Inaugural Chamberlain Lecture

On Monday evening I was invited to attend the inaugural Chamberlain Lecture hosted by BT at BT Tower in London. Sir Merrick Cockell, former Chairman of the LGA, opened the proceeding, introducing Lord Heseltine who spent the next hour weaving a fine speech about Chamberlain’s time in local Government, and as a Westminster politician with his own life story, his time influencing Local Government and snippets from his ‘No stone unturned’ paper.  Followed by a Q&A session chaired by Rt. Hon Stephen Dorrell.

He spoke of mayors and unitary authorities and his time as number 2 to Peter Walker the then Local Government Minister and the notion to reorganise Local Government broadly speak on County Boundaries in the 1970’s.  It never happened in England, but it did happen in Scotland where the Conservative government created county unitary councils, slightly ironic that since Scottish devolution the Scottish Parliament, with precious little to do, has taken stripped Scottish councils of the powers given to them by a Conservative government all those years ago, but I digress.

Fast forward to the Conservative Government of 2015, and Lord Heseltine found himself back in favour and following on from his paper ‘No stone unturned’ and with the support of the new Prime Minister, David Cameron and the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourn.  Lord Heseltine worked alongside SoS DCLG Greg Clarke MP to drive forward English Devolution.  I was leading Suffolk County Council at the time and remember well the meeting on 15th February 2016 we held in Cambridge where we discussed what was going to happen which proved to be very different to what actually happened.

2016_02_15 Devolution with Lord H & Greg Clarke

The picture above is from my archives, and I recall the blog I wrote on 16th February 2016 which you can find by scrolling down this page, how times flies!  Then, it was about Combined Authorities with a Mayor, and I think when I look at those created they are far too complicated.  Nowadays perhaps the debate is more centred on unitary councils forming.  To my mind, this is sensible.

Let’s face it unitaries make sense; two-tier does not.  Lord Heseltine did reform Local Government in Scotland and putting aside the issues with the Scottish Parliament, can you imagine today saying to the large county based unitary authorities in Scotland we are now going to propose two-tier.  Where some duties are going to remain you, but others are going to smaller councils, and the public will have to figure out for themselves which is which, confusing or what!  Once a place goes unitary no one would ever suggest a return to two-tier, and I think that is an acid test.

What struck me as I listened to Lord Heseltine on Monday evening, sitting next to Martin Tett the Leader of Buckinghamshire who is currently trying to lead a unitary Buckinghamshire bid, that each new idea in Government is often not that new and each has a window of opportunity that comes along and goes almost as quickly.  Today the debate seems to be is centred on the creation of new unitary councils, so fundamentally possible reorganisation with little new money attached; and slowly we seem to be moving to a discussion, not on Majors or devolution but the size of unitary councils rather than the concept of unitary.

Of course, Lord Heseltine continues to propose that change comes with Mayors as influential leaders of place able to get things down, a system that seems a bit un-British as we instead like our discussions and complexity.  But we do have some Mayors, and it is interesting to watch as they seek to forge a way forward for themselves and their embryonic power base.  I think the jury is out on these at the moment and of course, each of them has a complex system of governance to work with, not to mention fellow politicians and councillors!

Conservative History and Philosophy Seminar

Last week I returned from holiday to attend the much talked about Conservative History and Philosophy Seminar, having kindly been invited along with about 50 or so other Conservatives to discuss the future of Conservative ideology.

The seminar was Chatham House rules so no reporting of what was said, but its theme is important for Conservatives.  So much so, that its speaker list reads like a who’s who of the party, with Brandon Lewis MP, Chairman of the Conservative Party opening the proceedings.  Over the next few hours, we heard from Dominic Johnson CBE Vice Chairman of the party and organiser of the event and from Professor Andrew Roberts, Jesse Norman MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Anne Jenkin, Baroness Jenkin of Kennington, Neil O’Brien OBE MP, amongst other great speakers.  In the last of the three sessions were heard about the future with speakers ranging from Dr. Eliza Filby and Dr. Anthony Ridge-Newman discussing how society, aspirations and social media are constantly changing.

If you take part in politics at any level, local or national one of the things that has seemed evident is the extent to which the left seeks the moral high ground, s if theirs is the only ‘moral’ way forward.  Well, it’s not, being a Conservatives should come with a conviction that it’s the right and moral way to organise society.  Let’s face it, time and time again socialism has proven to be a failure, it failed here with the last Labour government, and the one before that if like me you are old enough to remember 1979 and it continues to fail across the globe.

The Conservative Party has always been a reforming party, and this work is about making sure that beyond the day job, the party and its activists are thinking about how we reform our society.  How conservative values of hard work, individualism and making sure that success is rewarded not treated with suspicion as socialism would have you believe, has proven to be a success across the globe and with checks and balances is the best way to organise your economy and society.

