Fiveways Bypass?

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On Friday, the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling MP visited Suffolk where I met with him to talk primarily as Leader of the County Council and as Holder of the Economic Development brief, about the rail upgrades needed for the Port of Felixstowe to move more freight off the A14 and onto Rail and what increased traffic on the rail line they would mean for communities up and down the line.  More freight on the railways and we can open up the A14 route for economic growth and higher value jobs – all part of the Economic Growth Strategy for Suffolk.

I also took the opportunity to introduce my fellow Candidate Louis Busuttil for Mildenhall in 4th May elections, together we thanked him for the £400,000 to install Traffic Lights at Fiveways but stressed that this must be a stop gap to a new bypass to keep the traffic moving at this, the busiest spot in West Suffolk.  He entirely took on board what we were saying and said he has discussed this with Matt Hancock MP and was aware that Suffolk County Council, FHDC, the New Anglia LEP and our local communities have and will present a strong case to Government for the investment we need for the works.

In my role as Local Councillor and more recently as Leader of Suffolk County Council I have sat in many, many, meetings with Highways England about the dualling and the roundabout.  And have lobbied successive Transport Ministers about the importance of the investment in Fiveways and the need for that to continue. Thinking back, I have, in one form or another, been involved in the lobbying for the A11 dualling since 2005, firstly alongside the then MP Richard Spring, now Lord Risby, in that time we have seen it pushed back in favour of the Cambridge guided bus system winning £100M investment pot from the old East of England Regional Assembly.  Then we saw it scaled back from a grade separation junction, that’s a fly over to you and me, to what was eventually built and I have in that time argued and lost to see far more spending on it than was eventually achieved.  I use the roundabout just about twice a day almost every day of my life and always argued that if we could not have the grade separation then Traffic Lights would very quickly be needed.  Highways England disagreed but by working with the SCC Cabinet member for Highways and our Highways team at the County Council alongside James Waters the Leader of FHDC and Matt Hancock our MP we put pressure on Highways England to install the piping for Traffic Lights with SCC data that showed the lights would be needed far sooner than HE was predicting, glad we did as the installation will be a lot quicker and easier than if they had to dig up the roads.  The £400,000 for the next phase being Traffic lights, is a step in the right direction. But as I said to Chris Grayling it’s a ‘stop-gap’ not the long or medium term solution.

I also lobbied hard for the eventual changes in the Tuddenham cross over which again, I, like many others use almost daily.  I even arranged for the County Council to agree to pay for a speed camera to keep the speed of traffic going past the petrol station at 50 mph to give us all a safer crossing but Highways England have thus far refused.  Before, during and since the dualling of the last section to Thetford I lobbied for a grade separation at Fiveways and promised that once it was built I would lobby firstly for traffic lights which contrary to some people’s opinion are how you make sure that traffic is regulated onto a busy junction. And now lobby for the by-passing, this will take time, but with the County Council, FHDC, our MP and local community groups all pulling in the same direction we create a strong unified position to put to Ministers. And I did just that Friday, saying thank you to Chris Grayling for getting the traffic lights into the latest round of upgrades but stressing how important it was to now get a by-pass.

How important are these upgrades to Fiveways? – please take my survey.

http://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/RowHeath

The Care Market

Really interesting report last week called ‘Making Public Services Markets Work’, by the Institute for Government, Well I say interesting if you are interested in this sort of thing!

www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk

Effectively the Institute is calling for better commissioning and contract management skills in central and local government to prevent loss of confidence in outsourcing.

This comes at the same time as Doncaster Council is losing it’s children services to a mutual trust and Justice Secretary of State Chris Grayling expresses his “astonishment” that GS4 and Serco have been overcharged for tagging and monitoring thousands of offenders, making millions in the process.

The Doncaster issue is really interesting with many Council commentators aghast at Governments decision to remove a service from a Council, to the world of mutuals commenting on the challenge ahead, beyond a truly failing service that seems to have resisted all attempts thus far to make significant improvements enforced mutualisation is a new and unchartered set of waters and it will be interesting to see how this goes.

There is no doubt that most councils have moved away from the old model of state provided services and now look to mutuals of their own staff and private providers, both large and small to delivery services and frankly cost savings. Suffolk is leading the way on this, well certainly in the department I was previously responsible for ACS and we have and continue to put a significant amount of work in the commissioning and contract arrangements going forward, so you can imagine I read everything and anything expressing the pros and cons of changing the nature of a Council form service provider to commissioner of services and given the sheer scale of that commissioning, which is some areas such as the provision of residential care can be up to 50% of the entirely local number of beds, the key market shaper in any system.

I firmly believe that the most cost effective way for a Council to provide services to commission the provision letting others get Mrs. Smith out of bed in the morning and as vitally important as that is, commission that service from a others and concentrate on the really difficult bit of market shaping and capacity building. There is Suffolk we are doing just that making sure we also involve and capacity-build in each community through our Adult Care ‘Supporting People, Connecting Communities’, a programme I am keen to see become the mantra in other areas of the councils activity but manifests itself in things like the One Haverhill initiative and to some extent in the Community budgeting and our place work, albeit in sets of national initiatives, in my opinion, need to put community capacity or lack of more at the heart of the matter rather than just as another willing partner, but hey that’s a subject for a different blog.

The report has a whole section devoted to Social care which I read with great interest and it makes some interesting points about budgets and rates being paid.

However I have to say in some aspects the report sort of took the providers line a bit too much at face value. In my experience and I have sat over the past few years with many providers to be told a similar story about how difficult is it to do business with local gov based on the rates we pay, Yet they seem obvious to the facts that we see their accounts and some very healthy bottom lines, not all but certainly true in some cases. Of course it’s about balance and a part of the is that we as Councillors and the organisation as commissioners are charged with being the holders of the public purse and beyond the rural issues, beyond the skills issue, and beyond the cost to the private market an tis role in the price we negotiate, local authorities must not waste Council Tax payers hard-earned money.

To my mind it’s important that the local authority business is to both residential and domiciliary providers the bed rock on which they base their cash flow and from that flows their ability to business with private payers completing in a true market place, where customers and their families can pick and chose where they wish to be supported.

There is no doubt that the market must be paid a viable and sustainable rate for services to be provided but surely a part of quality commissioning is to get that price point right for Council Tax payer hard earned money as well!

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