End of Year 2016

2016 New YearSo, as 2016 draws to a close, it’s a bizzare year to sum up.

On the personal front, it’s been a terrible one as we lost Dad in far too sudden circumstances.  We all miss him a lot.  It a strange thing to say when you ‘painted’ as this old hard-nosed individual but it’s a moment in life when both your parents have gone, of course we all must go through it, but it still a sobering moment for each of us.  Over Christmas, Lisa and I visited an Aunt of hers who is learning to live with Dementia, a dear lady I have known for 19 years who is struggling and in contrast before we left we travelled further north to visit my Auntie who is older but as sharp as a pin and in top form!  Old age is a strange journey and there is no play-book but what I do know is that this country has to wake up to the needs of an ageing population or we will sleep walk into an unpleasant society where old age is not celebrated but seen as a burden.  There are many things on the horizon but how we change our health and social care system and start building homes that address the needs of older people is right up there.

The highlight of the year for me as a Councillor, was being introduced to Her Majesty the Queen at the Home of Horse-Racing Museum official opening.  As we awaited her arrival I chatted with David Burnip the former CE of FHDC and asked him if he remembered my stance on the Palace House purchase and rescue, by the council, all those years ago.  He did, I was against it!  And we reminisced about the then District Council Leader Geoffrey Jaggard and his vision.  The day was all about the Racing Community and how Newmarket can capitalise more on being the world headquarters of Racing but without the decision taken by these two chaps all those year ago to rescue a tumbled down spooky old house and semi delicate yard, none of it would have been possible.  If you ever find yourself in Newmarket do go along as it’s a world class museum and the way it helps you understand of the science of Horse-racing is impressive. Not to mention the heritage and art which is just stunning.

On the national and international political front, it’s been a staggering year where the rule book has been ripped up.  You can see that Brexit is going to be the most complex, time consuming thing for our Government to get right and make sure our economy does not suffer more that it has too.  I suspect the history books will have a somewhat mixed view on David Cameron’s time as Prime Minister but I briefly met him at Felixstowe Docks 100 days from the Referendum and he spoke with passion and conviction that strangely was not the hallmark of the remain campaign which seemed to me to fail to make the points about access to the single market being vital to our economy and that the vast majority of those working in Britain from Europe where either here ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’ style contributing to our industry or here raising their families and paying their taxes, i.e. contributing not taking British jobs.  The government and our new Prime Minister must find a way to get the best possible exit we can and that won’t be easy.

Internationally we will shortly watch the inauguration of a new American President and I recall the hope and expectation that hung in the air at President Obamas’, I suspect the world will watch with different feelings at President Trumps’.

Here in Suffolk I have had the pleasure to lead the County Council and the frustration of Devolution.  I say pleasure to lead the County Council because it is.  There is lots more to do and we are doing it but I am proud of the staff, the Cabinet and my group and how they have all risen to the challenge of significantly less Government funding and our demand that the Council lives within its means and maintains a sensible level of reserves.  As I look about the sector our cautious, prudent approach puts us in a place that is very different from some councils beyond Suffolk, there begins to be real concern that some councils may start to run out of money and fail to deliver front line services, I have often said that unlike the NHS, if councils run out of money the cheques don’t just carry on being honoured, staff will not get paid and services will fail, not here in Suffolk.  As a political party, we pledged and have delivered 7 years of 0% base Council Tax rises only putting up the Council tax to pay for the National Living Wage which everyone agrees is the right thing to do for the lowest paid workers in our society.  However I say a frustrating year in terms of Devolution because across Suffolk we can see how it can help us reshape Public Services and be a part of how we create a community that addresses the needs of our ageing population at the same time as investing in new infrastructure to accelerate growth and housing, which is vital for the quality of life we will want to see.  Yet at the end of the year Suffolk has no deal.  Cambridgeshire does but not Suffolk. The Public surveys, the business leaders and their respective trade bodies and all councils agree we want a Suffolk based Devolution deal, will we get one, it certainly won’t be for the want of trying and or effort.

Looking ahead… well that’s another blog!

If you have been kind enough to read this, may I take the opportunity to wish you and your family a very Happy, Healthy and Successful New Year.

Conservative Local Government Conference 2015

2015_02_06 David Cameron at CCA Conference 2015Last Friday Cllr. Robin Millar and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Conservative Councillors Conference, where Conservative Local Government reasonably informally meets with Conservative Ministers and discusses the issues we face.

The Prime Minister opened the Conference and talked about the Conservative Campaign ahead and reflected on the 5 years of hard work undertaken to get this Country financially back on track and start to grow our economy. I tweeted about this and mentioned that this is the same stronger economy where Ed Balls could not name a single Business Leader to back Labour! It’s often said that Business Leaders are not listened too by the voting Public but I think that myth was blown in the Scottish Referendum whereas the final weeks approached Business Leaders did speak up against Devolution and people did listen. A strong growing economy is what is getting us out of Labour’s last financial mess of a government and Labour are simply not to be trusted with it.

