Hearing views and opinions

There are many interesting aspects of being a councillor, and many roles you can play. Chief amongst them has to be representing the council to your community and representing your community to the Council.

Sounds simple but it’s not, in any community there is the vocal few and generally speaking, the silent majority.  Always easiest to listen to those who engage or shout the loudest but difficult sometimes to hear the silent majority often a struggle because well… they are quiet. So you have to go out and find them!

Whatever the vocal few say, the role of a Councillor is not merely to represent one particular view but to take all into account when decisions get made.  Get it right you get re-elected and get it wrong, and you’re out!

So, getting out on the doorsteps, delivering newsletters and encouraging people to complete surveys is the backbone of how you engage and seek the views of the majority in a community, your community.

In the past week or so the final element of the new West Suffolk Council was agreed.  The reshaping of the Council wards.  These new boundaries bring the tiny village of Elveden into the Lakenheath and Eriswell ward and so on Saturday, a small team and I were out firstly in the new estate that forms part of Eriswell and then onto Elveden.

It is always interesting to hear people views on the doorstep and in response to the latest Intouch and the postal survey we are currently distributing, the .pdf of which is here:

Lakenheath Ward InTouch

If you want to take part in the survey on line, that would be great, the link is here:







Get ready for Growth

Last Monday there was a locally important business conference hosted by Cllr. James Waters, Leader of Forest Heath District at Newmarket Racecourse and chaired by Chair, Matthew Darroch-Thompson of the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce.  Where alongside Balfour Beatty, Galliford Try and Wates who spoke about their on their approach to procurement and opportunities in the region. RAF Lakenheath 48th Contracting Squadron presented about the opportunities both ongoing and coming-up at RAF Lakenheath.  After which West Suffolk Councils, West Suffolk College, New Anglia LEP, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, Job Centre Plus and Suffolk County Council talk about the support that is available to help local businesses take advantage of the opportunities out there.

What I thought was compelling about the day was that it was not the usual strategic conference about how we long-term support business with infrastructure or how we work across the networks and councils to support our business community.  Nor a debate about the future local government change from grant funding to business rate growth funding.

Nope, it was a conference about how businesses can and should grasp the opportunities right here on our doorstep. And by ‘doorstep’ I mean 100 years from the bottom of my garden in Lakenheath namely the coming growth of RAF Lakenheath and the contracts both existing and coming that the USAF wants to put in place to support the F35 programme.

Today the USAF spend some $60M in services and contracts running the base and very shortly they will announce the main contractor for an additional $130M of infrastructure spending for the refurbishment of everything from the hardened nuclear aircraft shelters to painters and decorators in the new hospital building.

So the conference was about how to get involved and win some of the business contracts up for grabs.  If you are a local business, you should get involved and see what opportunities exist – its nothing like as hard as you think it is.   For smaller contracts, they can commission on a spot basis, and for larger ones yes you have to register, but the opportunities are there.

To find out more, email the team.


If you would like more information on further opportunities or membership of the Chamber, please feel free to contact Stuart Franklin on Stuart@suffolkchamber.co.uk

or visit


The small matter of Housing

There is no more contentious issue in British local government today than housing.  There are those who do not accept that our birth-rate is going up and our death rate is dropping as people celebrate a longer lifespan, there are those who blame immigration.  There are those that welcome housing with the “I am not against housing in the right place but…” to the ” I am not a NIMBY but…” and that ‘but’ is always the same, just not here.  And the proof of the pudding is to see application after application, stir-up action groups to form against, protests at the Town Hall and booing of councillors who grant permissions.

At the same time, housing has never been in such a bad state of affairs.  In my business lifetime, a lifetime in Housing, the average of the first-time buyer has risen from 22 to 39, yes 39 today.  Today the average property in places like West Suffolk is now eight times the average wage.  In rural areas it’s estimated that there are some 191,000 families on the waiting lists with about 10,000 social housing units built each year by Registered Social Landlords and others – do the maths, and you can see the sheer scale of the challenge ahead.

So we have an unacceptable situation where younger people are starting to be called generation rent, and home ownership seems something they will never achieve, that is not acceptable.  We must build more homes.  We must build more homes in West Suffolk and my particular case more homes in the villages I represent.  Councillors across the country must show leadership of their communities in the face of some very vocal opposition.  Politically you can’t expect people to vote for the party that believes in Capitalism if you deny people the ability to acquire capital.  Tenure might depend on income but the right to a decent home should not.

So last Monday West Suffolk showed outstanding Leadership is arranging a conference to discuss housing, not planning but housing and its importance to our communities and what we have to deliver.  The conference was entitled: ‘Home is where the start is – building foundations for the future’ and the line-up of speakers was stellar with Sir Edward Lister Chairman of Homes England, Tony Pidgley CBE Chairman of Berkeley Homes, David McQuade CEO of Flagship Housing Group and Lord Richard Best OBE DL – House of Lords spokesperson on social housing, amongst others.  Beccy Jago from Anglia TV News compared the event.

As Lord Best spoke, it was ironic that he talked about land coming forward from County Councils for social good with such things as extra care and place shaping not the blinkered selling to the highest bidder.  He went on to say that across the country this is starting to happen with new Local Government housing companies and partnerships emerging, just not in Suffolk.

The Conference gathering together the key players across the West Suffolk system and beyond. Planners, land developers and house-builders cam together to discuss what we here in our part of the world are going to do to get building, well done West Suffolk Councils. #letsgetbuilding

October Newsletter

Here’s my latest Newsletter that goes to my growing list of those who have asked to receive it direct via email and distributed to Parish Councils across Row Heath for their members.

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!

So here is the link to October’s:


If you would like to receive it please just email me colin@askcolinnoble.com and I’ll add you to the circulation list.

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:


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:


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.

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