An inconvenient track record!

u-turn symbolIt’s often said in politics you set your stall out, be positive and don’t go negative. Conservative controlled Forest Heath District Council has an outstanding track record and has delivered quality services, reorganizing its back office, halved its staff numbers and thus been able to deliver 5 years of 0% council tax increases. Our Local Conservative manifesto is full of good ideas for our community from our carefully worked out plan for a 4 year freeze of the Council tax, making it a record 9 year freeze alongside investment in our area such as a new public services hub in Mildenhall to include new state of the art sports facilities, so there is much to be positive about.

Recently there is a national story about did this politician or that politician rewrite their own wikipiedia entry, well they could do worse that read my wards local UKIP leaflet as a masterclass in editing your own track record, and sometimes you read things from the opposition that are just so ‘poor form’ that they need to be countered, so that residents can judge what is being said and promised.

The candidate in question is called Cowboy, no seriously, not getting myself into hot water, he is listed as on the notice of those standing, as ‘Cowboy’ which will appear as his first name on the ballot paper. He is a former Conservative whom we asked to leave the party after he refused to attend a selection interview for the previous district election, something all other candidates did including myself and indeed the Leader of the Council at the time. I know this because I was then the Vice President of the Conservative Association and on the agenda for his interview was to discuss his suitability as a candidate given his inability to work with his fellow Conservative Councillors and to seek his undertaking that we would not be printing his own election material, stop making promises he could not deliver and had not been discussed with the rest of the group and that he would take an active part in the group discussions on its manifesto, all things that had been a problem with him before. So at the last District election he stood as an Independent, just beat my running mate and thus became my fellow ward Councillor and now he apparently is a candidate for UKIP, hey anything for a vote!

Over the past 4 years on the District Council I have heard him speak twice at full council, once to vote against the creation of the shared services agreement that has saved millions of pounds in the running costs of the council, the only Councillor who did so, even Labour and the Liberal saw the sense of what was being proposed.

The second was when he banged his Stetson down on the table in front of him and stormed out when the Council unanimously, apart from him, voted in favour of providing something called the ‘People’s Project’ in our village with assistance. He had earlier handed round a hand written note and plan, not tabled a motion having gone through the due process so Councillors could have time to considered the matter before the meeting, no just 5 minutes before the meeting, in which he wanted his fellow Councillors to reject the request for assistance and to support him to knock down the building the People’s Project team was proposing to try to buy (to extend facilities at the Lakenheath Village Hall) and to turn it into a car park. To date the People’s Project has purchased the building and are busy fund-raising to renovate it.

In the past 4 years he has sat on the planning committee as ward member, apart from that role I have not seen him propose one single policy idea to the council, beyond the for-mentioned note. He has never attended any of the Audit Committee meetings I am Chairman of, I have never heard him ask a single question in any meeting other than a planning meeting. In the 3 or so years the Council has had a cabinet, I have never seen him attend a single cabinet meeting, I attend most. Seems to me, if you are going to ask people to elect you to represent them then surely you have to occasionally turn up and actually take part in council business.

But what is even more bizarre with his leaflet is that of course he did once have a more substantial role on the Council, but seems to have omitted this from his leaflet.

Once he was the Chairman of the Local Plan Working Group. Maybe the omission is because on that committee he approved the housing numbers for Lakenheath that were adopted as a part of the Local Development Plan Core Strategy document, at one meeting he said and it was witnessed, that if Newmarket could not take the 1,200 hundred new homes that at the time were being proposed for a particular location, then Lakenheath could.

Now you might say so what, but you see the UKIP Leaflet talks about his opposition to the housing numbers being considered in the village!

But it gets worse!

The leaflet also says the Parish Council is ‘frequently ignored’ by the District Council when it comes to planning matters, yet 3 years ago the Parish Council which Cowboy chairs wanted to know how they could have more control over where the housing numbers for the village should go and over the type of infrastructure that would come as a result. FHDC Senior Planning Officers attended the Parish Council and a presentation was given, explaining that in the planning system if the Parish Council produced what is called a Neighbourhood Plan document in a particular way they could do precisely that, now these things are expensive because of the process that has to be gone through, about £25,000 but grants may be forthcoming to help (the council had over £150,000 in its reserves at the time). Some of the members on the council wanted to commission a plan but the idea was rejected by Cowboy’s controlling group. As the planning applications have flowed in, the Parish Council have felt fustrated they don’t have more say and again his group have voted through, getting a Barristers opinion on what they can do. To date according to the records of the Parish they have spend over £10,000 and rising on that opinion. Whilst I am not party to the advice received, I suspect it will be telling them that they should have got themselves one of those Neighbourhood Plans!