Obviously much talk was of the coming local elections and again we have a strong message about managing the cuts we are having to absorb and still delivering those vital services our resident’s demand of us. It is Conservative Councils that are doing this and doing this without Labour’s default of tax, tax, tax.

Talking of Labour’s fiscal irresponsibility, just before I left for the Conference I receive the email from Suffolk County Council detailing Labours fiscally incompetence in the form of their budget amendments, the debate and vote on our proposal for another 0% Council tax increase is this afternoon and I shall blog a few thoughts on this over the coming days! If we win then its 5 years in a row of 0% increases, wow! in real terms an actual cut, taking less of people hard earned money and doing what we can to help hard pressed families cope with their bills.

Conservatives cost you less

Last week we had the party election broadcasts from David Cameron and I though it summed up why Vote Conservatives on 2nd May rather well.

Essentially Conservatives cost you less, nationally 2 million residents are now not paying any Income Tax and another 24 million are better off due to tax cuts, At the County when the Liberal and Labour we in control 2001 – 2005 they put up the Council tax by 40% if we win in May we will make good on our manifesto pledge to freeze Council tax for 7 years which at say 3% inflation is a 20% cut in Council tax.

A Council is not a business but it can and should be run in a business like manner which is precisely what Conservatives do. No Socialist ‘only the state can provide’ dogma but simply providing services that deliver at a cost people can afford.

This simple fact is unavoidable: Conservatives cost you less.

David Cameron in Ipswich, Nigel Farage in Brandon

Yesterday the Prime Minister was at UCS Suffolk to make a key note speech to set out a fair and balanced cross-government immigration system that favours people who work hard and aspire to get on in life.

There can be few areas of the county where immigration is a bigger issue than our own. Under labour it is estimated that some 2 million people from across Europe have settled in the UK, interestingly it is also estimated by DWP that 13,000 of these are claiming job seekers allowance, which I think rather busts some of the myths that some would have us believe – that’s a 0.65% unemployment level! Of course many say ‘they come over here and take our jobs’; when I talk to farmer and business friends of mine that’s not what they say, they say without them, their crops would not get picked and their factories would not run.

In my patch we have of course always had a high number of military visitors as the USAF bases and their personnel have lived in the area since the second world war. And today we see in Mildenhall and Brandon a number of new shops catering to the predominantly Polish and Portuguese communities alongside shops targeted at the American market.

So to some extent this is why we also yesterday saw Nigel Farage hold a regional UKIP meeting in Brandon last night.

Nigel Farage is a fascinating chap, a good speaker and knows how to leverage a position well. He attempts to play a number of interesting hands all at the same time, from we are a serious party with policies, yet the first leaflet they have put out in my Division seems to suggest that 29 million Romanians and Bulgarian are about to descend on Row Heath which I think is a slight overstatement! He also paints a anti career politician stance yet he was a Surrey County Councillor and has been a European MEP for a number of years drawing a considerable European salary and staff package at the same time as telling us how terrible Brussels and European membership is.

For my part I have always believed in the benefits of immigration, but it seems to me that immigration has to be properly controlled. Under Labour this simply wasn’t the case. Immigration was far too high and badly out of control. Yesterday in his speech David Cameron spoke that ‘Net migration needs to come down radically from hundreds of thousands a year to just tens of thousands’.

I entirely agree that we must bring net migration down and we must also make sure that our area continues to benefit from it. It means ensuring that the system is fair so that we support the aspirations of hard-working people who want to get on in life and make a life here in our community as we have always done here in our community.

David Cameron talked yesterday about three key themes:

  • stopping our benefits system from being such a ‘soft touch’;
  • making entitlement to our key public services something migrants earn – not an automatic right; and
  • bringing the full force of government together to crack down on illegal working.

From what I can see in our community this approach announced by the Prime minister yesterday seems balanced and beyond the rhetoric of UKIP -a balanced approach is what we should be striving to achieve.

Now back to the campaign trail and talking about the County Council elections! Where’s my leaflets? – about protecting Front line services and how we are going to delivery 0% Council tax rises over 4 years by making the Council live within its means.

The Summer Riots

I have over the past few days like many of us watched in horror at the riots that have been taking place. I also watched Boris Johnson, Nick Clegg and others being booed on the streets as ‘Johnny come lately’s’ and I also watched the debate in the recalled parliament with the very sensible words of David Cameron.

