The Case of the Vanishing Protestors

Endeavour House PictureOn 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.

RAF Mildenhall Closure

RAF MildenhallOn Thursday we had the sad news that RAF Mildenhall was to close, and my first thoughts when I heard was for the 500 or so people who work there and the uncertainty the announcement makes for them.

A number of us were all geared up for the official USAF announcement embargoed until 3pm, however this quickly became a nonsense as the moment was entirely overtaken by social media in the morning because the Stars and Stripes carried the full story that morning in their on-line edition, someone somewhere does not quite understand the nature of an agreed embargo! For my part I watched the twitter feeds starting up and then took a call from Paul Geater of the EADT asking for a quote before speaking on BBC Radio Suffolk’s Mark Murphy Show. The following morning I was interviewed by Etholle George on her morning show at 6:30am at Mildenhall Market and a couple of times more up to 9am and finally I did a piece for BBC Look East that evening outside the base.

Of course the devil is in the detail and whilst this will be a blow to many it’s not quite as bad as if first appears. In the same announcement, it was confirmed that RAF Lakenheath will expand and take 2 squadrons of the new USAF F-35 fighter aircraft with new investment and an additional 1,200 personnel and their families. RAF Mildenhall will close over the next 5 – 7 years with the leaving of 3,200 personnel and their families. If you consider that it’s only a year or so ago that the numbers were added to by 1,200 personnel connected with the special forces and their very strange looking Osprey aircraft. So that means with all the various comings and goings the area will ultimately only down about 800 personnel from the position 2 years ago.

Of course alongside these departures 500 local people are employed in a variety of roles on the base and whilst some will no doubt get jobs at Lakenheath many will be made redundant, and this is the biggest challenge we face. But it is also the biggest opportunity we face. At Forest Heath District Council since we won the last election in 2011 we’ve refocused the Council on economic growth and so, assuming we win the election in May we are well placed to lead taking advantage of this opportunity. RAF Mildenhall is a busy World class airport with great community facilities and industrial potential to attract high value jobs into a spacious industrial park.

We have already hit the ground running, Matthew Hancock MP has announced that he is to chair a Westminster working party looking at the future of RAF Mildenhall, RAF Molesworth, and RAF Alconbury. And alongside Cllr. James Waters the Leader of Forest Heath District Council we are already discussing the askes we want to make of Government, key amongst them and to the MOD in particular is clarity so we can use the next period to plan the strategy, not merely replacing those jobs lost but to bring far more in so that on the far side of this closure it is viewed as an economic success storey for West Suffolk. The work has begun to make sure as the USAF close down their last security post, new businesses are moving in generating those high value jobs.

No small task, but one,Conservatives from our MP to us Councillors are entirely focused on.

Hospital A&E Winter Pressures & Social Care

A&E sign imageYesterday saw the latest figures for A&E waiting times published and Addenbrookes Hospital at Cambridge, our local major trauma centre declared a ‘major incident’ which are early warning light systems that we have a problem, of course all businesses have peaks and troughs but these figures are particularly worrying is that it’s not a harsh winter rather mild actually and we are out of the ‘perfect storm’ period of closed GP Surgeries over the Christmas period. All of us must use the right services at the right time but interestingly records show that predominately those who present at A&E are right to do so, so what’s the problem? Essentially it is our ageing population, that long talked about issue is now starting to ‘bit’, with unplanned admissions of elderly people at the front end and bed blocking at the far end. With bed blocking perhaps being the first signs that the cuts in local government funding to provide social care and an increasing number of people needing services are making discharge of elderly patients ready to go home increasingly problematical. The figures bring into focus the need for the whole system to work better from GP services, to pharmacists, out of hour’s services, intermediate care beds (that’s what used to be called convalescence) to social care.

The debate rages about Health and Social Care which is the single biggest interface and spend area for Local Government (about 40% of most upper tier authorities budgets) and the NHS spends about £1 in every £6 of national total spend. As Portfolio Holder for Health and Social Care integration at the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board and LGA CWB Health and Wellbeing Board Ambassador for the East Midlands I firmly believe we have the structures in place to tackle an Ageing population but need Westminster’s continued backing for the Health and Wellbeing Boards to be the place this integration is championed by and driven forward from.

The danger is that as the issue starts to impact hospital’s ability to cope with admissions, Government looks towards the NHS to quick fix the problem and I tend to think reading between the various lines out there, not least Simon Steven’s, the new CE of the NHS, 5 year vision speech, the NHS is quietly lobbying to take control of social care.

This would have two fundamental impacts firstly the cost of social care would rise dramatically, as frankly however well the NHS does things it never does them cheaply. Local Government is the most cost effective part of government for a reason, firstly it’s local, and secondly, and far more importantly, Local Government is articulating a different approach to services built around community capacity and how communities and individuals develop care services in part for themselves. This cannot be done centrally or nor by organisations trying to begin to learn what this thing called ‘community’ and ‘capacity’ is all about. Much of Local Government has for some time been cutting costs and at the same time working differently with communities and developing services in communities and to dismiss it as not clinically valid (in the NHS sense of the word) and start again is a serious mistake. Local Government and the health services in their many forms, through the Health and Wellbeing Boards must be the start and finish point for Health and Social Care integration to solve these problems as our population ages.

1st Blog of the year

New Year 2015 formed from sparking digits over black backgroundIt always an interesting time of year, Christmas is over and New Year resolutions are already being broken. I start a fresh shiny new ‘Moleskin’ (old school) notebook, planning aspects of my business and public life after a somewhat tough last year, with Mum’s sad passing and a dad struggling to come to terms with his loss. In business it was a an equally strange year with a couple of projects not successful, counterbalanced with one very successful one, alongside new opportunities and clients presenting fresh challenges and hopefully income streams. In my Public life, last year was equally strange as I got purged from a cabinet role at the County Council, but in many ways as one door shuts another opens and I’ve be chuffed to have been offered of a number of different roles at my District Council and at the LGA which I am enjoying immensely. Of course the coming year will be dominated in the first half by the General and District elections.  Hopefully I can play my part in seeing Conservative MPs elected across East Anglian as a part of the regional team and more locally in making sure Conservatives stay in control of Forest Heath District Council by winning my seat again, there is nothing I enjoy quite so much as helping my home community flourish and be a better place to live, it is an honour and a privilege to have this role and I hope the good people of Lakenheath will continue to let me represent them. An exciting year ahead and over the next few blogs I hope to share some of my thoughts on what I think are the really big issues we have to face over the course of the next parliamentary and council period.

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