The battle for Row Heath

10-04-2013-interview-with-kim-riley-from-bbc-look-east-about-the-usaf-training-flight-cuts-and-impact-on-our-community

 

Over the past 11 year years I have had the honour of representing my community on Suffolk County Council and as elections approach I start my campaign full of beans.  After 11 years on a council it might seem that you might have done everything but far from it, Local Government is changing and resident’s expectation of the services they want and need is also changing. On the one hand, there is considerable less money in Local Government that there used to be, in the past 7 years Suffolk County Council has saved over £200M yet delivers more services that ever before. We done this by being business like in our approach to the way the council runs.

People want faster better services such as road repairs and want to know that Children are protected, we have prioritised Children Services and protected the budgets with which hard working teams go about their business, and this is recognised by OFSTED who rate our Children services as good.  For older residents who can’t afford their own care, we make sure they are looked after with love and dignity, and quite right to, we do this by making sure we have a robust relationship with providers of services, holding them to account, ever mindful we are the holders of the public purse.

Locally, housing for our younger people so they can start to get on the housing ladder is vital, as is new schools and school places. As the housing arrives we want better facilities in our communities and we also want to know that if we reach a stage in life that we can’t use a car that our lovely rural villages do not become traps.  On all these fronts, I try to be a strong voice for Row Heath advocating locally, in Ipswich and nationally for our area. Today for instances I am in Cambridge meeting senior officials about the future of RAF Mildenhall a set of decisions that will affect the economic prospect of Row Heath for years to come.

We have a number of plans we will be putting forwards in our manifesto, all careful costed out.  Labour Finance Spokesperson on the county council Len Jacklyn is on record as saying ‘It is predicted that finances should improve over the next four years and spending now on statutory costs will begin to pay off in 2020’. A truly scary comment as they have been to all the same conferences I have been and at not one of them did it predicted that the finances will improve much.  Their Financially Dangerous Manifesto makes promises they could not hope or maybe even be allowed to fulfil or maybe Labour have some Corbinista moneytree nightmare where he takes power and removes the Council Tax cap and they can go back to the good of days of treating your hard-earned money as their personal piggy bank.  It’s well worth having a look at their bizarrely already published Manifesto it is truly Financially Dangerous.

So, what a contrast we have spent the past year working on our manifesto, carefully costing it every step of the way. And I can’t wait to get it launched and be out their explaining to residents how we are going to take Suffolk forward.

In the meantime, as I am out and about I am asking residents to fill in my survey or do it on line.  The one for my Division Row Heath is http://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RowHeath please do click through and take the survey, as I am very keen to hear your views.

 

Absent Lib Dems or Financially Dangerous Labour?

Last Thursday was Budget Day at Suffolk County Council, it’s the most important meeting of the year as well its sets the Council Tax and the budget for the coming year and so it’s also the highpoint of the year’s debates. In an election year, its also one of the final formal meeting before we go to the polls.

As I sat there during the debate I pondered the choices in May and the state of the opposition. So let’s take a look firstly the Lib Dems, no doubt their election material will say ‘only the Lib Dems can win here’, as they always do.  But their woeful performance in the chamber was typified by their Leader who could not be bothered to turn up.  The dates of the Budget day meeting are set about a year in advance so he could hardly say it was not in his diary, he was on holiday, says it all really, in 12 years of opposition they have never tabled a budget amendment, not one.

So, what about Labour, you have to say their budget amendment was one of two things either the typical Corbinista fiscal denial, or shameless pure political showboating.  Possibly denial? after all their shadow Finance chap at the county is quoted as saying that the financial outlook for the Council is better in the next 4 years!, trouble is there is not one single report or independent commentator who agrees with him.  Presumably he is banking or gambling on a Labour Victory in 2020’s General Election and the Corbin Money tree would bail them out, or frankly is it it’s just political showboating.  As my Cabinet member for finance pointed out, they are saying spend, spend, spend at the county when we hold a general reserve of 10% and a total, for all future projects such as new schools, planned bridges and IT projects, allocated reserves at 39% of our total revenue budget but across the road where many of the same Councillors are part of the controlling Labour group, they put up the Council Tax every year but hold 54% in their general reserve and 84% in their allocated reserves based on its total revenue budget, I leave you to draw your own conclusions but it isn’t pretty either way.

In May, Suffolk Conservatives will stand on our track record of delivering 7 years of 0% raises in the base Council Tax and carefully applied the National Adult Social Care Precept to give our lowest paid, mainly care workers, a welcome pay increase and rightly so.

Suffolk Conservatives will stand on how we have radically changed the Council saving £200M since 2010 with much more to be saving to be made, given the diminishing Government grants, yet have protected front line services, such as our libraries.

Suffolk Conservatives will stand on our plans for the future where we will be innovative in our approaches and have lots of new ideas about how we go about things over the next 4 years building on the work these past 4 years but we will always, always be prudent and carefully with the budget and our reserves, ever mindful of the need to protect the most vulnerable in our communities and ever mindful it’s your hard-earned money.

So people have a choice in May, us, the Lib Dems if they can be bothered to show up, or the financially dangerous Labour Party.

