A very happy New Year


I always like to start the year with a reflective blog on last year and a few thoughts about the year ahead.

It was an eventful year with the General election in June and a few weeks earlier the County Council elections at the beginning of May.  At the county elections, I led a strong conservative team of 74 Candidates campaigned on a manifesto for Suffolk.  Voters were excited to vote Conservative and we were returned with a thumping majority with 52 out of 75 Councillors and a majority of 29 with Labour plummeted from 19 to 9! – pinned back into Ipswich with just a couple of seats outside in Sudbury and Lowestoft.  Our manifestos could not have been in starker contrast – ours talking about careful prudent management of the finances and Labours was spend, spend, spend!  We fought every single Division whether we thought we could win it or not, Labour abandoned Rural Suffolk and only fought only in the divisions they targeted, a cynical campaign.

Then we had the General Election and I think it’s fair to say the mood in the country changed during the course of those intervening few weeks and the party lost its slim overall majority.  To me it was a very mixed picture as across Suffolk most of our MPs increased their majority and in particular the very hard-working Peter Aldous cemented his Constituency of Waveney. But the political swing-o-meter began to move dramatically to the left and unfortunately the excellent Ben Gummer lost his seat in Ipswich to the very man who organised such a cynical county council election campaign the County Council labour group Leader Sandy Martin.  The most surreal few weeks I have seen in my political life time and I suspect we will not see the likes of such a dramatic swing again.

With our strong County Mandate, we have set about the budget and the savings we have to make over the next 4-year period coupled with rising demand for services for the most vulnerable in our communities.  But I want this next 4-year term to be more than prudent management of the council I want it to be about the future so we are setting about more ambitious and significant long-term planning than has ever been attempted in Suffolk before.  Together with our partner District and Borough councils, Public Health, the Acute Hospitals and our Clinical Commissioning groups we are working on a string of new strategy documents which once completed this year will be about Suffolk 2050.  I come from the management school of the 4 Ps, poor planning equals poor performance and my very favourite business mantra is ‘aim at nothing and you’ll hit it with remarkable accuracy!’ so the plans will not be party political but about building a broad consensus across the public sector including the health services and with the business community about what we want Suffolk to look like in 2050 and how we get there, in terms of infrastructure, industrial growth, roads rail, social and Health care and the sort of places we want to live in.

Watch this space.

Ipswich Vision / MIPIM Conference

2015_10_21 BEn Gummer David Elsemere & Deborah Cadman on stand at MIPIMLast week Thursday was the Ipswich Vision Conference, where myself amongst others set out our aims, objectives and aspirations to really put Ipswich back on the map.

In readiness for the Conference, myself, Deborah Cadman SCC’s Chief Executive and colleagues from Ipswich Borough Council and the New Anglia LEP have all been attending the industry’s leading property show – MIPIM, at London’s Olympia. Ben Gummer MP popped in to offer his support along with other MPs who came along to see what the show was about.  As well as spending time on the Ipswich Vision stand, myself and colleagues have been talking with developers and businesses to highlight the value of not only Ipswich but, of course, the wider county of Suffolk.  These conversations have been around seeking investment in and around Ipswich, as well as really raising awareness of the huge opportunities for both housing and employment growth, particularly around the exciting waterfront area.

We really do have so much to shout about – from the benefits of working on our beautiful rural county, to our close proximity to London and the industry leading science parks at neighbouring Cambridge, the county town of Ipswich is facing a particularly stage in its regeneration.  Not to mention the fact that Suffolk’s ambitious superfast broadband programme is enabling the perfect economic conditions for prospective new businesses to compete and thrive in the global market.

Setting out the Ipswich Vision, our stand at the conference featured a rolling video showing an animated fly-round of the waterfront, plus a wider selection of shots of the county town.  An interactive screen allowed users to really focus in closely on individual sites and companies already in situ.

The stand was certainly very well attended and I think it fair to say that we have had an exciting response so far.

I am really very excited to see how this progresses with the launch of the conference last Thursday and it’s fantastic to see such close collaboration amongst our partners as we all come together to promote our great County Town.

A unitary Ipswich is the wrong answer in an age of Devolution

Ipswich VisionAnother week and another step in the process of taking forward Suffolk’s case for Devolution.  But is a unitary Ipswich the right answer?

