Suffolk County Council Conservatives – End of Term Report

29.03.2013 SCC campaign 2013 0%, 0%, 0%, 0% Council tax pledge

Our promise 4 years ago – Kept

Suffolk Conservatives are proud to have led Suffolk County Council for the last four-year term, ensuring that vital services are retained and keeping tax as low as possible.

Suffolk Conservatives have lived up to their pledge of freezing base Council tax since the last election, meaning that the residents of Suffolk are not paying a penny more than they did in 2010.  That’s a 7- year freeze!  We are committed to running a low-tax county council and maintaining services by being more effective and efficient with our resources rather than making the residents pay more.

In 2016 Suffolk Conservatives renewed more than 300 miles of roads across the county after an investment of an additional £10 million.  We implemented an online reporting system for potholes which has seen over 70% of customers move online where they can receive updates on works, greatly decreasing the response time.

Caring for Suffolk’s elderly and vulnerable residents has remained one of our highest priorities.  With an aging population, we have supported residents to live active and fulfilling lives.  To honour Suffolk Conservative’s commitment to adult social care, this administration has taken all opportunities presented to it to invest in front line services, for two consecutive years (2016/17 & 2017/18) we introduced the adult social care precept at 2% and 3% respectively.  This money is ring-fenced and goes directly to front line services.  In the 2017/18 budget the Conservative administration will be investing £12.3m in full to front line services and to those hardworking people who care for our elderly population.  We will target this money into the care sector to provide a sustainability and safe, high quality care.

Since the last election in May 2013 Suffolk Schools have gone from 60% ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ rating by OFSTED to an amazing 90%.  This means that 9/10 children in Suffolk now have access to the highest standards of education thanks to the tireless work of Suffolk’s Conservatives.  We are now ranked in the top half of all authorities in the country for GSCE results.

Suffolk Conservatives are dedicated to keeping the residents of Suffolk healthy. We have established sporting events across the county, which have inspired thousands of people, including “Park Runs”, almost 150 walks, the Women’s Tour of Britain and the inaugural Great East Run.  We continue to work closely with the NHS Mental Health Trust and with other services and charities to help support the most fragile.

Over the past four years we have managed to work with partners to secure millions of pounds of improvement to the rail network, with brand new rolling stock and reduced journey times under the new rail franchise with Greater Anglia.  Our continued investment in community transport through our Connecting Communities scheme has extended services in rural areas, allowing everyone to access public transport no matter how remote their location.

Suffolk Conservatives have worked closely with our MPs to secure money for two large bridge projects in Ipswich and Lowestoft.  These nationally significant pieces of infrastructure will help to ease congestion and attract economic investment.  The Upper Orwell crossing will be a bridge of international architectural significance after the announcement of Norman Foster + Partners designing it.  This will truly be a legacy bridge for all the residents of Suffolk to be proud of.

Suffolk is a beautiful county of rich green countryside and breath-taking coastlines and the Conservatives are proud to protect our county’s environment. We have invested in our historic market towns and the re-generation of Ipswich waterfront. The county’s energy from waste plant has enabled us to save money on landfill tax, generate electricity and earn income.  The plant was built to budget and on time. It takes all Suffolk’s domestic waste for incineration and powers 30,000 homes. As a result, waste going into landfill in Suffolk has been cut from 44% to just 1%!

Over the past four years of Conservative Administration at Suffolk County Council services have been not only maintained but in many cases improved.  We have greatly improved Suffolk’s schools and protected those most vulnerable in our society. We have invested heavily in our road and transport network, ensuring that they are fit for purpose for growth in the future.  We have protected all of our libraries, secured nationally significant infrastructure projects and taken huge steps in preventing damage to our environment.  We have achieved all of this without raising our base Council tax by a single percent.  Suffolk Conservatives remain dedicated to serving the people of Suffolk and providing the services, prioritising our spending on protecting the frail, elderly and young who are at risk.

Conservative leadership delivers.  We are proud of our strong stewardship of Suffolk. If we form the administration in May 2017 we will continue to work in the best interests of all who live and work in our county.

Budget Day

Budget

This Thursday is Suffolk County Council’s Budget Day. It’s important for two reasons, it’s when we set the bulk of your, and my, Council Tax bill and we set the money each service will get to provide frontline services for the year ahead.