Many people in the party look back to the Thatcher years with nostalgia.  But it was also a time when the Conservative Party has an ideological basis, as it turned the Hippies of the sixties into the Yuppies of the eighties, was it perfect, of course not, but it had a foundation, a conviction, an ideology.  Today the world is very different, and no one is suggesting a reinvention of Thatcherism. The millennial generation as not the same as when I entered adult life, but the future of the Conservative Party lies in its believes in itself, and its ideology as it shapes local and national policy.

How to build better Public Services across Suffolk

Here is my column that appeared in last Tuesday’s edition of the EADT and Ipswich Star newspapers:

Suffolk is a place where people work together. We do it to make people’s lives better, to make the county more prosperous and to be creative. It’s part of what makes Suffolk so special.

I’m very proud to say that this is the case in Suffolk politics too. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of tough debates and disagreements, both between and within political parties. But that’s just healthy democracy. I know that making Suffolk a stronger place binds us all together and very often, we can find common ground.

One such place that common sense prevails in this way is the Suffolk Public Sector Leaders (SPSL) group, of which I am a member. People often assume that I run or chair the group because of my leadership of the county council. In fact, I don’t. I am an equal member along with the leaders and chief executives of all seven district and borough councils, Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner and chief constable and representatives from the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).

SPSL has been running for about six or seven years now and is a clear demonstration of the cross-party, cross-organisation public sector cooperation for which Suffolk is recognised nationally. I can assure you that there is less of this happening in other parts of the country. In some places, it doesn’t happen at all!

When it originally began, we used to discuss the big issues facing Suffolk and try to find ways that we could commit our own organisations to doing something about them. That was really helpful and still happens. But then in 2012, members of the group took a bold step and each partner publicly agreed to combine a share of the money we collect from local businesses and invest that in projects that benefit the county. It’s known at the ‘pooled business rate’ and is quite forward-thinking in the public sector world. We all agreed for SPSL to oversee this work.

There are some hugely important projects that have benefited for pooled business rate funding. Building the business case for Ipswich’s much-needed northern bypass, work to promote Suffolk as a place for tech companies to set up business and recruiting more town planners across the county so that the impact of housing growth can be better managed.

I’m sure many readers know that the Government has chosen Suffolk as one of 10 areas to trial next year a new way of funding local areas (the 100% business rate retention pilots). We were chosen because of our national reputation for working together and our bid was built in that basis. Again, Suffolk leading the way.

Recently, SPSL has been described as some kind of ‘secretive club’ that people only know about when it’s publicised. Well, I can think of better ways of keeping secrets than publicising things! It’s not a club though, far from it. It’s a serious space where people responsible for major public bodies in Suffolk come together to find solutions to the issues facing Suffolk.

Last month, the SPSL group met Eleanor Kelly, the chief executive of Southwark Council who stepped in to help residents in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster. Eleanor told us that Suffolk was one of the first places, as a whole, to seek to learn the direct lessons from Grenfell so that we can protect our residents. I’m not sure this would have happened if Suffolk’s public sector organisations didn’t work in this way.

At that same meeting, we agreed to review the way we work to ensure we keep having a positive impact on Suffolk. We’re reviewing everything, including having representatives from other sectors involved and looking at how we share more about the things we’re working on. That was absolutely the right decision to make, not least because the business rate retention pilot kicks off in April and collective decision making will be even more important. I look forward to updating people when that work is complete.

 

 

A very Merry Christmas

It’s that wonderful time of year were we all pause, relax and spend times with our loved one and family to celebrate Christmas and then the year just past and look forward to the year ahead.  However, for some it’s also a time of reflection of loved ones gone and sadly missed.  So, as you rush about maybe drop a card off to an elderly neighbour or pop round for a cup of tea and a chat about their Christmas, no one should be alone at Christmas.  It does not have to take much time but can make all the world of difference to them at this time of year.

My I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, and successful New Year.

At what age do we become ‘old’?

Here’s the column I wrote for the EADT and the Ipswich Star newspapers last week:

 I’d like to begin this week’s column with a question.

At what age do we become ‘old’?

As language changes and adapts, we as a society are good at filtering out certain anachronisms. The use of the word “elderly”, for example, is less common now. But we frequently use such catch-all terms as “older people” which, after all, is so general as to be almost meaningless.

We are all ageing and I would claim with some confidence that we all want to age well. So, if we are not “older people” now, we will all fall within this category one day.

We know that more of us in Suffolk will be aged 65 years or over in the coming years as a proportion of the population. We’re also living longer, with the gap between male and female life expectancy closing.

In addition, Suffolk is a fantastic county, with incredible assets, so it is no surprise that many people enjoy living here, retiring here and ageing here.

