A good meeting in Cambridge

2016_02_15 Devolution with Lord H & Greg ClarkeYesterday morning I and other Leaders from across Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk gathered in the Government offices in Cambridge to meet with Lord Heseltine and DCLG SoS Greg Clarke to discuss Devolution and what it might mean here in the East of England. Of course Norfolk and Suffolk have been working on our Devolution bid for these past 6 months but its has been increasingly obvious that the Cambridgeshire with Peterborough question has loomed large and this is particularly true if you, like me, live in the west of Suffolk or the West of Norfolk as we are actually in the Cambridgeshire sub-region. So the meeting was a chance to openly discuss what a three county Devolution bid might look like and how it would be received by Government. The meeting was very positive and there is lots more work to come on what if it were agreed by all the Councils and bodies involved, and that is a reasonable sized ‘if’, would be an Eastern Engine to rival the Manchester Powerhouse.

A nation decides and so does Lakenheath

2015_05_03 Campaign 2015 Team LakenheathThis week the country has a big decision to make, a Conservative Government or a Labour one, held to ransom by the SNP.

It is ironic that if people vote UKIP, they will get Ed Miliband in No.10 propped up by the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon who over the last few weeks have made it perfectly clear she will use the power to advance Scottish interests and by that I think we all know that means, demand that money be diverted from spending in England to spending in Scotland. Equally ironic is that Ed Miliband is on record he would have no referendum so the very thing UKIP want, would be denied them, yet if UKIP minded people vote Conservative, David Cameron will hold that referendum in 2017 having renegotiated the terms of our membership. Seems to me whether you’re in favour of being in Europe or out of it, this country need to make its mind up one way or the other.

Locally people have a choice too. Continue with Conservatives in charge of Forest Heath District Council where we are delivered quality services, have reorganised its back office and halved its staff numbers and thus been able to deliver 5 years of 0% Council Tax rises. Our carefully worked out plan is proposing a 4 year freeze for the next term. Alongside investment in our area such as a new public services hub in Mildenhall to include new state of the art sports facilities. Or elect a strange mix of independent candidates and/or UKIP both it seems from their election leaflets or lack of, don’t seem to have an actual plan.

This Conservative 9 year freezing of council tax is born of a simple premise, its your hard earned money and you are best place to spend it wisely for yourself and your family.

Even more locally in my village you can see the attitude of our opponents who over the past two years, with their controlling group has blocked every attempt to get the parish council to lower its costs and find new ways of working, and has increased the Parish Precept by over a third, making Lakenheath the most expensive place in Forest Heath to actually live and pay your per band council tax in – absolutely ridiculous!

I’m running with Louise Marston who owns a number of great local businesses, and has been a Parish Councillor and has increasingly frustratingly, tried with her minority group, to seek change on the Parish Council. She is a School Governor at the village primary school. Together we would play an active part in the District Council, continue to play an active part in our community, we would turn up and are determined to be a strong positive voice for our village, Lakenheath.

So nationally we have a clear choice, locally we have a clear choice and on both ballot papers please Vote Conservative.

Experience

magnifying-glassOver the past few months I have been honoured to be a part of the LGA Peer Challenge programme for Councils, I’ve completed 4 Peer Challenges which usually last for a week at a time, enough time to get under the skin of how something works. In the first one the team I was a part of looked at the very serious business of Adult Safeguarding and what arrangements are in place to first detect abuse and then stop it. Next I was asked to be a part of a team that looked at a recently formed people’s directorate where the two biggest departments Children and Adults were merged and how that was working, then I helped look at a Health and Board and how that was bringing Health and Social care together serving a large rural population and last month I was part of a team that looked at the restructuring of a Council and the creation of a commissioning function and its effectiveness in shaping services.

During the weeks you meet people who use services, providers from voluntary organisations and commercial companies, officers and Councillors, you read and work through literally thousands of pages of vast bundles of strategy papers and spend time feeding back your impressions and findings. And I’ve learnt two things, firstly every council is the same and every council is remarkable different, by that I mean, most councils delivery the save basic services but because they are local, because they reflect the values and traditions of an area they are all different and that is a powerful thing. But for me the most powerful thing I’ve learnt is all the while you reflect back, thinking about how does that work for people in my home village of Lakenheath, across the villages of Row Heath, for Suffolk’s voluntary organisations and providers, in Forest Heath District Council and across Suffolk County Council.

