’, ‘Develop skills to shape that network and manage debates online’ and then ‘Develop skills to influence your network and lead effectively in this context’.

Broadly the sessions will cover issues such as:

How will you manage your privacy – what do you want to share?

Which channels suit your communicate style and how do you reach them?

Who do you need to influence?

Understand your own reach and closing the gaps

Crisis management – compare how messages go out with current and ideal reach

Maintenance of networks

So by the end of the programme it’s hoped that participants are, able to integrate social media into their workflow, be able to measure and understand their digital footprint and have made informed choices about the tools that they are using, actively influencing others online, actively managing their online networks and reach. The further to this a peer mentoring programme will be created in order to provide access for participants to more experienced social media using politicians.

If you know nothing about the tools not a problem as there will be a  programme of technical skills training opportunities supporting these workshops so you can get started with things like Twitter, Facebook, blogging, web sites and understanding your metrics.

So if you are a Councillor and want to get involved look out for the email coming soon to be a part of the first group.

Different Reflections

How time flies along, last Tuesday I had a packed day presenting along with my fellow SCC Cabinet member Lisa Chambers to a cohort of students at West Suffolk College. Hopefully in the two sessions we ran we give the students a flavour of Local Government and how it works. I find the discussion sessions really useful to feedback on what life is like for younger people and the services or lack of them that re provided. The two key things I took away from the morning was firstly how little feedback loop there is to the decision makers in Local Government from young people’s perspective and we need to work out how to improve that. Secondly when you look at the system up on a screen and are trying to explain it to an audience, it truly is a silly way to organize services. Whatever the debate is about the right size of a Unitary Council is one thing but the two tier system (the historic position) can’t be the right one.

Then it was off to Warwick University, with a couple of meetings along the way, to be ready for my following morning slot at this year’s LGA Leadership Academy: Political Leadership in Adult Social Care and Health. I did the course myself as a slightly overwhelmed new cabinet member for Adult Social Care some 4 years ago and recall listening to the various speakers wondering if I would ever get my head around this vast subject area.

Now I was back to give the opening session address setting the scene at the start of the two day course with a session entitled ‘Key issues around funding’ – the Agenda said ‘this session will look at the Leadership challenges of operating within the current financial situation and provide a view from a Member to ‘set the scene’ for the rest of the academy’ so no pressure there then.

In my speech I commented how much the world had changed since I sat where the delegates sat and how today the challenges seem far more daunting than they were 4 years ago not only with the financial challenge which is considerable, the increasingly defined numbers around an ageing population but the radically changing landscape of the forthcoming care and support bill. A lively discussion followed my words and I hope it set them up for a really good couple of days learning, something we all are constantly trying to do as the landscape changes and the challenges grow ever bigger.

A moment to reflect on Health and Wellbeing Board progress

Last week I spoke at an event put on by the Business Services Association and hosted at the city law firm offices of Pinsent Masons entitled Health and Social Care Commissioning to an audience mainly made up of Health provider companies.

I shared the platform with a representative of Dr. Phil Moore, member of the NHS Clinical Commissioners Leadership Group and Deputy Chairman of Kingston CCG who provided a CCG perspective; Cathy Gritzner, Director, NHS Greater Manchester Commission Support Unit who gave a CSU Perspective; Wayne Felton, Managing Director, Healthcare Solutions, MITIE Group Plc., who gave a private sector perspective and Barry Francis, Partner, Pinsent Mason LLP, who was our host and spoke about Bringing Public and Private together before chaired the discussion that followed our presentations.

I was there representing the LGA and gave a the Local Authority Perspective answering the questions around to what extent have Health and Wellbeing Boards been able to bring local democratic input and wider public health considerations to the commissioning Agenda – encompassing not only health and social care but also housing and other local services and going on to address the question what more can private providers of local services do to adapt to the new priorities?

Following on from our discussion the key note speaker was Jon Rouse, Director General for Social Care, Local Government and Care Partnerships at the Department of Health, who made a number of interesting observations.

It was a really useful session looking at the new landscape from a variety of prospective but what came out of it for me was firstly I must have fewer PowerPoint slides if I am to keep to a 10 minute slot!, but more importantly a sense of whilst not working particularly well at the moment with the Health and Wellbeing Boards we have at least found the right space in which to get the system working better and that time must be allowed for the new system to start to produce really significant benefits for residents when they are will and trying to navigate around this health and social care system.

The Suffolk County Council Budget Debate

Last Wednesday the SCC Scrutiny papers for this Thursday’s all day scrutiny of the SCC Budget proposals were published and in effect they set out the draft proposals as to how this year we are planning to saving £38.6m this year and are the first part of a four year plan that will eventually see £156 million saved. They come on top of the £90m we have saved over the last 3 years not forgetting that we will spend about £1.9b in the same period so it’s not all doom and gloom.