Unlike many other parts of the UK, we are a county without a city. Many of our greatest strengths centre around rural, country living with the benefits this provides as we support one another and look out for our neighbours. We enjoy significant formal and informal networks of support that see old and young living and working together, bringing out the best attributes of supportive communities.

I would argue our rapidly ageing population can be viewed in one of two ways: as an insurmountable, growing threat to our health and social care services, or as a great opportunity to adapt, innovate and prosper as a county.

I see this as an opportunity to be a forward-thinking county that values and welcomes its growing older population.

No single authority, organisation or sector can create this environment alone. We must work together and engage our communities if we want to see meaningful, sustainable change.

The last 10 years have seen major change. We have seen a move from centralised control to more personalised support and care delivered in the community. The coming years will bring about increasing change to our health and care services.

Inevitably, we will be working later into life which means the nature and shape of the county’s workforce will change.

Our predominantly rural setting also provides a challenge to the way  we reach potentially isolated communities. But we are already seeing examples of this in abundance, from well established schemes such as the Debenham Project to emerging opportunities created by social prescribing.

Thanks to the foresight of our health and care teams, we are already seeing the benefits of  learning what works well elsewhere. In the west of the county, we are testing out the Buurtzorg model of integrated health and personal care delivered by small teams of self-managed nurses working in the community, based on an approach developed in the Netherlands.

One issue that is perennially in the headlines is housing; more specifically, the need for more housing that caters for the changing needs of the UK population. If we are to curb the trend of 30-40 year olds living at home because they cannot afford to join the property ladder at one end of the spectrum, and 80 year olds living on their own in a five-bedroom home at the other, we all have to act now.

But the need is wider than this: as we build and adapt our homes, we must ask ourselves if they are they hardwired for the needs of an entire population. Is the surrounding transport network responsive to the needs of an ageing society? Above all, are we providing affordable, shared space that encourages an active lifestyle at every stage of an individual’s life?

Ultimately, we need to provide support for those with more complex needs, while enabling others to remain active and independent, without the risks of becoming isolated.

When it comes to being connected, the myth of an older generation out of touch with modern technology is not borne out by the facts. Nationally, more than three quarters of 65-74 year olds and over 40% of those aged 74 and over used the internet in the last three months.

From open access at our libraries and other information points, to the investment in countywide broadband, our older population is more switched on to new media than ever. This is clearly not the case for all, but the many advantages this brings – from online shopping to connecting with family – are often a valuable antidote to social isolation.

Which brings me back to my question: what we mean by “old”? There’s the old cliché that you are only as old as you feel, and that age is just a state of mind; with people living and working longer, and the cultural changes that this entails, we may be moving  closer to a society in which we need to reconsider and redefine every aspect of what we mean by ageing.

Most of us enjoy better life chances, and a higher life expectancy, than previous generations. Though not without exceptions, this affords us the opportunity to think about ageing differently.

 

 

 

Letter from the CCN to the Secretaries of State for Health & Local Government

fullsizeoutput_1cbeLast week I attended the National Children’s and Adult Services Conference in Bournemouth.  On the way down as Leaders from across the Adult Social Care Councils including me, received an email with a letter attached from SoS DH Jeremy Hunt and co-signed by SoS DCLG Sajid Javid about Delayed Transfers of Care, these happen when a person is medically fit for discharge form a Hospital and we are unable to put in place a suitable package of home or residential care quick enough, this is known in Health and Local Government as DTOC.

As winter approaches and with one of the worse Flu epidemic in the Southern Hemisphere seen in recent years (if you have not yet had the flu jab, I would recommend it, I paid £10 at my local chemist and apparently ASDA are doing them for £5) the NHS is extremely worried about the stress on hospital beds over the winter months, as they are expecting significant numbers of admissions for this simple but dangerous virus to vulnerable groups’.  So the need to feed up beds is important and there are two areas where local government is involved preventing people going to A&E in the first place and how quickly we can facilitate those who need a care package when they are ready to leave hospital obviously the more effective the system the more beds the NHS will have free to cope this winter.

The letter were somewhat condescending and effectively suggest we alongside the other 80 or so local councils responsible for DTOC are failing.  However it was a step back from the threats made earlier in the year about fines and direction of budget if the situation did not get sorted out.  Very DoH, not very DCLG but in this repsect DCLG is very much the junior partner to the might DoH.  During the course of last Wednesday at the conference it emerged that there were in fact three different letters issued, and our was the middle one not praising us but not summonsing us to Department of Health (DoH) as about 32 Councils will find themselves having to go before a panel of experts at DoH, and for experts read people who work in Whitehall, or more precisely civil servants who work in DH in Whitehall who will want to see plans for a lower DTOC target in those areas or they will re-direct monies spent of Adult Social Care to hospitals which will not deal with the issues and probably make them worse.  Adult Social Care cannot be fixed by a summons from DoH, it needs careful partnership working on the ground in each area surrounding a hospital. .  At the conference, we referred to these as naughty step letter and which one you were on – a very flippant comment given the seriousness of the issue but given the patronising letters, as if our social work teams are not working hard to provide the care packages, which they are, its the right term to use.