You could not make this stuff up! So the local ward UKIP leaflet claims to be against the housing numbers yet one of their candidate was front and centre in agreeing the housing numbers. Their leaflet says the Parish Council is being ignored and it should control where and what is built and infrastructure provided, yet their candidates was front and centre in rejecting the mechanism to do precisely that.

But hey anything for a vote!

A track record counts

The Conservative Candidate team with 4 zero balloons to represent 4 more year of 0% Council Tax rises

The Conservative Candidate team with 4 zero balloons to represent 4 more year of 0% Council Tax rises

So the election campaign is in full swing, other meetings now cancelled and we are all on the campaign trail. Of course I go out canvassing when I can both in my own patch and across the Eastern Region outside of elections but somehow it’s different when election time comes round. If you’re not a councillor, activist or politician its hard to explain what I am talking about but there is a strange moment when you move from being a Councillor to a candidate, that moment when the campaign, the next leaflet, the returns to the office become the reason you get up in the morning probably having had dreamt about it in your sleep, it sort of takes your thoughts processes over.

Last week the Conservative group of Candidates launched our Manifesto, months in the making from workshop sessions, to group meetings, to checking out with officers that it is all financially sound and deliverable.

Over the past 4 years we have reorganised FHDC, created a truly joint officer team with St. Edmundsbury Borough Council, halved the number of staff and saved millions in the back office costs which, whilst absorbing the Government grant reductions, we have improved services and frozen the District Council element of the Council tax for 5 years, alongside the Conservative controlled County Council who have done the same.

In our Manifesto we have promised to delivery 0% council tax over the next 4 year terms for the whole of the term which will make 9 years without a rise, thus protecting your hard earned money, and at the same time continued to delivery quality services to our residents.

So along with a strong Conservative national message of securing the future and finishing the job of getting this country’s finances on a sound footing after the debacle of the last Labour Government, the message is simple – Vote Conservative, nationally and locally.

A busy time

Launching our Lakenheath Ward Campaign 2015 the Zero balloon stands for 0% Council Tax rises!

Louise Marston and me launching our Lakenheath Ward Campaign 2015 – the balloon represents 0% Council Tax rises!

Well last week was a busy one to say the least. A week ago today I was delighted to be elected the Conservative Group Leader on Suffolk County Council, and thus Leader of the Council elect,  ahead of it’s AGM on the 21st May. In my brief thank you to the Conservative group after my election, I thanked Mark Bee for his work over the past 4 years as Leader and whilst clearly we did not see eye to eye on some issues, he worked hard on a number of key policies not least the Broadband roll-out and he can look back at his time leading the way and driving this 4th utility forward with great pride.

I ended by saying we now need to get back to the issue at hand, campaigning in our District and Borough elections and supporting our MPs in their campaigns for re-election. On Wednesday night we had the final Candidates team meeting for Forest Heath District Council and ran through the next few weeks on the door steps discussing our outstanding track record of shared services, staff reduction, quality services delivery and yet 5 years of no District Council Tax rises, helping Forest Heath’s resident in the best way possible, by protecting their hard earned money.

So my time for the next few weeks, will be split between working in my business, canvassing and delivering in the General and Local Elections and taking a little time to sit down individually with my fellow Conservative Councillors on Suffolk County Council to discuss in more depth, the themes that emerged during the short leadership contest and how we as a group move forward. Group internal relations is hardly the stuff that has residents ‘on the edge of their seats’, as rightly its policies and what we are going to do that matters, but they are important. Last Tuesday I said we were each elected in our Division to come together in a Conservative group and run the County Council, and as a group we are at our strongest together. Alongside talking and listening to the people of Suffolk, it is as a group we’ll create Conservative policies that protect services here in Suffolk that people value.  I am Suffolk born and breed and there is a certain way we do things here in Suffolk and it’s important that as a Council we are in step with that. We’ll make the savings we are required to make by central government, as we have done to date. We’ll plan carefully and discuss openly, we’ll value what we do well, but not be afraid to do things differently with our partners and communities to protect services, residents need to support their lives.

