This weeks EADT Column – a postcard from Manchester

Here is this week’s column:

Last week I attended the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester and as it got underway there were two news stories dominating the world headlines; the terrible mass murder shootings in Las Vegas and the ugly scenes of the referendum in northern Spain. As you made your way into the conference secure zone in Manchester surrounded by the army of heavily armed police with armoured personnel vehicles parked in the side streets, the helicopters overhead and police marksmen placed on tall buildings around the venue, it reminded me that the world and our country is a far less secure a place than any of us would want it to be. The pictures from Spain also underlines that democracy is something that we constantly have to reaffirm and whatever the rights and wrongs of the Catalonian referendum, scenes of masked police seizing ballot boxes and fighting in the streets with firemen reminds us that democracy is a precious thing and it’s important that we all take part peacefully and respectful of differing opinions.

Whilst on the TV we see the big set speeches from the conference floor it’s in the fringe meetings and roundtables that much of the new thinking on issues is debated.  For the Conservatives, there was much analysis of the General Election in June and its successes, for which there were many, to the loss of the majority. Equally there was of course much talk of the biggest issue this country faces, Brexit. The government must make the best of the negotiations and here in Suffolk we have significant businesses relying on us balancing access to the single market with free movement of people or rather the restrictions we seek to impose.  Many of the farmers, builders and care providers I speak to are extremely worried if it becomes harder for Europeans to come work and settle in the UK they will have a crisis of labour supply.

Beyond the election, beyond Brexit, there are more domestic issues the county faces that have to be addressed – everyone is weary of austerity yet we still have an economy where as a nation we are spending more than we are raising. The gap is narrowing but there is still a way to go. The debate may be about how quickly we get there but the debt mounts daily and we have not even started to think about paying that down.

Equally the country has to debate the issue of a socialist Britain as promoted by Labour or a modern entrepreneurial Britain where hard work and effort are properly rewarded but equally a modern Britain where everyone has a chance to get on in life and to live in a safe and fair society.

I think some of this comes as a bit of a shock to any of us old enough to remember Britain in the late 1970s, the winter of discontent, Dennis Healy’s humiliation as Chancellor relying on a loan from the IMF to keep the lights on and then the sweeping aside of the old Labour order as a new modern Britain emerged where success was celebrated not treated with suspicion. But then again at least two generations of readers and voters will not remember that, so the Conservative Party has to once again set out again why Modern Capitalism is the right way forward for our country.

But at the same time issues have to be addressed and solutions offered. One of these is housing and much of my time at the Party Conference was spent in meetings looking at this vexed issue.

Most agree that we need to build more council homes, more social housing, more affordable housing for younger people and more homes better suited for our ageing population but almost everyone seems to agree, just not here!

Of course, housing growth is the remit of the district and borough councils across Suffolk but together with the county council they and us are planning for the future, to make sure whatever your circumstances you have access to a decent home to live and raise your family.

Today we will debate and decide on the council’s position and views on the Local Plans of all the district and borough councils across Suffolk. Over the coming months district and borough councils, with the county council, will be looking at the infrastructure we must deliver to make sure as housing growth comes we invest in our roads, buses and rail services and such vital things as better access to local GP services.

We live in a great and beautiful county but it is only great and beautiful if everyone has a decent home, whatever your circumstances.


My Column in the papers & a new road

fullsizeoutput_1c1cHere is this week’s column for the East Anglian Daily Times and the Ipswich Star:

Yesterday I joined councillors, staff and partners who have helped deliver a vital relief road to the east of Bury St Edmunds.

The Eastern Relief Road is a long-time in the making, with Suffolk County Council investing £2million into the £15million project, which was also funded by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and St Edmundsbury Borough Council.

A huge amount of work went into the delivery of this project. From putting a strong business case forward to laying tarmac on the ground, this showed what partnership working can do.

Although the route is only a mile or so long, a 67-hectare area of land will be unlocked for economic development, creating 15,000 jobs and boosting the area by millions of pounds. It will also relieve congestion in Bury St Edmunds and in light of that, we’ve improved junction 45 of the A14.

Without these benefits, we would not have been able to get this road built.

Now the road is open, business development should begin to increase in the area. From the road, you are within an hour from the internationally-significant Port of Felixstowe. This is a prime area of land that hasn’t been able to be used before and I’m positive manufacturers will want to be based in Suffolk, with the benefits it brings.

