Suffolk stubbs it out

044cigarettebuttLast Thursday I was up early to head to London for a meeting at the LGA in Smith Square before rushing back to Ipswich via Liverpool Street Station to be as Suffolk County Council’s Full Council Meeting. I recalled that I must have done the same round of meetings last year as once again I found myself on a train stuffed full of festival goers looking forward to Suffolk’s Latitude Festival.

The Full Council was equally eventful as one Councillor passed out, due to the stifling heat of the very poorly ventilated Council Chamber. Somehow we seemed to have been collectively moaning about this since I became a Councillor yet no one seems to have solved the problem. At the meeting, in addition to it being boiling hot, we had one of those small moments in time, when we did something of some significance.

Disappointingly it was a Labour motion, with our contribution consigned to an amendment to the wording to make it achievable, but hey it was tabled and we debated that Suffolk should no longer hold tobacco stocks as an investment class in its pension fund and become a signatory to the Local Government Association Declaration on Tobacco Control.

I say disappointing because we should have lead the charge on this as we have had ample time to prepare something, not least because I raised the matter a few weeks ago after having a presentation from PHE, ASH and ADASS at the LGA Community Wellbeing Board meeting on 11th June discussing their commitment to ask councils up and down the land to agree to their charter which includes withdrawing from Tobacco stocks as a part of a pension investment portfolio. I said then it was a political issue and one we needed to react to quickly, Labour beat us to it.

A quality debate took place ranging from the evils of smoking and its sheer danger to your and everyone else’s health, to the independence of the pension fund to invest in what it likes being sacrosanct, to given that we are now the body with the Statutory Duty for Public Health the holding of tobacco stocks is perverse in this context. This latter position won the day and now Suffolk leads the way and sets the agenda for much of the rest of Local Government to follow.

The LGA Conference Part 2

Last Wednesday and Thursday at the LGA Conference in Bournemouth was the usual sea of plenary and breakout sessions, causal chats with colleagues and lots of networking discussing the coming election and the future role of local government. One of the highlights was a private meeting arranged for the Next Generation for Local Government arranged by Christina Dykes, who has been the driving force behind the Conservative side of the programme for the past 9 years, with the Secretary of State Eric Pickles. As we left the room I reminded Christina it was the very room some 9 years earlier at the Party conference that she launched the first year cohort of the then new programme and we first met. As we walked out of the conference centre we reminisced about some of characters we had known from the course, who has achieved what and who was still in the local government world, she can be very proud of the work she has done and that a couple of hundred or so of councillors are significantly more effective as Conservative councillors that they would be without her efforts.

The overriding theme of the conference was for the LGA to launch its ‘first 100 days’ document for the next parliament moving the ‘Rewiring Public Services’ agenda, launched a year ago, on to the next phase of the lobbying indicating the sort of devolution local government now has the confidence to seek from central government. They say timing is everything and it was interesting to be at a conference where essentially the same thing was being said by the House of Commons Select Committee for Local Government at the exact same time. Namely that areas that are allowed to run more of their own affairs do economically better. The message is clear to an incoming government, stop talking about decentralisation and get on with it, we are ready, willing and more importantly able to do a better job at serving our communities than Whitehall, just get on with it!

Last Week’s LGA Conference Day 1

As is tradition before the LGA Conference proper the political parties gather and at the Conservative group meeting I was delighted to be announced as re-elected to the Conservative Group Executive. A real honour and I was quite chuffed at the faith shown by colleagues after what has been a bruising year, (self-inflicted I might add) and I hope I can use the role to, in some small way, help local government have that vital voice, it needs, in setting the local government policy agenda at Westminster and across the increasing partnership working with Health .

As is the way of these things the conference was its usual mixture of networking, breakout sessions, some interesting and some less than interesting plenary sessions, drinks, food, and many, many planned and casual conversations. Beyond these I had a couple of formal contributions to make as I was booked to make 2 speeches and take part in the subsequent discussions. The first was in the, well……innovative, innovation zone hosted by the great Chairman of the LGA Innovation Board, Cllr. Peter Fleming, how was his usual self, fun, irreverent, enthusiastic and beyond the somewhat colourful outfits actually someone who has really championed and driven innovation as a key way we are going to continue to serve our communities as the money diminishes. I gave a short speech about my commitment to the Networked Councillor programme being delivered by the excellent Public-I and hopefully contributed to the important debate about the role of social media in how we connect with our residents, and hopefully explain and co-produce some of the new ways we need to deliver services in the future.

Then later, as other headed down the pier or to this or that venue for drinks receptions, I delivered a speech on Complaints with Mick King, Executive Director of the Local Government Ombudsman about the value and way in which we interpret complaints both to Councils and ultimately to his organisation, are they a reputational threat or something to inform organisational learning, which was the point I hope I got across.

