Happy Suffolk Day!

 

Today is Suffolk Day, a chance to celebrate the best of this great county and the event goes from strength to strength.

Suffolk County Council was a founder member when BBC Radio Suffolk’s Mark Murphy first mentioned the idea to me as Leader a couple of years ago, I said to our team we should fully get behind the proposal and help make it a reality. As with all the best ideas the County Council should be there to support and get things off the ground and then it’s the residents, companies and organisations across the county that make something like this a success.

I recall being at Lowestoft bright and early with Mark Murphy when the first day was launched and enjoyed planning a full day of activities for last year helping to highlight the great voluntary work taking place across the whole of Suffolk, an itinery which was sadly curtailed by the new Leader. As a small part of Suffolk County Council’s contribution, I also approved the replacement of all of the County road signs as you entered Suffolk. The proposal was to replace the mixed bag of often older and slightly fading signs in a year with ones fittingly celebrating the highlights of Suffolk. I think they have done about four! But other things have gone from strength to strength as more schools, companies and organisations get behind this celebration of Suffolk, which is encouraging to see.

As we all go about our busy lives; it’s often easy to forget what a great place Suffolk is to live. We have near full employment, wonderful countryside and a beautiful coastline to enjoy. The county is safer than most, and across Suffolk, there are excellent services and community projects to support the lives of the most vulnerable in our society. There are of course problems, far too many people living in temporary accommodation, far too many people and in particular Children living in poverty. So the need to grow our economy to help improve the lives of people struggling to pay their bills is imperative. But thats all for another day for today is to celebrate the best of Suffolk and perhaps think about how we all can contribute more to our communities, to continue to make Suffolk a wonderful place to live and work.

Happy Suffolk Day!

Brexit!

Thursday I was standing in my home village of Lakenheath in the District Council elections. Those of you who are kind enough to read my blog will know I’m Lakenheath born and bred and proud to have been its District Councillor. I say ‘been’ because I lost, like 1,334 fellow Conservatives across the country and more locally like the majority of my former Forest Heath DC Conservative colleagues standing, we lost.

Local Councils matter because they deliver the services that touch residents day to day lives. In Suffolk, it’s a two-tier area, and I continue to represent my home village on the County Council, but throughout the campaign on the doorsteps, there has been only one subject, Brexit.

At the hundreds of doorstep conversations I had during the campaign a typical conversation opening went something like this:

Good [morning] or [afternoon] or [evening] :
“Can I talk to you about our Conservative Manifesto – our ambitious plan for the next four years on the new merged West Suffolk Council…no?
Can I talk to you about the millions of pounds we have saved as a Council…no?
Can I talk to about fewer Councillors, fewer officers and the promise after seven years of freezing the district element of the Council Tax that we promise seven years of it rising no more than £5 per annum…no?
What can I talk to you about?”
“Brexit!”

And so that’s what the voters went to the polls and did. The opposition will tell you it’s about local issues and their independence, their greenest or their liberalism but an analysis of the results does not support that. A review does support a common denominator called Brexit. The ‘proof of the pudding’ is that Labour did badly themselves and did not make gains. It was a ‘plague of all your houses’ as Westminster has failed to deliver the democratic decision of the people. Only the Lib Dems did better across the country for, whilst in my opinion, their view is anti-democratic, it has been consistently remain, and many remainers voted for them. Most people including many who originally voted remain are rightly furious that we have not left. Locally to ‘pop a cherry on top’ of the campaign on Thursday morning as people woke up, the European Election Polling cards arrived on the doorstep across West Suffolk! – you could not make this stuff up!

In the former Forest Heath District area, apart from Newmarket, the only Tories to survive was one who was uncontested Brian Harvey and my fellow Conservative running mate Stephen Frost, as here the independents only managed to put up one candidate in a two-member ward. I lost to an independent who did not put out a single leaflet or knock on a door nor engaged in any of the local debates.