Bury St Edmunds will see a boost too, as the creation of jobs will mean more people can work in their home town – reducing a need to commute out of Suffolk. More people will be using the town’s shops, bars, and restaurants as well.

This road shows how we and our partners can work for you to deliver a sustainable future for the people of Suffolk.

There’s further good partnership working in Bury St Edmunds, for the benefit of all road users – the schemes in the town centre we’re carrying out to improve the movement of traffic through the town and the safety of all road users.

Work has also begun on the Beccles Southern Relief Road. Costing £7million, this is further evidence of how we can improve things for people – with better journey times for all road users and an economic boost to the business owners in that area.

While on the topic of partnership working and delivering new routes for those using our roads, we’ve extended the consultation for Lowestoft’s Lake Lothing Third Crossing, with an additional event at Pakefield Church Hall on October 5. So far we’ve had a great response to the consultation and we want to ensure everyone has their say on this significant project.

Work is continuing on delivering the Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich and as part of a differing set of works in the town, we’ll begin working on the first junction improvement scheme, at Landseer Road and Clapgate Lane.

We’re currently consulting on proposals for Suffolk’s Energy Gateway in the east of the county, and we continue to study the possibility of a relief road to the north of Ipswich, as well as one in Sudbury.

All of the above wouldn’t be where they are without the combined working of us and our partners, to deliver the best we can provide for our county. And it doesn’t just count for our roads, we work with our partners in Clinical Commissioning Groups and the NHS with regards to caring for our most vulnerable.

As you will have seen in the news this past week, party conference season is upon us. Journalists are basing themselves in and around the bases of each major party, trying to find out what they can before the announcements are made on stage to the nation’s media.

The Liberal Democrats have held theirs, in Bournemouth, and Labour are currently hosting theirs in Brighton.

The Conservative’s annual conference starts on Sunday and I will be going to Manchester to represent Suffolk, discussing how we can play a bigger role in the national picture. I’ll be reporting back in my next column about my role and how the conference went.

We’re doing the best we can for the people of Suffolk – and our partners are doing so too.



Another false dawn?

fullsizeoutput_1bf4Last Wednesday I was in London for the County Councils Network AGM held this year in the main Hall of the Chartered Insurance Institute in the heart of the City of London, which given the discussion I wanted to have with fellow Leaders was quite fitting setting as the sun shone through the Institutes historic stained-glass windows with the logos & formation dates of the various Great British Insurance companies formed since the 1700’s, depicted.

After the formalities of the AGM we moved into a discussion on the coming Green Paper on Social Care and I led a discussion in my capacity as spokesperson for Health and Social Care on our initial ideas by tabling a discussion paper for Leaders to feedback if they agree that the areas we are considering lobbying on are the right ones and what the emphasis should be.  These are senior gatherings from across the Country of those Councils which provide support for some 48% of all older people and those with Learning and Physical Disabilities, so our thoughts  are based on our practical knowledge of delivering a system and thus I would say important to help Government shape the coming bill.

In my opening remarks, I said that what we must lobby for and encourage from across the sector from ADASS to our MPs that this must not another false dawn.  I have been a Councillors since 2006 and in that time, I have seen successive Governments seek to tackle this issue of funding and the nature of the Health and Social Care integration and indeed if I think there has been false dawns on the Local Government side there is perpetual motion on the NHS side.

We have seen with Gordon Brown’s free Social Care at home proposals which ended in disarray as utterly un-costed, but hey there’s a Labour Government for you, to the collapse of the Westminster cross-party discussions when they accused each other of promoting a Death Tax in the run into the 2010 elections.  Next up we had the Andrew Dilnot Report which fizzled out when the then Chancellor decided far too expensive and so set a higher cap and that came to nothing.  To the recent Conservative Manifesto which was accused of being a Dementia Tax by Labour within hours of being unveiled.  On the NHS side, we’ve seen the arrival of the CCG from the old PCTs, the creation of the Health and Wellbeing Boards, some of which genuinely have shifted the notion of how to tackle an Ageing Populations other not so much.  And now the notion that on DTOC DCLG or is that the NHS will start withholding money from Upper Tier Councils if there is an excessive wait for patients once declared medically fit for discharge and too long a wait for a social care package to be found.

If like me you are involved in this issue is an extremely complex once that requires the NHS to work in collaboration with local government.  DTOC fines are not going to help one little bit by taking further funding away from already stretch services and making the relationship not one of collaboration but performance fines.  In 2010 we moved away from this culture and now through the influence of the mighty NHS we seem to be moving backwards.