The issues are complex and the impression you get from the letters is that its entirely Local Governments fault and so DoH can swoop in, divert money to hospitals and all will be right with the world, sorry but this is nonsense.   Fundamentally Local Government needs funding to provide the care, it’s as simple as that, and the threat is that if local Government does not improve then it will have funding withdrawn is worrying.  this is not about simply demanding more money for Local Government has stepped up and made the savings the Government has called for but there comes a point.  Across the county grown up discussion with Hospitals and Clinical Commissioning groups are building a long term system to handle discharge and withdrawing money will not improve that one bit, quite the reverse in fact.

So, on behalf of the County Councils Network on Friday I wrote to both Secretaries of State pointing out the position of CCN member Councils and our concerns.  In Suffolk we work closely with our Acute hospitals planning prevention, avoiding having to go to A&E and when people are admitted discharge planning starts straight away, in West Suffolk the hospital’s enlighten CE Stephen Dunn has contracted beds in a Care Home with nursing to provide people a different setting to recover, what used to be called Convalescence.  As our population ages we are going to need to see a return to this sort of step down care, from our hospitals.

Another false dawn?

fullsizeoutput_1bf4Last Wednesday I was in London for the County Councils Network AGM held this year in the main Hall of the Chartered Insurance Institute in the heart of the City of London, which given the discussion I wanted to have with fellow Leaders was quite fitting setting as the sun shone through the Institutes historic stained-glass windows with the logos & formation dates of the various Great British Insurance companies formed since the 1700’s, depicted.

After the formalities of the AGM we moved into a discussion on the coming Green Paper on Social Care and I led a discussion in my capacity as spokesperson for Health and Social Care on our initial ideas by tabling a discussion paper for Leaders to feedback if they agree that the areas we are considering lobbying on are the right ones and what the emphasis should be.  These are senior gatherings from across the Country of those Councils which provide support for some 48% of all older people and those with Learning and Physical Disabilities, so our thoughts  are based on our practical knowledge of delivering a system and thus I would say important to help Government shape the coming bill.

In my opening remarks, I said that what we must lobby for and encourage from across the sector from ADASS to our MPs that this must not another false dawn.  I have been a Councillors since 2006 and in that time, I have seen successive Governments seek to tackle this issue of funding and the nature of the Health and Social Care integration and indeed if I think there has been false dawns on the Local Government side there is perpetual motion on the NHS side.

We have seen with Gordon Brown’s free Social Care at home proposals which ended in disarray as utterly un-costed, but hey there’s a Labour Government for you, to the collapse of the Westminster cross-party discussions when they accused each other of promoting a Death Tax in the run into the 2010 elections.  Next up we had the Andrew Dilnot Report which fizzled out when the then Chancellor decided far too expensive and so set a higher cap and that came to nothing.  To the recent Conservative Manifesto which was accused of being a Dementia Tax by Labour within hours of being unveiled.  On the NHS side, we’ve seen the arrival of the CCG from the old PCTs, the creation of the Health and Wellbeing Boards, some of which genuinely have shifted the notion of how to tackle an Ageing Populations other not so much.  And now the notion that on DTOC DCLG or is that the NHS will start withholding money from Upper Tier Councils if there is an excessive wait for patients once declared medically fit for discharge and too long a wait for a social care package to be found.

If like me you are involved in this issue is an extremely complex once that requires the NHS to work in collaboration with local government.  DTOC fines are not going to help one little bit by taking further funding away from already stretch services and making the relationship not one of collaboration but performance fines.  In 2010 we moved away from this culture and now through the influence of the mighty NHS we seem to be moving backwards.

So, there is a lot riding on the Green paper from solving the ridiculously complex funding grants and taxes currently in place from the BCF to the National Adult Social Care precept, a threshold here and a cap there – all of which seems to me avoids a fundamental question – how do we, as a nation, pay for Social Care often seen through the prism of Free NHS services. To my mind its relatively simple a per head of population funding formula irrespective of BRR and we will to have a contribution from people’s property wealth but given the Russian roulette of Dementia and frailty we should cap this so people can reasonable expect to be able to hand down much of what they have worked hard for over the years. Equally that the NHS must be required to work with Local Government to shape and deliver communities that service our residents not in shiny new hospital buildings but in the communities in which we all live together.  So, can we have a green paper that is more than activity more than another false dawn and genuinely starts to address the issues of our ageing population.

I’ll be presenting a draft lobby paper to the CNN Conference in November for sign off by the County Council Leaders as our contribution to this debate and when completed I will put up a link to it here.

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