The White Box?

2014_11_25 at the Essex Care Providers MeetingLast Tuesday week it was up early to travel to Colchester to give a speech to the Essex Care Providers Network. I was asked to do 30 minutes talking about Care Services – Past, Present and the Future, as you prepare for these things you sort of go to the place in your head questioning if can talk for 30 minutes on a subject but as I drafted my bullet point card to make sure I did not lose my way when speaking, I found I easily has 30 minutes of thoughts on this difficult subject, as it was I had to trim it down to 30 minutes which is what I did and from the Q&A session at the end I think I was at least thought provoking.
After my bit we heard from Rachel Robertson, Best Interests Assessor and Alison Woolf, Adult Safeguards, both from Essex County Council, who talked about the difficult world of DOLs, that’s Depravation of Liberty to you and me and the recent Lady Hale judgement against Cheshire West Council which in essence means that even for people who decide with their loved ones that the time is right to enter a care home setting an assessment now needs to be made however happy people are about making this decision and of course this has considerable costs implications for Council across the county. A simply judgement that has profound implications on procedures and costs for both residential providers and councils.
Last but not least was Michael Parsons and Quin his guide dog, Michael works for his own company ACC Consulting Limited and he talked with passion the need and requirements of the current legislation on Disability Discrimination. By way of illustration he told a very powerful tale of ‘the white box’ which as he began to speak I wondered what it was. Slowly he talked about the white walls, white doors, white wash basins, and white toilet and toilet seat then I began to realise he was talking about most toilets facilities in most building and it was so powerful how what we think of great design that is these white boxes, but to a visually impaired person these can be a real difficult spaces. In short we need to fundamentally shift our thought processes as we design and commission buildings to make they are truly disabled accessible rather than an after-thought, a very powerful story indeed and a good way to end the morning.

Miliband is Least Popular Leader Since Polling Began

Gavin Maclure's Musings

Miliband is Least Popular Leader Since Polling Began.

Oh dear, oh dear. Either the men in grey coats have got to come for him or Labour are looking likely to be opposition for at least a decade.

Even Scotland is deserting them with the SNP on the ascendency. Perhaps a Con-UKIP pact is more likely as the yellow peril are going to be obliterated in May next year?

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One slow night

White Van Image from Rochester By Election 2014Stayed up last Thursday night to see the result of the Rochester and Strood by-election, absolutely fascinating for a number of reasons but at one point I tweeted about the slowness of the count and how I recalled many an evening on my feet watching other equally slow counts and was so pleased to be on my sofa for this one, flicking as I did between the BBC and Sky coverage to stave off the boredom.

Firstly as someone interested in the use of social media it still surprises at the increasing importance of these things, quite quick and easy to use and to make mistakes, particularly for Labour’s shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry who ended her shadow ministerial career with one of the shortest tweets possible and a picture. Crass, yes and apparently Ed Miliband was ‘Professor Angry’ not so much for the picture or words but because it touches at their real sensitivity about UKIP’s lesser success but still very worrying for Labour in gaining a tradition Labour working class vote in addition to the conservative right flank. Not to mention in a by-election where they hoped the headlines would be about UKIP and Conservatives but it turned out that they had the front pages to themselves, you just could not make this stuff up!

But if you look at it another way it is even more damaging, to me the of the reasons some people are voting UKIP is not Europe, not immigration but because they look a bit more real and human that the Westminster Parties, they are not always on message, they make mistakes and some people like them for it, some people can more easily identify with them and that is important in politics, of course Farage knows and drives this home on a constant basis, but such an overreaction to one tweet rather makes the point for him.

The turn-out at 50.67% was high for a by-election but well below a general election, the truth of the matter is that at the 2010 election UKIP failed to carry forward their 2009 European Election vote share, in May 2015 it will be fascinating to see if it holds this time as the general election arrives and importance of keeping Labour out hits home.

Speaking of making mistakes, this week Mark Reckless was not beyond making a gaff himself having to ‘clarify’ his words on what would happen to European migrants if the UK withdrew from the EU, not that it overtly hurt him at the ballot box, which is my earlier point. However it’s interesting how these things are always expressed in terms of Europeans living and working in the UK (and of course what they really mean is ‘taking our jobs’) and little is spoken of the millions of Britons who live and work in Europe including a couple of my mates and their families, a small but important point, ‘quid pro quo’ and all that?

During the course of the count Sky interviewed the Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett whom I shared a platform with a couple of weeks ago and as she spoke, her words seemed to confirm that the Green Party seem increasingly to be positioning itself to the left of Labour.

Mark Reckless won but not of course with quite the sensational result of Clacton, but hey he’s no Douglas Carswell is he, nor is Rochester the same as Clacton, one small silver lining was of course the Liberal vote collapse with them getting dangerously close to polling less than the Monster Raving Loony Party.

