Member Peer work in Kensington and Chelsea


With Council Leader Cllr. Elizabeth Campbell

In the past month, I have had the privilege to be a part of the small team delivering member induction training in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for their new and existing Councillors.  One of the roles I do enjoy as an LGA Peer is helping new councillors understand the pressures on them.  I did a series of these last year for Oxford County Council, and it’s interesting to discuss the complex role, its challenges and new ideas and how they impact such as Social Media.

Of course, there is nowhere in the country where councillors come under as close scrutiny after the tragedy of Grenfell Tower disaster which claimed the lives of so many men, women and children, as those recently elected in the Royal Brough of Kensington and Chelsea.  The recently opened Public enquiry will point to the technical and system mistakes that tragically culminated in the fire and we as a country must learn so it never happens again. But for Councillors in their Royal Borough, they have to lead their community forward from this disaster and rebuild residents trust in Local Government.  Not an easy task but one they are certainly and sensitively keen to do.

For my part, I was there alongside Cllr. Jack Hopkins the Deputy Leader Lambeth Council and Graham Elder of Elder Learning Consultants who are highly experienced training provider to Local Government, amongst others.

During my visits, it has been a chance to catch up with Cllr. Elizabeth Campbell The thoughtful new council leader who is under the closest of examination as she leads her council through the process of rebuilding trust in their community.

During the sessions, we have met a great cross-section of experienced councillors and new ones such as Cllr. Marwan Elnaghi who along with his fellow wards Councillors represents Notting Dale ward where Grenfell Tower is located and is all about the needs of his community.  Collectively the Councillors on the council have a unique set of challenges ahead of them, and I hope our experiences and discussions can help them along this important path.

A decent home for all

Last Wednesday I attended the first ever County Council Network conference on Housing, sounds surprising doesn’t it that the County Councils have never held one before.  Your surprise level probably depends on your point of view, if you’re not a councillor then maybe a surprise.  But if you are it somewhat depends on what type of council you sit on, if you are in a two-tier area so a District or Borough Councillor, then you might think hey that’s a power grab.

But that, of course, is one of the problems in itself that the issues of housing delivery get distilled into such arguments as soon as Local Government discusses housing.  And its a ‘Red Herring’ of a case, in our country most people will agree with the title of this post that regardless of income and tenure everyone deserves to live in a decent home.  However few would ever accept the new housing proposed near them! So why is this? Some people will of course merely object, afterall they have their home.  But for most, it is the fear of what the new housing not the people who will live in them but the pressures it will place on the infrastructure and services they use in their day to day lives from Highways Junctions to Doctors Surgeries.  NIMBYism is more complicated than just houses in their backyard.

And of course, most of this perceived strain is not provided by the District and Boroughs most of that is about highways, public transport, school place planning and access to GPs and community services which are delivered by upper tier or Clinical Commissioning groups.  And resolved by Strategic plan rather than the specifics about which brownfield site or field they should be built.

Now, this starts to sound like a rag on District and Boroughs, but it’s not its a rag on the system which places vital aspects of community delivery into two different bodies. This demarcation of responsibilities can lead to utter chaos.  Such as the tale I once heard of a County council having to threaten legal action because a District council refused on one site, based on the developer’s viability argument, to seek contributions towards a new school provision as long as the developer delivered Affordable Housing in line with their Local Plan requirements.  And in our system, because the education contribution element is the remit of the County Council who do not have the powers to demand clauses in an S106 agreement, the District was able to contemplate such arrangement, well they did until the County Council’s pre-High Court action letter arrived.

Now there is a duty to co-operate, and sensible councils in two-tier areas are starting to think about the infrastructure delivery across all the partners including health, but each is a fix around for a broken system.

So right at the start of last Wednesday’s Conference, the chairman Cllr. Philip Atkins OBE, Leader of Staffordshire CC who is the CCN Spokesperson for Housing and Infrastructure, said the day ahead is not a conference to grab power it’s a conference to see how the duty to co-operate required by Government under the NPPF can work better and how together councils can increase housing growth in communities.

It also launched two exciting papers about the growing crisis in housing need and affordability and the role of County Councils in future housing delivery planning. If you are connected with the housebuilding industry both are well worth a real.

One of the presenters at the conference and contributors to the above was Kate Henderson who over the past few years has put the TCPA onto the map in the debate on housing.  The following day she was announced as the new CE of the National Housebuilders Federation, an excellent appointment and hopefully, she can use her new role to advance the debate so this county start to deliver the 300,000 homes MHCLG have stated we need.

