You Kip if you want to

Eastern Region European Candidates at launch of Conservative Euro Election Manifesto

Eastern Region European Candidates at Launch of Conservative Euro Election Manifesto

Eric Pickles MP at Launch of Conservative Euro Election Manifesto

Eric Pickles MP at Launch of Conservative Euro Election Manifesto

Last week I attended the launch of the Conservative Party European election manifesto in Cambridge and over the coming weeks I shall play my very small part in the election campaign, delivering the election material in my patch, working with Associations across Norfolk and Suffolk as they plan their activity with the European candidates and making sure the literature and our message is delivered across Norfolk and Suffolk.

In my blog posts I have often commented on the rise of UKIP and how as the Conservative Party focuses on the middle the ground in national politics the space has been created for UKIP to gain on the right. I have also said I don’t see UKIP as a racism party but one that perhaps more touches a sentiment in the county about the pace as which our society and high streets are changing as other nationalities establish themselves in our communities, some ’Auf Wiedersehen, Pet’ style working here to send money back home and others coming here to live and raise they families, I have met both hard working cohorts in my division.

At a local level in Suffolk away from European issues, UKIP as a party has established itself and from a party of one in the previous County Council they now have real strength in numbers (3rd largest party on Suffolk County Council) and they seem to be beginning to form local policies positions, i.e. they are maturing. But to my mind for all the frustration I and others feel at the pace of the County Council, it is Conservative values that must win through to protect front line services as this country goes through the necessary financial correction after 13 years of Labour’s fiscal madness. Somebody one said if you cut me in half (and many would like to!) like a stick of Blackpool rock it would say ‘Conservative’ through him and let me be clear, it always will.

Back to the elections at hand, for me UKIP’s articulation is far too simplistic, the world and our place in it, particularly in respect of Europe is far more complex than they would have us believe. I have seen some all of their election material and have heard Nigel Farage in debate and as portrayed in some depth by the various political sketch writers. So as I watched Local Government Secretary of State Eric Pickles MP launch the Conservative manifesto, reading through it you see the gravitas with which the Conservative Party approach the subject. Now I am not saying this will carry the day as I, like most, expect UKIP to have a very good set of elections but only the Conservatives can delivery real change in our relationship with Europe and central to this is that only the Conservatives can deliver a referendum on our membership, whether you are in favour of ‘in’ or ‘out’ the delivery of a referendum will effect meaningful change to our terms and conditions of membership and then let the British people decide in a proper debate about how we see ourselves going forward.

A bit of a do

Last week saw two interesting events for a local Councillor such as myself first came the Suffolk County Councils Chairman Reception, an annual event hosted by the Chairman of the Council this year my old friend and former cabinet colleague Cllr. Guy McGregor and the following evening the very same event at Forest Heath Hosted by Chairman Cllr. Chris Barker. Both events traditionally mark the end of the year of office.

The first was held in the splendid surroundings of The Suffolk Food Hall, reset for the function from its usual restaurant layout. It has probably one of the finest views in the whole of Suffolk sweeping down to the Orwell Estuary with the Orwell Bridge framing distant views of Ipswich. Guy had laid on a wonderful evening with Scottish Piper to welcome guests, he never misses an opportunity to mention his roots! There was a fine buffet to nibble on whist chatting to colleagues and politicians from across Suffolk (known affectionately as the Chain gang) not to mention a much wider cohort of business, community and voluntary sector Leaders. Naturally much of the chatter people engaged in with me was about the events of the past few weeks, personal circumstances meant that Mark Bee could not be there which was entirely understandable but surprisingly his Deputy Leader did not attend nor indeed his campaign manager, one or two colleagues were quite mischievous in their comments about us being allowed to gather without err……‘guidance’.

