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.

 

 

We are Listening

Here’s my first column of the year for the EADT and Ipswich Star last week:

Happy New Year.

In the ‘lull’ between Christmas and New Year I like to reflect on what has taken place in the year behind us, as well as looking forward to the future.

One thing I’ll be hoping for in 2018 is greater participation from you, the public. Since the elections in May, I, along with my colleagues and our officers, have been working hard to give those we serve more chances to have their say and more opportunities to have their voices heard.

These are unprecedented times for local government. Savings have to be made and the way we provide our services will be changing. And we want you to be involved more than before.

Though this isn’t breaking news, our council meetings are open to the public. Members of the media regularly attend and report on them. Recently we’ve had more members of the public come to our meetings, and I’d like to see more people come along to further their understanding of how we make decisions and witness the debate between members first hand.

At our council meetings as well, the public are invited to get involved, in the form of asking a question or making a comment. In order to do this, all you need to do is send a request to www.suffolk.gov.uk/apply-to-speak-at-a-public-meeting/

However, if you can’t make our meetings, why not watch them online? All of our full council meetings are streamed online and we’ve recently upgraded the cameras in the council chamber to present a high definition quality stream to those either watching live or at a later date. You can find out more about watching our meetings online by visiting www.suffolk.gov.uk/webcasting/

We also want you to give us feedback on our services and how we provide them. We value the thoughts of those we serve, as they can help us shape what we provide and how. If you think something needs to be improved, let us know. If you feel you’re not getting the support you should be getting, we want to know. If you believe someone deserves recognition for their work, we’d like to hear about it.

You can do so by visiting www.suffolk.gov.uk/about/give-feedback-or-make-a-complaint/ but by also speaking to us using social media – we regularly respond to queries on our Facebook page, which can be found by searching for @SuffolkCountyCouncil as well as on Twitter @SuffolkCC – if you don’t already ‘like’ follow us I would suggest doing so as there is an array of useful information posted regularly.

If it’s something in your town or village that you have comments on, it may also be worth speaking to the councillor in your division, who may be able to assist. As councillors we are here to serve our residents and we are regularly working hard on local issues. If you don’t know who your councillor is, you can find them on our website here – www.suffolk.gov.uk/find-your-councillor/

We also consult residents and service users when changes are being made. In the past year we have consulted on a number of things, such as the Lake Lothing Third Crossing in Lowestoft, roadworks in Bury St Edmunds and roadworks in Ipswich. We currently have two consultations live at the moment – high needs funding and school and post-16 travel. We want your views – the better the response, the better informed we are moving forward on any potential decisions.

Last year I was joined by councillors and officers at five ‘we are listening’ events across the county – in Bury St Edmunds, Felixstowe, Haverhill, Ipswich and Lowestoft. These events are something I enjoy doing as it gives me, and others at the council, the chance to speak to the electorate about issues affecting them. It also gives a personal touch and the fact we are actively seeking views may make it easier for people to share their views.

At those events we received a number of comments which have since been acted on with the help of officers, giving positive outcomes for many.

These events are something I’m wanting to continue this year, and I hope to see as many of you as possible as and when they are held, across the county.

So why not make a new year’s resolution to get involved where you can at Suffolk County Council?

A very happy New Year

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I always like to start the year with a reflective blog on last year and a few thoughts about the year ahead.

It was an eventful year with the General election in June and a few weeks earlier the County Council elections at the beginning of May.  At the county elections, I led a strong conservative team of 74 Candidates campaigned on a manifesto for Suffolk.  Voters were excited to vote Conservative and we were returned with a thumping majority with 52 out of 75 Councillors and a majority of 29 with Labour plummeted from 19 to 9! – pinned back into Ipswich with just a couple of seats outside in Sudbury and Lowestoft.  Our manifestos could not have been in starker contrast – ours talking about careful prudent management of the finances and Labours was spend, spend, spend!  We fought every single Division whether we thought we could win it or not, Labour abandoned Rural Suffolk and only fought only in the divisions they targeted, a cynical campaign.

Then we had the General Election and I think it’s fair to say the mood in the country changed during the course of those intervening few weeks and the party lost its slim overall majority.  To me it was a very mixed picture as across Suffolk most of our MPs increased their majority and in particular the very hard-working Peter Aldous cemented his Constituency of Waveney. But the political swing-o-meter began to move dramatically to the left and unfortunately the excellent Ben Gummer lost his seat in Ipswich to the very man who organised such a cynical county council election campaign the County Council labour group Leader Sandy Martin.  The most surreal few weeks I have seen in my political life time and I suspect we will not see the likes of such a dramatic swing again.