Only Saturday Sir Oliver Letwin waded into this debate with his article in the Telegraph, rightly talking about the spirit we need to meet the challenge the Government has set of 300,000 homes per year in a system that delivers little more than half that.

Of course in reading this, some will sense that if one council had the responsibility in an area for all the community and planning functions, it would work better but of course, some areas do.  In the recent Respublica report for the CCN they comment on housing start delivery, so whether you think the system of Local Government needs urgent reform or we need to find ways to deliver more housing with the system we have got. But there is a role in the delivery rather than the planning process alone, for Local Government and I shall blog another time about Local Government housing companies.

Gloucestershire County Council LGA Corporate Peer Challenge

Last week I was part of a team from the LGA who undertook what’s called a Corporate Peer Challenge at Gloucestershire County Council. This is effectively sector lead improvement whereby a cohort of senior officers and experiences councillors spend a few days reading and researching a Council and its strategy.  Then four days on-site meeting, interviewing councillors and officers both of the county council and their partner organisations and team discussions on our findings and what they meant to the overall picture we were forming.

The work culminates in a presentation to a hundred or so of those we met during the visit and a final report in a couple of weeks’ time.

I enjoyed being a part of a great team:

Lead Peer: John Henderson – Chief Executive – Staffordshire County Council

Member Peer: Bryony Rudkin – Deputy Leader – Ipswich Borough Council

Member Peer: Colin Ross – Group Leader – Sheffield City Council

Senior Officer Peer: Rachel Crossley – Chief of Staff – Surrey County Council

Senior Officer Peer: Lee Harris – Executive Director Economy, Infrastructure and Environment – West Sussex County Council

Senior Officer Peer: Andrew Lewis – Managing Director – Tees Valley Combined Authority

Shadow Peer: Zara Ahmed – PMO Lead Security and Safety Programmes – Ministry of Justice

LGA peer challenge manager: Paul Clarke – Local Government Association

It caused some amusement back in Suffolk, that Bryony and I were on the same Peer team, as like myself she is a former Leader of Suffolk County Council, and over the years we had argued across the chamber floor on many occasions.  However, like me Bryony shares a passion for Local Government and helping residents and ultimately that’s what the Peer programme is all about, helping each other across the country be as good as we can be by sharing our experiences.

We were received and helped in our task by a great team at Gloucestershire CC from its Leader Mark Hawthorn and CE Peter Bungard through Councillors from across Party and officers all of whom were open and honest about the Council’s strengths and weaknesses.  And there were a lot more strengths than weaknesses.

For my part, through what little influence I have had, it’s always been about making sure your organisation is fit for purpose to protecting the most vulnerable in our society and making sure that economically whatever organisation you represent your community on, is sustainable.  There is little point helping people today if you are going to fail to balance your books and then have to withdraw services in the future.  A council must be sustainable, and in Gloucestershire across their entire system, we met people focused on precisely that.

So I hope our work in Gloucestershire helps them on this journey.

Suffolk Day 2018

Suffolk Day

Today is Suffolk Day 2018, a great concept thought up by Mark Murphy of BBC Radio Suffolk last year and this years is bigger.  We launched it together on his show in early January as a way for us all, who live and work in our great county to take a moment to enjoy and remember how lucky we are to live in this part of the country.

Looking forward to hearing the Bells of St. Mary the Virgin Church ring out in Lakenheath and then on the Rural Coffee Caravan event at Stansfield Village Hall at 11 am.

If you have never heard of the Rural Coffee Caravan its a great little charity that goes around Suffolk set up on villages greens and people come along and chat and get information about things in their community that they can enjoy and can offer support, you don’t get more Suffolk than that.

Can’t wait to see the first of the new signs I designed with Suffolk County Council Highways team for the entry points to our great county being unveiled – a fitting set of new signs for our great county.

There’s so much to do across Suffolk today and everyday, we are so lucky to live here in Suffolk.

Have a wonderful Suffolk Day 2018.

Adult social care – a national or local Service

Just before I stepped down as Health and Social Care Spokesperson for the County Council Network I wrote the following for the Local Government Association which forms part of a think piece series ‘Towards a sustainable adult social care and support system’

Adult social care has and continues to face significant challenges as a result of the current financial context, rising demand and evolving public expectations.