Budget Day

Budget

This Thursday is Suffolk County Council’s Budget Day. It’s important for two reasons, it’s when we set the bulk of your, and my, Council Tax bill and we set the money each service will get to provide frontline services for the year ahead.

Budgets are important to Councils because until like the La, La, Land of the NHS finances where massive deficits mean little, in Local Government if you run out of money, wages are not paid and services shut down.

Every year the Conservative administration pour over the figures in the £500M budget starting almost as soon as the last budget is set. And whilst the figures are huge and services are vital such as protecting vulnerable children from abuse, the process is little different from how we budget at home.  We save money for big projects like a house extension or in the council’s case the two new Bridge projects. We have some money set aside for emergencies and the unexpected (reserves) and we plan for renewing smaller items like the computer, (major IT system changes) all of which is based on assumptions of our income in the coming years.

That may sound a bit simplistic but it’s essentially it’s the same process we go through at home.  For Local Government, as to future prospects all the future income indicators are poor as we face less money over the next few years’ from Government. So we maintain reserves to ensure we can sustain services and deal with the unexpected. It may at times be a little bit boring but we are prudent and careful with your money.

Just as in life then there are the neighbours or in our case the opposition Labour and Lib Dems.  Like the neighbour’s flash new car, always out there promising the world, spend, spend, spend for tomorrow never comes, we’ll get more money from somewhere, why have reserves, live for today. The Jeremy Corbin view of the world, it all look like fun and of course the sun will come out tomorrow, Happy Days.  But then again the last time they were allowed to be in control in Suffolk we all know how that ended, budgets not keep to, failing services and finally booted out of power, for raising the Council tax by 11.9% in one year and 18.5% in the next trying to keep the show on the road – ‘What rubbish’ I am told that was then this is now, but you see I don’t think it is rubbish, I think it’s a mind-set that has not changed one bit.

So we may be a bit cautious, we may be a bit tough in how we negotiate but, we have delivered 7 years of 0% raises in the base Council Tax and carefully applied the National Adult Social Care Precept to give our lowest paid, mainly care workers, a welcome pay increase and rightly so.  I hope in May people will allow us to carry on running the council, we will be innovative in our approaches and have lots of new ideas about how we go about things over the next 4 years building on the work these past 4 years but we will always, always be prudent and carefully with the budget and our reserves, ever mindful of the need to protect the most vulnerable in our communities and ever mindful it’s your hard earned money.

But remember those flash neighbours (and apologies to my neighbours who are all lovely people and not part of this reference!), if Labour and the Liberal were in power when they run out of the council’s money, guess who’s money they’ll come after, yours!

Thursday’s meeting is web cast so please log-in and have a watch.

3% National Adult Social Care Precept rise

 

health-funding

Last year the Government surprised many with the very welcome change from Minimum Wage to National Living Wage, a pay boost for the lowest paid in our society, which has been universally welcomed.  But it also must be paid for and the LGA and the CCN spoke for the entire Care industry in saying we have to, have more money to pay for this, so the Government introduced a new Tax, the National Adult Social Care Precept set at 2% of the Council Tax or in places such as Suffolk 2% of the County Council element of the Council Tax.

You can argue the merits of local v national, property or income based taxation as much as you like but the 2% did not quite cover what we paid to our providers to fund this increase in pay.  We are, this year, asking for the additional 1% Government has allowed, taking this tax to 3% and every penny raised with be spent on Adult Social Care for our most vulnerable residents.

In Suffolk, we carefully negotiate both the rates we pay for residential and home care, ever conscious that we are the holders of your hard-earned money you pay in Council Tax and balancing that, with the need to make sure that employers pay the higher National Living Wage and can attract the staff they need to provide the vital quality of care we would want for our own families.

This year we will not be putting up the base Council Tax for the 7th year running fulfilled our manifesto commitment when we were elected in 2013.  As a Conservative administration, we are philosophically opposed to increasing Council Tax and only do so to pay for those things that we rightly must provide to the most vulnerable in our society.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

BudgetLast week I blogged about the next few months nationally but as a Councillor my and others focus is far more on the local issues and for us at the County Council it’s a mixture of two heady things Devolution and Budget, now you know you are a local gov geek when you use the word ‘heady’ to describe what is essentially rather dry subjects however important both are to Suffolk.

For any Council deciding where to spend its funding in the coming year is its biggest decision.  The one that effects the quality of services it provides and importantly for our most vulnerable residents the quality of aspects of their lives. Thus, it’s the single biggest decision we have to make in our annual cycle.

Last week, Suffolk County Council Cabinet started the process of sharing each department thoughts on the budget they would require and the debate then starts that will take the next few months through to a Full Council meeting to debate and decide.