There is no doubt that UKIP do struck a cord with many people but in the white heat of a general election I suspect UKIP’s lack of a broad range of actual policies will, in part, be their undoing, equally as much as UKIP would like the election to be about immigration and EU membership, it won’t, it will predominately be about the economy and on that issue the Conservative message could not be stronger and Labour’s could not be more scary! Having said that it does increasingly look that, as life gets more complex, so does our politics and over the next few months the potential and debate about the smaller parties to be king makers on May 8th will have as much air time as the economy, Farage will argue that UKIP can hold the balance of power, so vote UKIP, but he will simply not have enough MPs with other bigger parties far more likely to be the king makers, whatever happens the next 7 months will be fascinating.

Looking at things differently.

Public Health DiagramLast Wednesday evening I drove to Birmingham for what’s now my forth time working with the Leadership Centre for Local Government as it delivers its programme with Public Health England for Public Health professional working in Local Government entitled: ‘Public Health, Politics & People – Perspectives & Power in the System’. Facilitating the workshop sessions were Chris Lawrence-Pietroni who has co-designed the course and Liz Goold who I was working with for the first time. Also for the first time Cllr. Jonathan McShane from Hackney who is Cabinet member for Adult Care joined, myself and Cllr. Roz Gladden, Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Care at Liverpool Council, whom I have worked with on each of the previous days we have delivered the workshop as a team of Councillors from different backgrounds and political Parties.

Whilst Chris and his team refine the programme a little each time and change it around a bit based on the positions and experience of the participants, doing something for the 4th time is quite unusual for Councillors. Usually a paper or policy percolates through the system and you work out how to present it and you do to once, occasionally twice, at say a Cabinet meeting and then Full Council but mostly it’s a one off speech/round of media interviews etc. Thus it presents an opportunity to refine what you say and reflect on the differences of each cohort.

In the few months the programme has been up and running whilst every group is different both in terms of where they are in the hierarchy of public health teams now a part of local government there has in that time been an interesting shift in the conversations and I suspect thinking as the place of Public Health in local Government is rapidly maturing. Equally as you become more skilled at the delivery of the programme you start to develop what you are trying to stress in the sessions and the differences and similarities of Councillors from across the political divide that you are trying to explore. For me one of the mantra’s I’ve tried to stress is that if you meet one politician you’ve met one politician – for we are all different. In some ways defined by our political party allegiances and in others most defiantly not.

The great thing about this work is that I personally get as much out of it as the participants for it really stretches your own thinking about the Council you belong to and not so much the Public Health teams, more the mind set of officers and how they view their roles and the careers they have chosen.

Digital Leadership in Local Government Masterclass

Channel_Shift_Accelerators_handLast Thursday I travelled to Warwick University to deliver a session on Digital Leadership for Local Government drawing on things like this blog and other forms of social media I have used in my role as a Councillor, reflecting on what has worked well, the challenges of using social media and of the whole subject of what is a Digital Council form a Councillors point of view.

It was quite timely as just before I left my office, I received a Facebook message asking about my locality funding and if a community group could access funding for a project they were working on. Of course they probably could have contacted me in some other way but they chose Facebook because that is what they used to talk with other people in the community and this sort of accessibility and networking that lay at the heart of being a Networked Local Councillor and should be encouraged and supported by Councils.

The brief for the session I was speaking at was called: Councillor Perspective – a panel discussion focusing on real examples of digital Leadership, key Challenges, and opportunities, and the panel’s view of what are the top three ingredients needed to ensure ‘digital’ can flourish in an organisation.

I was joined for the session by Cllr. Theo Blackwell of Camden Council. We had both been given the exact same brief but we came at the subject from completely different prospective.

I very much focused on what I think are the cultural challenges to making digital happen and Theo spoke of the opportunities Digital brings to Councils and communities.

In my bit, I hypnotized as to the behavioural patterns of those at the cutting edge of being digital and those who lagged. From the various discussions and research I have looked at, those Councils who are embracing and thus benefiting from the digital revolution display some common characteristics which can be distilled into one word, culture. Those Councils who have enabled their Councillors with tablets and have provided extensive social media training are the very same councils who are web casting their meetings, are the very same councils who are redesigning their web sites to be better interfaces for people to access on-line the services and information they need, and have genuinely embraced the fact that most people access the internet not through laptops by via tablets and smart phones and thus are becoming digital Councils faster than others. And as to the culture it’s those Councils who’s leadership is focused on being in broadcast mode, where the control of the message is viewed as more important and less dangerous than debate, for to enable Councillors to engage and share opinion, for Council meetings and Councillors to have the full glare of web casting often can mean people can be off message and get embroiled in genuine debate that might be contra to the delivery of the message. The correlation of the two is quite striking in Councils across England.

