Reports, Reports, Reports

Institute for Government

If you take a keen interest in any subject nowadays there seem to be more commentators and more reports than ever before.  It’s perhaps something to do with the rise of the internet and the volume of noise that this has created that we increasingly seem to want our news more bit sized and we are less likely to trust it, or is that just me as I grow more cynical with age.

However not all reports and news are created equally and dare I say some of it comes with bias baked in, but some reports need to be read and considered and pondered.

A couple of weeks ago I attended the joint Institute for Government and CIPFA fridge at the Conservative Party conference where Director Bronwen Maddox and Dr. Emily Andrews spoke, and I blogged about the forthcoming report, well here it is, and it makes for fascinating reading if you are interested in Local Government and the services it delivers to our residents and communities.

In the preamble to the report its sums itself up perfectly:

‘About Performance Tracker

Performance Tracker brings together more than 150 data series to provide a comprehensive picture of the performance of key public services. This third edition expands on our 2017 analysis. This report focuses on general practice, hospitals, adult social care, children’s social care, schools, neighbourhood services, the police, criminal courts and prisons.

This analysis – produced in partnership by the Institute for Government and the Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy – reveals the key decision points that the Chancellor faces in the run-up to the Budget, and the proposed 2019 Spending Review.’

Find out more:

Suffolk – A14 Growth Gateway

Recently I was at a business lunch, and a couple of business people I know asked whatever became of my Suffolk A14 Growth Strategy I launched just before I was dumped as Leader of Suffolk County Council, their words, not mine!  It was something recently I blogged about in April and was launching at the various events around Suffolk before I stopped being Leader.

As I said at the time as Leader and Cabinet member for Economic Development part of the role is to think about how you might take Suffolk forward.  So, I came up with this strategy, built in part of some of the spatial work the County, District and Borough Councils developed, during and post the Devolution debates.  And in part the New Anglia LEP Economic Strategy work called ‘The East’ on who’s Board I sat at the time.  All which steps to a wider Economic growth strategy.  Once presented to councillors, I started a series of engagement events with the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce.  We started this off with the first of a series of dinners and exporting speaking events, all designed to start a debate and lead up to a Conference on Monday 25th June in Ipswich to launch the strategy ahead of a focused year ‘s work to put some flesh on the bones.  The idea was that the conference would be an annual event and we would seek to measure the progress of the strategy with the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce on a quarterly basis to make sure that we remained focused on its outcomes.

In essence, the idea was/is to help Suffolk Companies have space to grow and support to export.  Then longer term to encourage businesses from across Britain to relocate to Suffolk because of fast-tracked business parks along the A14 and easy access to the Port of Felixstowe to exported across the world.  But with a focus on exporting into China through Hong Kong.  A short paragraph to sum up a focus and determination to provide the sort of high-quality jobs we want to see in Suffolk in manufacturing and to help this country export.

One of the things I did produce was a PowerPoint presentation that I used to explain my thinking which seemed to have unanimous support from my colleagues and those business people I shared it with.  But it appears the strategy’s been dropped?  Or will it reappear as someone else’s grand vision at some future point will be interesting to see!

So here is that presentation I wrote:

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 new Council


As you may have read Forest Heath District Council and St. Edmundsbury Borough Council have held their first few joint shadow meetings as we head towards a merger in May 2019.  I was there to take part in the historic first meeting, and it felt like the next logical step on the reform journey we set out on in 2011 when we decided to share a Chief Executive and cut staffing numbers by merging the officer teams to serve the two councils and save money.

The critical point for me has and will always be the same, organising the councils differently we can save back-office costs to protect frontline services. Regarding Council tax, the merger will mean that it will rise slower than if we did not merge because by merging we can save even more back-office costs. So, on both of my acid-tests, this merger is the right next move.  Lakenheath will still have two Councillors, and we will continue to work hard for our community at the Shadow Council.

One of the differences between the councils has always been that Forest Heath is a District Council with a Chairman who chairs the Full Council meeting and represents the Council at official events and functions.  Whereas, St Edmundsbury is a Borough Council with a Civic Mayor, who does much the same role but there is a more ceremonial aspect to it and thus higher costs associated with the office. What we want to do is get your views on the type of formal role the new Council should have.

The differences and pro’s and con’s of both approaches are explained in far greater detail by having a look at

and then taking part in the survey

The survey is open until Sunday 2nd September.

Alternativity you are very welcome to contact me to share your views, which we can then feed in. It will be interesting to learn what you think and to have a strong representation from our area would be great.

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.

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.

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.

A change of Leader at SCC

Last Thursday week was my last day as Leader of Suffolk County Council and quite a journey it’s been these past 3 years and in my 12 years as a Councillor holding various roles from Adult Social Care to Finance.