I remain the local County Councillor, and I look forward to working with my running mate in Thursday’s election, Stephen Frost. Stephen is a good friend of mine, and he will make a great Councillor. We start working together tomorrow at our Conservative branch fundraising Sunday lunch when I will hand over the many district case files I have and a list of my current district projects. Irrespective of this result there are lots of ongoing things we want to deliver in our community.

I am especially disappointed that colleagues who have served for many years and those who sat in our Forest Heath DC Cabinet, including the very hard working Leader and my friend James Waters, also lost their seats. After all the meetings, debates and hard work to deliver the new Council and lay the plans for the next four years, none of us will have the pleasure to represent our communities in delivering the new Council, instead of our local representation in the new administration will be diminished.

The good news is that we Conservative still have a majority on the new Council, there were eight uncontested seats, and the majority is eight. So the plans we laid will be taken up and driven forward.

As for Brexit, as I visited a polling station Thursday afternoon a car drew up and out jumped two residents, one said to me “all I want to know is how did you vote in the referendum”. I said for “remain” and added “but then we took a vote, the people spoke, we voted for Brexit, and we should have delivered it, simple as that”, he said, “then I’ll vote for you!” – Disappointingly for me, too few did.  But the work goes on, and next week it’s back to sorting our community issues and progressing projects.  I have meetings to discuss primary Care provisions in our community and to progress the building of the £6Million new second primary school for Lakenheath.

Today is Poll Day

Today is local Council Election Day. Here in West Suffolk it’s the elections to the new West Suffolk Council.

I am standing in my home village of Lakenheath and the ward includes Lakenheath, Eriswell, Elveden and Sedge Fen.

Polling Stations will be open from 7 am to 10 pm, and voting is simple with friendly staff on hand to guide you through the process.

The polling stations are at the Lakenheath Methodist Hall, Back Street, opposite the car park and the Lakenheath Peace Memorial Hall, our village hall. If you live in Sedge Fen it’s the Baptist Church. For Eriswell its the Reading Room and for Elveden it’s the village Hall. Which one you should vote at is listed on your polling card.

If you have a postal vote and have not yet done it there still time to post it today and tomorrow or take your completed and enveloped postal ballot to the polling station on Thursday. If you have a postal vote, you will not be allowed to vote at the polling station in the usual way other than by taking along your postal vote duly completed.

Being a Councillor is many things from helping residents with issues to being a strong voice within a Conservative Administration for our Village and getting jobs done and infrastructure investment in our community. Such as the £6Million secured for our new second primary school to open in September 2020.

Stephen Frost and I have been out knocking on doors and talking about the Conservative track record in running our council these past four years. With over £4million in running costs saved, council tax was frozen for seven years, and we promise to keep it to the absolute minimum going forward. To discussing our ambitious plans for the new West Suffolk council as set out in our local manifesto. A manifesto, entirely written by local conservatives, including me and is packed full of ideas for our community and jobs and growth.

https://www.westsuffolkconservatives.com/election-2019

A strong voice for our Lakenheath ward villages is essential; together Stephen Frost and myself will make sure Lakenheath is at the heart of West Suffolk Council.

West Suffolk Council Election 2nd May 2019

Yesterday Conservatives gathered in Haverhill for the launch of our manifesto in the West Suffolk Council election on Thursday 2nd May 2019.

The new West Suffolk Council is a bringing together of Forest Heath District Council and St. Edmundsbury Borough Council. It has been a journey started in 2011 I had with the then leader of Forest Heath District Council Geoffrey Jaggard and then continued by its new Leadership of James Waters and Robin Millar. Initially it was about running two councils with half the staff and at the same time it stunning success has delivery 7 years of 0% District Council tax rises.  Over the period the idea of a new council as the staff, processes and Conservative Cohorts came together seemed more and more the logical next step.  The process has saved millions of pounds and the new Council will have fewer officers, fewer Councillors and the streamlined of processes to deliver better services.

