My Column in the EADT & Ipswich Star

Every two weeks I write a column for the EADT & Ipswich Star, and at this anxious time of year we learn the A-Level and GCSE results, so here are my thoughts on the picture that emerged in Suffolk:

In the past fortnight, teenagers across Suffolk have been picking up exam results that could shape the rest of their lives.

Weeks and months of hard work has come to an end – for both pupils and staff, as well as governors and parents. For some youngsters, the results won’t be what they hoped. For many however, it will mean they will now be looking at the next stage of their lives.

To those who didn’t do as well as expected – it’s not the end of the world, there’s plenty of opportunities out there you to be a success. For those who excelled, as we’ve seen in many photos of excited students with papers jumping in the air, congratulations.

The results we’ve seen across Suffolk are a testament to the county’s continuing ambition to drive up educational standards.

Provisional A Level figures have shown the number of A*-E grades awarded to the near-3,000 students taking the exams as above the national average – with 98.2% of results making the grade, 0.3% above the average.

Even with the changes and uncertainty in GCSE grading for English and Maths this year, 64% of students achieved expected attainment levels – grade four (previously a grade C) and above – an increase on last year.

A number of schools saw significant increases in their students reaching the grade four threshold – and the hard work of all involved in achieving these should be commended.

More than 7,000 Suffolk students took GCSEs this year and figures collated from schools show a significant increase in the number of disadvantaged pupils achieving the threshold measure in English and maths – around 6% more students in Suffolk achieved this compared to last year.

We are in the process of reinvigorating our Raising the Bar strategy for 2018 through to 2020 and will be sharing more information on that soon, followed by a consultation. In the process of carrying out this work officers have already been out in the sector engaging with school heads to see what they think should be in there.

This strategy aims to give every child the best preparation for life before and beyond school to enable them to achieve their full potential. Part of this vision is for every child to attend a good or outstanding school.

As part of the scheme, we have seen great successes in getting people into teaching through our graduate internship scheme and school to school support partnerships – where schools build relationships to share best practice and drive up standards – have improved throughout the county. These partnerships, of which 75% of schools work in, have been recognised by the Department for Education, as well as the Regional Schools Commissioner.

Suffolk also continues to be above the national average for children achieving a good level of development at the end of Reception year – a vital step in preparing children for their next steps in education and towards our goal of enabling all children in the county to reach their full potential.

Suffolk’s students are progressing well between key stage three and key stage four– moving up 57 places from 112th to 55th across in the national rankings last year, putting our county in the top half of all local education authorities.

When we launched this ambitious approach, Suffolk’s educational standards were considered to be poor – little over two-thirds of schools were rated either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. With hard work and a common goal, the best for our county’s children, we have really managed to turn this around. Today, 88% of schools have been rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by government inspectors – a 22% increase since the strategy’s launch.

The rate of improvement is fast too – last year our county’s schools reduced the gap on the national average by 5% and we are now just 1% below the national figure.

However, we are under no illusion that our work is complete and while it is extremely pleasing to see the progress made so far, there is still more to be done and I am confident we will see our schools and education settings continue to improve quickly.

The future remains bright for our children – and we will continue to provide the best opportunities for them.

 

Suffolk County Council ‘Our Priorities”

SCC Priorities Doc front page

At any election, you stand on a manifesto and if you win you have to translate that manifesto into a document that the organisation you will be running for the next term can make sense of what you are about and what as an Administration you want to achieve and the way in which you want to go about it.  So, it’s fitting that post the AGM of the Council at our next meeting on 20th July, I presented the first strategy document of the New Council the Conservative administration’s ‘Our Priorities’ document which was debated and passed almost unanimously as we Conservatives detail the SCC priorities for the coming 4 years. This will also inform our budgets and business plans for the term.

There will of course be many more documents to come as we look to how at the wider Suffolk system across all tiers of local government and with our Police, Health partners alongside Businesses and Voluntary organisation plan for Suffolk’s future.

The ‘Our Priorities’ 3 themes are:

  • Inclusive growth – improve education standards, protect our unique natural and historic environment, support business growth, develop skills for future employment, improve transport and digital networks
  • Health, care and well-being – keep Suffolk safe, reduce mental health issues, improve life styles, support vulnerable people, support for elderly and disabled care
  • Efficient and effective public services – maintain our low tax status, make our services more accessible, find savings in our operations, reshape our workforce to improve services.

You can click the link below to read and download the document.

Suffolk County Council ‘Our Priorities’ 

Vote Conservative!

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Today is a simple decision, who is best to lead this country over the Brexit negotiations.

Therese May or Jeremy Corbyn in a rag tag coalition.