Off to Bournemouth via Ipswich

Last Monday I covered some mileage, firstly attending a Conservative group meeting at Suffolk County Council about strategies to deal with the budget gap, then off to Bournemouth for the LGA Conference.
After 6 years in Suffolk County Council’s cabinet it was slightly surreal to sit in yet another facilitated meeting but now free to voice my opinions without having to bite my tongue at…….., quite liberating in fact. Of course the wider funding picture has many possible hick-ups ahead and the biggest issues before us are the emerging Better Care Fund thinking and the implications of next April’s Care Bill introduction. If these bite as I think they will, I talked about and pondered what the implications of these would be. after a couple of hours and speaking of the bigger picture it was then off the Bournemouth.
On the way down I reflected that this was to be my 7th LGA Conference and a return to Bournemouth since my first and how over that time my roles have changed. Even more so this year having been purged for now, along with my identifiable supporters, from the County Council political hierarchy. So I went representing Forest Heath District Council thinking about the issues facing us as a District Council, how we make sure our residents get a fair share of Suffolk’s overall spend and that our District has a voice in the national local government debates. After checking into the once grand but now fading Carlton Hotel, still with a wonderful position atop the cliffs but a shadow of the hotel I spend many a family holiday in when I was a kid, it was off to have dinner with the rest of the Conservative Group Executive and to wish Sir Merrick Cockell one last goodbye as he contemplated his farewell speech to the Conservative group the next day and then to the wider Conference at its opening on Tuesday afternoon.

Food Choices

Last Thursday week I was in London to chair a conference at Local Government House called ‘Food for thought: joint approaches to safe food and healthy eating – organised by the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing team of which I am a Board member. During the course of the day, 120 delegates ranging of Environmental Food Safety officers to Directors and senior officers in Public Health and handful of Councillors debated the subject.
I kicked the day off by taking about the importance of grasping the new agenda as public health has returned to local government. I pondered that with the move, local government was now at the heart of how we go about the oversight of food, whilst Westminster sets the policy framework local government enforces that what the producers and retailers says is being purchased or served is correct. That the premises from which it is being provided is up to standards and how through the great marking system now in place across England residents can have confidence in the premise they are buying form or eating at. And with public health now in local government we have the final piece of the jigsaw and responsibility to encourage businesses and consumers to make better choices on food that effects their long term health and ultimately the cost to the national purse.
For me a day is success if I learn things and I really did improvement my knowledge on this important subject, plus I hope my experience in Chairing such events helped the day fizz along, aided by the excellent Paul Ogden of the LGA @ogden140. The various presentations can be viewed at    and are well worth a look.
Amongst many excellent presentations and initiatives being presented the thoughts of Professor Tim Lang @ProfTimLang, Professor of Food Policy – City University London, were really interesting about the direction of travel we are on and what we have to do to change our food habits and perceptions. He spoke about that on his journey home, part of which he cycles through London, brave man, as he approaches Clapham Junction, he has counted that, on the way to the train there are 37 food options to snack, graze or take home.

To many of us the choice and quality on offer is a revelation and progress compared to many years ago when the choice might have been a single curled at the edges ham sandwich and a stewed cup of coffee, but he saw these choices as a potential threat to our collective health as we collectively have too much opportunity to eat too much, particularly sugar and salt. Another one of his comments which really struck home was that today, by the time a child is 16 they have on average will have seen 130,000 adverts for fast food and sugary drinks etc., – quite staggering, and when you think about it that is probably set against but a handful of lessons and information about health eating.
I closed the conference by thanking the speakers and delegates for a really interesting day and the importance of the role of local government to shape our future eating habits and perhaps most importantly to try to counter the advertising bombarding younger people and help then and indeed the rest of us make more informed choices.

 

A bit of a do at the LGA

Last Wednesday evening I popped along from a meeting in London to the drinks reception at Local Government House for Sir Merrick Cockell, it’s Chairman’s, retirement.

The Conservative have narrowly lost control of the LGA and so the next Chairman will be the Labour’s David Sparks OBE. The Conservatives still have a vastly overwhelming majority of Councillors, being more than all the other parties put together, but in the strange LGA block vote system that decides these things Labour narrowly have the majority.

This means for the first time since I became a Councillor, the LGA will no longer have a Conservative Chairman. Some will ask does it matter and to some extent you have to judge does the LGA matter in answering that. Personally I think it is an effective voice for local government and as someone once said to me if it did not exist we would invent it. Equally to my mind Sir Merrick has been a very effective, hard working Chairman and has provided Local Government with a charming national voice and with the ‘Re-Wiring’ paper, a renewed sense of where we want to go and some bite to the lexicon. His and the LGA influence was in some ways summed up by the number of Westminster politicians in attendance despite having to leave promptly for a vote in the House, Secretary of State for Local Government Eric Pickles MP gave a warm speech, Minister of State Brandon Lewis MP was there along with Labour’s shadow team of Hilary Benn MP and Andy Sawford MP amongst others. The challenge for the new Labour Chairman will be how he can engage with a Conservative Local Government team and hopefully will have to for the next parliament as well!

Next week’s LGA conference will see the launch of the LGA’s ‘first 100 days’ document for an incoming government and such is the way of these things, they have to be cross party, so it’s aimed at whichever party wins. Broadly speaking local government is one of this country’s success stories, it has absorbed the cuts, becoming simply the most efficient arm of the public service, which is in no small way due to having elected councillors to hold it to account and shape its direction. I can think of a few areas where such democratic representation would have a positive effect, not least the NHS, but I digress. Of course it must do even better in the years ahead, but I think it has earned the right be to masters of our own destiny more than ever before, and that self-determination will allow us to shape our organisations to continue to deliver the services people need at a reduced cost to the public purse and I suspect that will be the central plank of the document for launch next week. It will be interest to see.

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