West Suffolk Conservatives Manifesto is an ambitious programme for the next 4 years to make sure that resident’s hard earned money is spent wisely and council tax increases are kept to the absolute minimum to deal with inflation. The plan sets out how we want to deliver high-value jobs to take advantage of the success of the Cambridge sub-region. to build great places that respect the environment we live in and enhance our sense of community but deliver the numbers we need for young families and those who can’t afford a home of their own. And to work with partners to deliver the infrastructure our area needs and residents want.

I am standing for Lakenheath Ward which is made up of the villages of Lakenheath, Eriswell, Elveden and Sedge Fen. I am Lakenheath born and bred. I am standing with Stephen Frost an experienced Councillor and a good friend of mine. Against us is one independent. We want to use our influence and combined experience to be a strong voice for our villages in the ruling Conservative group.

The local elections are not about Brexit or national politics but about our local services and the communities we live in. An independent might seem a protest voice but it would mean that Lakenheath was not represented by experienced councillors with influence in the Conservative Administration merely having someone shouting from the sidelines.

If you want to have a look at our Lakenheath Ward manifesto please click.

https://www.westsuffolkconservatives.com/election-2019

Please do vote on 2nd May 2019 it’s your council and your hard earned money. Please vote for Stephen Frost and myself, so we can be a strong voice for Lakenheath, Eriswell, Elveden and Sedge Fen on the new Council.

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Planning for Retirement Seminar

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Last Thursday I was invited to speak at a morning seminar hosted by Planning Futures, the leading planning policy think tank and Lexington Communications, well-respected planning consultants, entitled ‘Planning for Retirement’.

The event was expertly chaired by Therese Villers MP, and I joined a panel with an old friend of mine Emma Webster from retirement housebuilder Pegasus Life and Michael Stanworth of Lexington Communications.

I spoke about one of the subjects dear to my heart which blends my public life, business life and indeed my family history about retirement housebuilding. I’m the son of a bungalow builder who created a very niche retirement product and sold bungalows in Norfolk and Suffolk to retiring North Londoners who sold their homes often for double what it cost them to buy one of the company’s retirement bungalow thus topping up their pensions and going to live in a lovely environment. For a time I was involved in that company and came up with the strapline ‘It’s just like being on Holiday’ – won an award or two for that one.

Fast forward and in my time as a cabinet member for Adult Social Care, Finance cabinet member and then Leader for a County Council I promoted extra care housing being the sort of latest version in retirement living. In Suffolk, we held two conferences entitled Flexicare 1 and 2, both at Newmarket Race Course. The ambition was for Suffolk to ‘light the way’ as the place providers and developers could build extra care facilities. To this day Judith Hawkshore an Officer at SCC is remembered with great affection by those of us who were privileged to know her, as a leading advocate in the country on Extra-Care housing. The aim was for Suffolk to have the best offering to older people as they looked for more suitable housing and the chance to downsize but still have an independent home but that as they care needs changed, it could help support them better.

Did we achieve this? – A resounding no. None of the Districts councils in Suffolk adopted planning policies to enable it to happen and this disconnect between the challenge and responsibility for an ageing population and the delivery resting at a district or borough level in two-tier areas is at the very core of my thinking about two-tier councils area’s being unfit for purpose. But across the country, it’s not happened either. Pegasus Life and others are still nice developers of great schemes, but the quantum shift in the number of projects being build has not taken place.

So it was interesting that across the panel, we spoke of the planning ‘use class’ problems and the lack of an understanding and knowledge of the differences between Residential Care Homes, Nursing Homes, sheltered accommodation, and extra care amongst planning officers and councillors on development Control Committees.