We are having to do this because of the need for central government to reduce the deficit in spending and address the legacy of 13 years of Labour’s Fiscal madness. There is no doubt that tough choices will have to be made but the toughest of them all is our determination to protect hard working people’s money by fulfilling our manifesto pledge made in May of this year not to increase the Council tax for the whole of the 4 year term, which along with the freezes we have been able to drive though for the past 3 years means that by 2017 Conservatives will have frozen its element of Suffolk’s Council tax bills for 7 years, which if you take inflation as being at 3% per annum is an actual cut of 21% over those 7 years, good news for hard pressed families as others put up their bills shamefully. Indeed it is a complete contrast to the last time the Libs and Labour were allowed to run to County Council when in two years they put the Council tax up by 11.9% and then 18.5% the very next years, as long as the good people of Suffolk keep them out of power, dark days never to be allowed to return.

22 separate savings proposals have been worked on, tested and now are to be scrutinised, the largest six being:

  • Annual savings from the new      Energy from Waste plant at Great Blakenham, programmed to open in December      2014. Saving: £8 million.
  • Finding additional savings      from within Adult and Community Services that enable the council to      protect specific budgets that ensure the growing number of people      requiring care are able to access the services they need. Saving £6.4      million
  • The council’s contract with      BT for the provision of ICT, HR, finance and public access closing in May      2014 and bringing the services and staff back in house. A programme of service      transformation and modernisation will follow. Saving: £9 million.
  • Cutting the council’s      contingency budget, budget for major projects and capital financing fund.      Saving: £4 million.
  • Reviewing Supporting People      services (e.g. help for marginalised adults, young people, gypsies and      travellers and sheltered accommodation to identity areas where savings      will have the least impact. Saving: £2 million.
  • A review of Children’s      Centre provision, looking at how we currently utilise our buildings to      deliver services. Saving: £1.5 million.

I am looking forward to Thursday’s meeting and it is absolutely right that the scrutiny committee looks into the detail of the proposed budget savings. There is a great deal of pressure on SCC to deliver significant savings and every department has been working hard to ensure that we can make these savings whilst trying to protect our much valued front line services.

I think the hardest thing to get across is that these proposals are just that, proposals and that over the next few weeks we will be listening to as many people are we can to hear their thoughts about how we protect front line services, we want to make sure that the savings being made are in the best interests of local people and listening is how we will do this, No decisions are yet taken.

As a part of the listening this week I shall be starting a series of road shows to discuss the proposals with Local Parish Council and other groups.

In addition SCC has already commissioned Ipsos Mori to survey 4000 Suffolk residents on how they think their money should be spent; and SCC is also launching a wider public consultation on-line.

Then in 12 weeks’ time the final decisions on the council’s budget, including what the level of council tax should be, will be taken at a public meeting of all of Suffolk’s 75 county councillors in February 2014 so between now and then if you have any thoughts do let me know.

40 years wait for a table at the top

Then on Thursday I attended the New Local Government Network’s One Big idea event at the BT Tower in central London. Essentially the format for the day was about working as a team around an issue to come up with a possible solution to then come back together hear the various presentations at the end of the day pitched to a Dragon’s Den panel who would pick a winner to then be worked up by the NLGN as a potential pilot.
It opened with 3 themes presented by real Councils looking for a solution to their issue. The first was around lowering the cost of waste collection, the second about Community Engagement and the third was about early years help for young families. I plumbed for the Community Engagement stream and spend a few facilitated hours coming up with ideas and brainstorming the issue with fellow Councillors and Officers from across the country. The lunch time break involved us all taking the lift to the top of the Tower to have lunch in the former revolving tower restaurant.
As it slowly rotated to give us a full 360 degree spectacular view of London, I was reminded of the time my father booked a table before it was closed at the start of the early 70’s bombing campaign by the IRA; we arrived at the door only to see a notice saying restaurant closed. Days later he got through to someone and complained as to why he had not been called to tell him it was closed and was told they could not call, as the reservations book was still at the top on the reception desk and the staff had not been allowed to rescue it. So there I was some 40 years later sitting there enjoying the view at last!
After lunch we continued our work and in the final pitches the Dragons picked our ideas for Community Engagement as the winners, which was excellent news, always nice to be on the winning team and I think we actually did come up with some really interesting concepts which I look forward to seeing the NLGN develop further and maybe some of the things we can run in Suffolk. An interesting and thought provoking day well spend.
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