Investment in Ipswich, Investing in Suffolk.

Really pleased that the news has been revealed that the Homes and Community Agency are helping to support the Development of the empty ‘wine rack’ building on Ipswich’s Waterfront officially it’s called Regatta Quay but its known as the wine rack for obvious reasons and is rather a symbol of the last property crash and so an important building to finally see developed.  The Agency will invest £15M and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (NALEP) of which I am a Director as Leader of Suffolk County Council, is investing £5M from our Growing Places Fund.  These are commercial loans and will be repaid with interest but they get things moving.

The work of the NALEP and more details on the announcement can be found here

www.newanglia.co.uk

Sometimes Ipswich seems a long way for Row Heath but battling for investment and growing our economy is vitally important.  As Leader of the County Council I have been on recorded as stating there is no such thing as a Stronger Suffolk without a Stronger Ipswich, the development of this icon structure on the waterfront alongside the £100M investment being made with Foster and Partners designing the Upper Orwell Crossing there is a determination for Ipswich to become the Powerhouse of Suffolk’s economy.  This benefits us here in the west of Suffolk because the more money that is generated in Ipswich through Business rate growth, shortly, will mean more money for the County Council to spend on vital services in our community.

We want to grow our economy here in West Suffolk as well but Ipswich is uniquely placed to benefit from an overheating London economy as it’s an hour from the heart of the city and we are working to make sure we capitalise on that geography. That’s why I sort and campaigned for there to be one Board to pull together all of the many, many plans I was presented with when I became Leader of the Council two years ago.  Today there is one vision one board, its called Ipswich Vision and I have lead Suffolk’s attendance at the principle Land and Property investment exhibition in London each year called MIPIM, as we seek to put Ipswich and Suffolk on the investment map.

You can read more about the Ipswich Vision Board here

www.newanglia.co.uk/…/major-players-come-together-to-agree-a-vision-for-ipswich/

The way local government is financed is complex but it is changing, I want the economy of Suffolk to be a powerhouse of growth with high value jobs and growing companies to be based here.  In the next few years the stronger our economy, the more money we will have to spend of protecting frontline services for the most vulnerable in our society. This is what we mean by Caring and Campaigning.  Unlike the Lib Dems and Labour who would spend all the money we have earmarked for investing in our economy and growth, they would simply spend it now, not making the savings we need to make and then as they always do when the money runs out, throw their hands up and demand more of your hard-earned money in Council Tax. We believe in investing is Suffolk’s growth and this coupled with a relentless drive to make the back office of the public sector in Suffolk more efficient is how we will deliver for Suffolk over the next 10 years.  We are planning how we go about this and develop a blueprint of growth and efficiency.

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.

Devolution

National Local signpostLast week I had two principle things on my plate, seemingly in conflict but actually very similar in their principle regard.  Firstly I was in North Yorkshire to do a LGA Corporate Peer Challenge for North Yorkshire County Council, something I committed to before Christmas as a part of the role of LGA Leaders who help provide the LGA’s sector lead improvement work.  At the same time, I played my very active role in the final discussions on the first stage of Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Peterborough and Suffolk Devolution know in short hand as either CNPS or increasingly ‘East Anglia’.  For both there was many conversations, and complex papers to read and consider, and packed days of numerous meetings and teleconferences.

The devolution deal is embargoed until the Chancellor’s Budget speech and if announced, even then it is but a broad set of headings, a first stage in a process if you will.  I and others have been extremely clear that this ‘deal’ is a first stage. Some people always say ‘done deal’ but as we have seen from Manchester this is a process and journey.  Of course Manchester have, in reality, with the Greater Manchester Authority been on this journey for many years but we can learn from that and use it to inform us as we collectively across our communities, businesses and councils now have a period of real debate to refine and put the ‘flesh on the bone’ of what this means to us, and I am determined we will do this over the coming months.  Then and only then it will be debated by every council to be democratically backed, to move forward. But hey if councils don’t back it then that democracy in action either way.

