Stonewall Top 100

LGB&T SCC LogoGood news came reached me last Tuesday when I was informed that at an awards ceremony in London, Stonewall announced which organisations have been included in their Workplace Equality Index for 2016 and  Suffolk County Council was confirmed as having been  successful in maintaining a place in the Top 100 at position 78.  This represents a significant rise of 20 places compared to 2015 when Stonewall introduced more challenging criteria. Also congratulations are in order to Suffolk Police at position 15.

This success demonstrates Suffolk CC is a good place to work for LGB&T staff and that SCC makes efforts to ensure that staff across the organisation understand how to support their LGB&T colleagues.  Cllr Sarah Stamp, Cabinet Member for Communities and thus lead member for equalities and inclusion said: “I am delighted that Suffolk County Council is recognised as one of the Top 100 employers in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 2016.  This achievement acts as a demonstration of our ongoing commitment to support LGB&T staff across the organisation”.

Matt Woor, Chair of the Suffolk County Council LGB&T Staff Network said: “I am thrilled that Suffolk County Council has improved its position within the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.  Every year the work involved in making the top 100 gets harder, so it is fantastic that we have been able to rise to this challenge once again.”

I echo both comments, for some this seems a difficult subject area, but not for me, I believe that we are here in public life to protect our values, our heritage and that a tolerant, fair society is at the heart of our great county and I will do all I can in the time, I am involved in Public Life to promote this position in any of the organisations I am involved in.  Being a Stonewall Top 100 employer clearly demonstration the importance that Suffolk County Council places upon supporting LGB&T equality, both within its workforce and also within the wider community of Suffolk.

Britain’s Hidden Victims

2015_10_07 Speaking at Trading Standards Fringe at Conservative Party ConferenceIn many ways, the Conservative Party Conference seems a distant memory, but some aspects of it have given me much food for though. Whilst there, I was asked to speak at the Institute of Trading Standards plenary session on Britain’s Hidden Victims and have since been reflecting on how the national picture plays out here in Suffolk.  Sadly this relates to some of the most vulnerable in our communities.

Postal scams can be one of the most heart-breaking types of crime as they specifically target older and vulnerable residents.   People who respond to mail thinking they have been successful in prize draws, lotteries or other bogus competitions risk losing a significant amount of their life savings.  Sadly, we have discovered around 1,600 Suffolk residents are on a mailing list used by scammers. Officers have been contacting residents, offering support and guidance to help prevent them becoming victims.

I was horrified to learn that one such victim, recently widowed, had been paying £100 per month to scam mail companies from his personal benefit allowance. This meant he was unable to afford carer home visits, and some basic health care products necessary for a painful skin condition. Following a joint visit with officers from Adult and Community Services, the man was advised that he was the victim of a scam mail company. He immediately stopped the payments, meaning he could again pay for the care visits and products.

This type of work cannot be completed in isolation. Suffolk’s Trading Standards team have been engaging with colleagues in Health and Adult Community Care, as well as relatives of the victims to ensure that appropriate care and support is made available to them.

Suffolk Trading Standards recently hosted its first ‘Join the Fight’ Conference to raise awareness of the impact of scams; this was attended by over 100 people from 40 different partner organisations, exhibitors and speakers.  I am proud that our Join the Fight campaign really looks to try and arm Suffolk’s communities with information to help and support each other.

A month long ‘Scamnesty’ project launched in the summer with BBC Radio Suffolk; encouraged people to ‘post’ scam mail in bright yellow mail boxes placed in local libraries and CAB offices. This information was sent to the National Scams Team to help prioritise future work.

and a couple of weeks ago we held Suffolk’s latest Health and Wellbeing Conference and it was a great pleasure to speak there and once more highlight the dangers of scams and the impact they have on our most vulnerable residents.  It was another opportunity to really highlight how communities have a key role to play in supporting those most vulnerable, a point we shall go on making.

Raising the Bar – better GCSE results.

2015_06_25 Laura Wright Singing at Raising the Bar AwardsA few weeks ago the achievements of Suffolk pupils, teachers, schools and many more, were honoured at SCC’s second Raising the Bar Awards which I had the pleasure to attend and honour to present one of the awards at.

As I sat there I pondered the effect such events and the Leadership being displayed has on our schools system and what difference to the A level and GCSE results would it have.