With our strong County Mandate, we have set about the budget and the savings we have to make over the next 4-year period coupled with rising demand for services for the most vulnerable in our communities.  But I want this next 4-year term to be more than prudent management of the council I want it to be about the future so we are setting about more ambitious and significant long-term planning than has ever been attempted in Suffolk before.  Together with our partner District and Borough councils, Public Health, the Acute Hospitals and our Clinical Commissioning groups we are working on a string of new strategy documents which once completed this year will be about Suffolk 2050.  I come from the management school of the 4 Ps, poor planning equals poor performance and my very favourite business mantra is ‘aim at nothing and you’ll hit it with remarkable accuracy!’ so the plans will not be party political but about building a broad consensus across the public sector including the health services and with the business community about what we want Suffolk to look like in 2050 and how we get there, in terms of infrastructure, industrial growth, roads rail, social and Health care and the sort of places we want to live in.

Watch this space.

Conservative Values & Budgets

CPC2006-LG-083At the moment, there seem to be a media storm in Westminster with Serious Allegations being diminished by silly ones.  Yet the business of government rolls on with important negotiation on Brexit and more immediately the Chancellors budget.

It’s also an important budget time for Councils as we debate and negotiate our way to our Budget proposals.  Here in Suffolk we do not indulge the grand unveiling in January before a Full Council debate in February for its implementation in May, we take a more inclusive approach and are about to publish our draft for public and Councillor scrutiny.  Last week I alongside the Leader of Kent CC, Paul Carter and Philip Atkins the Leader of Staffordshire CC, being the Chairman and vice-Chairman of the County Council Network sat down with the Secretary of State for Local Government, Sajid Javid MP to discuss the issues with funding we are as County Councils are facing and some of the things we would welcome in the Budget or if not, then in the Local Government Financial Settlement which follows between the Chancellor’s speech and Christmas.  Last Friday as a Conservative group we had our final presentation on the draft budget for 2018/19 before its draft publication.

A budget is one of the key pieces of work as a Councillor you undertake and it should reflect your values and polices.  In May 2017, we set out a very clear set of policies which we have translated into corporate priorities.  We won a massive majority pinning Labour back to but a handful of seats in Ipswich, one in Sudbury and one in Lowestoft but everywhere else soundly rejected as was their spend, spend, spend set of pledges in their campaign.  So, the course is set, steady as she goes, find new ways to do things and protect Front line services for the most vulnerable in our communities.

But its more than that, it has to be about our Conservative values.  Labour often take a very high-handed stance that as Socialists they are the ones with principles and indeed they are, one of them being that they always manage to run out of other people’s money, which helps and protects no one.  Eventually at a local Council or Government level the Conservatives’ then have to sort that out.  But as Conservatives we do have principle about fairness, incentives to get on in life, low taxes and a small state and finally last but not least a hand up, not a hand out.

At times, Conservative Principles seem more difficult to express than socialist dogma.  So as a part of our budget setting process as a Conservative group in administration on SCC we had the first of a series of sessions from one of the brightest thinker I know in Conservative Local Government.  Christina Dykes has spent the past 9 years leading the LGA Flagship political training programme the Next Generation.  Whereas most of the LGA Councillor work is cross-party, the Next Generation programme has been entirely different in that each political party run their own elements of it and each year she has been able to work with about 20 Councillors the next generation of Cabinet members and Leaders, on a year-long journey about being Conservative leaders in Local Government. (the above picture is Christina’s Next Gen 1 cohort at the launch of the programme at the BIC in Bournemouth in 2008, when the party conferences were at the seaside (that’s me on the second right, just behind Sir Eric Pickles in case you did not recognise me after 9 years in Local Government!)

I shall not go into the details of the workshops here but they are built on her years of knowledge of councils and councillors and she challenged the foundations of what we as Conservatives want to achieve in Local Government and then she get us to rebuild our vision so we are clear in our policies and our decision making what is right for our communities and this is reflected in the draft budget we will publish shortly.

