The White Box?

2014_11_25 at the Essex Care Providers MeetingLast Tuesday week it was up early to travel to Colchester to give a speech to the Essex Care Providers Network. I was asked to do 30 minutes talking about Care Services – Past, Present and the Future, as you prepare for these things you sort of go to the place in your head questioning if can talk for 30 minutes on a subject but as I drafted my bullet point card to make sure I did not lose my way when speaking, I found I easily has 30 minutes of thoughts on this difficult subject, as it was I had to trim it down to 30 minutes which is what I did and from the Q&A session at the end I think I was at least thought provoking.
After my bit we heard from Rachel Robertson, Best Interests Assessor and Alison Woolf, Adult Safeguards, both from Essex County Council, who talked about the difficult world of DOLs, that’s Depravation of Liberty to you and me and the recent Lady Hale judgement against Cheshire West Council which in essence means that even for people who decide with their loved ones that the time is right to enter a care home setting an assessment now needs to be made however happy people are about making this decision and of course this has considerable costs implications for Council across the county. A simply judgement that has profound implications on procedures and costs for both residential providers and councils.
Last but not least was Michael Parsons and Quin his guide dog, Michael works for his own company ACC Consulting Limited and he talked with passion the need and requirements of the current legislation on Disability Discrimination. By way of illustration he told a very powerful tale of ‘the white box’ which as he began to speak I wondered what it was. Slowly he talked about the white walls, white doors, white wash basins, and white toilet and toilet seat then I began to realise he was talking about most toilets facilities in most building and it was so powerful how what we think of great design that is these white boxes, but to a visually impaired person these can be a real difficult spaces. In short we need to fundamentally shift our thought processes as we design and commission buildings to make they are truly disabled accessible rather than an after-thought, a very powerful story indeed and a good way to end the morning.

Council Tax – a philosophical point of view, a game of bluff or people’s hard earned money

This week the debate on Council Tax has sprung to life as Councils across the county start to announce their Budget proposals. At Suffolk County Council we have a different approach and our 0% Council Tax rise is the worst kept secret, a manifesto pledge at last year election, it’s been to the county’s Scrutiny Committee twice in October and November and I and a number of my colleagues have been around the county taking part in Suffolk Biggest Budget Conversation taking about the plans and getting feedback.

In Brighton the minority Green administration yesterday proposed a 4.75% rise in their Council tax and that they would want to be the first ever Council to go to referendum to get it though, closer to home in Essex they proposing a 1.49% rise in Council tax, both of which have been associated with specific services they seek to protect as a part of the ‘sell’.

On Wednesday at a Council Councils Network meeting in London county council leaders from across the county were grilling Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis MP about is the Secretary of State about to lower the referendum trigger point. After that meeting I had a chat with a couple of Leaders about their plans and increases they were considering and so the debate is clearly coming more to the fore as Councils are feeling that the current cuts are starting to become more and more difficult to implement.

So is Eric Pickles MP about to lower the referendum cap. To me if Government, as they approach an election year, think Councils are about to start putting up Council tax this may well force Mr. Pickles hand with his colleague in Cabinet to tighten control, something about a self-fulfilling prophecy springs to mind. Personally I think it might be quite telling that Essex where the Secretary of State has his seat is proposing 1.49%, clearly they have pitched it just below where the cap might go.

With regards Brighton, over the past few months I have got to know the Leader of Brighton Council a little bit as we have both contributed to the New Local Government Network’s work on Digital in Local Government and I have no doubt he is earnest in his aims, having said that he also knows that his is minority administration and if Labour and Conservatives join forces he will be defeated, so there might be a little bit of politics mixed in there too!

So what of Suffolk County Council and us keeping our promise of a Council Tax freeze over the next 4 years, following on from 3 years of 0% increases. Yesterday Ipswich Spy blogged about a presentation by my colleague Cllr. Andrew Reid presenting our Budget proposals to an Ipswich area Committee questioned our policy stance.

Well in my next blog I’ll talk about my thoughts and I look forward with interest to the first Council brave enough to actually hold a referendum and beyond the political class let’s see what those hard pressed families sitting at the kitchen table trying to pay their bills with their hard earned money think to a Council asking them if they want to pay more.

A meeting far away

Last Wednesday I travelled into Essex, for a meeting of the East of England Local Government Group Lead member for Health and Adult social services Network, where we come together to discuss all things Public Health, Health Services and Social Care.

The network is where member from across Eastern Region or as I like to call it East Anglia, gather to discuss all things Public Health, Health Services and Social Care so that we learn from each other and try not to “re-invent the wheel”.

I have the singular honour to be its Chairman and reach meeting is hosted by one of the group this quarter’s turn was Essex and so the splendid surroundings of Essex County Council we heard from officers working on the Health Watch agenda both from the Department of Health perspective and the work that Essex CC are doing in establishing theirs.

It’s a great group and I think by sharing our different approaches we can and help each other not waste time and money ‘reinventing the wheel’, or worse doing things by trial and error. We have influence and power and with power comes responsibility; to make sure that we are making the right moves and we do that by making sure that we learn from the best and indeed from what has not worked elsewhere.

I suspect we all think that the changes and the development of the Health and Well Being Boards are a really good development, so good in fact that I suspect most people something that most of us thought it existed already!

Paul Laffin from the East of England European Office presented a paper on why we as a network should become a founding member of a new organisation in Europe called the European Regional and Local Health Authorities or EUREGHA for short.

We all agreed that  we can and should learn from Europe where we know the Lower Austrian Region has been integrating services for years and other places are exemplars as to how go about things such as the Swedish work on dementia Care services, the whole of Europe has the same issues we face with an ageing population and we should be learning from each other.

The first question that sprang to mind is that we are Lead Members and Portfolio holders predominantly for Social Care and often Public Health but that other than the influence in the Health and Well Being Boards we are not ‘Health’. If was discussed that in fact Health at the moment is not organised with Democratic representation and that our network was the closest thing we have to a Regional Democratic health Structure, my mind cast back to my thoughts on Health Commissioners but I digress.

The second question was how much, I was very much aware that our previous membership of the forerunner to this organisation was a key factor in Suffolk leading a successful bid late last year and getting 375,000 euros of funding for our active ageing research and work programme. Our membership would be free, a price I like, in fact better than free because it was proposed that our East of England office would provide the new organisation with office space 1 desk in lieu of the 5,000 euros membership fee and one desk to be rented to the new organisation actually allowing us to reduce the running costs of the East of England office in Brussels.

The it was resolved that we should as a group representing our region become a member of a new organisation and that I am Chairman should attend the opening General Assembly and be a co-signature to its founding.

It seems to me that Europe is a bit like marmite but whether you love or loath it; there is vast amounts of funding available for projects to make improvement in all areas of local government’s delivery of services and we should hunt that down,  just as the rest do; Brussels here I come!

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