29/01/2015 Leave a comment
On Tuesday prior to Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet meeting where the first item was the paper reshaping of Suffolk Children’s Centres and service, there was a protest on the steps of Endeavour House (County Hall) attended by a small pack of photographers and Anglia TV. I saw many Labour Councillors holding placards and of course their Ipswich Parliamentary Candidate who pops up anywhere the TV crews go, with his usual hello it’s only me! (Yet obviously was far too busy to actually hear the debate). So as I sat at the back of the Council Chamber, somewhat surprised at the lack of public questions, when the debate started I wondered where the protestors were. In fact I wondered so much, I got up and went outside and ask staff where they were and enquired why they had not been allowed into the public gallery. A few phone calls later it emerged that we had, in addition to the public gallery, set aside a room for the overflow with the meeting beamed in on a large screen, where one person was siting and in the public gallery there were 3 others taking notes, mystery solved? Of course the paper itself was well worth an read as it detailed the reshaping of a service to something it should have resembled in the first place, being focused on service delivery than how many building can you open. I recall as I was forming the Supporting Lives and Connecting Community strategy which is the driving force behind how the Council is delivery more services, to more older and vulnerable people yet also saving money by working better with local communities, (today I sit on the national TLAP Board and lead for Local Government on the Building Community Capacity framework promoting much the same thing at the national level). My counterpart in Children Services was busy opening a whole range of shiny new buildings as Children Centres. We used to often remark on the staggering difference of approach. On the one hand having less money to do things with and on the other, vast tracks of previous Labour Government’s ring fenced money thrown, as it turned out entirely unaffordable money, at the problem. It was one of many entirely bizarre Local Government situations which were a feature of life under Labour – we were spending money that we knew could be far better spent but were not allowed to deviate from the centralist dictate. So the County Council took the money and delivered what was required of us knowing full well that the service could be better delivered working in our communities not building so many shiny new buildings, as I say bizarre! I am not sure the paper is entirely right in all aspects as my fellow County Councillor for Haverhill Anne Gower made a very sensible, detailed and logical speech and I think that the decisions in Haverhill need to be looked at again, but other than that, now that fiscal sanity has returned to central government the reshaping is long overdue and the service will emerge saving money and helping more children and young families.