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.

This weeks EADT Column – a postcard from Manchester

Here is this week’s column:

Last week I attended the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester and as it got underway there were two news stories dominating the world headlines; the terrible mass murder shootings in Las Vegas and the ugly scenes of the referendum in northern Spain. As you made your way into the conference secure zone in Manchester surrounded by the army of heavily armed police with armoured personnel vehicles parked in the side streets, the helicopters overhead and police marksmen placed on tall buildings around the venue, it reminded me that the world and our country is a far less secure a place than any of us would want it to be. The pictures from Spain also underlines that democracy is something that we constantly have to reaffirm and whatever the rights and wrongs of the Catalonian referendum, scenes of masked police seizing ballot boxes and fighting in the streets with firemen reminds us that democracy is a precious thing and it’s important that we all take part peacefully and respectful of differing opinions.

Whilst on the TV we see the big set speeches from the conference floor it’s in the fringe meetings and roundtables that much of the new thinking on issues is debated.  For the Conservatives, there was much analysis of the General Election in June and its successes, for which there were many, to the loss of the majority. Equally there was of course much talk of the biggest issue this country faces, Brexit. The government must make the best of the negotiations and here in Suffolk we have significant businesses relying on us balancing access to the single market with free movement of people or rather the restrictions we seek to impose.  Many of the farmers, builders and care providers I speak to are extremely worried if it becomes harder for Europeans to come work and settle in the UK they will have a crisis of labour supply.

Beyond the election, beyond Brexit, there are more domestic issues the county faces that have to be addressed – everyone is weary of austerity yet we still have an economy where as a nation we are spending more than we are raising. The gap is narrowing but there is still a way to go. The debate may be about how quickly we get there but the debt mounts daily and we have not even started to think about paying that down.

Equally the country has to debate the issue of a socialist Britain as promoted by Labour or a modern entrepreneurial Britain where hard work and effort are properly rewarded but equally a modern Britain where everyone has a chance to get on in life and to live in a safe and fair society.

I think some of this comes as a bit of a shock to any of us old enough to remember Britain in the late 1970s, the winter of discontent, Dennis Healy’s humiliation as Chancellor relying on a loan from the IMF to keep the lights on and then the sweeping aside of the old Labour order as a new modern Britain emerged where success was celebrated not treated with suspicion. But then again at least two generations of readers and voters will not remember that, so the Conservative Party has to once again set out again why Modern Capitalism is the right way forward for our country.

But at the same time issues have to be addressed and solutions offered. One of these is housing and much of my time at the Party Conference was spent in meetings looking at this vexed issue.

Most agree that we need to build more council homes, more social housing, more affordable housing for younger people and more homes better suited for our ageing population but almost everyone seems to agree, just not here!

Of course, housing growth is the remit of the district and borough councils across Suffolk but together with the county council they and us are planning for the future, to make sure whatever your circumstances you have access to a decent home to live and raise your family.

Today we will debate and decide on the council’s position and views on the Local Plans of all the district and borough councils across Suffolk. Over the coming months district and borough councils, with the county council, will be looking at the infrastructure we must deliver to make sure as housing growth comes we invest in our roads, buses and rail services and such vital things as better access to local GP services.

We live in a great and beautiful county but it is only great and beautiful if everyone has a decent home, whatever your circumstances.

 

My Column in the papers & a new road

fullsizeoutput_1c1cHere is this week’s column for the East Anglian Daily Times and the Ipswich Star:

Yesterday I joined councillors, staff and partners who have helped deliver a vital relief road to the east of Bury St Edmunds.

The Eastern Relief Road is a long-time in the making, with Suffolk County Council investing £2million into the £15million project, which was also funded by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and St Edmundsbury Borough Council.

A huge amount of work went into the delivery of this project. From putting a strong business case forward to laying tarmac on the ground, this showed what partnership working can do.

Although the route is only a mile or so long, a 67-hectare area of land will be unlocked for economic development, creating 15,000 jobs and boosting the area by millions of pounds. It will also relieve congestion in Bury St Edmunds and in light of that, we’ve improved junction 45 of the A14.

Without these benefits, we would not have been able to get this road built.

Now the road is open, business development should begin to increase in the area. From the road, you are within an hour from the internationally-significant Port of Felixstowe. This is a prime area of land that hasn’t been able to be used before and I’m positive manufacturers will want to be based in Suffolk, with the benefits it brings.

