A conversation about Local Government

In the past couple of days Suffolk County Council have announced that we have asked Respublica, a policy think tank, to come and have a look at Suffolk to consider the next opportunities for making savings in Suffolk’s Local Government administration costs and thus how we can find money in the system to be spent on Frontline services.

This is what I sent out to Councillors, to District and Borough Council Leaders and the Police and Crime Commissioner and across Business, Voluntary and Health Partners.

Given the national and local changes and discussions underway it is the right time to look at the current arrangements for public service delivery in Suffolk. We have asked Respublica to examine the merits of an individual County bid for a retained and reformed two-tier system and this builds on our work in Suffolk to date, as explained in the briefing attached to the e-mail. Whilst Respublica will be working closely with the County Council’s leadership, given the collaborative approach across Suffolk’s public sector, local stakeholders will also be able to provide them with additional information, views and insight to inform the outcome of the work. If you have any questions about the work at this stage, please do not hesitate to contact me.

And that went with the attached Briefing Note: Suffolk County Council work on public sector reform:

Through collaboration, integration and devolution, Suffolk County Council has worked closely with public sector partners to further Suffolk’s collective ambition for thriving economies and thriving communities and to secure the best possible outcomes for Suffolk. Following the withdrawal of the Norfolk/Suffolk devolution deal in 2016, the Suffolk System has continued to drive that ambition and secure sustainable public finances, demonstrated for example, through Suffolk’s recent success as a Business Rates Retention pilot for 2018-19. However, medium term financial plans are clear that the combination of continued budget pressure and demographic demands mean that fundamentally different forms of delivery will be needed across public services in the future.

Central Government has been ambivalent in working with local areas (demonstrated, for example, through the number of places with and without devolution agreements); however, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has recently made four significant “minded to” decisions to create super-Districts in Suffolk (East and West), unitary local authorities in Dorset (2 unitary authorities) and Buckinghamshire (1 countywide unitary authority). This may signal a renewed commitment to public service reform by Government and is significant and consistent with Suffolk’s ambition and direction of travel for better local outcomes through different means of delivery.

The County Council is keen to ensure that Suffolk is best placed to work with Government on creating more sustainable local public services and better local outcomes. To do that will need a clear and compelling case that demonstrates Suffolk’s ambition and credibility as a place that delivers.

To help build that case, the County Council will be working with the think-tank Respublica to examine the merits of an individual County bid for a retained and reformed two-tier system. Respublica will provide additional expertise, experience and objectivity and has established itself as a leader in the policy area of public service reform and devolution, through demonstrable change. Its work with Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) (Devo Max Devo Manc) was the catalyst for the Government’s devolution deals and creation of Mayoral Combined Authorities across England along with the transfer of millions of central funding and associated decision making to these new local strategic authorities.

Last summer it worked with the County Councils Network (CCN) on an approach that placed counties as the building blocks for transformative devolution and public sector reform (Devo 2.0 The Case for Counties: Why a new model for local government in the counties is needed). This means that Respublica has a unique insight on public sector reform and devolution. That is why the County Council has asked Respublica to examine the merits of Suffolk making a bid to Government for a reformed system of local government as a way to unlock more local control and better delivery for key functions such as economic growth, housing and care.

To do this, Respublica will analyse Suffolk’s existing plans (eg, the devolution deal, economic strategies, joint strategic needs assessment) and focus on: the link between good governance and productivity; coherence of administrative boundaries and functional relationships. It will consider how a system could give Suffolk greater scope for enhanced strategic decision making over economic development and public service reform. To deliver this, it will use models and thinking developed for its work with city-regions, counties and devolved areas across the UK. The detail of the work is yet to be scoped in detail and it is expected to conclude early Autumn. Whilst Respublica will be working closely with the County Council’s leadership, given the collaborative approach across Suffolk’s public sector, local stakeholders will also be able to provide them with additional information, views and insight to inform the outcome of the work.