Planner and Councillors across the country seem reluctant to land extra care, usually on the wrong preconception that it imports older people which is not the evidence, unlike the people who brought my father’s company’s bungalows! The evidence is where schemes are built; it’s local older people who move. Unlike the concept, my father sold to retiring North Londoners all those years ago! This has perhaps something to do with the differentiation of a cohort of just retiring and the final move we make in our older age the difference between the two age profiles is far greater now as we all enjoy a longer life. Older people need better choices than many face today between struggling on in their family home or some form of residential care home.  If someone has dementia then often a residential setting is the right choice but if you as just increasingly frail in older age that can seem like a death sentence. when I am old and frail I will want support but I will still want my own front door and my lifetime’s worth of stuff with me. I might not be able to cook but I will still want my own kitchen and that choice that extra care schemes provide is just not open to many yet.

So what to do? Firstly change the ‘use’ classification last given a major overhaul in the 1980’s! As per the recent recommendation from the Local Government Commons Select Committee recommendation so that Extra Care is a use classification of its own and clearly explained as such.

And from Housing Associations and local councils re-entering the building of homes game – let’s see a significant focus on older people extra care housing across all tenures. Let’s finally address the needs of our ageing population, providing suitable homes to aspire to.  So as the number of people living for far longer increases both in numbers and age we build extra care schemes close to where people live and that are suitable for them, to help them cope with old age and to support them better. Thus removing the stark choices that face many in older age, struggling on in unsuitable family homes or going into residential care. People deserve better choices than that.

The government rightly talks a lot about the additional homes we need, Kit Malthouse’s additional 100,000 more per year, but let’s also talk about housing for older people and extra care in the same breath and the coming Health and Social Care green paper.

After Carillion: The future of Public Sector Insourcing and Outsourcing

fullsizeoutput_2ca6Last Thursday I was pleased to chair a DODS Westminster Briefing conference entitled After Carillion: The future of Public Sector Insourcing and Outsourcing.

I was asked to chair the event I think because I have politically lead on many of the outsourcing contracts at Suffolk County Council and have experience and some knowledge of what works and what does not. And, I suppose, from a local government perspective, I’ve formed a clear picture of the sort of services you can and perhaps those you should not, outsource.

For me, these events are a chance to learn more about these critical aspects of service delivery to the Government and Local Government sectors. Done well, services, both outsourced and insourced, are at the heart of a well-run council and government department, saving money, being efficient, protecting front line services and delivering for the residents of an area. Poorly done and it can have a real negative impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, look at the rollout of Universal Credit.

The day was divided into two sessions the mornings being Outsourcing: Effective management, communication and regulations of contracts, the afternoon’s was entitled Insourcing: Competing effectively with the private sector.

In the morning we heard from, Andy Hobart, Commerical Director MHCLG, who’s background includes heading up Wates Housing Division. Emma Wilson, Audit Manager from the UK Audit office; Christopher Ford, Principle – Government Affairs DXC Technology the second biggest ITC provider in the country which I think it is fair to say few of us have heard of; and Roopali Khurana, Local Government Services, Capita Southampton Limited who works to provide procurement services for Southampton City Council.

All of them spoke of the need to make sure that contracts are managed not just signed and hope for the best and the need for the procurement team to be a part of how you source providers – as with any relationships it about the focused work that needs to be put in to make the best of them. One top tip from Roopali was about bringing in the procurement team at an early stage and meeting the actual people who will deliver a contract not just those brought in to go through the procurement process.

In the afternoon we heard from Trevor Ingham, Head of Procurement at Liverpool City Council who spoke of this councils attitude to price and social value considerations, and how that plays a significant part in his Councils procurement processes. In Suffolk, we call that the Suffolk pound and its place in procurement has always been an interesting debate. And last but not least we heard from Abby Semple, Independent Consultant, Public Procurement Analysis. Abby made, for me, an important observation which I reiterated in my conference summing up, when she said it’s essential that as a ‘fire’ breaks out with the likes of Carillion and unbeknown to us at that time, but indeed coming as no surprise the next day, Interserve going in the receivership. Just because a ‘fire’ starts in some of these big outsourcing contracts it should not, it must not lead to a stampede to insourcing as there are reasons why and lessons to learn not a simple knee jerk approach to this complex world.

