Networks online and offline

Last Wednesday I attended ‘Sprint 2 – Networks’ of the Networked Councillor course from Public-i. Often in life there are light bulb moments, where things you do, get a name and in the session about network mapping it struck me that this is what you do between elections to be an effective Councillors, of course I’ve attended all the good and great courses on campaigning, Being an effective councillor, Our Place, Community budgets and err… I could go on but in this one short session I came to see one of the key roles of a councillor in a slightly different and illuminating way.

Building networks whether in the check-out queue in the local Co-op mini supermarket or online with Facebook discussing the issues of the day it is about building those connection between community groups individual volunteers and the various element of local government that help to build a strong community able to help look after those vulnerable people in it and to make the sense of a great place to live stronger.

On Saturday I lead a session at the West Suffolk Conservatives Campaign 2015 training day where we explored many aspect of the 2015 local council and the general election. A good gathering of existing Councillors and new candidates joined Matthew Hancock MP and the senior officer team of the Association. I led a session on Social media and gave a 10 minute snap shot of my social media experiences and some of the things I have learned on the Networked Councillors course.

I suspect a few people in the room will take up the social media offer and I whilst I think that this coming election will be one that is won predominantly on traditional methods of getting out there, knocking on doors and talking to people, it will be interesting to see the degree to which activity and discussion on social media increases and its influence on the eventual outcomes.

Political Determination

Mildenhall Lodge opening

Mildenhall Lodge opening

Last Friday I attended the official opening of the New Mildenhall Care Home built by Care UK to replace the former County Council home at Wamil Court and what a splendid new facility it is.

Care UK will open, over the coming months, 10 similar new care homes across Suffolk investing some £60M in the process. As per my promise when I visited every single one of our 16 ageing care homes to meet with residents families and staff, in my former role as Cabinet Member for Community and Adult Social Services, all of those residents in Suffolk County Council’s former homes who wish to, will transfer across to a wonderful new home supported by the county council, that is now happening.

At the recent political training sessions I was involved in for both Director of Public Health and Directors of Social Services we talked a lot about what motivates a Councillor to get involved and of the ‘quality’ of Leadership.

I put forward my personal view that whilst there are many reasons people enter politics, I entered to firstly represent my community which I work hard to do and secondly to make an actual difference. It is all too easy to appear to be busy, fronting this and that decision or policy when in reality those would have been Council policy and decisions irrespective of if you or another person from your own or another party was fronting them, the council would make those decisions if you were there or not and there are many of those.

In respect of Supporting Lives, Connecting Communities, a number of great new mutuals delivering outstanding services to some of the most vulnerable in our Suffolk community, at costs lower than before (thus protecting front line services) and in respect of the replacement of all of Suffolk County Council’s care homes with something to be proud of, I was the key political decision maker. Of course I was ably supported by a great officer team who made it happen and colleagues who backed me but it was my political vision and determination often in the face of quite challenging opposition that made these things happen.

That, to my mind is the great challenge of being a Councillor, to have made an actual difference, rather than simply serve your time, to be a journey man if you will. In doing so you’re not always going to get right but at least you will have made a difference.

Policy to Reality

On Monday I blogged about my Mum’s passing and how ‘far too close to home’, I saw the system of health and social care, policy, commissioning and providers work, in our case, rather well. But as the various systems kicked in I thought to myself you know what, this is precisely why we must get the policies, funding and the way we set up the system, right. This stuff does actually matter for those vital moments in our lives when we need the system to take good care of us.

Last Wednesday I attended the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board meeting in London and in amongst a packed agenda was a discussion on Better Health and Social Care integration. One of those think tank pieces put together before the next parliament to give the Westminster politicians food for thought as the return after the general election, about the policies they need to enact to hopefully improve the system rather than hinder it.

Geoff Alltimes and Richard Humphries from the King’s fund were in attendance to discuss with us the Barker Report, as it will be known after Kate Barker who is heading it up, as they go about the evidence gathering stage. Here is a link to a short video explaining the commission and its remit

The report certainly pitches a wide variety of ideas about the future funding of the NHS and what is the role of social care in amongst its mix. Amongst them is such headline grabbers as charging to see your GP or attend A&E alongside the less sensational but more fundamental about the notion of a free NHS and how it sits so uncomfortably with the financial assessment and charging for Social Care. It was quite bizarre as the NHS element of Mums’ care was delivered and you could ‘watch before your very eyes’ the money being spent and yet when it came time for a small element of social care to be planned, out came the forms for this assessment and who is going to pay and the charging mechanism. This is not a criticism of those who very involved as they handled it very well but for such a small element of Mum’s care suddenly the system changed and it was jarring.