So, there is a lot riding on the Green paper from solving the ridiculously complex funding grants and taxes currently in place from the BCF to the National Adult Social Care precept, a threshold here and a cap there – all of which seems to me avoids a fundamental question – how do we, as a nation, pay for Social Care often seen through the prism of Free NHS services. To my mind its relatively simple a per head of population funding formula irrespective of BRR and we will to have a contribution from people’s property wealth but given the Russian roulette of Dementia and frailty we should cap this so people can reasonable expect to be able to hand down much of what they have worked hard for over the years. Equally that the NHS must be required to work with Local Government to shape and deliver communities that service our residents not in shiny new hospital buildings but in the communities in which we all live together.  So, can we have a green paper that is more than activity more than another false dawn and genuinely starts to address the issues of our ageing population.

I’ll be presenting a draft lobby paper to the CNN Conference in November for sign off by the County Council Leaders as our contribution to this debate and when completed I will put up a link to it here.

The search begins

fullsizeoutput_1b91A week last Friday Deborah Cadman made her last presentation to the Conservative group before her move to be CE of the WMCA and we presented her with a bowl engaged with our thanks for all her hard work for Suffolk.

And so last Monday I spent the day at Ipswich Town Football Club with colleagues, opposition Councillors, SCC’s Senior Management team and partners from across Suffolk as we interviewed for our next Chief Executive.

The day was long for both the Candidates and some of us on the various interview panels and exercises.  The process was rigorous and as you’d expect different candidates had different skill sets but at the end of the day after all the reports from the various, the tallying of scores and much debate we did not feel that any were quite the right fit for Suffolk.  The Suffolk system is not unique but it is Suffolk’s and the right fit is far more important than simply appointing. I am sure, because I interviewed them, that every single candidate will find their next role and will be a perfect fit somewhere.

Processes like these cost a great deal of money with adverts in the Local Government trade press and the Guardian and Times newspapers alongside appointed recruitment consultants who undertake the work to headhunt for the long candidate list.  So, it was not a decision taken lightly.  However, getting the wrong person is a real problem not only for them as everyone wants to do well in a role but also for Suffolk and that is far more important that having to go through the process and cost again.

Even if selected as is the way the system works, officers usually given three-month notice of leaving for another job and it usually takes three months to get to the interview so assuming you do select someone for a particular role, if internal they simply move across and if external there is usually a three-month gap betwixt the two.  I say usually as this does not always happen, sometimes people resign form one role to take up another – as the CE of Lewisham has just done to take up the same role at Kensington and Chelsea Council following the changes there post the Grenfell Tower disaster where so many people tragically lost their lives and that council and indeed the entire Building Control, Fire Service and local Council sector contemplate how to make sure it never ever happens again.

What next for Suffolk County Council in deciding not to appoint?  We did so in the clear knowledge that we have a great Corporate Management team who can step up.  Not forever, as an organisation the size of Suffolk County Council needs to have a Leader of the officer team, but for now, under our interim CE Sue Cook, who is our outstanding Director of Children’s Services, we crack on with delivering services to the people of Suffolk and planning carefully and prudently for the financial landscape in the years ahead and that starts now with the discussion taking place on our proposed Budget for next year.

We’ll go back out there in January to see whom might be keen to come and work with Suffolk County Council as we delivery for the residents of Suffolk.

My Column in the papers

Here is the latest in my bi-weekly columns for the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star Newspapers, this one was published last Tuesday:

Last week I was in Felixstowe talking to the public as Suffolk County Council’s ‘We Are Listening’ events started up again.

Since becoming leader of the council in 2015, I’ve been committed to getting out into our communities to hear what people’s think about the council and the services we provide.

Joined by the Assistant Chief Executive Chris Bally and councillors Louis Busuttil, Steve Wiles and Graham Newman, we spoke to more than 60 people over the course of the event, with a further 85 feedback cards taken for those who were unable to stop for a discussion on the day.

We took a number of queries away to be looked into further as well. These were mostly highways issues and we’re considering what can be done to help those with problems.

These events are something I’m very keen on carrying out. Getting into the high streets and market places of our wonderful Suffolk towns to hear what our council tax payers think has enabled a better understanding of the issues important to residents.

We have to make some difficult decisions in this job and we wouldn’t be able to do it without input from the people we are here to serve.