Budgets are important to Councils because until like the La, La, Land of the NHS finances where massive deficits mean little, in Local Government if you run out of money, wages are not paid and services shut down.

Every year the Conservative administration pour over the figures in the £500M budget starting almost as soon as the last budget is set. And whilst the figures are huge and services are vital such as protecting vulnerable children from abuse, the process is little different from how we budget at home.  We save money for big projects like a house extension or in the council’s case the two new Bridge projects. We have some money set aside for emergencies and the unexpected (reserves) and we plan for renewing smaller items like the computer, (major IT system changes) all of which is based on assumptions of our income in the coming years.

That may sound a bit simplistic but it’s essentially it’s the same process we go through at home.  For Local Government, as to future prospects all the future income indicators are poor as we face less money over the next few years’ from Government. So we maintain reserves to ensure we can sustain services and deal with the unexpected. It may at times be a little bit boring but we are prudent and careful with your money.

Just as in life then there are the neighbours or in our case the opposition Labour and Lib Dems.  Like the neighbour’s flash new car, always out there promising the world, spend, spend, spend for tomorrow never comes, we’ll get more money from somewhere, why have reserves, live for today. The Jeremy Corbin view of the world, it all look like fun and of course the sun will come out tomorrow, Happy Days.  But then again the last time they were allowed to be in control in Suffolk we all know how that ended, budgets not keep to, failing services and finally booted out of power, for raising the Council tax by 11.9% in one year and 18.5% in the next trying to keep the show on the road – ‘What rubbish’ I am told that was then this is now, but you see I don’t think it is rubbish, I think it’s a mind-set that has not changed one bit.

So we may be a bit cautious, we may be a bit tough in how we negotiate but, we have delivered 7 years of 0% raises in the base Council Tax and carefully applied the National Adult Social Care Precept to give our lowest paid, mainly care workers, a welcome pay increase and rightly so.  I hope in May people will allow us to carry on running the council, we will be innovative in our approaches and have lots of new ideas about how we go about things over the next 4 years building on the work these past 4 years but we will always, always be prudent and carefully with the budget and our reserves, ever mindful of the need to protect the most vulnerable in our communities and ever mindful it’s your hard earned money.

But remember those flash neighbours (and apologies to my neighbours who are all lovely people and not part of this reference!), if Labour and the Liberal were in power when they run out of the council’s money, guess who’s money they’ll come after, yours!

Thursday’s meeting is web cast so please log-in and have a watch.

Saturday in Woolpit

2016_10_15-saturday-in-woolpitOn Saturday Suffolk Conservatives held the first of our Campaign 2017 team days where Candidates from across Suffolk came together to talk about our draft manifesto. The buzz in the air was palatable as we discussed ideas and policies for the next 4 years. There are 75 divisions to be contested in next May’s County Council elections and our team is now in place to contest all the seats.

In 2005 the first term objective for the incoming Conservatives was to sort out the major structural problems with a Council that had become used to simply demanding more and more money from residents to pay for less and less efficient services. The Liberals and Labour Councillors who ran the county, whilst well-meaning simply did not have the business skills needed to control an organisation. In two years before being booted out of office they put up the Council tax by over 30% and did nothing to control spiralling costs. Well-meaning but utterly useless.

11 years on and the council is now less than half the numbers of staff delivering more services, it has and is absorbing the governments’ need to spend less money and made the savings required yet still delivered it with 6 years of 0% base Council Tax rises. Our Budget next year will look to do the same and will be debated over the coming months ahead of the vote in February. Our services are rated as good and across the country Suffolk County Council is viewed as doing some of the most innovative things in local government, from our approach to Libraries to partnership working to our wholly owned companies and staff mutuals, we are making the saving needed and protecting front line services.

When we launch our manifesto Suffolk resident’s will see the vision we have for Suffolk County Council services and the ambition we have for our communities. It won’t be an exercise in simply spending all the reserves and then either going cap-in-hand to government to bail us out when the cash runs out, or worse demand vast sums of money from Suffolk residents to bail them out.  It will be a set of proposals that will deliver better services for residents and on a sustainable footing for the next 4-year term.