At the Board meeting we also discussed the governance and accountability of the NHS and I made the point hat there are so many, many structures in the NHS with vast armies of friends, governors and structures to delivery such things that in reality does it really work or it just a maze where no one, including those who designed it, quite knows who is responsible for what and when it goes wrong across an array of services, well!!. Because in my experience whenever you ask a question of any aspect of the NHS someone seems to point at someone else, just look at the Francis report on ‘Mid Staffs’ Hospital.

In an earlier blog I explored this with new Directors of Adult Social Services, how in local government, Councillors are the first point of call for residents because they elect them. The line to Directors to respond, is one email not a vast system of accountability. In making my point I was stressing to both Geoff Alltimes and Richard Humphries how I saw the future of an NHS delivering services but local government being far more involved with elected representatives being the key local way in which the NHS is provided with accountability and governance. It will be interesting to see their final report and I’ll blog it when it’s published in the autumn.

The passage of Time

Outside Europe House, Smith Square, London

Outside Europe House, Smith Square, London

Last Thursday I was in London for the LGA monthly round of meetings and to be briefed on a new role I am taking up representing the LGA on an external Board but more of that later.

After those meetings I travelled some 30 metres across Smith Square to Europe House for an evening talk on ‘Ageing in the European Union’. I was aware it was the opening ceremony and match of the World Cup on the same evening, when I booked and so had set the recorder for later to watch it when I got home, clearly from the large numbers of no shows not everyone has googled the date before booking!

Whilst some people will remember LGA House as the former bastion of national union power and the TUC headquarters with its Bevan Hall still in place. The location of Europe House at 32 Smith Square is far more ironic and iconic, some will remember the heady days of the 1980’s and images of Margaret Thatcher waving from the open first floor window after another election victory, at the centre of the Conservative world ‘Conservative Central Office’, for the two building are one and the same, Maggie’s former HQ is now the EU outpost in the UK, ahh the passage of time.

As I waited for the Conference to start I was remembered of my previous visit to Brussels and brief stroll around the European Parliament’s Visitors Centre, as I picked up a booklet explaining the roles of those considered the founding fathers of the EU and in amongst them is Winston Churchill who in 1946 gave his ‘United States of Europe’ speech not his ‘United Nations of Europe but without Britain speech! – The transcript is on line and makes for interesting reading. All too often we forget that the notion of the EU was forged in the physical and financial ruins of World War Two.

But back to the present day, the conference was called ‘Ageing in the EU’ and over a couple of hours we looked at the issues on a pan-European basis and some of the solutions and thinking. As I sat there I pondered would this sort of debate be taking place if we were not in the EU, I doubted it. I also recalled a couple of years back I gave a key note speech to a Conference at Trinity Park in Ipswich to a room filled with people from across Europe, about a year-long pan-European work programme being lead by Suffolk County Council entirely funded by the EU to the tune of 275,000 Euros, on Active Ageing which was very much all the better for being about what is going on across Europe rather than just what we do in the UK. DEMSOC ( ) who facilitated the meeting are producing a report and I’ll blog the link when it’s completed.

Getting care right

On 6th June my mother passed away, it was not unexpected and came after a long battle with cancer, she was 69. To some extent whilst it was her time, and she passed where she wanted to be, at home with us, was comforting, it is still a shock and it feels as if she has taken from us far too early. Particularly when I look through the statistics, other than things like cancer, she and we could have expected another 15 or so years together. It’s also a strange thing I’ve found that it’s not so much the kindness shown by friends, family and colleagues, which is much appreciated but the kindness of strangers that sort of really catches you unawares at these moments.

At what, over the past few weeks, seems like ‘far too close a quarter’, I have seen how ‘the system’ works at such difficult times and on the whole I have to say it seems to work well. Having said our goodbyes to the Oncology Consultants at Addenbrookes the week before, as mum grew too ill to have more treatment, it was her wish to die at home. Between her GP, the St. Nicholas Hospice at Bury St. Edmunds, the Macmillan nurses, the community nurses, social services, the occupational therapists who supplier the various equipment, the domiciliary care providers, the 111 call centre, the out of hours doctors service, and the ambulance service paramedics and police officer who handled that emergency call right at the end, then the Coroner’s office staff and the registry staff, all were very timely, thoughtful, caring and kind.

That is, of course, a lot of people, organisations and different systems and to some extent, it helped me have some confidence in the system that as each layer of service was provided I knew who was the provider, what was meant to happen and was able to gentle guide my father as things needed arranging. I suppose I also had the comfort that if something did not happen I probably knew which Director or CE to call and probably have their direct number to make that call, but the system did come together and made her final wishes happen.

Sometimes as you sit in some distant conference room in this or that Board meeting discussing policy on how the social care and health system must work towards better integration. Moments in your life like this do remind you of the why we must get these things right and must make sure systems do come together, that the resources are there to make it happen and that people are enabled to show the sort of kindness shown to my mum and my family.