Bury St Edmunds will see a boost too, as the creation of jobs will mean more people can work in their home town – reducing a need to commute out of Suffolk. More people will be using the town’s shops, bars, and restaurants as well.

This road shows how we and our partners can work for you to deliver a sustainable future for the people of Suffolk.

There’s further good partnership working in Bury St Edmunds, for the benefit of all road users – the schemes in the town centre we’re carrying out to improve the movement of traffic through the town and the safety of all road users.

Work has also begun on the Beccles Southern Relief Road. Costing £7million, this is further evidence of how we can improve things for people – with better journey times for all road users and an economic boost to the business owners in that area.

While on the topic of partnership working and delivering new routes for those using our roads, we’ve extended the consultation for Lowestoft’s Lake Lothing Third Crossing, with an additional event at Pakefield Church Hall on October 5. So far we’ve had a great response to the consultation and we want to ensure everyone has their say on this significant project.

Work is continuing on delivering the Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich and as part of a differing set of works in the town, we’ll begin working on the first junction improvement scheme, at Landseer Road and Clapgate Lane.

We’re currently consulting on proposals for Suffolk’s Energy Gateway in the east of the county, and we continue to study the possibility of a relief road to the north of Ipswich, as well as one in Sudbury.

All of the above wouldn’t be where they are without the combined working of us and our partners, to deliver the best we can provide for our county. And it doesn’t just count for our roads, we work with our partners in Clinical Commissioning Groups and the NHS with regards to caring for our most vulnerable.

As you will have seen in the news this past week, party conference season is upon us. Journalists are basing themselves in and around the bases of each major party, trying to find out what they can before the announcements are made on stage to the nation’s media.

The Liberal Democrats have held theirs, in Bournemouth, and Labour are currently hosting theirs in Brighton.

The Conservative’s annual conference starts on Sunday and I will be going to Manchester to represent Suffolk, discussing how we can play a bigger role in the national picture. I’ll be reporting back in my next column about my role and how the conference went.

We’re doing the best we can for the people of Suffolk – and our partners are doing so too.

 

 

The search begins

fullsizeoutput_1b91A week last Friday Deborah Cadman made her last presentation to the Conservative group before her move to be CE of the WMCA and we presented her with a bowl engaged with our thanks for all her hard work for Suffolk.

And so last Monday I spent the day at Ipswich Town Football Club with colleagues, opposition Councillors, SCC’s Senior Management team and partners from across Suffolk as we interviewed for our next Chief Executive.

The day was long for both the Candidates and some of us on the various interview panels and exercises.  The process was rigorous and as you’d expect different candidates had different skill sets but at the end of the day after all the reports from the various, the tallying of scores and much debate we did not feel that any were quite the right fit for Suffolk.  The Suffolk system is not unique but it is Suffolk’s and the right fit is far more important than simply appointing. I am sure, because I interviewed them, that every single candidate will find their next role and will be a perfect fit somewhere.

Processes like these cost a great deal of money with adverts in the Local Government trade press and the Guardian and Times newspapers alongside appointed recruitment consultants who undertake the work to headhunt for the long candidate list.  So, it was not a decision taken lightly.  However, getting the wrong person is a real problem not only for them as everyone wants to do well in a role but also for Suffolk and that is far more important that having to go through the process and cost again.

Even if selected as is the way the system works, officers usually given three-month notice of leaving for another job and it usually takes three months to get to the interview so assuming you do select someone for a particular role, if internal they simply move across and if external there is usually a three-month gap betwixt the two.  I say usually as this does not always happen, sometimes people resign form one role to take up another – as the CE of Lewisham has just done to take up the same role at Kensington and Chelsea Council following the changes there post the Grenfell Tower disaster where so many people tragically lost their lives and that council and indeed the entire Building Control, Fire Service and local Council sector contemplate how to make sure it never ever happens again.

What next for Suffolk County Council in deciding not to appoint?  We did so in the clear knowledge that we have a great Corporate Management team who can step up.  Not forever, as an organisation the size of Suffolk County Council needs to have a Leader of the officer team, but for now, under our interim CE Sue Cook, who is our outstanding Director of Children’s Services, we crack on with delivering services to the people of Suffolk and planning carefully and prudently for the financial landscape in the years ahead and that starts now with the discussion taking place on our proposed Budget for next year.

We’ll go back out there in January to see whom might be keen to come and work with Suffolk County Council as we delivery for the residents of Suffolk.

