Another step closer to Devolution in Norfolk and Suffolk

Norfolk & Suffolk Leaders in WhitehallToday the County Council Network gather in Guildford for our annual conference and no doubt there will be much debate on the latest Devolution meetings taking place with DCLG.  For Norfolk and Suffolk the week before last, a group of council leaders from across both counties, including myself took our case for devolution to Government.  This was our opportunity to pitch our ambitious proposals for Suffolk and Norfolk to the Government team, led by Lord Heseltine, alongside senior civil servants from the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Over recent weeks and months, all sixteen councils across Norfolk and Suffolk have been working collaboratively to develop these exciting proposals, the main focus of which centre around ways in which we can boost investment in our infrastructure, productivity, housing, education and skills across our communities.

I want to see us continuing to build on both Norfolk and Suffolk’s already great economic strengths, growing our local economies and increasing skills levels, as well as increasing the number of well paid jobs.

The meeting was very productive and our ideas and suggestions were welcomed by Lord Heseltine, who took a keen interest in the proposals we presented.  We set out the areas over which our collective councils and LEP hope to take more control and I am confident that we demonstrated that the bid we are planning to submit will fully support the ambitions which Suffolk and Norfolk share to enable the future growth and delivery of effective and efficient public services for all our residents.

I am very proud that we are held in high regard for our strong track record in collaborative working.  It was certainly recognised that we have put in an incredible amount of effort and hard work already and I feel that this shows we are well placed to take things to the next level.

Of course, we still have a way to go and we have more work to do in refining our bid to align with Government’s asks.  But it still remains that the agreement of any deal we submit will need political and democratic sign-off by all of our 16 councils and the New Anglia LEP.

Britain’s Hidden Victims

2015_10_07 Speaking at Trading Standards Fringe at Conservative Party ConferenceIn many ways, the Conservative Party Conference seems a distant memory, but some aspects of it have given me much food for though. Whilst there, I was asked to speak at the Institute of Trading Standards plenary session on Britain’s Hidden Victims and have since been reflecting on how the national picture plays out here in Suffolk.  Sadly this relates to some of the most vulnerable in our communities.

Postal scams can be one of the most heart-breaking types of crime as they specifically target older and vulnerable residents.   People who respond to mail thinking they have been successful in prize draws, lotteries or other bogus competitions risk losing a significant amount of their life savings.  Sadly, we have discovered around 1,600 Suffolk residents are on a mailing list used by scammers. Officers have been contacting residents, offering support and guidance to help prevent them becoming victims.

I was horrified to learn that one such victim, recently widowed, had been paying £100 per month to scam mail companies from his personal benefit allowance. This meant he was unable to afford carer home visits, and some basic health care products necessary for a painful skin condition. Following a joint visit with officers from Adult and Community Services, the man was advised that he was the victim of a scam mail company. He immediately stopped the payments, meaning he could again pay for the care visits and products.

This type of work cannot be completed in isolation. Suffolk’s Trading Standards team have been engaging with colleagues in Health and Adult Community Care, as well as relatives of the victims to ensure that appropriate care and support is made available to them.

Suffolk Trading Standards recently hosted its first ‘Join the Fight’ Conference to raise awareness of the impact of scams; this was attended by over 100 people from 40 different partner organisations, exhibitors and speakers.  I am proud that our Join the Fight campaign really looks to try and arm Suffolk’s communities with information to help and support each other.

A month long ‘Scamnesty’ project launched in the summer with BBC Radio Suffolk; encouraged people to ‘post’ scam mail in bright yellow mail boxes placed in local libraries and CAB offices. This information was sent to the National Scams Team to help prioritise future work.

and a couple of weeks ago we held Suffolk’s latest Health and Wellbeing Conference and it was a great pleasure to speak there and once more highlight the dangers of scams and the impact they have on our most vulnerable residents.  It was another opportunity to really highlight how communities have a key role to play in supporting those most vulnerable, a point we shall go on making.

Ipswich Vision / MIPIM Conference

2015_10_21 BEn Gummer David Elsemere & Deborah Cadman on stand at MIPIMLast week Thursday was the Ipswich Vision Conference, where myself amongst others set out our aims, objectives and aspirations to really put Ipswich back on the map.