My bi-weekly Newspaper column

 

Here is last weeks column I wrote for the EADT & Ipswich Star, enjoy, or least I hope you’ll find it worth a read:

Savings are, unfortunately, part of life working in the public sector.

Every authority is having to do it, including us. There’s no shying away from it. But as we continue to work on forming the budget for next year, there’s a chance to reflect on where we are and how we need to continue to work to deliver the best services for the best value.

Since 2011, we’ve saved £236.2million – no small feat. However, we do still need to save more. By April 2021 we plan to have saved an additional £56million.

These savings will help us prepare for the future. While we’re in a good place, Suffolk will change massively in the next 20 years, therefore we all need to do what we can to ensure the public purse is in the best position to face the challenges predicted.

Life expectancy in Suffolk is higher than the national average already and one in five people are over the age of 65 and by 2037 that is estimated to increase by 50% to one in three.

This is a success story in itself that people are and will be living longer, but Suffolk, its communities and its economy will change – along with the demand on the public sector.

The cost of caring for over 85s will be nearly £300million and the number of people living with dementia in Suffolk is likely to almost double in the next 20 years – 24,300 people. Most of these diagnoses will be in those older than 85 years old.

Based on current admission rates and lengths of stay, an additional 792 acute beds will be needed – that’s nearly enough to fill another two West Suffolk Hospitals.

And while we have a higher percentage of people employed when compared against the rest of the county, but wages are low. This results in lower labour productivity and when you also factor in rental prices, which are forecast to rise twice as fast as incomes, by 2030 around 40% of under-40s will be living with their parents, compared to 14% now.

There are also other statistics that mean we need to prepare for the future. It is estimated that by 2037 the working age population will be similar in size to the dependent population. At the moment, there are around six people of working age to just over four dependent people – in 20 years it is estimated to be closer to five people of working age to five dependents – three older people and two children.

These figures show how different the county will be. We need to be prepared, but also look at what can be done at this point of time.

We must also to ensure the benefits of economic growth in the county – of which there can and will be plenty – are shared by all. We, along with our partners, must also look at addressing housing provision because the current approach will not compete with future demands.

Everything is being looked at. Funding, grants, provision. We’re having to be innovative in how we work, and instead of going it alone, we’re having to work collaboratively with our partners to get the best possible outcomes for the people of Suffolk.

For those starting out in life, we need to continue our focus on the value of a good education. For those carrying out their business, or working in Suffolk – we need to make the county as attractive as possible in order to create jobs and investment. For those retiring, we need to look at how we currently provide health and care. Our current models will not be able to cope with the increases predicted.

One way that we’re looking at changing how we provide health and care is using the Buurtzorg model of care, delivering dedicated personal and healthcare to patients in a neighbourhood. We’re working with our partners in health to deliver this in the west of the county. We’re leading this nationally I’m proud of the work we’re doing so far to change things for the better.

These are challenges that won’t be easy to tackle. But we are ready to face them, head on, with our partners, and get the best for those living, learning, working and retiring in Suffolk.

 

Local Politics – you could not make it up

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Last week we had a FHDC by-election in Newmarket or to be precisely St. Mary’s ward following the sad death of long standing Councillor Bill Sadler.  And I am pictured here with our candidate Robert Nobbs and my fellow County Councillor Rachel Hood as we finished off the campaign in the evening on on Poll day.

After all the ups and downs of the past few months in politics, it was good to be out on the door steps in what was a very local election.  As we always do, we found a great candidate Robert Nobbs who is the manager of the Heath Court Hotel in Newmarket and who has worked his way up from porter to General manager over the years and is what Conservatives are all about hard work, determination and with skills, business skills, that we try to bring to the Council decision making processes.  With our literature he talked about the changes he want to make and how he go about our business.

On the opposition side of things, we had Labour with the Candidate who has manged to lose 4 general elections as the West Suffolk Constituency Labour candidate and been on and booted off the District Council at the next election, twice to my knowledge.  And what a contrast from our literature which was local, upbeat and full of what we want to do.  Whereas Labours was national, socialist and on two specific aspects quite a surprise!   Firstly, he commented on the Local Secondary school where, as its deputy Head teacher, it was one of the worse performing schools in Suffolk.  Since he left, the school has joined a star Academy group which started here in Suffolk at the Samuel Ward Secondary school in Haverhill and its results are improving with a new drive and determination to deliver the best possible education for its students.  So that was a surprise!