My Column in the papers

Here is the latest in my bi-weekly columns for the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star Newspapers, this one was published last Tuesday:

Last week I was in Felixstowe talking to the public as Suffolk County Council’s ‘We Are Listening’ events started up again.

Since becoming leader of the council in 2015, I’ve been committed to getting out into our communities to hear what people’s think about the council and the services we provide.

Joined by the Assistant Chief Executive Chris Bally and councillors Louis Busuttil, Steve Wiles and Graham Newman, we spoke to more than 60 people over the course of the event, with a further 85 feedback cards taken for those who were unable to stop for a discussion on the day.

We took a number of queries away to be looked into further as well. These were mostly highways issues and we’re considering what can be done to help those with problems.

These events are something I’m very keen on carrying out. Getting into the high streets and market places of our wonderful Suffolk towns to hear what our council tax payers think has enabled a better understanding of the issues important to residents.

We have to make some difficult decisions in this job and we wouldn’t be able to do it without input from the people we are here to serve.

It’s also true that all the conversations we’ve had have played an important part of the county council’s decision-making process as well as how we work with our partners.

These events are just one of the many ways we’re making the council more accessible. Council meetings are now webcast – so those who may wish to watch the debate but can’t get to Endeavour House can now tune in live or after the meeting to catch up on what’s been debated, with markers for people to get to the topic they have an interest in.

Debates in the council chamber can be heated and exciting and the more chances people have to see that happening the better.

We also have a stronger social media presence than ever before. Not only does the council actively respond to queries on Facebook and Twitter, many councillors – of all political backgrounds are signed up meaning debate can go further than the council chamber. Suffolk Highways and Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service have very active pages as well, meaning people can see what roadworks we’re carrying out or what major incidents we’re responding to.

We have two more events confirmed this year – in Haverhill on Friday, September 29 and in Ipswich on Thursday, October 26. The Suffolk County Council marquee will be on the high street in Haverhill and by the Giles Statue in Ipswich with both events taking place between 11am and 1pm. I hope to see many of you there.

I’m passionate about hearing what the people think of our services and what they prioritise, so there are plans for two other events, one in Bury St Edmunds and one in Lowestoft, in November and I will be sharing more information on those once they are confirmed.

Last week we also said farewell to our Chief Executive Deborah Cadman. It’s been a real pleasure to work with her and I wish her all the very best for the future as she moves to the West Midlands Combined Authority to become their Chief Executive. We’ve had a strong list of candidates apply to fill the position and I’m sure Deborah’s replacement will be a success in Suffolk.

I also enjoyed reading the lengthy coverage of the Tour of Britain in the paper on Saturday. To have an entire stage come to this county is no small feat and thanks to our officers who helped made it happen. From west to east some of the world’s best cyclists made their way through Suffolk and despite the poor weather it was great to see so many people out supporting them, showcasing the best Suffolk has to offer. Some of the cyclists have said they would like to come back to Suffolk, so we must have put on a good show.

I’m sure the tour act as an inspiration to many of those watching, meaning more people will be getting active as well as giving an economic boost to the county.

We’ll keep working to delivering the best for the county – and we’ll also keep working for our taxpayers and listening to their views.

My Column in the EADT & Ipswich Star

Every two weeks I write a column for the EADT & Ipswich Star, and at this anxious time of year we learn the A-Level and GCSE results, so here are my thoughts on the picture that emerged in Suffolk:

In the past fortnight, teenagers across Suffolk have been picking up exam results that could shape the rest of their lives.

Weeks and months of hard work has come to an end – for both pupils and staff, as well as governors and parents. For some youngsters, the results won’t be what they hoped. For many however, it will mean they will now be looking at the next stage of their lives.

To those who didn’t do as well as expected – it’s not the end of the world, there’s plenty of opportunities out there you to be a success. For those who excelled, as we’ve seen in many photos of excited students with papers jumping in the air, congratulations.

The results we’ve seen across Suffolk are a testament to the county’s continuing ambition to drive up educational standards.

Provisional A Level figures have shown the number of A*-E grades awarded to the near-3,000 students taking the exams as above the national average – with 98.2% of results making the grade, 0.3% above the average.

Even with the changes and uncertainty in GCSE grading for English and Maths this year, 64% of students achieved expected attainment levels – grade four (previously a grade C) and above – an increase on last year.

A number of schools saw significant increases in their students reaching the grade four threshold – and the hard work of all involved in achieving these should be commended.

More than 7,000 Suffolk students took GCSEs this year and figures collated from schools show a significant increase in the number of disadvantaged pupils achieving the threshold measure in English and maths – around 6% more students in Suffolk achieved this compared to last year.