This weeks EADT Column – a postcard from Manchester

Here is this week’s column:

Last week I attended the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester and as it got underway there were two news stories dominating the world headlines; the terrible mass murder shootings in Las Vegas and the ugly scenes of the referendum in northern Spain. As you made your way into the conference secure zone in Manchester surrounded by the army of heavily armed police with armoured personnel vehicles parked in the side streets, the helicopters overhead and police marksmen placed on tall buildings around the venue, it reminded me that the world and our country is a far less secure a place than any of us would want it to be. The pictures from Spain also underlines that democracy is something that we constantly have to reaffirm and whatever the rights and wrongs of the Catalonian referendum, scenes of masked police seizing ballot boxes and fighting in the streets with firemen reminds us that democracy is a precious thing and it’s important that we all take part peacefully and respectful of differing opinions.

Whilst on the TV we see the big set speeches from the conference floor it’s in the fringe meetings and roundtables that much of the new thinking on issues is debated.  For the Conservatives, there was much analysis of the General Election in June and its successes, for which there were many, to the loss of the majority. Equally there was of course much talk of the biggest issue this country faces, Brexit. The government must make the best of the negotiations and here in Suffolk we have significant businesses relying on us balancing access to the single market with free movement of people or rather the restrictions we seek to impose.  Many of the farmers, builders and care providers I speak to are extremely worried if it becomes harder for Europeans to come work and settle in the UK they will have a crisis of labour supply.

Beyond the election, beyond Brexit, there are more domestic issues the county faces that have to be addressed – everyone is weary of austerity yet we still have an economy where as a nation we are spending more than we are raising. The gap is narrowing but there is still a way to go. The debate may be about how quickly we get there but the debt mounts daily and we have not even started to think about paying that down.

Equally the country has to debate the issue of a socialist Britain as promoted by Labour or a modern entrepreneurial Britain where hard work and effort are properly rewarded but equally a modern Britain where everyone has a chance to get on in life and to live in a safe and fair society.

I think some of this comes as a bit of a shock to any of us old enough to remember Britain in the late 1970s, the winter of discontent, Dennis Healy’s humiliation as Chancellor relying on a loan from the IMF to keep the lights on and then the sweeping aside of the old Labour order as a new modern Britain emerged where success was celebrated not treated with suspicion. But then again at least two generations of readers and voters will not remember that, so the Conservative Party has to once again set out again why Modern Capitalism is the right way forward for our country.

But at the same time issues have to be addressed and solutions offered. One of these is housing and much of my time at the Party Conference was spent in meetings looking at this vexed issue.

Most agree that we need to build more council homes, more social housing, more affordable housing for younger people and more homes better suited for our ageing population but almost everyone seems to agree, just not here!

Of course, housing growth is the remit of the district and borough councils across Suffolk but together with the county council they and us are planning for the future, to make sure whatever your circumstances you have access to a decent home to live and raise your family.

Today we will debate and decide on the council’s position and views on the Local Plans of all the district and borough councils across Suffolk. Over the coming months district and borough councils, with the county council, will be looking at the infrastructure we must deliver to make sure as housing growth comes we invest in our roads, buses and rail services and such vital things as better access to local GP services.

We live in a great and beautiful county but it is only great and beautiful if everyone has a decent home, whatever your circumstances.


“Homes have to be built for people”


I have lived in the village of Lakenheath for most of my life and as I am now 52, no that can’t be right 2017 minus 1965 is…oh I am.  I have seen many of the fields I played in as a child built on, some by my family. I recall complaining bitterly when the company my father worked for brought a field where me and my friends used to play in and on the roof of the two barns on it. He said “homes have to be built for people”, if only we accepted this theory of life today, and “I told you to stop running along the roof of the barn one of you will get killed” so he brought the field and pulled down the barns – we did not speak for days!  Thinking about it, it was extremely dangerous as they were quite high.

Lots of new homes are proposed for our village over the next 10-year period and 250 to 300 of those will be given to Affordable Housing Providers who will rent them not sell them at below market rents to our young people and families not able to afford the rocketing cost of homes.  I have watched our village grow over 50 years but have despaired that in the past 18 years there has not be one major new estate built since an estate called Biscoe Way and hardly any socially rented homes built.  And in my time as a Councillor countless young people have complained to me they can’t afford to rent a home here and have moved away against their wishes or been forced to live at home with their parents for years after they want to leave home.  Shockingly the average age of the first-time buyer in this country and in my lifetime, has risen from 21 to 37.