Only one theory as to why some embrace the opportunities of being a Digital Council and some do not, but in short, same session title totally different approaches which everyone on the course thought gave a really good variety, almost planned, set of responses to the question posed and what followed was a really interesting Q&A session.

I also got the change to meet with Emer Coleman who’s had a remarkable career working with a variety of politicians and Leaders. And who’s extensive knowledge on Digital and Social Media I was lucky enough to hear as I arrived in time to hear her session before ours, titled ‘Managing your online reputation’.

Digital to save money through channel shifting is one important thing but digital and how it is used by communities to support themselves and ultimately how to better engage communities and groups in the decision making processes is the really interesting thing ahead.

Public Health: Post 2015 Challenge Conference

2014_11_05 Public Health Conference Plenary Group PictureLast Wednesday I travelled to London to meet with officers from the LGA to discuss aspect of my new portfolio responsibilities on The LGA Community Wellbeing Board and then it was off to the Mermaid Theatre for a Public Health Conference where we had been asked to provide a speaker for a closing plenary Question Time session about Public Health the local Government prospective going forward.

On the platform with me were Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party, Cllr. Mike Roberts, a senior Labour Local Government figure in the LGA and the session was moderated by Tam Fry.

For my part in my opening few words I spoke about the role of Public Health and the landscape in which it operates and my opinion that the greatest single challenge ahead was their role in an evidence based approach to how we cope with an Ageing Population. The House of Lords Committee on Public Services and Demographic change warned in March 2013 in its report ‘Ready for Ageing? That the UK was ‘woefully underprepared’ for the social and economic challenges presented by an ageing society. For example, with the number of people living with long-term medical conditions is set to rise sharply, so a ‘radically different model’ of care will be needed to support people in their homes and to prevent pressure on the NHS. I think this can currently be seen manifesting itself at the sharp end with the debates about pressure on A&E frankly the tip of the Ageing Population and these debates will gather in strength and urgency as the realities of an Ageing Population and a lack of systemic planning hit home, we are simply not keeping up with the rising demand.

It was an interesting question time session and it is strange how you find yourself slipping into a sort political party mode at times. One of the reoccurring themes used by both Natalie Bennett and Cllr. Roberts was that this country is the 6th wealthiest in the world and so we should be able to do this and that. And so in response I had to do what Conservatives always seem to have to do! Both seemed to be determined to ignore the fundamentals of our underlying economic challenge, promising the earth with a default position of how we pay for it, lots more taxes. I hoped I interjected a sense of realism that Local Government and Public Health better look to itself for the solutions to the challenges ahead because there was not likely to be additional monies from Central government for many years to come. A really excellent Q&A session and well worth the trip form my point of view and I hoped the audience agreed.

Reflections of Remembrance Sunday

KOHIMARemembrance Sunday is an interesting day for me with two ceremonies to attend, all the more special this year as it’s the Hundred Anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. Across Forest Heath District Council area the Councillors aim to represent the Council and a coordinated approach is undertaken to make sure all acts of Remembrance at War Memorials have a wreath laid from FHDC in honour and remembrance of the fallen.

In the morning I go along to the ceremony at the Beck Row Parish War Memorial where a good few people gather, then it’s into the cars to the small War Graves Cemetery tucked in behind the village Church, where as the Roll of Honour is read out it tells the story of RAF Mildenhall and Lakenheath in the Second World War with fallen from across the globe buried in this quite spot. After that it was into church for the Remembrance Day service in the small church ending with both the British and America National Anthems.

In the afternoon I stroll along the back streets where as a kid I played and rode my bike, arriving at the muster point at the far end of the village and then with the Splendid Lakenheath Silver Band at our head we marched through the village to lay wreaths at Lakenheath’s War Memorial. Literally hundreds of resident’s turnout to line the route and alongside the various, the School, Beavers, Cubs, Scouts and Brownies groups laid wreaths. I think seeing all the children taking part or watching with their parents this act of Remembrance is important to show War is not as portrayed in ‘Call of Duty 6’ on PS4 but something all-together more serious.

On the way into Church some of us discussed that it was also the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall and I recall how I felt watching those momentous events live of television, that perhaps the world would become a more peaceful place, sadly not and the need for our Military and the USAF seem more relevant than ever.

The Church service is always quite something as the Silver Band stay and accompany the Hymns, a Silver Band is never a quiet thing and it was as always a magnificent sound in the village church particularly at the end when the National Anthems are sung. The day ends with a short march back to the village Peace Memorial Hall where I agreed to become a member of the Lakenheath Branch of the Legion to help as best I can as it works hard to keep its number up and the traditions that so engage the village community on the day a year we all stop to give thanks to those who gave their tomorrows for our todays.

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