Along the way it’s been my privilege to meet with selfless people who are making a daily difference in their own lives and others. Remarkable leaders of organisations dedicated to the most vulnerable in our communities and skilled business leaders growing great companies right here in Suffolk. And it’s been a privilege to work alongside them all.

As the new Leader, Matthew Hicks must set out the challenges as he sees them and those of us in his group must face up to the difficult decisions to tackle the big challenges facing Suffolk.  To not address them is folly, as that have to be faced today or tomorrow but they will not go away.  I wish Matthew well and will work with him and the new team at the County Council, assuming they face up to the challenges ahead.

No county is an Island and they must look and learn from the experiences of others and understand the journey we have been on since 2010 with over £236Million saved and a staff team half what is was then, there is still more to do but the law of diminishing returns holds as true for Councils as any other organisation.

The future for County Councils lies in its relationship with the community it serves and its partner organisations and to be a catalyse for change, real change focused on the issues we face of the need for stronger families better able to provide the environment our young people need to grow and flourish. And stronger communities better able to support our ageing residents and working with our health partners to deliver better services more reflective of our residents needs than at times they seem to be.

Local government is the best performing part of the public sector. However, I still believe that local government must change – really change. The answers to the problems we face will not lie in a denial of realities ‘borrow and spend’ or trying to adapt to tighter budgets ‘managed decline’, but in our communities not the Council.

On a personal note, in my 12 years on Suffolk County Council in various roles from Adult Social Care to Finance I have spent most of time in the cabinet and it will be strange to have no role but such is politics.  If I can do so again, I will. I am grateful for the friendships forged and what we achieved together.

For now, I will continue working for the residents I represent in Lakenheath, Beck Row, West Row, Thistly Green, Tuddenham St. Mary, Eriswell, Isleham Marina, Higham, Cavenham and Tuddenham St. Mary and on the soon to merge and become West Suffolk Council representing my home village of Lakenheath.

Who know what happens in politics, but I remain privileged to serve the community I have grown up in and the county I love.


Visit by Secretary of State Chris Grayling MP & Suffolk 2050

Here is my article I wrote for this weeks’ EADT and Ipswich Star yesterday.

Last Friday, Councillor Paul West, Suffolk County Council Cabinet Member for Ipswich, and I welcomed the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling MP, to Ipswich for a visit to talk about the infrastructure that is needed in and around the town over the coming years.  We started by driving him across town to see the impact the Upper Orwell Crossing will have. Only polite as the government is committed to providing some £77.546 million towards its cost, with the balance being provided by the County Council. We looked at the design and the landing points, which will change the traffic flows around Ipswich. They will also unlock a significant section of redevelopment land to house world class tech and manufacturing companies, which bring the kind of high value jobs we all want to see more of in our County.

After a whistle-stop tour, we visited the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce. We met with local business leaders to talk about the challenges they face doing business in Ipswich, as well as senior representatives from the ports of Ipswich and Felixstowe who spoke of the challenges they face over the next few years. Conversations centred on the A14, including when the Copdock Interchange is going to be upgraded. The number of times the Orwell Bridge seems to be shut by Highways England, far more frequently than previously and far more than we would all want, was also a pressing issue. We talked about the need to improve the rail links to the West Midlands for the Port of Felixstowe. We pressed the Secretary of State on when the funding might be provided to undertake rail improvement here in Suffolk, and how soon the Ely North junction might be started and completed. This is vital to increase rail capacity on the line from Felixstowe.  What struck me in those conversations was the drive and determination from business leaders to grow their businesses here in Suffolk and to work with the County Council to lobby Government for the funding we need to unlock Suffolk and Ipswich’s potential.

We also discussed the Northern Relief Road and the business case that is being worked up after the Suffolk Public Sector Leaders approved funding.  I promised to have that report on the Secretary of State’s desk by the end of the year, to demonstrate why we need it and to lobby him for funding to enable it to be built. The business case can’t simply be about a new road cutting through the countryside north of Ipswich; nor can it just be about preventing the A14 and its main junctions increasingly grinding to a holt.  It has to be about the future of Ipswich and unlocking growth both in terms of new jobs and new homes.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Suffolk A14 Gateway strategy. A key component of that is to highlight to Government our infrastructure needs and the need for funding.  Importantly, we want to do this in a planned and strategic way – setting out, through strategies such as the Suffolk A14 Gateway, how we intend to grow and develop Suffolk over the next 30 years or so to Suffolk 2050.  Over the next year we will be bringing together the different public sector partners, our health partners, businesses groups, key business leaders, and residents to work on this long-term vision for Suffolk. This year’s growth conference will be about launching the Suffolk A14 Gateway. Next year’s conference will be about launching Suffolk 2050 and going back to the Secretary of State for Transport with our plans. We will remind him of his visit to our county and the commitment we made to lobby him for infrastructure funding that supports our plans for growth to 2050.

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