For me that would be a great shame, for me Devolution has always been built on a simple premise I have long held. Whitehall is far too remote to understand the real issues in our communities and regarding such local and complex issues such as infrastructure, Housing and Health needs, so Whitehall does not, in my opinion, make really informed meaningful decisions.  There is rightly a role for Whitehall and Parliament in policy making and national issues such as Defence but when it comes to know where to invest to unlock Growth or how to organise such important things as Health and Social Care in a geography to make sure only those people who need to go to A&E actual do. These decisions are far, far better made at the local level by people who live and breath their area.

So as I interviewed Councillors, partner organisations and residents in North Yorkshire it struck me the similarity between the two things, here was I, not from the area trying to understand its complexities.  Yes, I hope the external prospective presented to their senior team on Friday, the private conversations with their senior figures and the report the team of us will now be writing up will be useful to them as they ponder the future, I certainly hope so given the hard work that went into it.  But they know their place as a level and complexity we could not hope to understand, they and their community are far, far better able to make decision for their community, just as we are for ours and that is why I think and am working for Devolution as the important next step for this country’s and our county’s delivery of Public Services.

Stonewall Top 100

LGB&T SCC LogoGood news came reached me last Tuesday when I was informed that at an awards ceremony in London, Stonewall announced which organisations have been included in their Workplace Equality Index for 2016 and  Suffolk County Council was confirmed as having been  successful in maintaining a place in the Top 100 at position 78.  This represents a significant rise of 20 places compared to 2015 when Stonewall introduced more challenging criteria. Also congratulations are in order to Suffolk Police at position 15.

This success demonstrates Suffolk CC is a good place to work for LGB&T staff and that SCC makes efforts to ensure that staff across the organisation understand how to support their LGB&T colleagues.  Cllr Sarah Stamp, Cabinet Member for Communities and thus lead member for equalities and inclusion said: “I am delighted that Suffolk County Council is recognised as one of the Top 100 employers in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 2016.  This achievement acts as a demonstration of our ongoing commitment to support LGB&T staff across the organisation”.

Matt Woor, Chair of the Suffolk County Council LGB&T Staff Network said: “I am thrilled that Suffolk County Council has improved its position within the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.  Every year the work involved in making the top 100 gets harder, so it is fantastic that we have been able to rise to this challenge once again.”

I echo both comments, for some this seems a difficult subject area, but not for me, I believe that we are here in public life to protect our values, our heritage and that a tolerant, fair society is at the heart of our great county and I will do all I can in the time, I am involved in Public Life to promote this position in any of the organisations I am involved in.  Being a Stonewall Top 100 employer clearly demonstration the importance that Suffolk County Council places upon supporting LGB&T equality, both within its workforce and also within the wider community of Suffolk.

Another step closer to Devolution in Norfolk and Suffolk

Norfolk & Suffolk Leaders in WhitehallToday the County Council Network gather in Guildford for our annual conference and no doubt there will be much debate on the latest Devolution meetings taking place with DCLG.  For Norfolk and Suffolk the week before last, a group of council leaders from across both counties, including myself took our case for devolution to Government.  This was our opportunity to pitch our ambitious proposals for Suffolk and Norfolk to the Government team, led by Lord Heseltine, alongside senior civil servants from the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Over recent weeks and months, all sixteen councils across Norfolk and Suffolk have been working collaboratively to develop these exciting proposals, the main focus of which centre around ways in which we can boost investment in our infrastructure, productivity, housing, education and skills across our communities.

I want to see us continuing to build on both Norfolk and Suffolk’s already great economic strengths, growing our local economies and increasing skills levels, as well as increasing the number of well paid jobs.

The meeting was very productive and our ideas and suggestions were welcomed by Lord Heseltine, who took a keen interest in the proposals we presented.  We set out the areas over which our collective councils and LEP hope to take more control and I am confident that we demonstrated that the bid we are planning to submit will fully support the ambitions which Suffolk and Norfolk share to enable the future growth and delivery of effective and efficient public services for all our residents.

I am very proud that we are held in high regard for our strong track record in collaborative working.  It was certainly recognised that we have put in an incredible amount of effort and hard work already and I feel that this shows we are well placed to take things to the next level.

Of course, we still have a way to go and we have more work to do in refining our bid to align with Government’s asks.  But it still remains that the agreement of any deal we submit will need political and democratic sign-off by all of our 16 councils and the New Anglia LEP.

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