However, despite this, the notion of a national adult social care service is one that makes me break out in a cold sweat. I’ve read and heard from some people out there that adult social care is in the too difficult box for local government, with the easy option being that it be delivered on a similar size and scale to the NHS.

I would vehemently oppose such a notion. Local authority councillors and staff have worked hard to protect adult social care in the face of austerity and the significant reduction in public sector expenditure. For example, adult social care expenditure in counties accounted for 45 per cent of all service expenditure in 2017/18, excluding education, increasing from 42 per cent in 2015/16. Despite this, service user satisfaction levels remain high with social care in general, with 64.7 per cent being either extremely or very satisfied with the care and support services they received.

There is also an inherent risk in removing social care from local authorities that are legally bound to deliver a balanced budget year on year. Counties, and upper-tier authorities alike, have not shied away from making the difficult decisions required and re-routing money from the likes of transport, central services, and culture towards protecting these life-critical, people-focused, services. We have proven our ability to be prudent in a period of unpreceded financial cuts, often delivering more with less money. Following a similar model to the NHS, which continues to report regular and significant deficits on an annual basis, would most likely place additional and significant strain on the public purse.

As a councillor, I pride myself on the fact that I am democratically elected and the decisions that are made by me and my colleagues are accountable to the public we serve. I would be concerned for the future of democratic accountability if social care were to be delivered on a national basis, which would likely see it become subject to a similar democratic deficit as the NHS, something which was previously recognised by the Coalition Government through the creation of Health and Wellbeing Boards.

The Care Act made the promotion of individual wellbeing the organising principle of adult social care. Therefore, it would seem inconceivable to remove social care from local decision making on services that directly impact upon the health and wellbeing of every individual, such as public health, transport, education, plus housing and leisure in unitary areas.

What also seems clear to me is that a national adult social care service is incompatible with the ongoing impetus at both a national and local level to deliver care and support closer to communities and where possible away from acute settings.

For example, local knowledge will be essential to the Secretary of State for Health’s vision for reform that includes whole-person integrated care.

The personalisation agenda, including personal budgets and joint health and care plans, is built upon providing individuals with greater choice and control over the services and support that they can access locally. A ‘strength based’ or ‘asset based’ approach are used interchangeably. However, regardless of the label, a local social care service is ideally placed to work with adults, individuals, families and communities to deliver this agenda.

If we are to reduce the pressure on the hospital front and back doors a local approach is also essential. Ensuring that people are well informed of the best place to go to address their health and social care issues helps prevent attendances at A&E. The focus must be on maximising people’s independence, examining what outcomes a person wants to achieve and what is available locally to help them achieve that. Collaboration and coproduction with social workers who know the local area are at the heart of this approach.

This must be underpinned by the work of local authorities, councillors, community leaders and others to help build community resilience and capacity to support the most vulnerable in times of need. A prime example is the recent cold weather, which saw local people and groups supporting their communities by ensuring that vulnerable people could access medical appointments and also basic provisions.

It must also not be forgotten that care markets are unique, with differing needs and complexities existing not only in all four corners of England, but also within regions and local authority boundaries. A significant proportion of residential, nursing and domiciliary care is provided by small and independent providers. Would a national care service be able to interact with the swathe of providers that are either very local or regionally based? Or would they be able to respond at the pace that local authorities do if/when a provider falls into financial difficulty?

Many of the issues outlined above are recognisable across the country, but local solutions that are flexible and utilise the unique strengths of each and every community are, in my opinion, the best way to improve outcomes for local people.

Cllr Colin Noble
Health and Social Care Spokesman, County Councils Network

Inaugural Chamberlain Lecture

On Monday evening I was invited to attend the inaugural Chamberlain Lecture hosted by BT at BT Tower in London. Sir Merrick Cockell, former Chairman of the LGA, opened the proceeding, introducing Lord Heseltine who spent the next hour weaving a fine speech about Chamberlain’s time in local Government, and as a Westminster politician with his own life story, his time influencing Local Government and snippets from his ‘No stone unturned’ paper.  Followed by a Q&A session chaired by Rt. Hon Stephen Dorrell.

He spoke of mayors and unitary authorities and his time as number 2 to Peter Walker the then Local Government Minister and the notion to reorganise Local Government broadly speak on County Boundaries in the 1970’s.  It never happened in England, but it did happen in Scotland where the Conservative government created county unitary councils, slightly ironic that since Scottish devolution the Scottish Parliament, with precious little to do, has taken stripped Scottish councils of the powers given to them by a Conservative government all those years ago, but I digress.