In my summary, I spoke about the political imperatives that also exists around services and the mistake to assume just because its the blue team or the red team in control it means they are in favour of this or that approach as often it’s more about the history and culture of an organisation than political ideology. But above all its about how best to deliver services. The trick is to know which should be internal or external and to manage them well irrespectively.

When I chair conferences, I am incredibly keen to hear of the experience in the room amongst the delegates as well as from the speakers. Last Thursday during the day the attendee’s were great, and we have many interesting thoughts, comments and discussions on this important subject. All in all, a day where I learnt a lot and hoped those who presented and were delegates, did the same.

More, Better, Faster – new Homes

fullsizeoutput_2c7eLast Wednesday I attended the latest annual Local Government Association Planning, Housing and Infrastructure Conference where Leaders, Councillors with a focus on housing and Officers from across the country gathered to hear the thinking on housing delivery and best practice from around the country, as Councils step up to the release of the Housing Revenue Account restrictions and encouragement to start building again. The LGA and many of us have for years been telling Government that the limits on Councils building homes has been a massive mistake, thankfully now being rectified. Along with Housing Associations, Councils must have a real focus and funding to address this national crisis.

I am delighted to see that West Suffolk Councils are continuing to develop Barley Homes which I started when Leader of Suffolk County Council jointly with West Suffolk Councils. I think it’s a mistake that the new leadership at Suffolk County Council have walked away from this direct ability and responsibility to deliver more homes, thankfully a view not shared by most other upper tier Councils alongside District and Boroughs stepping up to the challenge.

First up was Kit Malthouse MP Minister of State, Housing Community and Local Government. This was the third time I had heard Kit speak in as many weeks and his determination to see this country finally start to solve our housing crisis is infectious. Its quite clear from the trade press dispatches this week from MIPIM in Cannes, his department’s off-gov agency Homes England is starting to have a real voice in our housing debate and money is beginning to flow to drive forward on increasing housing delivery numbers.

Much is said and written about a new dawn for modular housing, built not in fields but factories but we were reminded by Kit Malthouse who challenged the room to see if we are going to build the Conservation areas of the future. Or repeat the mistakes of the ’60s and ’70s the very housing in some parts of the country, Councils and Housing Associations want to put down to build better homes, spaces and mixed tenure communities.

In the following session, Claire Bennie, Director of Municipal Consultancy continued this theme that one size does not fit all and to see a return to the sort of poor shared space and boring designs of the ’60s and ’70s council house estates would be a real mistake. I quite agree communities develop in part through great design and massively though mixed tenure. The sort of ‘model T Ford, any colour as long as its black’ approach to modular housing whereby you can have anything as long as its unit model 1 or 2 or 2 or 1; that seems to be being proposed by many modular housing providers. These limitations in design do not sit comfortably with the aspirations of Kit Malthouse when he talks about the conservation areas of the future, with great design sympathetic to its setting and the creation of new and exciting spaces and places to live with a wide variety of residents. This will require MMC built homes which are flexible enough to be produced in short build runs as well as making all the savings and technical improvements to housing that factory built can offer.

One of the most interesting presentations was from Cllr. David Bittleston, Leader of Woking Borough Council who presented his Council’s innovative scheme whereby tenant’s swop their right to buy for a deposit scheme called ‘Earn Your Deposit’ – just brilliant.

http://www.earnyourdeposit.org.uk

Its strapline is: Giving everyone the opportunity to own their own home – as the scheme does precisely that.

As I go around the country talking about housing and my company’s approach to MMC modular homes I shall also be pointing organisations in Woking’s direction.

Whether its Councils or Housing Associations the 2020’s must be the era of building homes. As Kit Malthouse says ‘More, Better, Faster ‘ – I could not agree more.

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