Over the past couple of weeks we have seen those result published albeit the data is unverified and there can be a surprising amount of movement in that process. But overall its good news with A levels students achieving about the same and in the standard measure of five good GCSEs including Maths and English there was a rise of 4%.  In amongst the sea of stats there are is some excellent news that the results for disadvantages students have made a substantial improvement with 73% of schools reporting increased grades for disadvantages students.  But elsewhere there are still far too many schools hailing the results a great success, but when you put the results in context, their results are far from a measure of success.

So there is much to do but signs that our programme is working and things like the Raising the Bar event which was opened by Suffolk’s very own Laura Wright who sang beautifully and later on gave an inspirational speech about her own journey through education and the drive and determination it has taken her to achieve what she has in her life, are beginning to make a difference.

Some of Suffolk’s Academies are amongst the best performing schools and yet others are amongst the worse and during the interval I chatted with Tim Coulson, the East of England’s Academy Commissioner, about the changing nature of the relationship between Schools and the County Council as more look to move to be Academies and the very different outcomes that seem to be achieved.  I made the point that for all the change residents do look to their Councillors to help them navigate through the myriad of choices and to make sure standards of all schools are improving.  I also said the County Council is still charged with the planning of school places, paying for and building new schools, so a close working relationship is something we need to have and we agreed to meet to discuss how we could continue to build that here in Suffolk. It is interesting to note in the recent exam results a number of schools not in Local Authority control have yet to publish their results, and lets face it is not because the result are outstanding.  I personally think this is utterly unacceptable, parents have the right to know just as soon as the results are published.

60 shortlisted finalists across 20 categories were invited to the awards ceremony in Bury St Edmunds.  The ceremony was a celebration of education in Suffolk and how the county is Raising the Bar. everyone of the schools who won display the sort of system Leadership we need.

Education should be open and honest and most schools have published their results but disappointingly some are refusing to publish and thus are frankly displaying the sort of poor Leadership we need to work out of the system, you show Leadership by publishing your results.

Brown Bin Debate

Full brown wheelie bin

One of the big issues to make the news in the last month or so here is Suffolk has been potential changes to brown bin collections.  This is a very difficult issue for councils across Suffolk.  Traditionally, the county council has had the money to provide substantial funds to each district council to help with recycling and composting.  With the pressures bearing down on our finances, the county-wide Suffolk Waste Partnership has agreed to consider changes to the policy.

In short, the county is planning to reduce its funding to District and Borough Councils next year, and so in turn, they are considering whether to continue with a free brown-bin service, or whether to move to a subscription service, while encouraging more residents to manage their own waste through home composting.

Between us, the councils in Suffolk spend around £6million a year collecting and treating garden waste (which in some areas includes food waste).  If Suffolk’s councils collectively decide to adopt this approach, the saving will be around £2million a year.  At the same time, each local council can decide to retain a universal free service to all residents should they so choose.

A few Fridays ago I agreed to go on Mark Murphy’s Show on BBC Radio Suffolk to talk about the issue, it was meant to be a short spot but in explaining what is happening and taking calls it lasted almost an hour but at the end of it hopefully listeners were better informed as to their choices and perhaps the thinking behind the decisions that Councils and Suffolk Waste Partnership have and are making.

You’ll no doubt be hearing more about this as each District and Borough Council make their decision to charge or not to charge, but at a time where we are being forced to radically cut our costs, there are difficult decisions like this which have to be made.

#WeAreListening events around the county

2015_07_18 WeAreListening - HaverhilThere’s nothing like local government to confound expectations!  Just when the expectation and, indeed, hope, is that things will start to quieten down as we move through the summer months, and parliament has its long summer recess, we actually find that things are as busy as ever.

From my own perspective, I’ve held the first five  of my ‘listening’ events, where I spend a Saturday morning, once a fortnight, visiting a town centre somewhere in Suffolk to speak to residents and visitors, answer their questions and take away a long list of actions to be completed.