No, I do not believe that it is.  Of course, it is absolutely critical that Ipswich, Suffolk’s county town, is not left behind when we are looking at future development and investment.  This is precisely why Ipswich is very firmly included on the devolution bid currently being driven forward by Suffolk’s Public Sector Leaders.

Only through working collaboratively can we promote an exciting vision for Ipswich that will seek to include further investment and greater employment opportunities for the town.  Indeed we must build on the existing assets of the Waterfront area, the Innovation Centre at Adastral Park and, of course, Britain’s biggest container port at Felixstowe.

The Vision for Ipswich is extremely ambitious and impressive – our county town has so much going for it; good connectivity to the rest of the UK and its close proximity to London are just the tip of the iceberg. I firmly believe that for Ipswich to thrive and for Suffolk to stand the best possible chance of delivering devolution for our local communities, we must continue to work collaboratively with our partners across Suffolk and also with our colleagues in Norfolk.  This places us in a stronger position to present the best possible proposal to Government.  Together we bring a much more credible force to Government, with the collective geographic area and economic bedrock creating an entity on a par with the likes of city regions such as Liverpool and Sheffield.

As the dust settles

conservativesThursday was a 27 hour day for many Conservatives, in Suffolk it started before dawn with many of us arriving in Ipswich for Ben Gummer’s ‘dawn raid’, much, much later with the final ‘knock up’ to see if people had voted in my patch completed, it was into the cars and over the Parliamentary count at Newmarket Leisure Centre and to watch the national events unfold on TV. The exit poll was a real shock and I don’t think anyone of us, let alone Paddy Ashdown believed it. As the night turned into dawn, Matthew Hancock’s majority increased and it became clear that the opinion polls had got it spectacularly wrong and across the country people made a clear choice.

I suppose I did have an inkling of it in that as I campaigned this year across East Anglia and in my own village the mood seems very different to the opinion polls, something I struggled to reconcile in my own mind, almost everywhere I have been knocking on doors people have said I’m voting conservative because… and there have been many reasons but underpinning them all was…as one famous America Presidential candidate once said ‘it’s the economy stupid’. Clearly whether you like this or that policy, what matters most is a strong economy from which all other things we like, things we would want to see happen for us, our families and our communities stems from the strength of our economy.

Locally both Louise, my running mate and I were elected to serve of Forest Heath District Council the results were:

Pam Brown (Labour)221
Cowboy Gathercole (UKIP) 634
Michael Hutchings (Labour) 219
Louise Marston (Conservative) 979
Myself (Conservative) 839
Tracy Whitehand (UKIP) 495

The number of Ballot papers issued was 1993, which generated 3986 votes but surprisingly 567 people did not use their second vote. The block vote is usually how people vote and you would occasionally get people voting for one person or different people from different parties but usually in local elections that would be relatively few. A number of people told me that the advice was not clear that you had two votes and they thought it was like the other ballot paper where you had one vote for MP. I am going to raise this point of clearer information with the returning officer.

Firstly my thanks to those who voted for me. I consider it an honour and privilege to serve my community where I am born and bred, once, twice and always a Lakenheath Boy.

As I campaigned in the village with Louise Marston we picked up lots of issues residents had not brought forward before, as well as some things still not sorted out; alongside their aspirations for our community going forward. Louise and I will be working on a list of action points to get stuck into.

Whether you voted for us or not we are here to represent and help you and please do not hesitate to contact either Louise or myself.

Looking wider we Conservatives retained Forest Heath with a slightly lower majority of 21 out of 27 whereas we were 23. We lost some great Councillors, and as your own vote is being countered you think about not getting elected and not being a Councillor and I know how that feels, not nice. So my heart goes out to them including the two opposition Councillors who were voted out. Sad to see them all go but great to welcome some really great hard working Conservative Candidates as Councillors next week.

Nationally there is lots to do and indeed equally the same locally in the next 4 year term and that starts Monday evening when the Leader James Waters has called a new group meeting to get moving.

Meeting with Suffolk’s MPs

Tuesday afternoon I had a meeting with the Suffolk MPs, well some of them, Tim Yeo was not able to be there due to other commitments and Matthew Hancock and Peter Aldous had secured adjournment debates and were due to be speaking in the House so they were unable to attend; so my meeting was with Therese Coffey, Ben Gummer, David Ruffley and Daniel Poulter.