The following evening I was asked to act a toast master at the Forest Heath District Council Chairman’s reception at the splendid Bedford Lodge Hotel, this role has traditionally taken by Cllr. Malcolm Smith who died suddenly last winter and so I was honoured to be asked and try to do it as well as he did. Principally my job was to announce arriving guests to the Chairman, his wife Micky and my old friends Cllr. Andy Drummond who is currently vice-Chairman and his wife Boo, both of whom I have known for, well, shall we say a long time before any of us decided we wanted to be in local politics! Announcing many of those who attended was remarkable easy as I was surprised at how many of them I knew and indeed some I had been nattering to, the night before. At the evening drew to a close I was asked to conduct the auction of great events and prizes donated to raise money for the Chairman’s Charity and I did my best to maximise the bids.

My conversations were markedly different from the night before as West Suffolk often feels a long-way from Ipswich, as one Senior Councillor put it, our area has far more in common with the Brecks of which we are a part and working with St. Edmundsbury Borough Council and East Cambridgeshire District Council, as we look towards Cambridge as the economic powerhouse of the region. For my part I spoke about my increasing frustration at County meetings reminding senior officers and some councillors that we have LEPs not a LEP to work with on economic development for areas of Suffolk without a coastline.

Both were extremely useful gatherings but of course sometimes people question the cost of such events and it is of course understandable when set again say a care package for a vulnerable person but I would say that far beyond the services Councils provide, our quality of life is about how communities do things for themselves and these events are about people coming together to celebrate being a part of the Suffolk and Forest Heath communities. Working together across the business, voluntary, community and councils sectors is in part stronger because we know each other, we know who to go to gets things done and beyond anything else that is what such civic events are all about, our collective sense of purpose that makes Suffolk, well Suffolk.

It’s a numbers game

After all the excitement and intrigue of Thursday in Ipswich and the Conservative Group Leadership AGM vote, Friday morning I picked up the local papers before heading off to spend the day at Addenbrookes with my Mum and Dad.

Addenbrookes is a world class hospital, everyone you meet is kind, friendly and seems to have time to spend but the place is vast, so there are literally hordes of people everywhere and such a mash up of a set of buildings. So as Mum was sent for this and that test etc., I settled in for the long-haul of the day ahead, in the small corner of the oncology reception with my father and to pass the time started to work my way through the local papers reporting of the previous day along with the various emails, voicemails, tweets and text messages that sort of swamp you at such moments, muttering away to my Dad as I read through, stopping only when Mum reappeared before they whisked her off for some other test.

The main Suffolk paper is the EADT and its chief political reporter Paul Geater has many sources and so when he phoned me for my comments Thursday afternoon, he clearly knew how close the result has been in the election and whilst he asked me to comment, of course I declined, in a roundabout sort of way he printed it as 3 votes. On Saturday in his Saturday diary blog Ipswich Spy was a bit blunter and printed 21:18 along with a few other interesting comments wp.me/pOvEL-2I7. So you can imagine my surprise to read Mark Bee’s comments given to the Bury Free Press about an “overwhelming majority”, not that I am obverse to a bit of political spin here and there, all political parties do it from time to time, but that comment was a surprise.

Before the conservative group AGM on the Thursday morning I went on Radio Suffolk, as did Mark Bee and was asked by Mark Matthews how many votes I had and said at that point it was 20, then having arrived at Endeavour House and with a couple of handshakes it rose to 22 and given that the winning post was 20 and err…. my supporters and I lost, clearly a few were more undecided than indicated, which of course is hardly a surprise such is politics, such is life!

Right at the start of my challenge I said “within the group is a vast range of life experience and we are at our strongest when we debate the issues before us”, and I hold this to be true. A lot of promises were made by Mark during the campaign about listening more to the concerns of Conservative Councillors. I, like the rest of the group wait to see if they are kept, is the cabinet going to reflect the wider group views or be a space where dissention is absolutely forbidden, is the Chairman of the Group, elected unopposed at the AGM, is to be allowed to attend all the informal cabinet meeting or will he be frozen out again. Will the new promised group meetings be talking shops or where real Conservative policy, taking account of what our residents are telling us, be formulated.

Immediately after the vote Mark emailed the group and called for unity and I issued a statement saying I agreed and would not challenge for the Leadership in this Council term citing in part the ill thought-out group procedure for a leadership challenge only at an AGM, always a few weeks before a Poll day somewhere, albeit I can see why a Leader might not bother to change it. I had promised a backbencher working party to look at the group rules and at the specific question of when the group elects a leader, a point that was picked up by a number of members as something they want to see discussed.

