Services in our rural communities

Last week I attended the Rural Services Network conference in the beautiful town of Cheltenham, it’s an organisation and conference focused on rural issues and services in our communities.  All of the councils in Suffolk contribute to the organisation except Ipswich Borough Council, as each Council has rural communities. My division is made up of a series of villages, so I was particularly keen to hear about businesses in rural communities and on transport issues.

The conference sponsor was the Post office, and I was particularly keen to hear from them about the services they provide. In my Division, the largest village Lakenheath clung onto its last remaining bank branch, but Lloyds Bank recently announced that this is to close, and for people, they are worried they will not be able to get to a bank.  However, Debbie Smith, Chief Executive of Retail spoke of the bank services that they can provide to over 99% of UK bank customers so and as she reeled off facts and figures about the Post office it struck me that many people in my community probably do not know that the Post office can step in when the branch closes.  Many people have told me how disappointed they are with Lloyds for closing it.  But to be fair to Lloyds I have asked those who have mentioned it to me, and younger people, how long since you have used the counter service?  And how many, like me, now use the banking apps and the internet to do most of the services I need.  On those rare occasions when someone writes me a cheque figure, I can now photo it and process it myself.  How the world changed, from the Friday afternoon queue that used to be at the Lakenheath Branch. It was like a little business social club as you waited your turn to bank the week’s cheques, how times change.

One of the highlights of the conference was the keynote session from Tony Travers, Director of the IPA, London School of Economics, Local Government Futures and Innovation.  I have over the past 12 years hearing Tony speak at various conferences with a real insight as to what is going to happen in the short to medium term. He explained his thinking and what is lightly to happen with the economy, public spending and thus his view of the next four years of local government funding.  He spoke of the term ‘flat cash’, and that’s his view that we will get about the same money irrespective of the rising costs in Adult social services inflation and in particular Children’s social care costs which are across the county a real challenge to carefully worked out budgets. If a child needs a protection package in place, then it is provided, simple as that and rightly so, but it does not stop the costs rising and with it the challenges both in terms of support and finance of finding the money.

Over the two days, there was a quality line up of speakers not least my colleague from St. Edmundsbury Cllr. Carol Bull and one of our officers Ben Smith who gave a presentation about the tremendous joint working that is taking place as we form the new West Suffolk Council, the sessions were well attended, and a lot of interest was shown at the innovative work taking place and how we have been careful about how we bring two councils together.

The other main highlight for me being the Pixel Financial Management update on the Fairer Funding discussions taking place between the LGA and the MHCLA.  They are carrying out this work on behalf of the CNN and the RSN to lobby Government that rural areas have increased costs in service delivery across a broad range of services due to the distance between properties.

Looking further forward there was a very interesting presentation from a company called Vectos whose session was titled ‘Connecting Rural Communities through Smart Transport and Mobility.  Part of the presentation was about on-demand vehicle services which with eh arrival of driverless cars, which is coming, how we might be able to use functions in entirely different ways and ways that make our rural communities better connected.  In my postbag residents’ write to me worried about bus services as they approach the age they may have to give up driving, there is a revolution coming in public and personal transport, and it will be fascinating to see what happens in the future.

So, we looked at Rural service such as the Post offices banking offer, the flat cash position likely to remain over the next few years for Local Government, the lobbying for a Fairer Funding allocation even if there is no more money the distribution across Local Government might reflect the rural nature of our communities and the costs associated with that. And the future of public transport even if that’s a long way off!

September 2018 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, however 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 September’s:

https://mailchi.mp/b27d51635885/colin-nobles-row-heath-newsletter-sept-2018

If you would like to receive it please just email me colin.noble@suffolk.gov.uk and I’ll add you to the circulation list.

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:

epicdadsproject@hotmail.com

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.

A new Council

 

As you may have read Forest Heath District Council and St. Edmundsbury Borough Council have held their first few joint shadow meetings as we head towards a merger in May 2019.  I was there to take part in the historic first meeting, and it felt like the next logical step on the reform journey we set out on in 2011 when we decided to share a Chief Executive and cut staffing numbers by merging the officer teams to serve the two councils and save money.

The critical point for me has and will always be the same, organising the councils differently we can save back-office costs to protect frontline services. Regarding Council tax, the merger will mean that it will rise slower than if we did not merge because by merging we can save even more back-office costs. So, on both of my acid-tests, this merger is the right next move.  Lakenheath will still have two Councillors, and we will continue to work hard for our community at the Shadow Council.

One of the differences between the councils has always been that Forest Heath is a District Council with a Chairman who chairs the Full Council meeting and represents the Council at official events and functions.  Whereas, St Edmundsbury is a Borough Council with a Civic Mayor, who does much the same role but there is a more ceremonial aspect to it and thus higher costs associated with the office. What we want to do is get your views on the type of formal role the new Council should have.

The differences and pro’s and con’s of both approaches are explained in far greater detail by having a look at

www.westsuffolk.gov.uk/civicleadership

and then taking part in the survey

www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/civicleadershipsurvey/

The survey is open until Sunday 2nd September.

Alternativity you are very welcome to contact me to share your views, which we can then feed in. It will be interesting to learn what you think and to have a strong representation from our area would be great.

Locality Budgets

Each year I have the great pleasure to be able to help support various projects and community groups across Row Heath with my Suffolk County Council Locality Budget and in Lakenheath village with my Forest Heath District Council budget.