The main subject of conversation was the Residential Care Homes and my promise to keep them updated every step of the way with how things are going. I had a good chat with Peter Aldous about the council homes in his patch before the meeting by phone.

Each was eager to discuss the care homes in their patches and how the visits went and what progress we were making towards which route I would be taking back to cabinet in March and they added in their thoughts and some of the comments they had from their colleagues about the experiences in other counties that have or are attempting to do much the same thing as us. I talked about the market provider consultations we had and the active discussions we are in the process of having; not to mention the discussions and visits I had undertaken with my counter parts in Hertfordshire, Leicestershire, Staffordshire and was about to have in Birmingham in January.

We discussed the Suffolk Association of Independent Care Providers and how we all wanted them to be involved in both the decision I would be presenting to cabinet in March and if the decision is to sell or transfer then for them to be active bidders so that we help build on our strengths albeit taking into account the current rules and hand tying that exists with Local Government and European tendering and procurements regulations.

We also discussed the progress of the New Strategic Direction and their support for this strategy to make further efficiency savings and delivery a Suffolk version of the Big Society.

We moved on to discuss the implications of the Comprehensive Spending revue and the level of savings this would require Suffolk County Council to make, I said It was equivalent to £27M this year and will cost pressures and inflation that amounted to some £43M in total for the coming year. With ACS being asked to save some £12.7M next year, as an example of the cost pressure in my portfolio I mentioned the 20 people a month who are coming to social services unable to continue to pay for their residential care home placements and asking us to support them in the future. I went thought some of the cost pressures in Adult and Community Services and how challenging it is to decide upon cuts at the same time as having to grapple with significantly year on year increase demands for services..

We discussed the positives about very sheltered housing and the need for this to be developed not only to replace District and Borough sheltered housing where there is increasing voids occurring but through Suffolk Flexicare programme we are trying to work better across our different responsibilities to create an environment where providers can more easily develop VSH and Residential Care Homes.

Therese spoke about Day Care and we had a good discussion on social enterprise, Ben talked about Crabbe Street Day Care Centre and the challenges it faces and I talked of Newmarket Day Care Centre that has never been an SCC enterprise, always a separate Charity delivering Day Care services, but one that was looking forward to the challenge of Personalised Budgets as an opportunity not a threat; lots of work to be done on this issue of the next year or two.

I closed by saying that SCC’s future role must be about people, the growing number of people that will need a service, the role of Suffolk Flexicare, our future role in standards of care homes and in shaping the market working with providers to deliver a more robust provision of very sheltered housing and an increased number of quality Residential Care Homes to support our ageing population. All in all a very useful and constructive meeting and I promised to keep them in the loop on this most difficult of issues before us.

Election Day -1 in Ipswich

Today I travelled down to Ipswich with my fellow activist Iain Frost to spend the day in Ipswich campaigning for Ben Gummer.

We reported to Ben’s very impression campaign centre, can’t imagine what Sophie will do with all the space after the election, when the team have cleared out of her kitchen, not to mention the peace and quiet.

John Gummer was there as well as Ben and after a brief chat about the political correctness of Bingo calling, don’t ask, Iain and I picked up a sector or two to deliver and headed out.

A terrible picture of me out delivering Ben’s Election literature in Dover Street, but what struck me as we walked about and spoke to people was how many who knew who Ben was, what he wants to achieve for Ipswich and how many of them wished us all the very best.

Back to the Greyhound Pub where we met up with the rest of the team for lunch and there really was quite a buzz in the room firstly about Ben’s campaign and the Conservative Borough elections as well, after a great curry lunch we headed back out.

As we finished up delivering in the late afternoon on the Foxhall Road, there is a bookies so I popped in and asked what the betting was; Ben Gummer 7-4 on with Chris Mole 11-4 on, I had a small flutter on Ben to win.

I also just out of interest asked what the odds were on Matthew Hancock in West Suffolk and back came  the reply a staggering 500-1 on! Clearly we are expected to win in West Suffolk!

I really do hope Ben wins in Ipswich and Peter in Waverney as both communities will be very well represented by these two excellent chaps who I know will work tirelessly for them.

Good Luck for Tomorrow.

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