EADT – A new weekly column

On Tuesday in the EADT and the Ipswich Star I wrote the first of a weekly Column as Leader of Suffolk County Council, well I say weekly it will be every other week as I shall alternate with SCC’s Cabinet Member for Ipswich Paul West who will write more about Ipswich issues as I concentrate on a pan-Suffolk approach.

These will be a mixture of the issues that are happening as the papers go to print and some of my thoughts about how we develop Suffolk as a place to live and work over the next 20 years.  Suffolk County Council is a large organisation delivering services to some of the most vulnerable people in our Community but it is but one players and how we work in partnership across the Public sector, with private businesses and voluntary organisations is key to how we build the place we all want to live.

“Yesterday in Lowestoft, as I witnessed the initial stages of the ground investigations that will shape the final design of the Lake Lothing Third Crossing, I saw the good of our democratic bodies working together.

The investigations, taking place on land behind the offices shared by Suffolk County Council and Waveney District Council, is another step in the right direction to getting the £90million project, funded by both central government and the county council, completed. The benefits will not only be reaped by those living in the town, but across the wider area too. We simply would not have funding for the project had this not been the case. The business case for this project, along with the Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich, was put together by people who work very hard and want the best for our county.

This also rings true for the senior bosses and directors who work on our behalf. They all, like the democratically elected councillors, work hard to make a difference to Suffolk and those who live and work here. Pay in the public sector has always been a fiercely-debated issue, and even more so in recent times. It’s not just politicians and those working in the public sector – we’ve all seen the furore over the salaries awarded to the highest earners at the BBC, as well as the gender pay gap.

Last week we published our accounts, as we do every year and are required to do so. As has been reported, the majority of our staff received the 1% pay rise, in line with other public sector workers up and down the country. However, a select few members of staff received honorariums as they stepped up to fill roles, either on a temporary or permanent basis.

Indeed, they are pay rises, but they are reasonable, considering they come with greater pressures and expectations. There is no hiding from the changes that will be coming to the United Kingdom in the next two years and these people will be there assessing and dealing with those challenges. Alongside that, as an organisation we are looking to save £56million over the next four years and, along with the cabinet, these people are key to making difficult but effective decisions.

Bringing in new people to the roles would have cost the council even more money. Not just for the roles themselves, but for the cost of advertising the position. Then there is the time element too, as staff will be taken away from working on policy and serving the community as they filter applications and sit in interviews.”

Our recently introduced priorities are based on three core principles; inclusive growth, health care and wellbeing, and efficient and effective public services. These are ambitious targets – but ones I know we can achieve during the term of the administration.

This is because of the hard work and commitment of our staff, regardless of pay grade, and our councillors – and not just those in control of the administration, as opposition provides checks and balances and the chance to challenge us on policies.

Sound financial management is needed, along with careful planning and the will to find new ways to deliver and protect our frontline services. One of these methods Suffolk is leading on nationally – inspired by the work of a Dutch community, using the Buurtzorg model of care (to deliver dedicated personal and healthcare to patients in a neighbourhood) in the west of the county with our partners in health.

The work we have been doing here is something I am proud to champion in my position of Health and Social Care Integration spokesman on the County Council Network. It is something I truly believe is a strong contribution to the national debate about how we re-shape the healthcare system to serve the ever-changing age profile of our communities. I’m sure there will be more of this to come in the weeks and months ahead as the trial continues.

We, and our partners, work extremely hard to provide the best for our residents. Despite the challenges we will come up against, our staff continue to excel every day in a concerted effort to make savings and provide a better life for those we serve.

RAF Mildenhall Closure

RAF MildenhallOn Thursday we had the sad news that RAF Mildenhall was to close, and my first thoughts when I heard was for the 500 or so people who work there and the uncertainty the announcement makes for them.

A number of us were all geared up for the official USAF announcement embargoed until 3pm, however this quickly became a nonsense as the moment was entirely overtaken by social media in the morning because the Stars and Stripes carried the full story that morning in their on-line edition, someone somewhere does not quite understand the nature of an agreed embargo! For my part I watched the twitter feeds starting up and then took a call from Paul Geater of the EADT asking for a quote before speaking on BBC Radio Suffolk’s Mark Murphy Show. The following morning I was interviewed by Etholle George on her morning show at 6:30am at Mildenhall Market and a couple of times more up to 9am and finally I did a piece for BBC Look East that evening outside the base.

Of course the devil is in the detail and whilst this will be a blow to many it’s not quite as bad as if first appears. In the same announcement, it was confirmed that RAF Lakenheath will expand and take 2 squadrons of the new USAF F-35 fighter aircraft with new investment and an additional 1,200 personnel and their families. RAF Mildenhall will close over the next 5 – 7 years with the leaving of 3,200 personnel and their families. If you consider that it’s only a year or so ago that the numbers were added to by 1,200 personnel connected with the special forces and their very strange looking Osprey aircraft. So that means with all the various comings and goings the area will ultimately only down about 800 personnel from the position 2 years ago.

Of course alongside these departures 500 local people are employed in a variety of roles on the base and whilst some will no doubt get jobs at Lakenheath many will be made redundant, and this is the biggest challenge we face. But it is also the biggest opportunity we face. At Forest Heath District Council since we won the last election in 2011 we’ve refocused the Council on economic growth and so, assuming we win the election in May we are well placed to lead taking advantage of this opportunity. RAF Mildenhall is a busy World class airport with great community facilities and industrial potential to attract high value jobs into a spacious industrial park.

We have already hit the ground running, Matthew Hancock MP has announced that he is to chair a Westminster working party looking at the future of RAF Mildenhall, RAF Molesworth, and RAF Alconbury. And alongside Cllr. James Waters the Leader of Forest Heath District Council we are already discussing the askes we want to make of Government, key amongst them and to the MOD in particular is clarity so we can use the next period to plan the strategy, not merely replacing those jobs lost but to bring far more in so that on the far side of this closure it is viewed as an economic success storey for West Suffolk. The work has begun to make sure as the USAF close down their last security post, new businesses are moving in generating those high value jobs.

No small task, but one,Conservatives from our MP to us Councillors are entirely focused on.

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