Fast forward to the Conservative Government of 2015, and Lord Heseltine found himself back in favour and following on from his paper ‘No stone unturned’ and with the support of the new Prime Minister, David Cameron and the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourn.  Lord Heseltine worked alongside SoS DCLG Greg Clarke MP to drive forward English Devolution.  I was leading Suffolk County Council at the time and remember well the meeting on 15th February 2016 we held in Cambridge where we discussed what was going to happen which proved to be very different to what actually happened.

2016_02_15 Devolution with Lord H & Greg Clarke

The picture above is from my archives, and I recall the blog I wrote on 16th February 2016 which you can find by scrolling down this page, how times flies!  Then, it was about Combined Authorities with a Mayor, and I think when I look at those created they are far too complicated.  Nowadays perhaps the debate is more centred on unitary councils forming.  To my mind, this is sensible.

Let’s face it unitaries make sense; two-tier does not.  Lord Heseltine did reform Local Government in Scotland and putting aside the issues with the Scottish Parliament, can you imagine today saying to the large county based unitary authorities in Scotland we are now going to propose two-tier.  Where some duties are going to remain you, but others are going to smaller councils, and the public will have to figure out for themselves which is which, confusing or what!  Once a place goes unitary no one would ever suggest a return to two-tier, and I think that is an acid test.

What struck me as I listened to Lord Heseltine on Monday evening, sitting next to Martin Tett the Leader of Buckinghamshire who is currently trying to lead a unitary Buckinghamshire bid, that each new idea in Government is often not that new and each has a window of opportunity that comes along and goes almost as quickly.  Today the debate seems to be is centred on the creation of new unitary councils, so fundamentally possible reorganisation with little new money attached; and slowly we seem to be moving to a discussion, not on Majors or devolution but the size of unitary councils rather than the concept of unitary.

Of course, Lord Heseltine continues to propose that change comes with Mayors as influential leaders of place able to get things down, a system that seems a bit un-British as we instead like our discussions and complexity.  But we do have some Mayors, and it is interesting to watch as they seek to forge a way forward for themselves and their embryonic power base.  I think the jury is out on these at the moment and of course, each of them has a complex system of governance to work with, not to mention fellow politicians and councillors!

Conservative History and Philosophy Seminar

Last week I returned from holiday to attend the much talked about Conservative History and Philosophy Seminar, having kindly been invited along with about 50 or so other Conservatives to discuss the future of Conservative ideology.

The seminar was Chatham House rules so no reporting of what was said, but its theme is important for Conservatives.  So much so, that its speaker list reads like a who’s who of the party, with Brandon Lewis MP, Chairman of the Conservative Party opening the proceedings.  Over the next few hours, we heard from Dominic Johnson CBE Vice Chairman of the party and organiser of the event and from Professor Andrew Roberts, Jesse Norman MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Anne Jenkin, Baroness Jenkin of Kennington, Neil O’Brien OBE MP, amongst other great speakers.  In the last of the three sessions were heard about the future with speakers ranging from Dr. Eliza Filby and Dr. Anthony Ridge-Newman discussing how society, aspirations and social media are constantly changing.

If you take part in politics at any level, local or national one of the things that has seemed evident is the extent to which the left seeks the moral high ground, s if theirs is the only ‘moral’ way forward.  Well, it’s not, being a Conservatives should come with a conviction that it’s the right and moral way to organise society.  Let’s face it, time and time again socialism has proven to be a failure, it failed here with the last Labour government, and the one before that if like me you are old enough to remember 1979 and it continues to fail across the globe.

The Conservative Party has always been a reforming party, and this work is about making sure that beyond the day job, the party and its activists are thinking about how we reform our society.  How conservative values of hard work, individualism and making sure that success is rewarded not treated with suspicion as socialism would have you believe, has proven to be a success across the globe and with checks and balances is the best way to organise your economy and society.

Many people in the party look back to the Thatcher years with nostalgia.  But it was also a time when the Conservative Party has an ideological basis, as it turned the Hippies of the sixties into the Yuppies of the eighties, was it perfect, of course not, but it had a foundation, a conviction, an ideology.  Today the world is very different, and no one is suggesting a reinvention of Thatcherism. The millennial generation as not the same as when I entered adult life, but the future of the Conservative Party lies in its believes in itself, and its ideology as it shapes local and national policy.

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