It’s also true that all the conversations we’ve had have played an important part of the county council’s decision-making process as well as how we work with our partners.

These events are just one of the many ways we’re making the council more accessible. Council meetings are now webcast – so those who may wish to watch the debate but can’t get to Endeavour House can now tune in live or after the meeting to catch up on what’s been debated, with markers for people to get to the topic they have an interest in.

Debates in the council chamber can be heated and exciting and the more chances people have to see that happening the better.

We also have a stronger social media presence than ever before. Not only does the council actively respond to queries on Facebook and Twitter, many councillors – of all political backgrounds are signed up meaning debate can go further than the council chamber. Suffolk Highways and Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service have very active pages as well, meaning people can see what roadworks we’re carrying out or what major incidents we’re responding to.

We have two more events confirmed this year – in Haverhill on Friday, September 29 and in Ipswich on Thursday, October 26. The Suffolk County Council marquee will be on the high street in Haverhill and by the Giles Statue in Ipswich with both events taking place between 11am and 1pm. I hope to see many of you there.

I’m passionate about hearing what the people think of our services and what they prioritise, so there are plans for two other events, one in Bury St Edmunds and one in Lowestoft, in November and I will be sharing more information on those once they are confirmed.

Last week we also said farewell to our Chief Executive Deborah Cadman. It’s been a real pleasure to work with her and I wish her all the very best for the future as she moves to the West Midlands Combined Authority to become their Chief Executive. We’ve had a strong list of candidates apply to fill the position and I’m sure Deborah’s replacement will be a success in Suffolk.

I also enjoyed reading the lengthy coverage of the Tour of Britain in the paper on Saturday. To have an entire stage come to this county is no small feat and thanks to our officers who helped made it happen. From west to east some of the world’s best cyclists made their way through Suffolk and despite the poor weather it was great to see so many people out supporting them, showcasing the best Suffolk has to offer. Some of the cyclists have said they would like to come back to Suffolk, so we must have put on a good show.

I’m sure the tour act as an inspiration to many of those watching, meaning more people will be getting active as well as giving an economic boost to the county.

We’ll keep working to delivering the best for the county – and we’ll also keep working for our taxpayers and listening to their views.

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.


Local Politics – you could not make it up


Last week we had a FHDC by-election in Newmarket or to be precisely St. Mary’s ward following the sad death of long standing Councillor Bill Sadler.  And I am pictured here with our candidate Robert Nobbs and my fellow County Councillor Rachel Hood as we finished off the campaign in the evening on on Poll day.

After all the ups and downs of the past few months in politics, it was good to be out on the door steps in what was a very local election.  As we always do, we found a great candidate Robert Nobbs who is the manager of the Heath Court Hotel in Newmarket and who has worked his way up from porter to General manager over the years and is what Conservatives are all about hard work, determination and with skills, business skills, that we try to bring to the Council decision making processes.  With our literature he talked about the changes he want to make and how he go about our business.

On the opposition side of things, we had Labour with the Candidate who has manged to lose 4 general elections as the West Suffolk Constituency Labour candidate and been on and booted off the District Council at the next election, twice to my knowledge.  And what a contrast from our literature which was local, upbeat and full of what we want to do.  Whereas Labours was national, socialist and on two specific aspects quite a surprise!   Firstly, he commented on the Local Secondary school where, as its deputy Head teacher, it was one of the worse performing schools in Suffolk.  Since he left, the school has joined a star Academy group which started here in Suffolk at the Samuel Ward Secondary school in Haverhill and its results are improving with a new drive and determination to deliver the best possible education for its students.  So that was a surprise!

He also put in his literature he said if elected to FHDC he would spend more on the Memorial gardens in Newmarket that Conservative FHDC ever did.  Only two issues here, firstly it’s not the responsibility of FHDC and secondly, and he must know this because, as a Town Councillor he was Chairman of the very committee at the Town Council that has not spent the money on those very same gardens, he says he will if elected to FHDC.  You could not make this stuff up folks!

So to the results:

Conservative 338

Labour 276

Greens 60

Total 680. T/O 16.86%

Accordingly, Robert was duly elected with a 62 majority

Politics s is a funny old game but thankfully even with a traditionally very low by-election turnout our Candidate won the day and on FHDC we have a bright, younger energetic Councillor with great business skills representing the good people of St. Mary’s who has already hit the ground running sorting out issues he picked up during his campaign.





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