I try to work hard to get out there with our #WeAreListening events and I have lead more public consultation on things that are happening than the Council has ever undertaken, both in terms of surveys people can fill in on line, to town and village hall meetings. We have commissioned Ipsos Mori and others to provide the backbone to these events with statistically valid polling. Our desire to ask people what they think is critical to me as we have a number of tough decisions to make. But hey, let’s be clear, asking people is but one part of the decision making process, debate in the Conservative group is another, as is the debates at Full Council.  All are component parts into trying to make the right decisions. People often are not going to agree, but, we make the best decisions we can to serve the wider population of Suffolk and to make sure the organisation has the financial resources and capacity to deal with the often more hidden issue we have to deal with.

A couple of weeks ago, I did a sort of reply piece on Mark Murphy’s BBC Radio Suffolk show to address some political pot shots from the opposition about Care Homes and how they are funded and the extent to which SCC work with them for the good of residents that was on the day before’s show.  In essence, I provided context to oppositions Councillors comment that implied we provided all the places a few years ago and now we sold everything off to the private sector. What we actually did was bring in a private provider to provision the 9% of the Suffolk total number of beds we were the provider of.  But, beyond the political point scoring, it was a really good debate highlighting one of the many discreet services provided few people hear or know about, unless faced with such very tough and difficult choices.  As an adult there are few things more daunting than that of care provision for one’s parents and loved ones.

Often the debate is about roads and this year many of us will have seen the significant investment £10M we have made over and above our normal expenditure on the highways. Yet, few of us actually know which of our neighbours receive some form of care service support or hear about the discreet Children’s services to protect our young people from harm. Getting Mrs. Smith out of bed each morning and helping her wash and dress, those hundreds of care beds we provide for people who can’t afford to pay for them themselves and all of these services to the most vulnerable in our communities largely go unnoticed. But we all, me included love to moan about pot holes for its the universal services, our roads.

So over the coming months there will be the chance to have your say and for the Cabinet to set out its plans for the coming year’s budget and when you do, it is important to say what you would divert money from to address something else.   For these are the debates your Councillors will be having as well.

The day job

FinanceThere is much talk about Devolution in the air in Local Government at the moment, locally much of the time and energy of Councillors and Officers is focused on the emerging Norfolk and Suffolk Bid.  At the heart of it is a proposition to government to allow us to have a greater impact on our local economy working alongside the New Anglia and Greater Cambridgeshire and Great Peterborough LEPs and the business community to create more high value jobs, grow the Business Rate and improve our local public sector system including how we work in a more integrated way with the county’s health care services.  All of which is about how can we do more with less, how can we protect front line services by having a more joined up approach to Suffolk and now Norfolk and Suffolk.

Whilst this is the focus as we seek to meet the Government’s deadline for submission, the other thing that looms large on our horizon is the coming council budget round.  We all await the CSR but are under no illusions that it will bring anything but tough new saving targets for Local Government. So last week my SCC Cabinet Member for Finance and myself travelled to Horsham to attend a LGA Finance course, to look at budget setting and ways to find even more savings from the Council’s budget, there is always something to learn in any walk of life.

Of course Devolution is never far from Councillors minds and in the conference room I sat next to Jonathan Bacon, who is the Leader of Isle of Wight Council, so inevitably we spend a fair while chatting about Devolution as the rumour has it that the IOW Council and Hampshire County Council are going to be successful in their bid. So as much as Richard and I tried to concentrate on the discussions during the course of the two days on finance, Devolution was never far from the table.

Experience

magnifying-glassOver the past few months I have been honoured to be a part of the LGA Peer Challenge programme for Councils, I’ve completed 4 Peer Challenges which usually last for a week at a time, enough time to get under the skin of how something works. In the first one the team I was a part of looked at the very serious business of Adult Safeguarding and what arrangements are in place to first detect abuse and then stop it. Next I was asked to be a part of a team that looked at a recently formed people’s directorate where the two biggest departments Children and Adults were merged and how that was working, then I helped look at a Health and Board and how that was bringing Health and Social care together serving a large rural population and last month I was part of a team that looked at the restructuring of a Council and the creation of a commissioning function and its effectiveness in shaping services.

During the weeks you meet people who use services, providers from voluntary organisations and commercial companies, officers and Councillors, you read and work through literally thousands of pages of vast bundles of strategy papers and spend time feeding back your impressions and findings. And I’ve learnt two things, firstly every council is the same and every council is remarkable different, by that I mean, most councils delivery the save basic services but because they are local, because they reflect the values and traditions of an area they are all different and that is a powerful thing. But for me the most powerful thing I’ve learnt is all the while you reflect back, thinking about how does that work for people in my home village of Lakenheath, across the villages of Row Heath, for Suffolk’s voluntary organisations and providers, in Forest Heath District Council and across Suffolk County Council.

Currently my colleagues and I are discussing who amongst us should lead our group on the County Council. There are many qualities needed and for me experience is one of them, experience is more than a CV or a list of roles you’ve done, it’s the resource you draw on as you work with your community to balance the conflicting challenge of the things you would want to do, that every councillor across the political divide wants to do but with the limited funding at your disposal. It’s a resource that you draw on to unite your group and get out there talking with people about the challenges ahead, your experience of working with real people who rely on the services to help them live their lives and listen to everyone about what services they value and how ‘the council’ delivers those services, as you make the decisions that lay ahead, experience matters.

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