We are in the process of reinvigorating our Raising the Bar strategy for 2018 through to 2020 and will be sharing more information on that soon, followed by a consultation. In the process of carrying out this work officers have already been out in the sector engaging with school heads to see what they think should be in there.

This strategy aims to give every child the best preparation for life before and beyond school to enable them to achieve their full potential. Part of this vision is for every child to attend a good or outstanding school.

As part of the scheme, we have seen great successes in getting people into teaching through our graduate internship scheme and school to school support partnerships – where schools build relationships to share best practice and drive up standards – have improved throughout the county. These partnerships, of which 75% of schools work in, have been recognised by the Department for Education, as well as the Regional Schools Commissioner.

Suffolk also continues to be above the national average for children achieving a good level of development at the end of Reception year – a vital step in preparing children for their next steps in education and towards our goal of enabling all children in the county to reach their full potential.

Suffolk’s students are progressing well between key stage three and key stage four– moving up 57 places from 112th to 55th across in the national rankings last year, putting our county in the top half of all local education authorities.

When we launched this ambitious approach, Suffolk’s educational standards were considered to be poor – little over two-thirds of schools were rated either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. With hard work and a common goal, the best for our county’s children, we have really managed to turn this around. Today, 88% of schools have been rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by government inspectors – a 22% increase since the strategy’s launch.

The rate of improvement is fast too – last year our county’s schools reduced the gap on the national average by 5% and we are now just 1% below the national figure.

However, we are under no illusion that our work is complete and while it is extremely pleasing to see the progress made so far, there is still more to be done and I am confident we will see our schools and education settings continue to improve quickly.

The future remains bright for our children – and we will continue to provide the best opportunities for them.

 

Independent Remuneration Panel

Every 4 years any Council is required to appoint an Independent Remuneration Panel to look at and report on the Allowance scheme for members of that particular Council.

So, last year we asked the monitoring officer of the Council to put together an independent panel to undertake the work.  The panel is unpaid and seeks to balance the need to make sure the scheme reflects the work undertaken with the need to keep costs down.

4 year ago the previous panel recommended work be undertaken before the next panel to look at various roles and to provide job descriptions to the next panel.  So, a year ago we asked the Audit Committee of the Council to draw up job descriptions for all the different roles Councillors undertake.  When the new panel formed last September, we asked that they be asked to take time to interview as many Councillors as possible.  We also asked that they reflect our scheme in the context of the schemes and levels of allowances from Upper Tier Councils across the East of England, which they have done.

The panel is made up of Sandra Cox who chaired the Panel and is a local government expert, Dame Lin Homer who has had a long career in Local and National Government roles, Mark Pendlington a Director of Anglian Water and Chairman of the NALEP and Andy Wood CE of Adnams.  So, by any one’s measure an expert panel who are all recognised as leaders of industry with years of experience in making tough decisions in large organisations.  The panel met 7 times between November 2016 and June 2017 to fully consider the scheme which will apply for the next four years.

We did ask them to consider the age and profile of the Councillors, as this is a concern to us all and how we could increase the number of women, younger people, and BME representatives of our community to better reflect our population.  In essense should the allowance scheme be increased to attract more diversity in the Chamber because people can’t afford to do it but they felt that in these difficult times that must be achieved by other means.

The Panel is recommending no change to the level of basic allowance county councillors receive but is suggesting an increase to the level of allowance for the roles of Leader, Deputy Leader and Cabinet by raising the way this is calculated which is by a multiplication of the basic allowance so Leader – from 2.5 to 3, Deputy – from 1.75 to 2, Cabinet – from 1.5 to 1.75.  These recommendations put Suffolk County Council in line with other county councils.

They have looked thoroughly at all aspects of the allowance scheme and make a number of recommendations that seek to remove outdated payments (breakfast/lunch etc.).  They also felt that in comparison to other Councils we now have too many Committees and so have recommended mergers of some with the removal of two Committee Chairman and less Members with Special Responsibility which we have reflected in the number that have been appointed to 4.  The overall effect of the proposals is cost neutral and that means they will not cost the Council tax payers of Suffolk any more money.

So these recommendations offer a revised allowance scheme with no additional burden to local tax payers.  The proposals will come before the Full Council next Thursday 20th July.

I believe there is little point asking an independent Panel to look at a scheme if you do not accept their findings and I believe it is fair and reasonable to accept their findings.

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