Local Government Leadership in Duxford

New-Hanger-Duxford-Air-MuseumLast Friday I travelled to Duxford Museum conference centre set amongst the wonderful displays of planes, of course last Friday was the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings and as I looked across the assembled planes you could see some of those which were the backbone of the RAF in the War, which look so small set against the mighty war planes of today.

The conference was entitled the Entrepreneurial Council II – Creating new social businesses to secure local service and realise potential savings, hosted by the East of England Local Government Association an organisation I am very keen on as it helps the Councils of East Anglia learn from each other and to have an voice for East Anglia as a region, but hey I would say that as I sit on its Improvement Board.

Looking through the delegate list I was encouraged to see so many local government officers from across Suffolk but disappointed to only see there was only a handful of Councillors form across the region. But was delighted to see that my former colleague on Suffolk County Council Judy Terry was there and later we had a good natter about all things Suffolk.

The opening speaker was Danny Kruger, Chief Executive of Only Connect and former speech writer to David Cameron, who spoke about national renewal and touched on the Big Society, and what that actually means in this era of cuts. Then we heard from Stepping Out’s Craig Dearden-Philips talking about Turning Public Services into Thriving Social Businesses, which is exactly what his company is all about.

Later in the morning Aidan Dunn, Assistant Director Strategic Finance and Head of Procurement Resources Management, Suffolk County Council (he was teased about the size of the business card needed to get that title on to it!) spoke about the social enterprises and companies created in Suffolk by Suffolk County Council over the past few years. Both Judy Terry and I chatted at lunch about our small roles we played in the creation of some of these and the political battles we endured to do so.

Of course there is much debate about how to deliver services both in an era of a decade of Local Government cuts and an ageing population. Should council be direct providers of services, should they be commissioners and what is in future role of local government and its place in a new world of integration with health services.

Perhaps even to some extent a subtext of the future direction of Suffolk County Council and recent battles. But to my mind however complex the issues, the principles are relatively simple. Firstly as a conservative I believe in business and people being entrepreneurial. In local government terms I believe in social businesses doing things for the public good, I like a plurality of service providers rather than one large provider and that they are truly local. The more local they are the more they are able to work with communities and delivery services people really need rather than those services someone miles away think they need. Secondly from my actual experience, social enterprise can deliver outstanding services at a reduced cost, Suffolk Libraries, Realise Futures, Leading Lives and Sensing Change are shining examples of what we have done in Suffolk. And lastly I do not believe councils should provide directly provide services but they should be, the publicly financed, democratically accountable, co-producing with communities and intelligent commissioners, co-ordinators and protectors of services.

It will certainly be interesting to see how local government is delivered in say 10 years, a salami sliced version of what it is today, probably, basically failing to serve the expectations of the general public or more importantly the basic needs of the most vulnerable in our society or an innovative force for the sort of national renewal of which Danny Kruger and the closing key note speaker Dr. Neil Stott, CE, Keystone Development Trust and Senior Teaching Faculty in Social Innovation, Cambridge Judge Business School, spoke of, the challenge has never been greater, thus nor has the need for the right sort of bold leadership.

Working with Directors of Adult Social Services

Ashbridge Business School

Ashbridge Business School

Last Thursday I was asked to take part in a new training course by the National Council Skills Academy for Social Services, for newly appointed Directors of Adult Social Services. The session I was involved was about working in a Political environmental and was a part of a 3 day course. On this programme Directors from across the county got to stay in the splendid surroundings of the Ashbridge Business School in Herefordshire. Ashbridge is a wonderfully grand former stately home, now open to the public at the weekends but during the week it is one of Britain’s top business schools, and what is unusual about it, is that it’s run by a charity and so the hiring of it as a venue for courses would be on a par with any hotel or conference centre but in a stately home.

In some ways the sessions I help deliver are similar to the work I am doing for Directors of Public Health in that I work alongside Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors. We focused more on our personal journeys into being a councillor but in the workshop sessions the discussions were about that key issue for Directors about finding they place and influence, their personal authority in a council world of hieratical authority.

One of the really interesting workshop conversations I was involved in was about the nature of accountability in Local Government set against accountability in the NHS. A large metropolitan or county council has many thousands of employees and complex systems yet if a resident has a problem they speak to their councillor and their councillor speaks to a Director, for all the vastness and complexity that is a two person chain. Set against the NHS where you have Health Watch, Foundations Trusts with massive friends groups and bodies, Governors draw from clinical professionals and the friends, the CCGs, the SHAs and NHS England, in short whenever you seek to get an answer from the NHS and ask who is responsibility they all point up the line or at each other, something the Francis report into Mid Staffs Hospital picked up on, perhaps so much accountability there is no accountability? Perhaps there is something in this democracy thing after all!

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