This coming Saturday I shall be in Felixstowe for the latest in our #WeAreListening events that we have run since I became the Leader and from then onwards  I will spend each weekend in my own Division and across Suffolk supporting our great team of Candidates as we explain to residents on the door step, what we are about and why they should vote Conservative in May 2017.

Postcard from Birmingham

The end of September is Party Conference time and so last Sunday week I packed my bags and headed off to Birmingham for the Conservative Party Conference. I recall my very first conference in Blackpool many many years ago and over the years how my conference has changed.  Then, it was all about the main plenary sessions and trying to get a sense of this thing called the Conservative Party.  I was a fresh faced, well not that fresh faced but new Association Deputy Chairman political and I knew our MP Richard Spring and well that’s was about it. Today as I travelled up to Birmingham with a  mate I reviewed the speaking engagements I had been given by the LGA and the speaking engagements I had been ask to speak at by others such the LGiU and for each I had a bundle of briefing notes on how we put across the Local Government point of view.

Sunday morning I just managed to arrive in time for the start of the National Convention meeting at 10:30am in my role as Deputy Chairman Political of the Eastern Region where we were to vote on aspects of the changes proposed by the Party Board to the way Associations are run.

During the meeting Teresa May popped in for a chat and took questions, one of them was a direct one from John Peach, who is the former Leader of Peterborough City Council and currently Chairman of their Association.  ‘Did she like the idea of Directly Elected Mayors for non Metropolitan areas?’, she gave a direct answer, yes she did, she likes the accountability.  You may agree or disagree with her on that but the reply was very clear.  As were other comment made during the course of the four days. Then it was off to speak at a LGiU Fringe meeting about Devolution and Brexit and the role of Local Government over the coming years, joining me on the platform was Sean Anstee, Leader of Trafford and Baroness Scott the Leader of Wiltshire, a unitary County.  After than it was the usual round of fringes and plenary sessions before I had a relatively early night because the following morning I had a fringe I was speaking at 8am.

Monday morning I headed off to my fringe to speak about local skills and back to work programmes v DWP!  I then joined other County Leaders at a Westminster Council hosted lunch to talk about the positioning of the new SoS and how we might influence his agenda.  That evening it was the now traditional Euro MEPs dinner for the Eastern Region where a number of us discussed our part of the world and pondered that next years’ dinner will probably be the last of such events.  Not an major point in the scheme of things but I for one will miss working with our hard working Conservative Eastern Region MEPs As others wondered back to the conference Hotel bar, I again headed off to my hotel to prepare for another early start on the Tuesday morning where I was speaking about how we can deflect admissions from Acute Hospitals to more local community based services. Heading home and not to the bar was something I never did in those early Conferences!

Tuesday evening I went to an interesting dinner with Localis, the only centre right Local Government think tank in the space and chatted to other Leaders and Lord Porter the chairman of the LGA about our impressions of the conference.

Wednesday was spent in those last chats with other local Councillors and a couple of MPs, you have at the very end of a conference before heading home.

The mood when you consider what the party has been through these past few months was remarkable.  A genuine belief that Teresa May can do a good job of both Brexit and leading the country and that we have the right policies and determination to make things happen for the good of the country.

As we drove home I pondered over the coming months that as a Group we are going to set our election ‘stall’ out for May 2017, and how we get our message across that we must not allow the sort of fiscal madness and left wing policies we see from Labour return nor give then chance to undo 12 years of sound running of the Council where we have delivered on 7 years of 0% based Council Tax rises set against a Labour/Liberal coalition that managed to put up the Council Tax by 11.9 and then 18.5% in just two years.  Council Tax ia paid for from residents hard earned money and they must not be treated as a cash cow to be demanded of to simply bail out Labour and Liberals Councillors, we must not allow this sort of fiscal madness to creep back into power. Time to get out there and explain to the people of Suffolk what we are about, running a council that costs you less but protects front line service by making the tough choices that have to be made in a time of less Government money to delivery services.  Roll on May 2017.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

BudgetLast week I blogged about the next few months nationally but as a Councillor my and others focus is far more on the local issues and for us at the County Council it’s a mixture of two heady things Devolution and Budget, now you know you are a local gov geek when you use the word ‘heady’ to describe what is essentially rather dry subjects however important both are to Suffolk.

