Suffolk – A14 Growth Gateway

Recently I was at a business lunch, and a couple of business people I know asked whatever became of my Suffolk A14 Growth Strategy I launched just before I was dumped as Leader of Suffolk County Council, their words, not mine!  It was something recently I blogged about in April and was launching at the various events around Suffolk before I stopped being Leader.

As I said at the time as Leader and Cabinet member for Economic Development part of the role is to think about how you might take Suffolk forward.  So, I came up with this strategy, built in part of some of the spatial work the County, District and Borough Councils developed, during and post the Devolution debates.  And in part the New Anglia LEP Economic Strategy work called ‘The East’ on who’s Board I sat at the time.  All which steps to a wider Economic growth strategy.  Once presented to councillors, I started a series of engagement events with the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce.  We started this off with the first of a series of dinners and exporting speaking events, all designed to start a debate and lead up to a Conference on Monday 25th June in Ipswich to launch the strategy ahead of a focused year ‘s work to put some flesh on the bones.  The idea was that the conference would be an annual event and we would seek to measure the progress of the strategy with the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce on a quarterly basis to make sure that we remained focused on its outcomes.

In essence, the idea was/is to help Suffolk Companies have space to grow and support to export.  Then longer term to encourage businesses from across Britain to relocate to Suffolk because of fast-tracked business parks along the A14 and easy access to the Port of Felixstowe to exported across the world.  But with a focus on exporting into China through Hong Kong.  A short paragraph to sum up a focus and determination to provide the sort of high-quality jobs we want to see in Suffolk in manufacturing and to help this country export.

One of the things I did produce was a PowerPoint presentation that I used to explain my thinking which seemed to have unanimous support from my colleagues and those business people I shared it with.  But it appears the strategy’s been dropped?  Or will it reappear as someone else’s grand vision at some future point will be interesting to see!

So here is that presentation I wrote:

Lakenheath Fete

On Saturday, Lakenheath held its annual village Fete, pulled together by the hard work of the Lakenheath Playing Fields Association. Lots of the clubs based in the village organised stalls and were raising funds for their groups.  It’s a great event, where residents either volunteer on the stalls or come along for a fun few hours.  It’s also a chance to catch up with old friends and see just what is going on in the village.  There is lots written, and I do mean lots about community cohesion and resilience, how we connect older people and facilitate activities in communities to deal with social isolation and loneliness.  Some of it is somewhat theoretical but here on Saturday in Lakenheath; you could see what we need in all communities, real people connecting, enjoying activities and take part.

Way back in 2011, I started the Suffolk programme called ‘Supporting Lives, Connecting Communities’ if you want to be technical, it was and is about asset-based social prescribing rather than the more traditional needs-based analysis approach.  In practice, it came about because of a lecture I attended and a hunch that Suffolk Council did not know the full extent of what social support and activities existed in a place beyond the social services, provided that person met the council’s needs criteria. Today it’s embedded into the working practices, but at the time it was a revelation. We hired a hall in Felixstowe and put up posters around the town inviting community and charity groups to come along and meet the council.  At the first event, we found 138 groups we did not know.  And by directing people to such groups across Suffolk, we have these past eight years saved millions and millions of pounds in social care costs as people find support and activities that deflect them for high-cost services which frankly are not as good for their health and well-being either!

So, for all the local government and central Government debate, let’s have more flowers clubs, more lunch clubs and more ‘Men’s Shed’ projects like Lakenheath’s great E.P.I.C. Dads support group.  And let’s encourage our businesses large and small, like Lakenheath’s Little India restaurant, to be a part of our communities and support residents.

For more details on E.P.I.C. Dads please email:

For my part I am working to get a Men’s breakfast club going in Lakenheath, a simple event where men can come along and have a fry up together on a Saturday morning once a month and perhaps one of those coming along can give a five mins talk about a subject dear to their heart.  Watch this space.

Health and Social Care Green Paper

Over the past couple of weeks in anticipation of the much-delayed Health and Social Care Green Paper from Government, the Local Government Association and the County Council Network have published papers setting out the sectors aspirations and make many practical, sensible suggestions as the government considered the final version of the Health and Social Care Green Paper.  Mind you I would say that as up until recently I was the CCN Spokesperson for Health and Social Care and much of what is in the document is that which the team and I worked on during the past year with County Councils across the country, so it is quite dear to my heart.

In the CCN and the subsequent LGA paper, both make the point about an ageing population, and how their healthcare needs not only are best-served in the communities where they live, in doing so you can lower the cost to the system.  Many more services both Health and Social Care should be designed and commissioned in communities.  This hyper-local solutions will deliver three things, a Healthcare service better suited to the actual needs of our populations where there will be an exponential increase in low-level medical care for an increasingly older cohort of people who don’t need to go to A&E but do need help managing their conditions and possibly some social support as well.

