How to build better Public Services across Suffolk

Here is my column that appeared in last Tuesday’s edition of the EADT and Ipswich Star newspapers:

Suffolk is a place where people work together. We do it to make people’s lives better, to make the county more prosperous and to be creative. It’s part of what makes Suffolk so special.

I’m very proud to say that this is the case in Suffolk politics too. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of tough debates and disagreements, both between and within political parties. But that’s just healthy democracy. I know that making Suffolk a stronger place binds us all together and very often, we can find common ground.

One such place that common sense prevails in this way is the Suffolk Public Sector Leaders (SPSL) group, of which I am a member. People often assume that I run or chair the group because of my leadership of the county council. In fact, I don’t. I am an equal member along with the leaders and chief executives of all seven district and borough councils, Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner and chief constable and representatives from the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).

SPSL has been running for about six or seven years now and is a clear demonstration of the cross-party, cross-organisation public sector cooperation for which Suffolk is recognised nationally. I can assure you that there is less of this happening in other parts of the country. In some places, it doesn’t happen at all!

When it originally began, we used to discuss the big issues facing Suffolk and try to find ways that we could commit our own organisations to doing something about them. That was really helpful and still happens. But then in 2012, members of the group took a bold step and each partner publicly agreed to combine a share of the money we collect from local businesses and invest that in projects that benefit the county. It’s known at the ‘pooled business rate’ and is quite forward-thinking in the public sector world. We all agreed for SPSL to oversee this work.

There are some hugely important projects that have benefited for pooled business rate funding. Building the business case for Ipswich’s much-needed northern bypass, work to promote Suffolk as a place for tech companies to set up business and recruiting more town planners across the county so that the impact of housing growth can be better managed.

I’m sure many readers know that the Government has chosen Suffolk as one of 10 areas to trial next year a new way of funding local areas (the 100% business rate retention pilots). We were chosen because of our national reputation for working together and our bid was built in that basis. Again, Suffolk leading the way.

Recently, SPSL has been described as some kind of ‘secretive club’ that people only know about when it’s publicised. Well, I can think of better ways of keeping secrets than publicising things! It’s not a club though, far from it. It’s a serious space where people responsible for major public bodies in Suffolk come together to find solutions to the issues facing Suffolk.

Last month, the SPSL group met Eleanor Kelly, the chief executive of Southwark Council who stepped in to help residents in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster. Eleanor told us that Suffolk was one of the first places, as a whole, to seek to learn the direct lessons from Grenfell so that we can protect our residents. I’m not sure this would have happened if Suffolk’s public sector organisations didn’t work in this way.

At that same meeting, we agreed to review the way we work to ensure we keep having a positive impact on Suffolk. We’re reviewing everything, including having representatives from other sectors involved and looking at how we share more about the things we’re working on. That was absolutely the right decision to make, not least because the business rate retention pilot kicks off in April and collective decision making will be even more important. I look forward to updating people when that work is complete.



At what age do we become ‘old’?

Here’s the column I wrote for the EADT and the Ipswich Star newspapers last week:

 I’d like to begin this week’s column with a question.

At what age do we become ‘old’?

As language changes and adapts, we as a society are good at filtering out certain anachronisms. The use of the word “elderly”, for example, is less common now. But we frequently use such catch-all terms as “older people” which, after all, is so general as to be almost meaningless.

We are all ageing and I would claim with some confidence that we all want to age well. So, if we are not “older people” now, we will all fall within this category one day.

We know that more of us in Suffolk will be aged 65 years or over in the coming years as a proportion of the population. We’re also living longer, with the gap between male and female life expectancy closing.

In addition, Suffolk is a fantastic county, with incredible assets, so it is no surprise that many people enjoy living here, retiring here and ageing here.

Unlike many other parts of the UK, we are a county without a city. Many of our greatest strengths centre around rural, country living with the benefits this provides as we support one another and look out for our neighbours. We enjoy significant formal and informal networks of support that see old and young living and working together, bringing out the best attributes of supportive communities.

I would argue our rapidly ageing population can be viewed in one of two ways: as an insurmountable, growing threat to our health and social care services, or as a great opportunity to adapt, innovate and prosper as a county.

I see this as an opportunity to be a forward-thinking county that values and welcomes its growing older population.

No single authority, organisation or sector can create this environment alone. We must work together and engage our communities if we want to see meaningful, sustainable change.

The last 10 years have seen major change. We have seen a move from centralised control to more personalised support and care delivered in the community. The coming years will bring about increasing change to our health and care services.

Inevitably, we will be working later into life which means the nature and shape of the county’s workforce will change.

Our predominantly rural setting also provides a challenge to the way  we reach potentially isolated communities. But we are already seeing examples of this in abundance, from well established schemes such as the Debenham Project to emerging opportunities created by social prescribing.

