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?

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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 the coming blogs I will set out some of 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.

Devolution

In the past couple of weeks, we have seen lots of discussion on Devolution both national and locally.  Unsurprisingly, a couple of weeks ago, the vote to withdraw by Kings Lynn and West Norfolk Borough council from the devolution process resulted in the Government scrapping the Norfolk and Suffolk deal.  South Norfolk and Broadlands voted overwhelmingly to continue but Norfolk County Council then decided to cancel its meeting.  In Suffolk, however the Leaders, including myself, decided, following some useful conversations with DCLG Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, that we should attempt to conclude a deal for Suffolk alone (which might or might not include some willing partners Council areas from Norfolk and/or Essex).

Accordingly, last week across Suffolk meetings scheduled to approve the Norfolk/Suffolk deal went ahead and Councillors were asked to debate the following ‘amendment’ to the motion:

That Council agrees:

  1. To reiterate the commitment, given at its June meeting, to Devolution as a means for delivering accelerated growth in the local and national economy and helping local people and places fulfil their potential;
  2. To authorise the Leader and Chief Executive to:
  3. a)      seek an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss the Government’s intentions around devolution;
  4. b)      work with Government and local partners to agree an alternative devolution deal as soon as possible
  5. That further reports are presented to the Authority, as appropriate, as the Devolution process progresses.

During the debate at Suffolk County Council, myself and the CE Deborah Cadman set out the broad terms of what Devolution for Suffolk would bring in the first instance of new funding and local determination and talked about where a Combined Authority might look to take Devolution next, drawing on the route map that Manchester has established.

What emerged was as you might expect, those who see the journey and think it’s worth taking, those who are deeply suspicion of Government but will hang in there for now, those who just want a unitary Council for Suffolk and those who think it’s a distraction from the significant task ahead for the County Council to balance delivery of vital services with the savings that must be made.

The motion was carried overwhelmingly by 57 votes, with 7 councillors abstaining, and so we continue to talk with Government about Suffolk Devolution.

To my mind its relatively simple, is the solution to protecting front line services from our schools to our hospitals and social care to growing our economy or addressing the long-term funding gap that faces public services, in the gift of the County Council or best served by a reorganisation of local councils, of course not.  The way forward for the delivery of better way forward in Suffolk is together, a more joined up way forward and a way that allows for real decisions to be taken here in Suffolk rather than in Whitehall.  Now that is worth pursuing.

Postcard from Birmingham

The end of September is Party Conference time and so last Sunday week I packed my bags and headed off to Birmingham for the Conservative Party Conference. I recall my very first conference in Blackpool many many years ago and over the years how my conference has changed.  Then, it was all about the main plenary sessions and trying to get a sense of this thing called the Conservative Party.  I was a fresh faced, well not that fresh faced but new Association Deputy Chairman political and I knew our MP Richard Spring and well that’s was about it. Today as I travelled up to Birmingham with a  mate I reviewed the speaking engagements I had been given by the LGA and the speaking engagements I had been ask to speak at by others such the LGiU and for each I had a bundle of briefing notes on how we put across the Local Government point of view.

Sunday morning I just managed to arrive in time for the start of the National Convention meeting at 10:30am in my role as Deputy Chairman Political of the Eastern Region where we were to vote on aspects of the changes proposed by the Party Board to the way Associations are run.

During the meeting Teresa May popped in for a chat and took questions, one of them was a direct one from John Peach, who is the former Leader of Peterborough City Council and currently Chairman of their Association.  ‘Did she like the idea of Directly Elected Mayors for non Metropolitan areas?’, she gave a direct answer, yes she did, she likes the accountability.  You may agree or disagree with her on that but the reply was very clear.  As were other comment made during the course of the four days. Then it was off to speak at a LGiU Fringe meeting about Devolution and Brexit and the role of Local Government over the coming years, joining me on the platform was Sean Anstee, Leader of Trafford and Baroness Scott the Leader of Wiltshire, a unitary County.  After than it was the usual round of fringes and plenary sessions before I had a relatively early night because the following morning I had a fringe I was speaking at 8am.

Monday morning I headed off to my fringe to speak about local skills and back to work programmes v DWP!  I then joined other County Leaders at a Westminster Council hosted lunch to talk about the positioning of the new SoS and how we might influence his agenda.  That evening it was the now traditional Euro MEPs dinner for the Eastern Region where a number of us discussed our part of the world and pondered that next years’ dinner will probably be the last of such events.  Not an major point in the scheme of things but I for one will miss working with our hard working Conservative Eastern Region MEPs As others wondered back to the conference Hotel bar, I again headed off to my hotel to prepare for another early start on the Tuesday morning where I was speaking about how we can deflect admissions from Acute Hospitals to more local community based services. Heading home and not to the bar was something I never did in those early Conferences!

Tuesday evening I went to an interesting dinner with Localis, the only centre right Local Government think tank in the space and chatted to other Leaders and Lord Porter the chairman of the LGA about our impressions of the conference.

Wednesday was spent in those last chats with other local Councillors and a couple of MPs, you have at the very end of a conference before heading home.

The mood when you consider what the party has been through these past few months was remarkable.  A genuine belief that Teresa May can do a good job of both Brexit and leading the country and that we have the right policies and determination to make things happen for the good of the country.

As we drove home I pondered over the coming months that as a Group we are going to set our election ‘stall’ out for May 2017, and how we get our message across that we must not allow the sort of fiscal madness and left wing policies we see from Labour return nor give then chance to undo 12 years of sound running of the Council where we have delivered on 7 years of 0% based Council Tax rises set against a Labour/Liberal coalition that managed to put up the Council Tax by 11.9 and then 18.5% in just two years.  Council Tax ia paid for from residents hard earned money and they must not be treated as a cash cow to be demanded of to simply bail out Labour and Liberals Councillors, we must not allow this sort of fiscal madness to creep back into power. Time to get out there and explain to the people of Suffolk what we are about, running a council that costs you less but protects front line service by making the tough choices that have to be made in a time of less Government money to delivery services.  Roll on May 2017.

Back to it

August is traditionally the month where local government sort of goes on holiday and thus in September perhaps it’s that back to school feeling after a summer holiday or perhaps having a break means you naturally have a bit more time to ponder the months ahead.

Nationally the new Prime Minister is certainly settling in well and her polling seems to indicate that her Brexit means Brexit stance and her personal mission to address inequality in our society, is going down well with people. Equally, nationally I think many of us on the Conservative side of things watch in amusement at the Labour Party; its lacklustre Leader who seems unable to spot empty unreserved seats on trains, let alone that he is unelectable as a Prime Minister as only the hard left takes him seriously as a potential Leader of our Country. But hang on you say he won’t be there much longer with Leadership ballot papers in the post as the right of the Labour Party has a new champion to slay the left wing beast, oh dear not exactly dynamic is he. If Corbyn remains you can see the real prospect of Labour dividing into two and that will of course through up a local dimension to the mix, the local Labour party, old school hard left or Blairites? One side just wants to spend the County Council reserves until all is gone and the other well……they just want to spend all the county reserves until it’s gone, so from my perspective not much between them.

But of course who knows who they are for or against as locally Labour are keeping their head down desperately hedging their bets ahead of any split that might come. Before Theresa May became PM I openly backed her to win, it’s called standing up and being counted. I do believe you have to make decisions in politics, but hey not always the right ones, just look at my backing of the Remain campaign! But you have to stand up for what you believe in, so come on Sandy Martin and David Elsmere let’s hear from you as to whom you back. Jane Basham and I agree on almost nothing, save you should stand up and be counted, she has declared for Corbyn, oh well.

Interesting few months ahead.

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