The day job

FinanceThere is much talk about Devolution in the air in Local Government at the moment, locally much of the time and energy of Councillors and Officers is focused on the emerging Norfolk and Suffolk Bid.  At the heart of it is a proposition to government to allow us to have a greater impact on our local economy working alongside the New Anglia and Greater Cambridgeshire and Great Peterborough LEPs and the business community to create more high value jobs, grow the Business Rate and improve our local public sector system including how we work in a more integrated way with the county’s health care services.  All of which is about how can we do more with less, how can we protect front line services by having a more joined up approach to Suffolk and now Norfolk and Suffolk.

Whilst this is the focus as we seek to meet the Government’s deadline for submission, the other thing that looms large on our horizon is the coming council budget round.  We all await the CSR but are under no illusions that it will bring anything but tough new saving targets for Local Government. So last week my SCC Cabinet Member for Finance and myself travelled to Horsham to attend a LGA Finance course, to look at budget setting and ways to find even more savings from the Council’s budget, there is always something to learn in any walk of life.

Of course Devolution is never far from Councillors minds and in the conference room I sat next to Jonathan Bacon, who is the Leader of Isle of Wight Council, so inevitably we spend a fair while chatting about Devolution as the rumour has it that the IOW Council and Hampshire County Council are going to be successful in their bid. So as much as Richard and I tried to concentrate on the discussions during the course of the two days on finance, Devolution was never far from the table.

Digital Inclusion and an Ageing Population

digital-inclusion-150x150A couple of weeks ago I had was invited by SEEFA (South East England Forum on Ageing) (www.SEEFA.org.uk) to take part in a House of Lords Symposium on Digital Inclusion and an ageing population. It was my first time in a Lord’s Committee room and I had the pleasure to sit next to Lord Filkin who hosted the event. As we chatted we discussed the House of Lords report of a couple of years ago which he co-authored about the state of readiness of UK PLC for an Ageing Population and its premise that one of the early warning sign is A&E performance which was most apropos given the poor figures published that week.

Journalist David Brindle from The Guardian chaired the meeting where we heard from a number of speakers including Paul Burstow MP the former Care Minister and from around the table people discussed what is meant by digital inclusion and how to drive it forward, the discussion took place before an invited audience and the thoughts captured for a report based in part on the discussion that was had. For my part I talked on being careful not to replace community and human interact for a new digital interaction as loneliness is the key issue here and no amount of technology can replace friends and family, technology can enable friends and family to keep it touch but it can’t replace them.

One of the things I learnt and pondered about was ‘Digital Fossils’. In this area we all too easily say when the current generation of older people have passed because within the next generation most people can use a laptop and tablet they always will but as technologies change, people can get struck at a stage of learning new things and so the new technologies may pass them by and they will struggle to use the emerging platforms. With the fast pace of change in digit technology IT literate today does not necessary mean IT literate tomorrow. This sound daft until you stop to think about it. How many of us are comfortable with email and word and excel and our CD collection then talk with younger people and see if they do the same and increasingly they don’t. They use WhatsApp, SnapChat, Google docs and have a Spotify account for their music or download it from iTunes, with email being how you communicate with the old folks! So interestingly it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds and thus adds to the challenge of making sure inclusion is a key element as we develop digital services now and in the future.

Public Health: Post 2015 Challenge Conference

2014_11_05 Public Health Conference Plenary Group PictureLast Wednesday I travelled to London to meet with officers from the LGA to discuss aspect of my new portfolio responsibilities on The LGA Community Wellbeing Board and then it was off to the Mermaid Theatre for a Public Health Conference where we had been asked to provide a speaker for a closing plenary Question Time session about Public Health the local Government prospective going forward.

On the platform with me were Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party, Cllr. Mike Roberts, a senior Labour Local Government figure in the LGA and the session was moderated by Tam Fry.

For my part in my opening few words I spoke about the role of Public Health and the landscape in which it operates and my opinion that the greatest single challenge ahead was their role in an evidence based approach to how we cope with an Ageing Population. The House of Lords Committee on Public Services and Demographic change warned in March 2013 in its report ‘Ready for Ageing? That the UK was ‘woefully underprepared’ for the social and economic challenges presented by an ageing society. For example, with the number of people living with long-term medical conditions is set to rise sharply, so a ‘radically different model’ of care will be needed to support people in their homes and to prevent pressure on the NHS. I think this can currently be seen manifesting itself at the sharp end with the debates about pressure on A&E frankly the tip of the Ageing Population and these debates will gather in strength and urgency as the realities of an Ageing Population and a lack of systemic planning hit home, we are simply not keeping up with the rising demand.