For any Council deciding where to spend its funding in the coming year is its biggest decision.  The one that effects the quality of services it provides and importantly for our most vulnerable residents the quality of aspects of their lives. Thus, it’s the single biggest decision we have to make in our annual cycle.

Last week, Suffolk County Council Cabinet started the process of sharing each department thoughts on the budget they would require and the debate then starts that will take the next few months through to a Full Council meeting to debate and decide.

I try to work hard to get out there with our #WeAreListening events and I have lead more public consultation on things that are happening than the Council has ever undertaken, both in terms of surveys people can fill in on line, to town and village hall meetings. We have commissioned Ipsos Mori and others to provide the backbone to these events with statistically valid polling. Our desire to ask people what they think is critical to me as we have a number of tough decisions to make. But hey, let’s be clear, asking people is but one part of the decision making process, debate in the Conservative group is another, as is the debates at Full Council.  All are component parts into trying to make the right decisions. People often are not going to agree, but, we make the best decisions we can to serve the wider population of Suffolk and to make sure the organisation has the financial resources and capacity to deal with the often more hidden issue we have to deal with.

A couple of weeks ago, I did a sort of reply piece on Mark Murphy’s BBC Radio Suffolk show to address some political pot shots from the opposition about Care Homes and how they are funded and the extent to which SCC work with them for the good of residents that was on the day before’s show.  In essence, I provided context to oppositions Councillors comment that implied we provided all the places a few years ago and now we sold everything off to the private sector. What we actually did was bring in a private provider to provision the 9% of the Suffolk total number of beds we were the provider of.  But, beyond the political point scoring, it was a really good debate highlighting one of the many discreet services provided few people hear or know about, unless faced with such very tough and difficult choices.  As an adult there are few things more daunting than that of care provision for one’s parents and loved ones.

Often the debate is about roads and this year many of us will have seen the significant investment £10M we have made over and above our normal expenditure on the highways. Yet, few of us actually know which of our neighbours receive some form of care service support or hear about the discreet Children’s services to protect our young people from harm. Getting Mrs. Smith out of bed each morning and helping her wash and dress, those hundreds of care beds we provide for people who can’t afford to pay for them themselves and all of these services to the most vulnerable in our communities largely go unnoticed. But we all, me included love to moan about pot holes for its the universal services, our roads.

So over the coming months there will be the chance to have your say and for the Cabinet to set out its plans for the coming year’s budget and when you do, it is important to say what you would divert money from to address something else.   For these are the debates your Councillors will be having as well.

In or Out

Europe in outLike many who follow politics I have watch the last few days with great interest to learn of the ‘deal’ has David Cameron returned with.  There was the first stab at it two weeks ago, which was a bit rubbish and at the end of last week we watched the late night/early morning comings and goings in Brussels, the first Saturday Cabinet meeting since the Falkland’s War and then the Prime Minister emerging from No.10 to announce the worst kept secret for ages that there will be an in/out referendum on our membership of the EU on June 23rd. Yesterday every political show and Sunday broadsheet poured over the ‘deal’ and which, mainly Conservative politicians, were going to back the ‘in’ campaign or the ‘out’ campaign.  Labour seems to have been largely ignored as the internal differences in the Conservative party seems to be of far more interest to the media than anything Corbin has to say.

So we have a few months ahead to hear the arguments and to think about what is a difficult decision to make but one we should all take very seriously, even if in life politics largely leaves you cold and you feel it has little to do with you or for you, this vote does.  The decision we collectively make on 23rd June will have a profound impact on our lives for many years to come.  Make the right one and we have a bright future ahead of us, make the wrong one and the fundamental living standards of all our families will suffer.

For me its boils down to three basic things, Security, Jobs and Economic Prosperity.  If you can work out which way I will be voting based on those three tests without reading further, then I suggest you know which way you should vote, either way you’ve made your decision and there is no need to read further, but if you do, thank you as firstly it’s good for my blog stats and I perhaps I can add a little something to your decision making processes before we all completely burn out with the debate overload that is to come.