Currently my colleagues and I are discussing who amongst us should lead our group on the County Council. There are many qualities needed and for me experience is one of them, experience is more than a CV or a list of roles you’ve done, it’s the resource you draw on as you work with your community to balance the conflicting challenge of the things you would want to do, that every councillor across the political divide wants to do but with the limited funding at your disposal. It’s a resource that you draw on to unite your group and get out there talking with people about the challenges ahead, your experience of working with real people who rely on the services to help them live their lives and listen to everyone about what services they value and how ‘the council’ delivers those services, as you make the decisions that lay ahead, experience matters.

1st Blog of the year

New Year 2015 formed from sparking digits over black backgroundIt always an interesting time of year, Christmas is over and New Year resolutions are already being broken. I start a fresh shiny new ‘Moleskin’ (old school) notebook, planning aspects of my business and public life after a somewhat tough last year, with Mum’s sad passing and a dad struggling to come to terms with his loss. In business it was a an equally strange year with a couple of projects not successful, counterbalanced with one very successful one, alongside new opportunities and clients presenting fresh challenges and hopefully income streams. In my Public life, last year was equally strange as I got purged from a cabinet role at the County Council, but in many ways as one door shuts another opens and I’ve be chuffed to have been offered of a number of different roles at my District Council and at the LGA which I am enjoying immensely. Of course the coming year will be dominated in the first half by the General and District elections.  Hopefully I can play my part in seeing Conservative MPs elected across East Anglian as a part of the regional team and more locally in making sure Conservatives stay in control of Forest Heath District Council by winning my seat again, there is nothing I enjoy quite so much as helping my home community flourish and be a better place to live, it is an honour and a privilege to have this role and I hope the good people of Lakenheath will continue to let me represent them. An exciting year ahead and over the next few blogs I hope to share some of my thoughts on what I think are the really big issues we have to face over the course of the next parliamentary and council period.

An Affordable Home

Image_house_buildingLate in that day last Tuesday week I popped along to the Lakenheath Parish Council who were holding a public meeting or as it turned out, more a Parish Council meeting where the public were allowed to observe and make comment on the matters being discussion at the end of the meeting but with no response from the Parish Council, local democracy in action, quite bizarre to watch and listen to. The subject was the number of planning applications submitted in Lakenheath to take up the FHDC Adopted Core Strategy allocations for the village. Surprisingly only 21 residents out of population of about 4,000 turned up to what was a widely publicised meeting.

Beyond frustration at the lack of actual debate on the evening what came across was real concern about the facilities that need to follow from new homes being proposed for the village. For me over the course of the past 2 or 3 years this has been discussed at FHDC and over my time as a Councillor in Lakenheath itself I have heard from a number of people who want to have a home of their own in their village and thus would welcome the new affordable housing element development will bring so young people from the village will be able to get a roof over their head.

Lakenheath is not a particularly high priced property location but it’s a local market condition due to the USAF bases here that the lowest market rental price for homes is well above what it should be and many younger people have to move out of the area to be able to afford to rent their first home, so more affordable homes for local people will of course be very welcome. Whatever is decided about where new homes will be built as a Councillor I will be working with the many different organisations to make sure the village benefits and facilities grow to accommodate the new housing.

Last week’s Elections

Outside the polling sation at Lakenheath Village Hall

Outside the polling station at Lakenheath Village Hall

Early last Thursday morning I was out delivering election material to encourage residents to go and vote in the European elections. Then I had family duties taking my mum to Addenbrookes. After that it was back to Lakenheath and a quick stop to pick up a colleague who would join me for the rest of the day and then looking in on the village polling stations to thank the staff for their efforts. Before heading off to Great Yarmouth to help with the Get out the Vote (GOTV) in the Euro and ‘by thirds’ Borough elections taking place.

