Lakenheath Carnival

Yesterday I was asked to be the Head Judge at the Lakenheath Carnival and village fete, which was both an honour and great fun. As I and my fellow Judges walked up and down the procession as it mustered in Woodlands I was amazed at the hard work people had put into the design and execution of their floats and costumes. My congratulations to all those who took part and I thought the Little Fishes were worthy winner of the First Prize.

 The John Whisson cup was awarded to CJ Sandwich Bar, not only a great place to get a proper cup of coffee and I have to admit the occasional great bacon sarnie, the effort they put into their Mad Hatter’s Tea party theme was brilliant and the perfect spot to watch the floats go by, very well done. I would also like to use this article to thank all those who worked so very hard to bring the day together, with a particular mention to Tracy and Mark, it’s a well worn cliché but without them the day simply would not have happen.

In politics much is talked about the ‘Big Society’, at the county and district level we talk about ‘Our place’ and ‘engaging’ with the community, to bring communities together and make sure all residents are connected and not isolated in these difficult financial times. Well the Carnival and fete showed what can be achieved if a community does pull together and the benefits in terms of the community is not a one day wonder, it has an effect that is long lasting and real.

 By working together on the floats and putting together the stands people make lasting connections and you could see as you strolled around in the afternoon just how many community groups we are blessed with here in Lakenheath from the Digital cinema to the Ladies Keep fit club, there really is a lot going on. Cllr Roger Dicker, Chairman of Forest Heath District Council, joined me to hand out the prizes and he remarked how many people worked so hard on so many stands and floats that it really showed what can be done together, and he is right.

A really great day out and it just shows what communities can do for themselves.

From Big Government to Big Society

Today I went to the very posh new Go East offices in Cambridge to listen to Whitehall bods talking about the equally grand sounding ‘The development and implementation of decentralised from the prospective of Local Government in the East of England’ and what some of us in Local Government think about their plans. The is was arranged by the East of England Local Government Association the new organisation that is our collective voice for the region, effectively and quite rightly that replaces, with a little ‘r’ as it will cost far less to deliver than the very undemocratic East of England Regional Assembly (EERA), just as the new LEPS replaces, with a little ‘r’  as again it will cost far less to deliver than the very grand East of England Development Agency .

I campaigned for it, I voted for it, but sometimes it surprises me at the sheer pace of change, but then sometimes when you need to save money you simply stop doing something!

Basically the meeting was a quick insight into the Whitehall systemised approach to move the way we govern this country from Big Government to Big Society and they had a very nice presentation and graph to show how we all do it, simples yes?

In the pack of papers preceding the event was a summary of Suffolk’s approach with the New Strategic Direction and it was very useful to help others who attended to deal with the preconceptions of what we are proposing, i.e. its not simply a exercise in outsourcing, it is in fact something far more ambitious, far more complex than that; and we spent the second half of the afternoon in workshop format grappling with the second half of the session addressing some of the more difficult aspects of how we go about implement it.

All in all a very worth while afternoon.

The LGA Conference and iced Frappuccinos

I felt rather guilty about being in Bournemouth this week for the Local Governments Group Annual Conference.

There are some who say why do you need to go to Conferences and seminars in order to represent me. And indeed that was said to me the week before I went when someone asked for a meeting the following week.

So with this ringing in my ears I packed my bags and headed for Bournemouth, determined to answer the question when I got back, by really thinking about what is the benefit of going or should I just stay at home and read about it later.

Unless you regularly go to conferences or training seminars or indeed networking events I am not sure you are going to accept that they have a positive impact on what you do, more a bit of a jolly and you probably won’t change your views by anything I say.

Having said that, one of the important things about being a Councillor and indeed an officer is not to reinvent wheels and to make sure you learn from others bright ideas to save money or improve a service. In my experience that knowledge does not come form newsletters of guides but from hearing first hand about what others are doing and their passion or otherwise for a particular programme; without conferences and chats over a latte or as it was so hot an iced Frappuccino you don’t get the first hand up close candid words that convince you to take something back to try out.

Also it was an opportunity to hear and question the policy shapers at first hand and in this respect the Conference was quite something but not in the way I expected.

Firstly Eric Pickles MP was there for most of Tuesday and all day Wednesday and spoke at a number of events and was really interested to talk and listen to our concerns a refreshing change from the previous minister who last year ‘swanned in’ gave a prepared speech and legged it back to London just as fast as he could, I sat outside having a coffee on the Wednesday morning and he was going from table to table talking to people, quite something and a very different approach.

Eric, Bob Neal MP and then Greg Clarke MP, Minister of State (Decentralisation) all spoke on aspects of what I thought they might cuts and localism, but what did surprise was an additional theme – the sheer lack, intentional lack of directive they intend to issue.

Greg Clarke even visualised this with a clip from Yes Minister and a Sainsbury’s extra strong bag which he brought on stage with 13.5kgs of the regional special strategy that just fitted in the bag and then proudly proclaimed the 30 grammes of 5 sides of A4 that replaced it.

Time and time again we were told that they will not be issuing directives.

Time and time again we were told its up to you how you do things; what you want your council to look like; what you want your council to deliver; how you want your council to work.

And time and time again it struck me that is exactly what we are doing with Suffolk’s New Strategic Direction and the sort of questions we are asking ourselves as to what we want to be and how we want to deal with the cuts coming our ways

Time and time again it struck me we are well ahead of the game here in Suffolk; talking with people, whenever I mentioned our programme I was asked to send them a copy and could they then talk some more with us about what we are doing.

Actually when you read the Big Society paper, listened to how they want to empower us and implement change and then how this all sits with our New Strategic Direction, it’s a bit spooky really.

So to answer the question ‘why do you need to go to Conferences and seminars in order to represent me?’ – I go because it improves my knowledge and helps me suggest better ways of doing things and is that worth the three days out from work and away from my family to go? – yes on balance it is.

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