Initially this started in the Tottenham High Road a place dear to my heart as a Spurs fan and supporter so I watched with interest as what seems a tragic but classic sets of circumstances; namely a police shooting of a younger man and a boiling over of a sense of injustice in what is a very challenged area of London, the police losing the control of the streets, a mob mentality setting in and looting and fire starting as a consequence.

What followed seems to be something new, organised as was the Arab Spring using new media; Blackberry messaging, tweeting, face book; viral and copy cat in nature. No identifiable ring leaders, not community groups to sit down and calm their supporters on the street, just a common denominator of youth. With the protesting entirely secondary to the looting and sheer violence towards the police and other people both young and old and property.

Much is said about the police and the lose of control on that fabled night and initially on subsequent nights, I seem to recall this is always the case as we have a consensus police force which by design and our collective will, requires a default setting of lawfulness from us all to work. As is always the case it takes time to mobilise but they did and have generally brought the situation under control and are to be commented for their controlled responses and frankly bravery when you saw what was happening in parts of our cities.

But of course the strength did not come quick enough for some very frightened people were put at great personal risk by so mindless thugs who behaved so appallingly, I would have been equally outranged and frightened. I entirely agree with the police statements about we have you on film and we are coming for you, sentences should rightly reflect the public’s damnation of the feral behaviour.

So in the aftermath the debate in the press and blogs seem to falling to two camps is this just opportunist of the Shameless TV show’s ‘lets have a party’ type, youth getting a quick buzz and lining their pockets with looted goods, or more deeply routed.

David Lammy the Labour MP for Tottenham seems to have a deep understanding of his community from his comments and I think senior politicians would do well to listen to the MP’s from these areas and to their local ward councillors.

What we need now is Local Leadership, real and immediate community support and in the longer term parental and school control.

To my mind leadership means local MP’s, Councillors and community policing officers to see what can be done in their very different areas to engage with youth more on a community by community basis, and frankly that takes money at the back of it.

Unfortunately I have to say I think this needs to go hand in hand with stiff sentencing of the guilty to send a clear message that this is not acceptable behaviour, to many this is unpalatable and against their libertarian principles but I think it is required.

Then longer term our national politicians need to look at our school system, I have not spoken to a single person since this has happened who has not mentioned discipline in the home and in our schools; There simply should be more rules, more consequence and more discipline in our schools. But this applies equally at home and its up to parents; oh and that also means it’s no good going along to the school when your child is disciplined and complaining about the injustice towards your baby. It seems to me everyone agrees this needs to be tackled and I entirely share many peoples opinion that it is the erosion of this element of raising children that this is a route cause of what we have seen.

What we do not need is a Commission of the good and great visiting the areas and taking the next two years to gather evidence, write a 500 page document that no one has the time to read and by then we have all moved on to the next problem.

Free School Milk

I thought the debate that raged yesterday about the discussion about free school milk was very interesting. Firstly I think Number 10 got it spot on, politically speaking. Some commentator have suggested that the issue got along way down the line before it was stopped and I simply don’t see that; a junior minister sends a ministerial letter to a Scottish Executive office opening up the debate.

Indeed that debate seems to be centred, quite rightly, around the issue of a universal offer or should the provision be targeted to help poorer families with they children’s nutrienial needs; the ending of universal benefits must be right in the current economic climate, but should that include free school milk at £59million maybe not; not to mention how a school would administer who got the free milk and who did not, and then those who were not entitled to it but whose’s parents had paid and what about those kids who decided they then wanted the milk but had not paid, most 5 years olds don’t tend to carry much cash with them!, a nightmare as one teacher pointed out to me.

At a very pleasant lazy sunday afternoon lunch with friends I asked around what people thought and the general feeling is that programmes should be targeted at those who most need it, and so they should, but perhaps milk should be left alone.

To my mind the more interesting bit is around the command structure of Government, gone are the days of centralised paranoid control and it seems to me what David Cameroon is trying to do is create a culture whereby the intellectual prowess of MPs, Civil Servants, and those who are involved in the various think tanks is allowed to proposed debate and refine policy to get us out of the mess this county.

So on that note, I thought the debate is worth having, and debates such as this should continue to be had but then it’s right for David Cameroon and his team to say ‘I see what you are proposing and no don’t like that one’.

To some extent this is mirrored in local government, as we face the cuts lots of different saving are proposed by Councillors and Officers and its the role of the Leader to take each idea and to say, don’t like that one.

But I also think residents have a great role to play in this debate about what we do in the future, and that is a part of what is proposed by the New Stratergic Direction, we want people’s input to what is proposed so that we can make more informed choices; I ask at every forum I attend from surgeries to Parish Council meetings to the articles I write in various local magazines for people to let me know what they think, how they should shape future services and where they would make the cuts.

So let me know!

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