The NHS and Social Care are massive issues we face and in my role as the County Council Network National Spokesperson for Health and Social Care Integration I know myself and my colleagues are working hard to find how, with a Conservative Government and our MPs, we deliver a fair and affordable system for our Ageing Population.  But the bedrock of the NHS and Social Care is our economy.  The bedrock of funding for schools is our economy.  The bedrock of every single thing we do is our economy and its success. And over the next 5 years our Brexit negotiations will determine our economy for the next 25 years.

So today vote Conservative for a strong and stable Government able to negotiate the best Brexit we can achieve.

Today is really important.

The battle for Row Heath

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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.

 

Sizewell C Consultation

_64268820_coverimageedfbetterqualityTomorrow at Suffolk County Council our Cabinet will debate our response to the Sizewell C consultation 2 being run by EDF now.

In the scale of things there is simply no issue facing Suffolk of this magnitude.  When we look at the next biggest infrastructure projects, The Upper Orwell Crossing and the Third Crossing at Lowestoft, across both we are looking at about a £200M spend yet Sizewell C is predicted at £28B so the bridges are less than 1% of this project cost.

The scale of it is huge and I have seen it both from visiting the Sizewell B site and driving around all the roads and fields where this project will take shape.

A journalist commented to me that they felt our report reflected the mood of people locally, and I said that was not be accident as we have tried to encapsulate people concerns and feeling as this project comes forward.  There is a sense that of course this will happen as the county needs safe, independent of Europe, energy supplies but we must do all we can to make sure the area is not completely blighted for the next 10 years.

The plant is due to come on-line in 2030, and will for a period generate alongside Sizewell B which is due to operate until 2035, the two plants together will generate some 10% of UK energy supplies.

So, our role is to make sure we plan to mitigate its construction as best we can and for EDF to provide a legacy benefit to the community in the doing so.  We will hold them to account all the way through the process to help get it built and for that to be at the minimum costs to those living in this wonderful part of Suffolk.

Health and Social Care in Crisis?

health-and-social-care

When I became Cabinet member for Adult Social Care in 2009 at Suffolk County Council.  The very first fact that was drummed into me by the then Director of Adult Social Service, Graham Gatehouse that there are 68,000 people over the age of 75 in Suffolk and by 2030 there will be 126,000 – Suffolk, like many shire counties across the county has an ageing population. ‘Houston we have a problem’ and each year the good and the great from Think Tanks to Royal Commissions, Parliamentary Select committees and Minsters, politicians and Councillors from across the political spectre talk about Health and Social Care integration. The solutions are out there and we don’t need years of more debate and over some of my future blogs I will set out those small steps that need to be done to make the system work better, not big bangs just small incremental steps that I think can work and we are trying to drive forward here in Suffolk.

Council Tax rises?

29.03.2013 SCC campaign 2013 0%, 0%, 0%, 0% Council tax pledge

My Row Heath campaign 2013 and Conservaitve Pledge of 0%, 0%, 0%, 0% Council tax rises

Last Thursday the DCLG SoS Sajid Javid put some flesh on the bones of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement and made a series of announcements about the funding for next year for Local Government.  This is slightly strange as, most, some 97% of Councils signed up to the 4 years funding deal announced earlier this year in the previous Chancellors, George Osbourne’s Annual Budget Statement.  So you’d sort of think that was it for the year but that’s not how it works!

Confused? – well you should be as it is confusing.  When I first became a Councillor, I read a lengthy book called ‘A guide to Local Government Finances’, its sits on the shelf opposite me as I write this blog.  It was a difficult read but I got through it just, but I now know that the nature of the finance of Local Government is far more subtler than that book lead me to believe!

Essentially the revised offer centres around Adult Social Care and to some extent having worked on both the LGA lobby position on Health and Social Care Funding, given evidence to the Commons Local Government Select Committee on Social Care Funding and helped edit several County Council Network papers and letters lobbying government on this issue these past few months I am pleased that the warning are perhaps being heard.  Pleased not ecstatic as what was announced hardly amounted to the fundamental reforms we want to see.  Given the scale of the rising cost of an Aging population and the significant cuts all councillors are having to make a percentage point here and there, whilst welcomed is not going to address the fundamental point about money.

In the various press reports and comment this week I have tried to stress the government allowing Councils to charge you more, is not the same as your permission to charge you more.  I have also tried to get across that we the Conservatives at SCC are philosophically reluctant to take more of your hard-earned money than we absolutely must.  At the same time, local government is not the NHS where the cheques will be honoured irrespective of the massively overspend budget if we as a County Council do not have reserves and cash flow then the wages bill would not get paid.  So, it’s a balance and we carefully plan and check our budgets and reserves.

So we are planning to stick to our budget proposals and this coming year at the January Cabinet meeting and the Full Council in February we shall be proposing some savings, the modest use of reserves, the 2% National Adult Social Care Levy to pay for the increased costs of the National Living Wage and for the 7 year running a 0% rise in the base County Council tax. Making the council live within its means, protecting front line services and most importantly not treating your earned money as a pot we can simply dip into, is what we are about.

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