The next few weeks are going to be really interesting for all of us, locally for me as I campaign to win my District ward and help others win theirs, alongside those discussions within the Conservative group on Suffolk County Council, ahead of the council’s AGM. But more importantly the country decides in the General Election, yesterday Labour launched their manifesto and you could see the danger signs of another Labour Government, this time propped up by the SNP. Today the Conservatives launch our manifesto and the difference will be stark, a real plan to continue to get us out of the mess the last Labour Government that Ed Miliband and the Ed Balls were a key part of, left this country in, or a return to the chaotic and damaging thinking of Labour.

Experience

magnifying-glassOver the past few months I have been honoured to be a part of the LGA Peer Challenge programme for Councils, I’ve completed 4 Peer Challenges which usually last for a week at a time, enough time to get under the skin of how something works. In the first one the team I was a part of looked at the very serious business of Adult Safeguarding and what arrangements are in place to first detect abuse and then stop it. Next I was asked to be a part of a team that looked at a recently formed people’s directorate where the two biggest departments Children and Adults were merged and how that was working, then I helped look at a Health and Board and how that was bringing Health and Social care together serving a large rural population and last month I was part of a team that looked at the restructuring of a Council and the creation of a commissioning function and its effectiveness in shaping services.

During the weeks you meet people who use services, providers from voluntary organisations and commercial companies, officers and Councillors, you read and work through literally thousands of pages of vast bundles of strategy papers and spend time feeding back your impressions and findings. And I’ve learnt two things, firstly every council is the same and every council is remarkable different, by that I mean, most councils delivery the save basic services but because they are local, because they reflect the values and traditions of an area they are all different and that is a powerful thing. But for me the most powerful thing I’ve learnt is all the while you reflect back, thinking about how does that work for people in my home village of Lakenheath, across the villages of Row Heath, for Suffolk’s voluntary organisations and providers, in Forest Heath District Council and across Suffolk County Council.

Currently my colleagues and I are discussing who amongst us should lead our group on the County Council. There are many qualities needed and for me experience is one of them, experience is more than a CV or a list of roles you’ve done, it’s the resource you draw on as you work with your community to balance the conflicting challenge of the things you would want to do, that every councillor across the political divide wants to do but with the limited funding at your disposal. It’s a resource that you draw on to unite your group and get out there talking with people about the challenges ahead, your experience of working with real people who rely on the services to help them live their lives and listen to everyone about what services they value and how ‘the council’ delivers those services, as you make the decisions that lay ahead, experience matters.

What’s a Health and Wellbeing Board?

Last Wednesday I attended the first Local Government Association Health and Well Being Chairs Summit entitled ‘A vision for the future of HWBs’

On the first plenary session was Rob Webster – Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, Dr. Sam Bennett from the TLAP Board which I also sit on alongside Dr. Howard Stote Chairman of Bixley CC. Steve Kell – Co-Chair NHS Clinical Commissioners and Jim Mackey – Chief Executive Northumbria Healthcare NHS, and was expertly chaired by David Brindle from the Guardian. As they presented and the questions and answer session progressed I reflected on the journey from first discussion of how we work better together to delivery a system of Adult Social Care and Health together that will address the issues of our ageing population and how all the main political parties are reasonable together in how they want this progress to continue.

After lunch Phil Swann from Shared Intelligence presented their latest of their research pieces entitled Stick with it – research on HWBs and initial thinking on the future vision. A sort of ‘health check’ as to how the various boards are getting along, what is working well and what needs to be enabled to help the worse performing match the best. It was also a chance to catch up with Cllr. Sue Whooley the Chairman of the East Midland HWBs network for which I an currently the LGA link person.
A number of points came out from this not least the key things all boards should be working on in the next few months as they try to progress.

Finally the closing Key note was Glenn Mason – Director of People, Communities and Local Government, Department of Health (DoH) who spoke about his impressions so far and of a LGA Peer Review he took part in,. I sit with Glenn on the TLAP Baord and his view is important as DoH are really important in the steer they give the NHS to engage and really work to co-produce solutions that work across the country, but not top down but bottom up.

And what I mean by this is what’s it like to need social care in my village of Lakenheath, how do you get to the Doctors, who takes you if they refer you to the West Suffolk Hospital for treatment and how is that treatment is facilitated by Suffolk’s Health and Care services, who arranges your carers and liaison’s with your family and who makes sure just as soon as you are fit for discharge from hospital that your return home is well supported.

Bottom up not top down, with each Health and Wellbeing Board championing and designing our health and social care.

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