In readiness for the Conference, myself, Deborah Cadman SCC’s Chief Executive and colleagues from Ipswich Borough Council and the New Anglia LEP have all been attending the industry’s leading property show – MIPIM, at London’s Olympia. Ben Gummer MP popped in to offer his support along with other MPs who came along to see what the show was about.  As well as spending time on the Ipswich Vision stand, myself and colleagues have been talking with developers and businesses to highlight the value of not only Ipswich but, of course, the wider county of Suffolk.  These conversations have been around seeking investment in and around Ipswich, as well as really raising awareness of the huge opportunities for both housing and employment growth, particularly around the exciting waterfront area.

We really do have so much to shout about – from the benefits of working on our beautiful rural county, to our close proximity to London and the industry leading science parks at neighbouring Cambridge, the county town of Ipswich is facing a particularly stage in its regeneration.  Not to mention the fact that Suffolk’s ambitious superfast broadband programme is enabling the perfect economic conditions for prospective new businesses to compete and thrive in the global market.

Setting out the Ipswich Vision, our stand at the conference featured a rolling video showing an animated fly-round of the waterfront, plus a wider selection of shots of the county town.  An interactive screen allowed users to really focus in closely on individual sites and companies already in situ.

The stand was certainly very well attended and I think it fair to say that we have had an exciting response so far.

I am really very excited to see how this progresses with the launch of the conference last Thursday and it’s fantastic to see such close collaboration amongst our partners as we all come together to promote our great County Town.

Managing the risks of tomorrow – today

SuffolkFRSToday, I and my colleagues in Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet will be discussing proposals to launch a public consultation looking at future provision for Suffolk’s fire and rescue service.

Clearly this is an emotive issue and one which will require full and thorough discussion.  We have difficult decisions to make and we are committed to protecting vulnerable adults and children, so we have to look across all areas of the council in order to meet our budget gap.

Here in Suffolk, we are incredibly fortunate to have a highly skilled and forward thinking fire service; a great deal of protection and prevention work has already taken place over the last 10 years which has made great inroads in reducing demand for its 999 services.

In recent years SCC has done everything possible to protect our fire and rescue service against reductions in grant funding from central government.  I am proud that we have driven forward our programme of investment in fire stations, training facilities, fire appliances, firefighting clothing and equipment.  We are working collaboratively with Suffolk’s blue light emergency services, and plan to develop this further in the future.

The proposed consultation will seek views on a range of specific proposals for changing the way the fire and rescue service is set-up across the county. The changes have been proposed to meet the ongoing reductions in funding for the fire service, but also to reflect the more than 30 per cent reduction in 999 call demand over the last 10 years.

I accept that the proposals are challenging, but these have been shaped by feedback from a pre-consultation exercise which we carried out over the summer.  I am also confident that the proposals mean that we will continue to deliver an outstanding service for the people of Suffolk and I would like to encourage people to take part in this consultation.  It is vital that we hear from the people of Suffolk and that their input can shape how public services are delivered.

If Cabinet agrees to launch the consultation at tomorrow’s meeting, a 14 week consultation will then take place with the public, staff and interested parties.  This will start on Monday 16 November 2015 and conclude on Monday 22 February 2016

A unitary Ipswich is the wrong answer in an age of Devolution

Ipswich VisionAnother week and another step in the process of taking forward Suffolk’s case for Devolution.  But is a unitary Ipswich the right answer?

No, I do not believe that it is.  Of course, it is absolutely critical that Ipswich, Suffolk’s county town, is not left behind when we are looking at future development and investment.  This is precisely why Ipswich is very firmly included on the devolution bid currently being driven forward by Suffolk’s Public Sector Leaders.

Only through working collaboratively can we promote an exciting vision for Ipswich that will seek to include further investment and greater employment opportunities for the town.  Indeed we must build on the existing assets of the Waterfront area, the Innovation Centre at Adastral Park and, of course, Britain’s biggest container port at Felixstowe.

The Vision for Ipswich is extremely ambitious and impressive – our county town has so much going for it; good connectivity to the rest of the UK and its close proximity to London are just the tip of the iceberg. I firmly believe that for Ipswich to thrive and for Suffolk to stand the best possible chance of delivering devolution for our local communities, we must continue to work collaboratively with our partners across Suffolk and also with our colleagues in Norfolk.  This places us in a stronger position to present the best possible proposal to Government.  Together we bring a much more credible force to Government, with the collective geographic area and economic bedrock creating an entity on a par with the likes of city regions such as Liverpool and Sheffield.

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