With both I try to work with community groups to build the capacity of our communities to get things done for themselves and support the network of groups who great volunteers’ commitment significant time to make them a success.

Wherever I go and whenever I speak about Local Government I speak of the great community sprint that existing in my Division and my home village, and how this impacts the lives of residents as much formal services provided by Councils.

For me this is more than just words, as I have in the past sat on the Think Local Act Personal National Board and represented Local Government on its Building Community Capacity Subgroup, which worked to share what community capacity is all about and how to enhance it.  I instigated the Suffolk County Council programme called Supporting Lives and Connecting Communities which at its heart is about understanding how communities are able to do things for themselves and how SCC can support them better. Councillor locality budgets should be a integral part of that stratergy and I work for mine to be.

Here is a list of those groups I have supported in the past year.  In the majority of cases my locality funding has been matched funding with the groups own fund raising efforts.

Current commitments:

  • Lakenheath Parish Council – matched funding for Speed Indicator device – £1,890.00
  • Cavenham Parish Committee – Post for play equipment – £320.00

In the past year I have been able to provide funding to the following groups:

  • Friends of Lakenheath Library – Let’s Read Campaign – purchase of IT equipment – £247.50
  • Lakenheath Community Speedwatch – Purchase of speedwatch equipment – £400.00
  • Lakenheath Silver Band – Community Event – £350.00
  • Brendan Fulham Centre – Assistance with disabled adaptations – £1,300.00
  • Lakenheath Sunshine Corner – Toy Bank – £300.00
  • West Row School PFA – Folding tables, cool boxes, etc for garden party event -£250.00
  • Bury St. Edmunds Scout District – Scoutfest 2016 – £2,000.00
  • West Row Primary School PFA – Static bus to be used as a library and learning resource by the school and community (Committed 2015-2016) – £5,000.00
  • West Row The Shed Wellbeing project – £350.00.00
  • Cancer Campaign in Suffolk – Sun Awareness Programme for Schools – £1,280.00
  • West Row Village Hall & Playing Fields Association – Renovation of the Tennis courts – £3,000.00
  • Lakenheath Angling Club – Otter-proof fencing around club waters – £1,000.00
  • Lakenheath Cricket Club – Contribution to new Roller – £1,500.00
  • Rural Coffee Caravan – Contribution to new Vehicle – £1,000.00
  • Beck Row Methodist Church contribution towards heating in the Church Hall – £500.00
  • West Row Village Hall and Playing Field Association a contribution towards the new kitchen equipment – £2,000.00
  • Beck Row Parish Council with a contribution towards outdoor exercise equipment – £2,000.00
  • Friends of Beck Row Primary School with a contribution towards outdoor playground equipment – £4,500.00
  • Newmarket Town Band contribution towards charity concert – £200.00

“Homes have to be built for people”

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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

 

Budget Day

Budget

This Thursday is Suffolk County Council’s Budget Day. It’s important for two reasons, it’s when we set the bulk of your, and my, Council Tax bill and we set the money each service will get to provide frontline services for the year ahead.

Budgets are important to Councils because until like the La, La, Land of the NHS finances where massive deficits mean little, in Local Government if you run out of money, wages are not paid and services shut down.

Every year the Conservative administration pour over the figures in the £500M budget starting almost as soon as the last budget is set. And whilst the figures are huge and services are vital such as protecting vulnerable children from abuse, the process is little different from how we budget at home.  We save money for big projects like a house extension or in the council’s case the two new Bridge projects. We have some money set aside for emergencies and the unexpected (reserves) and we plan for renewing smaller items like the computer, (major IT system changes) all of which is based on assumptions of our income in the coming years.

That may sound a bit simplistic but it’s essentially it’s the same process we go through at home.  For Local Government, as to future prospects all the future income indicators are poor as we face less money over the next few years’ from Government. So we maintain reserves to ensure we can sustain services and deal with the unexpected. It may at times be a little bit boring but we are prudent and careful with your money.

Just as in life then there are the neighbours or in our case the opposition Labour and Lib Dems.  Like the neighbour’s flash new car, always out there promising the world, spend, spend, spend for tomorrow never comes, we’ll get more money from somewhere, why have reserves, live for today. The Jeremy Corbin view of the world, it all look like fun and of course the sun will come out tomorrow, Happy Days.  But then again the last time they were allowed to be in control in Suffolk we all know how that ended, budgets not keep to, failing services and finally booted out of power, for raising the Council tax by 11.9% in one year and 18.5% in the next trying to keep the show on the road – ‘What rubbish’ I am told that was then this is now, but you see I don’t think it is rubbish, I think it’s a mind-set that has not changed one bit.

So we may be a bit cautious, we may be a bit tough in how we negotiate but, we have delivered 7 years of 0% raises in the base Council Tax and carefully applied the National Adult Social Care Precept to give our lowest paid, mainly care workers, a welcome pay increase and rightly so.  I hope in May people will allow us to carry on running the council, we will be innovative in our approaches and have lots of new ideas about how we go about things over the next 4 years building on the work these past 4 years but we will always, always be prudent and carefully with the budget and our reserves, ever mindful of the need to protect the most vulnerable in our communities and ever mindful it’s your hard earned money.

But remember those flash neighbours (and apologies to my neighbours who are all lovely people and not part of this reference!), if Labour and the Liberal were in power when they run out of the council’s money, guess who’s money they’ll come after, yours!

Thursday’s meeting is web cast so please log-in and have a watch.

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