Last week I had the chance to look at the Housing White Paper with the Prime Minster Theresa May and whilst a quick chat as she is an extremely busy person I thanked her for what she is doing and how her government is setting about tackling some of the biggest problems our country faces and one of those is housing.

There are those that simply don’t want new housing near them, they cite traffic congestion, they talk about the difficulty of getting a Doctor’s appointment and that housing changes a place.  All of these are important and we must work hard to address the infrastructure needs of our communities.  In my home village, I have secured the funding to build a much need second Primary school some £6M but we await the outcome of planning decisions to decide where it will be built.  We work hard to ensure development brings road improvement and engage with the NHS to improve primary care provision, that’s more Doctors to you and me.

The planning process is complex and the local Councils are blamed for its complexity yet it is laid down by government statue and it would be sheer folly for any Council not to follow it to the letter of the law, as they would lose Appeal after Appeal in the courts. It’s a long running process where numbers and allocation of numbers of homes is one part of the process that rarely, despite efforts by councils, engages many residents, but once the sites are proposed and applications start coming in people react.  The challenge for councils and Councillors is to listen to everyone from the vocal and angry about new homes being built in ‘their’ community to those residents struggling to afford a private rent or get on the property ladder or worse still have been made homeless for various reasons and are trying to get their lives back together in a bed sit accommodation. Across this country, here in Suffolk and in the communities I represent, far too many people are struggling to get a decent home and we have to address this.

This country has to build more homes, this county has to build more homes, this District has to build more homes, my Division has to built more homes and so does my home village of Lakenheath, it simply is not a solution to these serious problems to then say ‘ah yes but obviously not here’.  Do new homes bring challenges, of course they do, but what my dear old father said to me 45 years ago still rings true “homes have to be built for people.”

Please take my survey www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/RowHeath


The battle for Row Heath



Over the past 11 year years I have had the honour of representing my community on Suffolk County Council and as elections approach I start my campaign full of beans.  After 11 years on a council it might seem that you might have done everything but far from it, Local Government is changing and resident’s expectation of the services they want and need is also changing. On the one hand, there is considerable less money in Local Government that there used to be, in the past 7 years Suffolk County Council has saved over £200M yet delivers more services that ever before. We done this by being business like in our approach to the way the council runs.

People want faster better services such as road repairs and want to know that Children are protected, we have prioritised Children Services and protected the budgets with which hard working teams go about their business, and this is recognised by OFSTED who rate our Children services as good.  For older residents who can’t afford their own care, we make sure they are looked after with love and dignity, and quite right to, we do this by making sure we have a robust relationship with providers of services, holding them to account, ever mindful we are the holders of the public purse.

Locally, housing for our younger people so they can start to get on the housing ladder is vital, as is new schools and school places. As the housing arrives we want better facilities in our communities and we also want to know that if we reach a stage in life that we can’t use a car that our lovely rural villages do not become traps.  On all these fronts, I try to be a strong voice for Row Heath advocating locally, in Ipswich and nationally for our area. Today for instances I am in Cambridge meeting senior officials about the future of RAF Mildenhall a set of decisions that will affect the economic prospect of Row Heath for years to come.

We have a number of plans we will be putting forwards in our manifesto, all careful costed out.  Labour Finance Spokesperson on the county council Len Jacklyn is on record as saying ‘It is predicted that finances should improve over the next four years and spending now on statutory costs will begin to pay off in 2020’. A truly scary comment as they have been to all the same conferences I have been and at not one of them did it predicted that the finances will improve much.  Their Financially Dangerous Manifesto makes promises they could not hope or maybe even be allowed to fulfil or maybe Labour have some Corbinista moneytree nightmare where he takes power and removes the Council Tax cap and they can go back to the good of days of treating your hard-earned money as their personal piggy bank.  It’s well worth having a look at their bizarrely already published Manifesto it is truly Financially Dangerous.

So, what a contrast we have spent the past year working on our manifesto, carefully costing it every step of the way. And I can’t wait to get it launched and be out their explaining to residents how we are going to take Suffolk forward.

In the meantime, as I am out and about I am asking residents to fill in my survey or do it on line.  The one for my Division Row Heath is http://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RowHeath please do click through and take the survey, as I am very keen to hear your views.