On the way there I took the smallest of detours (a mile off the A11) to see if the rumours of the what must be the best polling station in the country at East Harling were true, the best because it was situated in the English Whiskey Distillery Company’s shop and café, something about being able to vote and have a whiskey tasting struck me as very civilised.22.05.2014 - outside East Harling Polling Station

I did not partake but did have a quick look around the wonderful Malt Whiskey shop before back on the road to Great Yarmouth and a chance to meet up with Brandon Lewis MP and Richard Bacon MP for South Norfolk as they did the final part of the days campaigning and as we did the ‘knock up’ I got their reflections on how the campaign had gone.

Once it got dark we stopped knocking on doors and after a quick bite to eat, not a ‘bit to eat’ as I miss-spelt in my final tweet of poll day, it was home to watch the results trickle in from the District and Borough elections taking place. It is of course not the same as it used to be when counts were always immediately after the polls have closed, with the majority now being counted on the Friday morning, but you still got a sense of the voting patterns.

Sunday evening was spent at Newmarket Leisure Centre as the votes for European elections in the St. Edmundsbury and Forest Heath Council areas were counted and it was clear from the numbers that UKIP were having a very good set of elections but we Conservatives still polled large numbers of votes. Just before Midnight as I sat at home watching yet another election analysis show, it was declared that we had three seats, UKIP have three and Labour scrapped in with one. Essentially for the Conservatives it mean no change as that was the number at the last election, and I was really pleased to see Vicky Ford, Geoffrey Van Orden and David Campbell-Bannerman on the platform as the Eastern Region vote was declared. It was of course as shame we did not get more because I know the hard work the four others on our slate put into the campaign.

Over the bank holiday weekend, lots of column inches have been written and hours of TV commentary produced but all in all what emerges is that people are concerned about immigration and migration and that the complex case for European membership on renegotiated terms is clearly a long way from convincing people that we should stay in. Interestingly across Europe and particularly in France there seems to be a push back against the eurocrats vision of a federal Europe.

Of course for there to be that very debate, the Conservatives must win the General Election next year as a vote for UKIP then will simply see Ed Miliband’s in No. 10 Downing Street and the very thing ‘in or out’ people want to vote on in 2017 will not happen. For the Conservatives in the next year beyond convincing voters that in Councils across the country we actually cost residents less than Labour does, at the national level we need to convince them to vote Conservative.

Lakenheath Village Care Home Public Meeting

I am pleased to announce the confirmed date of the re-arranged public meeting in Lakenheath to discuss the closure of Lakenheath Village Care Home and the future needs of the village for our older residents as their Care needs change. This meeting is the rearranged one from before Christmas which was cancelled by myself and the Trustees of the Charity that runs the village home, as I was unable to attend due to a very sad family funeral that afternoon some 150 miles away in Barnsley and I would not have been able to attend.

On Facebook some people were less than kind about its cancellation and as I responded to the comments, I made the point that the public meeting was not a ‘Save Our Care Home’ one, as the decision had been taken and residents supported by their loved ones, social workers, the trustees and staff were finding new homes in the run up to the home’s closure which was projected for the 20th December and did close.

The meeting will be Friday 7th February at 7pm in the Village Hall and it will be an opportunity for the Trustees to explain the decision they took, their future role in our community and for me to discuss with those who attend what we want in the future to take care of the needs of our older residents, perhaps helping to explain how the complex care system works, discuss care facilities in the area in general and future plans I am lobbying for in Lakenheath and what we can realistically seek to achieve.

In my discussions with residents their families, loved ones, staff and indeed the Trustees everyone is sad that the home has closed and clearly it’s a great loss to our community but times change and things like en-suite toilet facilities and space to manoeuvre modern support hoists as well as the sheer number of staff now demanded by the regulators, regrettably make small but much loved homes like this, unsustainable.

I have heard much said about the future of the site and the one thing I do know is that if sold the proceeds will go immediately back into the Trust so that it can continue to fulfil its Founders wishes, which are enshrined in its Governing Document, that the money will be used for the benefit of the older residents of Lakenheath.

I do hope you can come along on the 7th February to discuss the future of care in Lakenheath Village, all are welcome, not just residents of  the village as it’s an opportunity to also discuss the future of care services in communities in general.

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