It was an interesting question time session and it is strange how you find yourself slipping into a sort political party mode at times. One of the reoccurring themes used by both Natalie Bennett and Cllr. Roberts was that this country is the 6th wealthiest in the world and so we should be able to do this and that. And so in response I had to do what Conservatives always seem to have to do! Both seemed to be determined to ignore the fundamentals of our underlying economic challenge, promising the earth with a default position of how we pay for it, lots more taxes. I hoped I interjected a sense of realism that Local Government and Public Health better look to itself for the solutions to the challenges ahead because there was not likely to be additional monies from Central government for many years to come. A really excellent Q&A session and well worth the trip form my point of view and I hoped the audience agreed.

Ageing Population 2010 Annual Conference

Yesterday I attended the Ageing Population 2010 Annual Conference at the QE2 Conference Centre in London, where they recently held the Iraq War enquiry, you know the one where Tony Blair got less of a grilling that he did on the Fern Britton Show. Anyway as I stood drinking a cup of coffee in the mid morning break, I was thinking, this building must have the best views in London from its upper floors, over looking the rear of the newly renovated Supreme Court building, and beyond to Parliament Square and the House of Parliament with Westminster Abbey just to the right, quite a view.

Back to the conference floor, what particular stuck me from the very interesting mix of Speakers was the presentation in the morning’s plenary session by Dame Jo Williams who is the acting chair of the Care Quality Commission when she spoke about dignity in care. On the face of it we perhaps all think we know what dignity means, be it about privacy, being spoken to properly, a caring warm environment, good food and respect. But what struck me was when she referred to it as being more about choices, however frail you or I might get, just as now I want the choice to eat when I want to, choice to do the things I went to do, when I want to and not have to fit into a regiment regime however caring that might be, and that is a real challenge for our Care Homes, there is some great practice out there but we can always do more and is an aim which I am extremely keen to see promoted across Suffolk not only in the County ran Care homes but with our private partners as well.

Dame Williams also spoke of the important campaign that promotes this, the Dignity in Care challenge with its 10 simple aims that Sir Michael Parkinson has been spearheading this past year. The aims are simple and state that the high quality services that respect people’s dignity should:

1. Have a zero tolerance of all forms of abuse

2. Support people with the same respect you would want for yourself or a member of your family

3. Treat each person as an individual by offering a personalised service

4. Enable people to maintain the maximum possible level of independence, choice, and control

5. Listen to support people to express their needs and wants

6. Respect people’s right to privacy

7. Ensure people fell able to complain without fear of retribution

8. Engage with family members and carers as care partners

9. Assist people to maintain confidence and a positive self esteem

10. Act to alleviate people’s loneliness and isolation.

If you want to learn more about the campaign, I recommend having a look at www.digintyincare.org.uk, there you can sign up both as a Dignity in Care champion and choose to sign up for the regular email newsletter, it’s a quick, easy, read when it comes through and makes for very interesting reading on this important subject.

The closing speaker was Stephen O’Brien MP, the Shadow Care Minister and he spoke for about 15 minutes. As you can imagine it was not the most receptive audience, not to mention that it was the end of a long day as the conference was overrunning heading towards a 5pm close after a 9:20 start. However by the end of his remarkable speech where he laid out a vision for social care, a large number of people had stayed and were very eager to ask him questions about aspects of the Conservative proposals.

His speech was particularly pleasing to me as I recall last May, as this debate was starting to take shape, being invited, along with my fellow Suffolk councillor Graham Newman and a number of other councillors who are involved in the delivery of care services. to spend the day with Andrew Lansley and Stephen O’Brien in Birmingham where we debated and discussed a wide range of options and it was excellent to see how those early thoughts on how to pay for care have matured into a coherent set of proposals and an honest approach to the fact that there is still a debate that needs to take place as the county grapples with the row that has taken place about Free Home Care for those with the most critical needs and the ill thought-out and un-costed proposals in the Government’s Green Paper.

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