Tony Travers, one of this country’s’ leading economists, recently said that based on current trajectory the NHS was on course to consume all of the governments non-statutory spending.  The NHS on its current model for funding is unstainable.  And so future changes must reflect that inescapable fact not pander to the vested interests, the compelling vested interests, the currently dominant vested interest groups?

If you’re interested in Local Government they are both to be commended as essential local government reading, here are a few links.

From the CCN:

and the hashtag: #socialcare

And from the LGA comes a dedicated web site:

And the hashtag #FutureofASC

So both are well worth a read and in respect of the LGA website you can also submit your comments.

Next month I re-join the LGA Community Wellbeing Board, and it will be interesting to see the responses, which of course will be high on the Agenda of the Board for the coming year.

Money is not everything but it does help

Its been a fascinating couple of weeks with significant papers published on Health and Social Care from both the County Council Network and the Local Government Association.

Those of you who are kind enough to read my blog know that beyond anything else in Local Government this is the area I am interested in, not only because its a subject dear to my political heart but because in addition to Children’s services, this is mission critical stuff for councils and communities.

But this particular blog is about something else that is starting to happen, so I will return to the published papers in a future blog. There is a slow rumbling; some might say mumbling, of Councils who are beginning/willing to voice concerns as to the suitability of their councils.  Councils are starting to run out of money and are beginning to say so.

In the past few days, East Sussex a well run Council with an outstanding Leader of many years experience in Louise Goldsmith and a well-respected CE in Becky Shaw publishes a paper about the future of service delivery.  This comes on the back of a problematic Council meeting in Northamptonshire where the public voiced their anger at the council for the announcements of just what their financial failure means regarding services. In both cases a discussion about the delivery of statutory services only. Northampton immediately, East Sussex in the slightly longer terms as their cash reserves diminish.  So whether its a council that had failed to step up to the challenges these past few years or a council that has and is now thinking about the future, that future is bleak.

Before I go any further let’s be clear what we mean when we use the term ‘Statutory minimum’. As a former County Council Leader, I spend many an hour debating what those words mean, and it means a level of children’s protection services which are not good enough and only those Adults with the most desperate needs will receive any help. The result of which place children at risk and those with Learning and Physical disabilities not receiving the support they need to live meaningful lives. For the vast majority of older people who through no fault of their own become frail or have Dementia and who lack the means to provide for themselves will not get support to do the things, we take for granted. Such as getting out of bed, washing and preparing meals or have dementia, demine these services to those who can’t afford to pay for themselves, and you are condemning them to horrible old age.

The state of the roads and how often our bins get emptied, exercises us all, as these are the universal services we all use. But the vast majority of Council spending and activity is not in those areas but the provision of Social Services and care, whether they be Children or Adults. Unitary, Upper or District and Borough Council levels do not matter – the vast majority of staff and activity goes into Children and Adults Social Services. Councils or Councillors who do neither will tell you that their services are as vital such as Planning and Environment but seriously they are not, they matter and we value them, but they pale into insignificance compared with protecting children and helping vulnerable adults.

Of course, some Councils could be better run, of course, there is always room for improvement and efficiencies but for the vast majority of councils its starting to be about money. The real terms cuts in Local Government grant that has been the hallmark of Central Government funding since 2010. Now you can argue the merits or otherwise of this Governments’ fiscal policy, I happen to think it has been right to address the national overspend. But it would be wrong to say there have not been cuts and to recognise that these need to be discussed now if we are to avoid more Northamptonshire like failures.

Children’s services are interesting in that when it goes wrong whether that is a poor OFSTED report for Children Services or the worse case of abuse and neglect. System failure is just not tolerated, but let’s be realistic Children Services standards are linked to the funding. Where social workers are operating in a stretch system its struggles, put enough money in service, even taking into account recruitment issues, the caseload drops, line management support is as it should be, so that frontline social workers have a team to share their thinking with and the quality of the service goes up. Adequately financed, well resources with capacity results in good services, dah!

Adult Social Care is more confused as only some of us will need it, the debate rages about property wealth and who should support people in their older age. I shall blog about the two papers recently published but let us not lose sight of the fundamental issue Local Government currently faces, and that is funding, as I say money is not everything, but it does help.

Monthly Newsletter

As a Councillor its important to be available to residents and that’s why I am active on Social Media.  Nowadays this method of contact is running ‘neck and neck’ with emails as how people ask questions and seek help with issues in their lives, but I suspect it won’t be long before most questions comes via social media.

It’s also important to keep people informed as to what is happening with the councils, the thinking behind decisions, how ever bizarre they at first look! maybe details about services available in a community and frankly the occasional myth busting – but hey lets face it, communications is a two way thing.

So one of the ways I do this is issue a monthly email newsletter, this has two versions, one goes to to my Division’s Parish Council clerks for them to forward onto their Councillors, and the other is a newsletter to a growing band of people who have kindly asked me to include them on my email distribution list.

So here is the link to August’s:

If you would like to receive it please just email me and I’ll add you to the merry band!

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