In terms of security I have been to Brussels on a few occasions both to learn more and occasionally on my political work, if you visit the European Parliament building you will come across the references to its founding Fathers all born of the Second World War in one way or another.  One of these was Winston Churchill who believed those that trade together, do not wage war against each other and he has been proven to be right.  As the Iron Curtain fell we saw in the Balkans what can go horribly wrong on European soil.  Yet for the main part the EU expanded and those poor previously subjugated countries peacefully emerged and are catching up fast and become places for us to trade.  I do not, nor I suggest should you, underestimate how that process could have gone wrong but has not. Oh I hear you say it could not happen again, well in the hard economic times that areas of Europe have had of late the hard right and hard left are there just below the surface, make no mistake of that. For all the talk of net contributors and what we do or do not get out of it, Europe is a safer place for the EU and so are we.

Secondly where I live the economy is in part built on migrant workers, those here doing jobs we have not got the skilled people to do, are working both ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’ style sending money home to families and here raising their families, making a new life for themselves and paying their taxes.  The free movement of people does not mean much to us, but in Europe given the forced movement of people with millions dying in the process during and historically significantly, after the Second World War, this is a cornerstone of the union.  So David Cameron’s sensible caveat that if you claim child benefit here it is scaled to where your children reside and that if after 6 months you do not have a job then you must return to your place of origin and ask that state for support, is remarkable.  It’s also a measured set of rules that make more sense of free movement of people, one I can see slowly being adopted in other parts of the EU.  Yes, come here, work hard and enjoy all that brings and benefit our society but not scrounge off of us.

Thirdly and as one recent US President said “It’s the economy, stupid” if we leave, will GB flourish or flounder? On the one hand it’s often said that just look at countries like Norway and Switzerland and how successfully they trade with Europe, well Britain is far bigger with far more companies competing with European ones and we would be leaving. To my mind most European Leaders are wedded to the EU in a political sense which we struggle a little to understand here, their political capital, the thing that keeps them in a job and their opposition out of one, is about the success of their relationship with the EU.  So I ponder, if we exit, is it in their personal political advantage for us to flourish nor not? I think not.  Of course many countries such as Germany like free trade with us to sell their luxury goods to us, aka BMW and Mercedes but for most a successful Britain outside of the EU would be a weapon to their opposition to argue to also leave and take out the ruling politicians in the process. So I suspect if we leave trade barriers would appear and we would find trading with our key market, for that is what it is, for it will take another 40 years to try to rebuild a different trading landscape, our key market would become a more difficult place for British companies to do business. For the most part, British based businesses and companies have yet to speak and when they do I think we will understand their fears, fears we should all share.

For these reasons I shall be voting to stay in the EU.

 

Managing the risks of tomorrow – today

SuffolkFRSToday, I and my colleagues in Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet will be discussing proposals to launch a public consultation looking at future provision for Suffolk’s fire and rescue service.

Clearly this is an emotive issue and one which will require full and thorough discussion.  We have difficult decisions to make and we are committed to protecting vulnerable adults and children, so we have to look across all areas of the council in order to meet our budget gap.

Here in Suffolk, we are incredibly fortunate to have a highly skilled and forward thinking fire service; a great deal of protection and prevention work has already taken place over the last 10 years which has made great inroads in reducing demand for its 999 services.

In recent years SCC has done everything possible to protect our fire and rescue service against reductions in grant funding from central government.  I am proud that we have driven forward our programme of investment in fire stations, training facilities, fire appliances, firefighting clothing and equipment.  We are working collaboratively with Suffolk’s blue light emergency services, and plan to develop this further in the future.

The proposed consultation will seek views on a range of specific proposals for changing the way the fire and rescue service is set-up across the county. The changes have been proposed to meet the ongoing reductions in funding for the fire service, but also to reflect the more than 30 per cent reduction in 999 call demand over the last 10 years.

I accept that the proposals are challenging, but these have been shaped by feedback from a pre-consultation exercise which we carried out over the summer.  I am also confident that the proposals mean that we will continue to deliver an outstanding service for the people of Suffolk and I would like to encourage people to take part in this consultation.  It is vital that we hear from the people of Suffolk and that their input can shape how public services are delivered.

If Cabinet agrees to launch the consultation at tomorrow’s meeting, a 14 week consultation will then take place with the public, staff and interested parties.  This will start on Monday 16 November 2015 and conclude on Monday 22 February 2016

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