October Newsletter

Here’s my latest Newsletter that goes to my growing list of those who have asked to receive it direct via email and distributed to Parish Councils across Row Heath for their members.

It’s also important to keep people informed as to what is happening with the councils, the thinking behind decisions, however bizarre they at first look, maybe details about services available in a community and frankly the occasional myth busting!

So here is the link to October’s:

http://mailchi.mp/7c1acc74fb81/colin-nobles-row-heath-newsletter-oct-2018

If you would like to receive it please just email me colin@askcolinnoble.com and I’ll add you to the circulation list.

Services in our rural communities

Last week I attended the Rural Services Network conference in the beautiful town of Cheltenham, it’s an organisation and conference focused on rural issues and services in our communities.  All of the councils in Suffolk contribute to the organisation except Ipswich Borough Council, as each Council has rural communities. My division is made up of a series of villages, so I was particularly keen to hear about businesses in rural communities and on transport issues.

The conference sponsor was the Post office, and I was particularly keen to hear from them about the services they provide. In my Division, the largest village Lakenheath clung onto its last remaining bank branch, but Lloyds Bank recently announced that this is to close, and for people, they are worried they will not be able to get to a bank.  However, Debbie Smith, Chief Executive of Retail spoke of the bank services that they can provide to over 99% of UK bank customers so and as she reeled off facts and figures about the Post office it struck me that many people in my community probably do not know that the Post office can step in when the branch closes.  Many people have told me how disappointed they are with Lloyds for closing it.  But to be fair to Lloyds I have asked those who have mentioned it to me, and younger people, how long since you have used the counter service?  And how many, like me, now use the banking apps and the internet to do most of the services I need.  On those rare occasions when someone writes me a cheque figure, I can now photo it and process it myself.  How the world changed, from the Friday afternoon queue that used to be at the Lakenheath Branch. It was like a little business social club as you waited your turn to bank the week’s cheques, how times change.

One of the highlights of the conference was the keynote session from Tony Travers, Director of the IPA, London School of Economics, Local Government Futures and Innovation.  I have over the past 12 years hearing Tony speak at various conferences with a real insight as to what is going to happen in the short to medium term. He explained his thinking and what is lightly to happen with the economy, public spending and thus his view of the next four years of local government funding.  He spoke of the term ‘flat cash’, and that’s his view that we will get about the same money irrespective of the rising costs in Adult social services inflation and in particular Children’s social care costs which are across the county a real challenge to carefully worked out budgets. If a child needs a protection package in place, then it is provided, simple as that and rightly so, but it does not stop the costs rising and with it the challenges both in terms of support and finance of finding the money.

Over the two days, there was a quality line up of speakers not least my colleague from St. Edmundsbury Cllr. Carol Bull and one of our officers Ben Smith who gave a presentation about the tremendous joint working that is taking place as we form the new West Suffolk Council, the sessions were well attended, and a lot of interest was shown at the innovative work taking place and how we have been careful about how we bring two councils together.

The other main highlight for me being the Pixel Financial Management update on the Fairer Funding discussions taking place between the LGA and the MHCLA.  They are carrying out this work on behalf of the CNN and the RSN to lobby Government that rural areas have increased costs in service delivery across a broad range of services due to the distance between properties.

Looking further forward there was a very interesting presentation from a company called Vectos whose session was titled ‘Connecting Rural Communities through Smart Transport and Mobility.  Part of the presentation was about on-demand vehicle services which with eh arrival of driverless cars, which is coming, how we might be able to use functions in entirely different ways and ways that make our rural communities better connected.  In my postbag residents’ write to me worried about bus services as they approach the age they may have to give up driving, there is a revolution coming in public and personal transport, and it will be fascinating to see what happens in the future.

So, we looked at Rural service such as the Post offices banking offer, the flat cash position likely to remain over the next few years for Local Government, the lobbying for a Fairer Funding allocation even if there is no more money the distribution across Local Government might reflect the rural nature of our communities and the costs associated with that. And the future of public transport even if that’s a long way off!

September 2018 Newsletter

As a Councillor its important to be available to residents and that’s why I am active on Social Media.  Nowadays this method of contact is running ‘neck and neck’ with emails as how people ask questions and seek help with issues in their lives, but I suspect it won’t be long before most questions comes via social media.

It’s also important to keep people informed as to what is happening with the councils, the thinking behind decisions, however bizarre they at first look!, maybe details about services available in a community and frankly the occasional myth busting – but hey lets face it, communications is a two way thing.

So one of the ways I do this is issue a monthly email newsletter, this has two versions, one goes to to my Division’s Parish Council clerks’ for them to forward onto their Councillors, and the other is a newsletter to a growing band of people who have kindly asked me to include them on my email distribution list.

So here is the link to September’s:

https://mailchi.mp/b27d51635885/colin-nobles-row-heath-newsletter-sept-2018

If you would like to receive it please just email me colin.noble@suffolk.gov.uk and I’ll add you to the circulation list.

Money is not everything but it does help

Its been a fascinating couple of weeks with significant papers published on Health and Social Care from both the County Council Network and the Local Government Association.