Thanks to the foresight of our health and care teams, we are already seeing the benefits of  learning what works well elsewhere. In the west of the county, we are testing out the Buurtzorg model of integrated health and personal care delivered by small teams of self-managed nurses working in the community, based on an approach developed in the Netherlands.

One issue that is perennially in the headlines is housing; more specifically, the need for more housing that caters for the changing needs of the UK population. If we are to curb the trend of 30-40 year olds living at home because they cannot afford to join the property ladder at one end of the spectrum, and 80 year olds living on their own in a five-bedroom home at the other, we all have to act now.

But the need is wider than this: as we build and adapt our homes, we must ask ourselves if they are they hardwired for the needs of an entire population. Is the surrounding transport network responsive to the needs of an ageing society? Above all, are we providing affordable, shared space that encourages an active lifestyle at every stage of an individual’s life?

Ultimately, we need to provide support for those with more complex needs, while enabling others to remain active and independent, without the risks of becoming isolated.

When it comes to being connected, the myth of an older generation out of touch with modern technology is not borne out by the facts. Nationally, more than three quarters of 65-74 year olds and over 40% of those aged 74 and over used the internet in the last three months.

From open access at our libraries and other information points, to the investment in countywide broadband, our older population is more switched on to new media than ever. This is clearly not the case for all, but the many advantages this brings – from online shopping to connecting with family – are often a valuable antidote to social isolation.

Which brings me back to my question: what we mean by “old”? There’s the old cliché that you are only as old as you feel, and that age is just a state of mind; with people living and working longer, and the cultural changes that this entails, we may be moving  closer to a society in which we need to reconsider and redefine every aspect of what we mean by ageing.

Most of us enjoy better life chances, and a higher life expectancy, than previous generations. Though not without exceptions, this affords us the opportunity to think about ageing differently.




My Column in the papers & a new road

fullsizeoutput_1c1cHere is this week’s column for the East Anglian Daily Times and the Ipswich Star:

Yesterday I joined councillors, staff and partners who have helped deliver a vital relief road to the east of Bury St Edmunds.

The Eastern Relief Road is a long-time in the making, with Suffolk County Council investing £2million into the £15million project, which was also funded by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and St Edmundsbury Borough Council.

A huge amount of work went into the delivery of this project. From putting a strong business case forward to laying tarmac on the ground, this showed what partnership working can do.

Although the route is only a mile or so long, a 67-hectare area of land will be unlocked for economic development, creating 15,000 jobs and boosting the area by millions of pounds. It will also relieve congestion in Bury St Edmunds and in light of that, we’ve improved junction 45 of the A14.

Without these benefits, we would not have been able to get this road built.

Now the road is open, business development should begin to increase in the area. From the road, you are within an hour from the internationally-significant Port of Felixstowe. This is a prime area of land that hasn’t been able to be used before and I’m positive manufacturers will want to be based in Suffolk, with the benefits it brings.

Bury St Edmunds will see a boost too, as the creation of jobs will mean more people can work in their home town – reducing a need to commute out of Suffolk. More people will be using the town’s shops, bars, and restaurants as well.

This road shows how we and our partners can work for you to deliver a sustainable future for the people of Suffolk.

There’s further good partnership working in Bury St Edmunds, for the benefit of all road users – the schemes in the town centre we’re carrying out to improve the movement of traffic through the town and the safety of all road users.

Work has also begun on the Beccles Southern Relief Road. Costing £7million, this is further evidence of how we can improve things for people – with better journey times for all road users and an economic boost to the business owners in that area.

While on the topic of partnership working and delivering new routes for those using our roads, we’ve extended the consultation for Lowestoft’s Lake Lothing Third Crossing, with an additional event at Pakefield Church Hall on October 5. So far we’ve had a great response to the consultation and we want to ensure everyone has their say on this significant project.

Work is continuing on delivering the Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich and as part of a differing set of works in the town, we’ll begin working on the first junction improvement scheme, at Landseer Road and Clapgate Lane.

We’re currently consulting on proposals for Suffolk’s Energy Gateway in the east of the county, and we continue to study the possibility of a relief road to the north of Ipswich, as well as one in Sudbury.

All of the above wouldn’t be where they are without the combined working of us and our partners, to deliver the best we can provide for our county. And it doesn’t just count for our roads, we work with our partners in Clinical Commissioning Groups and the NHS with regards to caring for our most vulnerable.

As you will have seen in the news this past week, party conference season is upon us. Journalists are basing themselves in and around the bases of each major party, trying to find out what they can before the announcements are made on stage to the nation’s media.

The Liberal Democrats have held theirs, in Bournemouth, and Labour are currently hosting theirs in Brighton.

The Conservative’s annual conference starts on Sunday and I will be going to Manchester to represent Suffolk, discussing how we can play a bigger role in the national picture. I’ll be reporting back in my next column about my role and how the conference went.

We’re doing the best we can for the people of Suffolk – and our partners are doing so too.



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.

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