These first roadshows have been in Bury St Edmunds, Lowestoft, Haverhill, Felixstowe and Stowmarket so I’ve zig-zagged across the county over the last couple of months and met a great number of the local people. I may be Suffolk born and bred, and be very familiar with many parts of our wonderful county, but there is no substitute for physically getting out there and meeting the different communities across the county, speaking to residents who care passionately about Suffolk. I want to hear about the things that are close to people’s hearts, to find out what issues are at the top of their agenda and what they want to see happening locally.  The visits will be continuing through what is left of our summer and into the autumn, with Ipswich the next on 5th September. For the itinerary please have a click to http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/wearelistening and to follow on Twitter its #WeAreListening

Same Old Labour

Milibands defeatOn Thursday I had the honour of being elected Leader of Suffolk County Council and I know it will be a really challenging job as we seek to protect services, invest in the county’s infrastructure and work with partners to make sure that public services in Suffolk are the best they can possibly be, at the same time as having to find new ways of doing things to cope with the necessary re-balancing of the nation’s economy and us playing our part by having less money with which to do all the things we need and want to do, so no small task then for the Council, its staff and our Conservative group.

Over the past few days leading up to the Council AGM, from Journalists to opposition politicians all have been keen to try to get an insight into the internal workings of the Conservative Group, is it split?, who was in or out of the cabinet?, and would other would-be leaders supporters vote for or against. One journalist likened it to a soap opera, unfortunately or is that fortunately, probably depends on your point of view!, the reality is far less interesting, 37 Conservatives and 31 opposition Councillors at the Council meeting and the result was 37 for with 31 against.

The Conservative group on the County Council is a broad church of views on most subjects and one of the things I am doing is making sure we have the time and space as a group to debate the big issues before us. But there is one truly galvanizing force that drives us and the thing in which our sense of common purpose is palpable, we have to make sure Labour never re-take control of the County Council.

After the election result and my what is termed ‘Executive Statement’, the opposition group leaders get to make in essence rebuttal speeches. First up was the official Leader of the Opposition Councillor Sandy Martin , leader of the Labour group, in which he rattled off a list of what Labour would do if they were in charge and it would be same old Labour, always spending. The use of reserves was unrepentant, the propping up rather than reforming services was unrepentant, the ‘only the public sector’ can provide mantra was unrepentant, and the refusal to accept the need for the country, and thus us, to reduce its spending was unrepentant. Watching his group as he gave his speech, from their body language, I just began to wonder if some of them are all together comfortable with such an unreformed socialist at their head, particularly since nationally three weeks ago that position was effectively soundly rejected by the nation. The national Labour party is about to search its sole with the coming Leadership debate to address why its is so out of touch nationally, maybe some of them are thinking about doing the same locally?.

A true Gentleman of Newmarket

Yesterday I attended the sad funeral of Cllr. Geoffrey Jaggard. I have know Geoffrey for a number of years first as a Conservative Association officer when he was Leader of Forest Heath District Council, more recently in the great unitary debate that took place in the final days of the previous Labour Government and most recently as a member of the Performance and Audit Scrutiny Committee I chair and he added his many years of experience to as a member.

A couple of weeks ago at the West Suffolk Conservative Assocation AGM, I paid tribute to him and his former fellow Councillor Maureen Hills both of whom sadly had passed since the last AGM. I said that whilst In the room any number of those present had at one point or another had a argument with me, I could only remember one occasion when he had slightly raised his voice at whatever nonsense I was saying at the time, his gift was that he was always able to deal with …..

At the end of the funeral as a mark of respect those Councillors who could make it along lined the way as his coffin was carried from the church. I know we will all miss his quiet counsel and friendship.

But do not mistake his gentlemanliness for weakness. It was quite fitting that as the assembled congregation at St. Mary’s Church, Newmarket marked his passing, in the background you could hear the construction work continuing on the Home of Horseracing. I say fitting because it is in no small part due to his and the Chief Executive of the Council at the time, David Burnip, leadership and determination that had brought this aspiration to life.

As we walked to the Hotel for the wake, I commented to fellow councillors that long before I got involved with Local Politics I was extremely critical ad to why the council would buy up a tumble down building and spend million renovating it, the building being Palace House which is to be the cornerstone of a world class racing visitor attraction that will shortly emerge from under the scaffolding, with the Palace House itself being used to home some of this nations racing treasures and art.

In the next few months the good and the great will gather and be shown around the wonderful new Racing Museum attractions and I hope a moments tribute is paid to this non son of Racing, without who’s vision and quiet determination, the whole project would literally never have happened. A fitting public life legacy to a real gentleman.

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