Time absolutely flies by in Local Government and it seems some time now since the Conservative Party Conference yet it was only 2 weeks ago. Of course since then we’ve seen the UKIP Landslide in Clacton and Labour almost slipping up in one of their so called safe seats. Indeed so good was UKIP performance in Manchester that I bet Labour are working on the figures even harder than Conservative Central Office. And of course now everyone is now focusing on Rochester. So finishing off my reflection from Manchester seems like old news but hey it’s my blog and I’ll write about what I want to!
At the conference on the Monday and Tuesday I attended a lot of events, speaking on behalf of Local Government promoting its positioning paper ‘The First 100 days’ of what we are all working hard to see happen a another term for the Conservative Party. I was also able to speak at various events as a member of the Community Wellbeing Board and I hope on what good things are happening in Suffolk and how we at both the County and District Level try to deliver the best services we can with the funding available. Also trying to fit in both main hall plenary sessions and a number of really interesting fringe events on a wide range of topics form Social Media to the role of Local Education Authorities in the future Conservative schools and schooling improvement agenda.
Following the Swanswell Fringe first thing on the Monday morning there was just time to meet with James Sandbach from The Low Commission to hear about their on-going work about legal advice, representation and advocacy in the new world of less Legal Aid. A quick meeting for another important subject about how people go about receiving sound advice they otherwise might not be able to afford. More info can be found on their website at http://www.thelowcommission.org.
After the morning speeches in the main hall I headed off to another Roundtable and lunch courtesy of the Alzheimer’s Society, where I was able to talk about the role of Communities in Dementia Care and of such wonderful Suffolk projects as the Debenham Dementia Project which I have talked about in this blog before.
Later on I was a speaker at a packed fringe event with about 120 people in the room joint hosted Kings Fund/NHS Confederation/LGA event alongside the CE of the Kings Fund Chris Ham, discussing the long awaited Kings Fund Barker which is another radical and challenging paper but it all feeds into the debate this country must have with itself as we are the victims of our own success with a healthier ageing population, as great news as it is it also requires the NHS to change as the needs of all of us change, I certainly think this will be a significant challenge for the next Government so a perfect topic for the Conservative Party Conference.
On the Tuesday my day seemed just as packed starting with a 7:30am breakfast meeting with the Royal College of Surgeons whom were discussing their recent finding about better Hospital Discharge. I suggested that it would be better to call it Hospital Transfer as the word discharge is a part of the problem where hospitals discharge patients but more often than not someone else usually carries on the caring for their patient, a carer, family member, loved one, GP, social services or residential or domiciliary provider usually then take over that patients care. Points made it was then off to grab my seat for the speeches by Theresa May and then Boris Johnson, for both the hall was packed and their speeches were interesting for more than just their words on the subject at hand, if the Conservatives fail to win the general election here were two of the front runners in what would follow and everyone knew it.
After that I rushed to my last speaking engagement of the conference being a roundtable hosted by Sports Leaders UK and the English Federation of Disability entitled ‘Inclusivity in sport and physical activity’ – giving the opinion of the LGA CWB that sport for all is a key factor in the nation’s health and my own personal prospective on the challenge as seen here in Suffolk.
On the Wednesday as the Conference drew to a close, for me it was an opportunity to have those last couple of meetings with Norfolk and Suffolk conservatives that we’d promised to have in Birmingham but that never quite happened. Then it was time for David Cameron to deliver his speech, George Osborne on the Monday had talked about talking about the additional £25bn of savings that were needed would come “entirely from spending cuts” which does not bode well for local particularly when coupled with the NHS being ring fenced until 2020 and the painless Whitehall cuts have already been made. So what would David Cameron offer in his last party conference speech before the General Election. He promised to support people who do the right thing and the promise to raise free personal allowances from £10,500 to £12,500 (so those on the minimum wage pay no tax) is not only the right thing to do but addresses the Labour living wage campaign.. He also said the next Conservative government would raise the threshold for 40p income tax from £41,900 to £50,000, welcomed news to middle England. So for a conference somewhat overshadowed at the start by the defection of Mark Reckless MP for Rochester and the resignation of Brooks Newmark as Minister., what one person described to me as a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ and such subsequent revelations that he has decided to stand down at the next election.
All in all the mood at the conference struck me that we are on the right course, and should be more confident about our strong Conservative message as we head out onto the doorstep. Yes clearly after Clacton and as we wait to see what happens in Rochester, the party needs to have a more in tune message to those voters who are genuinely feeling that the level of immigration we have seen in recent years is having a negative impact on their lives. Of course the single biggest issue at the next election is have the Conservative have got the message right as its delivers the sound fiscal policies that underpin this country’s economic recovery and that is how the majority of people will be voting but failure to address those concerns about immigration and it may well be that UKIP do just well enough at the General Election to do the very thing Conservatives and UKIP don’t want to see, a Labour Government. For me it’s not so much that they have said they will not hold a referendum but the notion of handing back the keys to the much the same team of people who brought this county to its financial knees 5 years ago is bizarre.