There are big issues the County Council face and if we are to implement the right policies for Suffolk, group unity is important but equally that unity is not unconditionally given simply because you narrowly win a Leadership Challenge, it is given by listening and taking real account of occasionally differing views within the Conservative Group as we are stronger for it.

A walk in the Country

07.04.2014 West Row cycle way (steps down to riverbank section)

Yesterday I was at the official opening of the new West Row to Mildenhall shared Bridle/cycle way.

In my short speech before Cllr. John Bloodworth, Chairman of Mildenhall Parish Council cut the ribbon, I talked about one of the very first people I visited in West Row when I was fighting my election campaign to be a County Councillor, way back in 2006, mentioned that people in the village needed a safe way to walk and cycle to Mildenhall.

So here, some 8 years later the ambition is realised, a project I have battled for throughout my time as a Councillor and to be honest when I started the process I was not sure we’d ever put the considerable funding required together.

At the ceremony I was joined by Cllr. Graham Newman, Cabinet Member for Roads and Transport who spoke about the important of safe cycleways and how even in these difficult times SCC are investing along with government funding, in schemes like this and others like the new cycleway being built in Bury St. Edmunds across the A14, where the bridge has just been lowered into place.

Graham also brought his bike and after the ribbon cutting and press photos, he took the opportunity to cycle, and I took the opportunity to walk the whole length of the new path.

From the initial plans this project, through consultation with residents along its route, horse riders, cyclists anglers and others, has grown in its ambition and cost and one of the great things we have been able to do is open up the undergrowth to the riverbank with some lovely views across the river previously you would have struggled to realise you were next to a river.

At the moment there is much discussion about the leadership and strategy at County Hall and yesterday I was reminded why it is important to debate how we better focus the activities of the council towards the things our residents tell us they need.

07.04.2014 West Row cycle way (new views over the river)07.04.2014 West Row cycle way (twin track section)07.04.2014 West Row cycle way (middle section)07.04.2014 West Row cycle way (West Row end)

 

A busy couple of weeks

Over the past couple of weeks I have quite busy not only talking with fellow Conservative Suffolk County Councillors about the issues we face and how we are facing them, ahead of next Thursday decision on the future strategy of the group, but also in a couple of fascinating external projects.

When you reach a certain level of experience as a councillor there can be opportunities to work with other councils helping them but more importantly helping your own council as you reflect back what you have learnt in other places. It’s not for everyone but I have always had the opinion that you can and should accelerate your learning and that of your organisation by looking at how others have and are done things, what works and what does not. It can be a worrying trait of Local Government that occasionally it can be far too insular. That’s why in my two cabinet roles to date I have been passionate about creating lead member groups across the region, one for adult social care which I chaired and more recently when I switched to the finance role I have started up and now Chair the equivalent for finance lead members.

In the same vein, last week I was in Poole as a part of a team from the LGA doing an Adult Safeguarding Review. Essentially looking at the way in which, as the Council as they go about their business, if potential issues of abuse of residents in whatever form that might take are highlighted, investigated and most importantly stopped. For all the services councils provide it is the area of safeguarding which is its most serious and getting it right for all councils and the people they serve, must be their number one priority. I learnt a lot, in a number of intense meetings with people from across their system, much of which I can reflect back to the team at Suffolk.

Yesterday I was in Birmingham working with the LGA Leadership Centre as it, in co-junction with the Institute of Public Health, delivered a morning’s workshop for Directors of Public Health in the East and West Midlands, on working in a political environment one year on from the move of Public Health from the NHS to Local Government, as a part of a three day course they were undertaking. I delivered this alongside a Labour Councillor from Liverpool and a Lib Dem from Oldham so it was politically balanced. Essentially our role was to help them understand party political differences and how to influence and work with councillors on the public health agenda. It was a really interesting morning’s work, again I learnt new things which I can bring back to Suffolk.

Talking about interesting things, for me the week ahead will certainly be that.

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