End of Year 2016

2016 New YearSo, as 2016 draws to a close, it’s a bizzare year to sum up.

On the personal front, it’s been a terrible one as we lost Dad in far too sudden circumstances.  We all miss him a lot.  It a strange thing to say when you ‘painted’ as this old hard-nosed individual but it’s a moment in life when both your parents have gone, of course we all must go through it, but it still a sobering moment for each of us.  Over Christmas, Lisa and I visited an Aunt of hers who is learning to live with Dementia, a dear lady I have known for 19 years who is struggling and in contrast before we left we travelled further north to visit my Auntie who is older but as sharp as a pin and in top form!  Old age is a strange journey and there is no play-book but what I do know is that this country has to wake up to the needs of an ageing population or we will sleep walk into an unpleasant society where old age is not celebrated but seen as a burden.  There are many things on the horizon but how we change our health and social care system and start building homes that address the needs of older people is right up there.

The highlight of the year for me as a Councillor, was being introduced to Her Majesty the Queen at the Home of Horse-Racing Museum official opening.  As we awaited her arrival I chatted with David Burnip the former CE of FHDC and asked him if he remembered my stance on the Palace House purchase and rescue, by the council, all those years ago.  He did, I was against it!  And we reminisced about the then District Council Leader Geoffrey Jaggard and his vision.  The day was all about the Racing Community and how Newmarket can capitalise more on being the world headquarters of Racing but without the decision taken by these two chaps all those year ago to rescue a tumbled down spooky old house and semi delicate yard, none of it would have been possible.  If you ever find yourself in Newmarket do go along as it’s a world class museum and the way it helps you understand of the science of Horse-racing is impressive. Not to mention the heritage and art which is just stunning.

On the national and international political front, it’s been a staggering year where the rule book has been ripped up.  You can see that Brexit is going to be the most complex, time consuming thing for our Government to get right and make sure our economy does not suffer more that it has too.  I suspect the history books will have a somewhat mixed view on David Cameron’s time as Prime Minister but I briefly met him at Felixstowe Docks 100 days from the Referendum and he spoke with passion and conviction that strangely was not the hallmark of the remain campaign which seemed to me to fail to make the points about access to the single market being vital to our economy and that the vast majority of those working in Britain from Europe where either here ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’ style contributing to our industry or here raising their families and paying their taxes, i.e. contributing not taking British jobs.  The government and our new Prime Minister must find a way to get the best possible exit we can and that won’t be easy.

Internationally we will shortly watch the inauguration of a new American President and I recall the hope and expectation that hung in the air at President Obamas’, I suspect the world will watch with different feelings at President Trumps’.

Here in Suffolk I have had the pleasure to lead the County Council and the frustration of Devolution.  I say pleasure to lead the County Council because it is.  There is lots more to do and we are doing it but I am proud of the staff, the Cabinet and my group and how they have all risen to the challenge of significantly less Government funding and our demand that the Council lives within its means and maintains a sensible level of reserves.  As I look about the sector our cautious, prudent approach puts us in a place that is very different from some councils beyond Suffolk, there begins to be real concern that some councils may start to run out of money and fail to deliver front line services, I have often said that unlike the NHS, if councils run out of money the cheques don’t just carry on being honoured, staff will not get paid and services will fail, not here in Suffolk.  As a political party, we pledged and have delivered 7 years of 0% base Council Tax rises only putting up the Council tax to pay for the National Living Wage which everyone agrees is the right thing to do for the lowest paid workers in our society.  However I say a frustrating year in terms of Devolution because across Suffolk we can see how it can help us reshape Public Services and be a part of how we create a community that addresses the needs of our ageing population at the same time as investing in new infrastructure to accelerate growth and housing, which is vital for the quality of life we will want to see.  Yet at the end of the year Suffolk has no deal.  Cambridgeshire does but not Suffolk. The Public surveys, the business leaders and their respective trade bodies and all councils agree we want a Suffolk based Devolution deal, will we get one, it certainly won’t be for the want of trying and or effort.

Looking ahead… well that’s another blog!

If you have been kind enough to read this, may I take the opportunity to wish you and your family a very Happy, Healthy and Successful New Year.

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.

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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