He also put in his literature he said if elected to FHDC he would spend more on the Memorial gardens in Newmarket that Conservative FHDC ever did.  Only two issues here, firstly it’s not the responsibility of FHDC and secondly, and he must know this because, as a Town Councillor he was Chairman of the very committee at the Town Council that has not spent the money on those very same gardens, he says he will if elected to FHDC.  You could not make this stuff up folks!

So to the results:

Conservative 338

Labour 276

Greens 60

Total 680. T/O 16.86%

Accordingly, Robert was duly elected with a 62 majority

Politics s is a funny old game but thankfully even with a traditionally very low by-election turnout our Candidate won the day and on FHDC we have a bright, younger energetic Councillor with great business skills representing the good people of St. Mary’s who has already hit the ground running sorting out issues he picked up during his campaign.

 

 

 

 

EADT – A new weekly column

On Tuesday in the EADT and the Ipswich Star I wrote the first of a weekly Column as Leader of Suffolk County Council, well I say weekly it will be every other week as I shall alternate with SCC’s Cabinet Member for Ipswich Paul West who will write more about Ipswich issues as I concentrate on a pan-Suffolk approach.

These will be a mixture of the issues that are happening as the papers go to print and some of my thoughts about how we develop Suffolk as a place to live and work over the next 20 years.  Suffolk County Council is a large organisation delivering services to some of the most vulnerable people in our Community but it is but one players and how we work in partnership across the Public sector, with private businesses and voluntary organisations is key to how we build the place we all want to live.

“Yesterday in Lowestoft, as I witnessed the initial stages of the ground investigations that will shape the final design of the Lake Lothing Third Crossing, I saw the good of our democratic bodies working together.

The investigations, taking place on land behind the offices shared by Suffolk County Council and Waveney District Council, is another step in the right direction to getting the £90million project, funded by both central government and the county council, completed. The benefits will not only be reaped by those living in the town, but across the wider area too. We simply would not have funding for the project had this not been the case. The business case for this project, along with the Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich, was put together by people who work very hard and want the best for our county.

This also rings true for the senior bosses and directors who work on our behalf. They all, like the democratically elected councillors, work hard to make a difference to Suffolk and those who live and work here. Pay in the public sector has always been a fiercely-debated issue, and even more so in recent times. It’s not just politicians and those working in the public sector – we’ve all seen the furore over the salaries awarded to the highest earners at the BBC, as well as the gender pay gap.

Last week we published our accounts, as we do every year and are required to do so. As has been reported, the majority of our staff received the 1% pay rise, in line with other public sector workers up and down the country. However, a select few members of staff received honorariums as they stepped up to fill roles, either on a temporary or permanent basis.

Indeed, they are pay rises, but they are reasonable, considering they come with greater pressures and expectations. There is no hiding from the changes that will be coming to the United Kingdom in the next two years and these people will be there assessing and dealing with those challenges. Alongside that, as an organisation we are looking to save £56million over the next four years and, along with the cabinet, these people are key to making difficult but effective decisions.

Bringing in new people to the roles would have cost the council even more money. Not just for the roles themselves, but for the cost of advertising the position. Then there is the time element too, as staff will be taken away from working on policy and serving the community as they filter applications and sit in interviews.”

Our recently introduced priorities are based on three core principles; inclusive growth, health care and wellbeing, and efficient and effective public services. These are ambitious targets – but ones I know we can achieve during the term of the administration.

This is because of the hard work and commitment of our staff, regardless of pay grade, and our councillors – and not just those in control of the administration, as opposition provides checks and balances and the chance to challenge us on policies.

Sound financial management is needed, along with careful planning and the will to find new ways to deliver and protect our frontline services. One of these methods Suffolk is leading on nationally – inspired by the work of a Dutch community, using the Buurtzorg model of care (to deliver dedicated personal and healthcare to patients in a neighbourhood) in the west of the county with our partners in health.

The work we have been doing here is something I am proud to champion in my position of Health and Social Care Integration spokesman on the County Council Network. It is something I truly believe is a strong contribution to the national debate about how we re-shape the healthcare system to serve the ever-changing age profile of our communities. I’m sure there will be more of this to come in the weeks and months ahead as the trial continues.

We, and our partners, work extremely hard to provide the best for our residents. Despite the challenges we will come up against, our staff continue to excel every day in a concerted effort to make savings and provide a better life for those we serve.

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