Those of you who are kind enough to read my blog know that beyond anything else in Local Government this is the area I am interested in, not only because its a subject dear to my political heart but because in addition to Children’s services, this is mission critical stuff for councils and communities.

But this particular blog is about something else that is starting to happen, so I will return to the published papers in a future blog. There is a slow rumbling; some might say mumbling, of Councils who are beginning/willing to voice concerns as to the suitability of their councils.  Councils are starting to run out of money and are beginning to say so.

In the past few days, East Sussex a well run Council with an outstanding Leader of many years experience in Louise Goldsmith and a well-respected CE in Becky Shaw publishes a paper about the future of service delivery.  This comes on the back of a problematic Council meeting in Northamptonshire where the public voiced their anger at the council for the announcements of just what their financial failure means regarding services. In both cases a discussion about the delivery of statutory services only. Northampton immediately, East Sussex in the slightly longer terms as their cash reserves diminish.  So whether its a council that had failed to step up to the challenges these past few years or a council that has and is now thinking about the future, that future is bleak.

Before I go any further let’s be clear what we mean when we use the term ‘Statutory minimum’. As a former County Council Leader, I spend many an hour debating what those words mean, and it means a level of children’s protection services which are not good enough and only those Adults with the most desperate needs will receive any help. The result of which place children at risk and those with Learning and Physical disabilities not receiving the support they need to live meaningful lives. For the vast majority of older people who through no fault of their own become frail or have Dementia and who lack the means to provide for themselves will not get support to do the things, we take for granted. Such as getting out of bed, washing and preparing meals or have dementia, demine these services to those who can’t afford to pay for themselves, and you are condemning them to horrible old age.

The state of the roads and how often our bins get emptied, exercises us all, as these are the universal services we all use. But the vast majority of Council spending and activity is not in those areas but the provision of Social Services and care, whether they be Children or Adults. Unitary, Upper or District and Borough Council levels do not matter – the vast majority of staff and activity goes into Children and Adults Social Services. Councils or Councillors who do neither will tell you that their services are as vital such as Planning and Environment but seriously they are not, they matter and we value them, but they pale into insignificance compared with protecting children and helping vulnerable adults.

Of course, some Councils could be better run, of course, there is always room for improvement and efficiencies but for the vast majority of councils its starting to be about money. The real terms cuts in Local Government grant that has been the hallmark of Central Government funding since 2010. Now you can argue the merits or otherwise of this Governments’ fiscal policy, I happen to think it has been right to address the national overspend. But it would be wrong to say there have not been cuts and to recognise that these need to be discussed now if we are to avoid more Northamptonshire like failures.

Children’s services are interesting in that when it goes wrong whether that is a poor OFSTED report for Children Services or the worse case of abuse and neglect. System failure is just not tolerated, but let’s be realistic Children Services standards are linked to the funding. Where social workers are operating in a stretch system its struggles, put enough money in service, even taking into account recruitment issues, the caseload drops, line management support is as it should be, so that frontline social workers have a team to share their thinking with and the quality of the service goes up. Adequately financed, well resources with capacity results in good services, dah!

Adult Social Care is more confused as only some of us will need it, the debate rages about property wealth and who should support people in their older age. I shall blog about the two papers recently published but let us not lose sight of the fundamental issue Local Government currently faces, and that is funding, as I say money is not everything, but it does help.

A decent home for all

Last Wednesday I attended the first ever County Council Network conference on Housing, sounds surprising doesn’t it that the County Councils have never held one before.  Your surprise level probably depends on your point of view, if you’re not a councillor then maybe a surprise.  But if you are it somewhat depends on what type of council you sit on, if you are in a two-tier area so a District or Borough Councillor, then you might think hey that’s a power grab.

But that, of course, is one of the problems in itself that the issues of housing delivery get distilled into such arguments as soon as Local Government discusses housing.  And its a ‘Red Herring’ of a case, in our country most people will agree with the title of this post that regardless of income and tenure everyone deserves to live in a decent home.  However few would ever accept the new housing proposed near them! So why is this? Some people will of course merely object, afterall they have their home.  But for most, it is the fear of what the new housing not the people who will live in them but the pressures it will place on the infrastructure and services they use in their day to day lives from Highways Junctions to Doctors Surgeries.  NIMBYism is more complicated than just houses in their backyard.

And of course, most of this perceived strain is not provided by the District and Boroughs most of that is about highways, public transport, school place planning and access to GPs and community services which are delivered by upper tier or Clinical Commissioning groups.  And resolved by Strategic plan rather than the specifics about which brownfield site or field they should be built.

Now, this starts to sound like a rag on District and Boroughs, but it’s not its a rag on the system which places vital aspects of community delivery into two different bodies. This demarcation of responsibilities can lead to utter chaos.  Such as the tale I once heard of a County council having to threaten legal action because a District council refused on one site, based on the developer’s viability argument, to seek contributions towards a new school provision as long as the developer delivered Affordable Housing in line with their Local Plan requirements.  And in our system, because the education contribution element is the remit of the County Council who do not have the powers to demand clauses in an S106 agreement, the District was able to contemplate such arrangement, well they did until the County Council’s pre-High Court action letter arrived.

