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.

At what age do we become ‘old’?

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

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

At what age do we become ‘old’?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Remembrance weekend

Time flies by and it hardly seems a year since the last Remembrance weekend. Across the country millions turned out to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and in my Division of Row Heath it was no different.  There are 6 Parish War memorials and one War Graves and wreaths were laid at each.

On Saturday morning, I joined small crowds of residents and old military personnel and laid wreaths at West Row, Tuddenham St. Mary, Eriswell and Kenny Hill.   On Sunday morning, I joined others at Beck Row’s Parish Memorial and then onto the War Graves Memorial at the side of St. Johns Church before a Remembrance Day Church Service.  In the afternoon, in Lakenheath, we all assembled including children from the primary school, Beavers, Cubs, Brownies, Girl Guides and Scouts before marching behind Lakenheath’s splendid Silver Band up the high street to the War Memorial to lay wreaths before marching to the church for the Remembrance Day service. It’s always a rousing occasion with crowds lining the route and then walk up to witness the laying of the wreaths including many children taking part in the parade and ceremony. many hundreds lining the high street to see the march pass, gather at the laying of the of the wreaths and then into Church for the service with the Silver Band providing the musical compliment to the more military Hymns sung on such occasions.  It’s also an occasion when we remember those whom we have all lost and in church I sat next to Alex who knew my parents well and who lost his dear wife this past year, so a time to remember our own families as well.

These small acts are important and that’s why when I because Leader of Suffolk County Council I actively encourage all Councillors to be involved in these ceremonies and I am really please that more than ever Councillors represent the county and wreaths are laid across Suffolk on behalf of the county council.  It also about building community resilience as the more people who turn out to pay their respects the more they are involved in community life and this is the very synapsis of more resilient communities.  People coming together, talking to their neighbours and sharing a common purpose alongside other things like going to a camera or gardening club or helping a neighbour once in a while.  It’s really easy in these fast-moving times to simply sleep somewhere and not get involved but it does not have to be a massive commitment simple small acts, that can, if everyone did them, make a big difference and a powerful force for building stronger communities.  In part, this is also role of Councils and Councillors to try to nurture this sense of involvement and community.

On Saturday evening myself, Lisa and good friends went to see the fireworks at Ely. They are held in the Cathedral grounds and beforehand we have a quick drink in the Fountain, a pub opposite my old school, Kings Ely, and my 6th form study.  It’s the pub we never drank in, as it was where the teachers congregated in the evening and indeed at lunchtimes!  After that trip down memory lane it was through ‘The Porta’ building to the Bishop’s meadow. I can’t remember when they first held the fireworks but I was at school – so a few years ago now and I have been going every year since hence something of a tradition with me and for these past 20 years, Lisa as well. The event has never fallen on Armistice Day and it was very poignant that as a mark of respect, a minute’s silence was observed at the start by setting off a single firework and another to mark the end of the silence and the beginning of the display. Very well-done Ely fireworks organisers.

And just to ‘cap’ the weekend off, on Saturday afternoon we made our way to the railway station to see the Flying Scotsman pass by and whilst it was travelling far too fast for an old lady, it was wonderful to see her in ‘full flight’.  We all of course took pictures but what a picture can’t give you is the sound and smell of this great bygone age powerhouse.

All in all, my favourite civic weekend of the year, where young and old come together to remember what it is to be British and pay our respects to those who have laid down their lives for us to live in such a wonderful peaceful country.

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.

 

Re-elected

SCCCG Campaign 2017 - Manifesto Front PageOn Friday morning I was honoured to be re-elected for my Division of Row Heath and my home village of Lakenheath on Suffolk County Council. Representing my community is a privilege and I will continue to work hard to be a strong voice for Row Heath at the County Council. The results were:

Myself – Conservative – 1362
David Gathercole – Independent- 386
John Smith – Independent – 279
Jack Fawbert – Labour – 313
Ralph Brownie – Lib Den -164

My majority was over 50% of the vote at 979, the turn-out was 32.4% which whilst not high is about the average for Row Heath.

Thank you to all those who voted for me and I am looking forward to representing everyone in Row Heath for the next 4 year.

Across the county, Suffolk Conservative held and won 52 out of the 75 seats, there are many reasons we had such a massive victory and tomorrow I shall blog my thoughts and reflections on the election.  We now have a strong mandate to delivery our Conservative manifesto and help transform Suffolk with quality frontline services for our most vulnerable residents, protecting our wonderful place to live, delivering housing growth and growing our economy.  As our campaign slogan says Caring and Campaigning for Suffolk.

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