Now there is a duty to co-operate, and sensible councils in two-tier areas are starting to think about the infrastructure delivery across all the partners including health, but each is a fix around for a broken system.

So right at the start of last Wednesday’s Conference, the chairman Cllr. Philip Atkins OBE, Leader of Staffordshire CC who is the CCN Spokesperson for Housing and Infrastructure, said the day ahead is not a conference to grab power it’s a conference to see how the duty to co-operate required by Government under the NPPF can work better and how together councils can increase housing growth in communities.

It also launched two exciting papers about the growing crisis in housing need and affordability and the role of County Councils in future housing delivery planning. If you are connected with the housebuilding industry both are well worth a real.

https://www.countycouncilsnetwork.org.uk/new-reports-back-a-larger-role-for-counties-in-planning-as-councils-warn-over-severe-need-for-affordable-homes/

One of the presenters at the conference and contributors to the above was Kate Henderson who over the past few years has put the TCPA onto the map in the debate on housing.  The following day she was announced as the new CE of the National Housebuilders Federation, an excellent appointment and hopefully, she can use her new role to advance the debate so this county start to deliver the 300,000 homes MHCLG have stated we need.

Only Saturday Sir Oliver Letwin waded into this debate with his article in the Telegraph, rightly talking about the spirit we need to meet the challenge the Government has set of 300,000 homes per year in a system that delivers little more than half that.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2018/06/23/greater-variety-homes-needed-solve-housing-crisis-says-oliver/?WT.mc_id=tmg_share_em

Of course in reading this, some will sense that if one council had the responsibility in an area for all the community and planning functions, it would work better but of course, some areas do.  In the recent Respublica report for the CCN they comment on housing start delivery, so whether you think the system of Local Government needs urgent reform or we need to find ways to deliver more housing with the system we have got. But there is a role in the delivery rather than the planning process alone, for Local Government and I shall blog another time about Local Government housing companies.

Sadly Council Tax has to rise

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

Last week, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet voted to increase council tax in Suffolk for the first time since 2010.

A 2.99% increase was approved, along with a 2% adult social care precept, meaning taxpayers will be paying little under 5% for council services than last year.

A council tax rise was not surprising – we had mentioned it last year, with a 1.99% increase put forward, with the adult social care precept at 3%.

Despite the changes in the way the tax is being divided, the increase remains the same.

It’s been said that we are taking away the 1% from the precept to spend elsewhere. This is simply untrue. The 1% we’ve added on top of the 1.99% first mentioned in October will go towards providing adult care. There is nothing more important to us than delivering the best possible frontline services to those who need them most.

We spend half a billion pounds providing services every year. Like the majority of councils in England, we accepted a four-year financial package from the Government, covering the period from 2016/17 to 2019/20. It also, helpfully, provides some certainty about our funding.

However, we can’t rely on this alone. We were successful in our bid to be one of 10 areas where we can retain 100% of business rates generated here in Suffolk, which will help. But there still remains a budget gap.

In 2018/19, the gap is £26.8million. That is the difference between the amount of money it will cost to provide essential council services in Suffolk and the amount of money we actually have to spend.

We are required by law to have a balanced budget so we have therefore had to find ways of closing that budget gap. We have proposed a range of savings totalling to £23.9m, leaving us with a gap of £2.9m remaining – which will come from our reserves.

We have been careful to limit the use of our reserves as once that money has been spent it’s gone forever and won’t be available to close any future budget gaps.

This isn’t a new way of working for Suffolk County Council. We’ve successfully managed the financial challenges laid down in the Government’s austerity programme and have made savings of £236 million between 2011 and 2018. The response to these challenges has been measured, pragmatic and innovative, and designed to protect front line services as much as possible.

Demand for services has increased since the last council tax increase and it continues to. We also have an investment programme totalling nearly £100m this coming financial year, which includes building new schools, extending and improving existing schools, investing in Suffolk’s road network, continuing to provide better broadband coverage across the county and delivering two major river crossing projects – the Lake Lothing Third Crossing in Lowestoft and the Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich.

Being clear about your goals, listening to people and being accountable for your actions are fundamental principles in public services. When the people of Suffolk voted in the Conservative councillors I lead, it was on the basis of a clear manifesto.

We are introducing business plans, which set out how we will deliver services and how we will measure performance. These are based on three core priorities – inclusive growth, healthcare and wellbeing, and efficient and effective public services.

These are deliverable because of the hard work and commitment of our councillors and staff – working with our partners, businesses and residents to make Suffolk a healthier and more prosperous place to live and work.

Yes, the latest Autumn Budget confirms that the pressure on public spending is likely to continue. But this is not news to us and we have a positive response.

We don’t hang about in Suffolk, we get on and do everything we can to get the best possible outcomes for the people we serve. We do this by listening to what people say and giving them an opportunity to influence the difficult decisions we have to make.

This council tax increase wasn’t taken lightly and every penny will be put to the best possible use. Our staff, our councillors, and I, will make sure of that.

 

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.

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