Budget Day

Budget

This Thursday is Suffolk County Council’s Budget Day. It’s important for two reasons, it’s when we set the bulk of your, and my, Council Tax bill and we set the money each service will get to provide frontline services for the year ahead.

Budgets are important to Councils because until like the La, La, Land of the NHS finances where massive deficits mean little, in Local Government if you run out of money, wages are not paid and services shut down.

Every year the Conservative administration pour over the figures in the £500M budget starting almost as soon as the last budget is set. And whilst the figures are huge and services are vital such as protecting vulnerable children from abuse, the process is little different from how we budget at home.  We save money for big projects like a house extension or in the council’s case the two new Bridge projects. We have some money set aside for emergencies and the unexpected (reserves) and we plan for renewing smaller items like the computer, (major IT system changes) all of which is based on assumptions of our income in the coming years.

That may sound a bit simplistic but it’s essentially it’s the same process we go through at home.  For Local Government, as to future prospects all the future income indicators are poor as we face less money over the next few years’ from Government. So we maintain reserves to ensure we can sustain services and deal with the unexpected. It may at times be a little bit boring but we are prudent and careful with your money.

Just as in life then there are the neighbours or in our case the opposition Labour and Lib Dems.  Like the neighbour’s flash new car, always out there promising the world, spend, spend, spend for tomorrow never comes, we’ll get more money from somewhere, why have reserves, live for today. The Jeremy Corbin view of the world, it all look like fun and of course the sun will come out tomorrow, Happy Days.  But then again the last time they were allowed to be in control in Suffolk we all know how that ended, budgets not keep to, failing services and finally booted out of power, for raising the Council tax by 11.9% in one year and 18.5% in the next trying to keep the show on the road – ‘What rubbish’ I am told that was then this is now, but you see I don’t think it is rubbish, I think it’s a mind-set that has not changed one bit.

So we may be a bit cautious, we may be a bit tough in how we negotiate but, we have delivered 7 years of 0% raises in the base Council Tax and carefully applied the National Adult Social Care Precept to give our lowest paid, mainly care workers, a welcome pay increase and rightly so.  I hope in May people will allow us to carry on running the council, we will be innovative in our approaches and have lots of new ideas about how we go about things over the next 4 years building on the work these past 4 years but we will always, always be prudent and carefully with the budget and our reserves, ever mindful of the need to protect the most vulnerable in our communities and ever mindful it’s your hard earned money.

But remember those flash neighbours (and apologies to my neighbours who are all lovely people and not part of this reference!), if Labour and the Liberal were in power when they run out of the council’s money, guess who’s money they’ll come after, yours!

Thursday’s meeting is web cast so please log-in and have a watch.

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.

Leadership and Authority

In the 10 days I have had chance to ponder the issue of Leadership in a variety of different ways, personally in my family life as we go through a very difficult time, in my business life which is extremely busy and in my public life.

Last Friday week Suffolk County Councillors gathered for the first full Council since our Conservative Group AGM and so the atmosphere on our side was interesting with quite a few changes having taken place since my failed leadership challenge. Having narrowly won Mark Bee immediately emailed to call for group loyalty but then promptly sacked everyone he could easily identify as being against him. In the rather undignified period that followed I don’t think many of my colleagues appreciated his campaign manager going around with a little list quietly questioning, observing, and trying to work out who voted for and against. Quite rightly most people simply shrugged their shoulders, said they voted for him and that they did not have a clue who had the temerity to vote against, a wise move indeed.

Having been one of those purged, I found myself sitting on the back benches for the first time in 6 years and pondering the often indefinable quality of Leadership and to some extent what might have been, but not too much as life does have a habit of moving on. Does it come from hieratical control achieved by removing those you can identify again you from Cabinet and Committee chairmanship roles and promoting others you hoped were for you? Or does it come from personal authority and conviction, rarely convincingly achieved in reading out your speech writer’s words however eloquent. Time will tell. Of course at Suffolk County Council the underlying issues remain and for those new into the cabinet I certainly wish them better luck than I had in trying to highlight those issues. If unsuccessful they can always join the ever growing ranks of those dismissed, stepped down or refusing to work too closely, but who, no doubt (because they have told me so) will seek to continue to offer challenge however privately in the confines of the group meetings.

Of course it was also the Council’s AGM and I enjoyed watching the ceremonial portion of the day unfold with Cllr. Guy McGregor handed over the baton of the Chairman’s office to Cllr. Chris Hudson and Cllr. Jane Storey being invested as the Deputy Chairman of the Council. It was also the 40th Birthday of the County Council (formed in the 1974 Local Government reorganisation from the old East and West Suffolk County Councils no less!) and so Guy took the opportunity to present, as his last duty, a short slide presentation on the Council’s history and his personal reflection of some of its achievements. This along with the displays of photos of the Council over that period showed just how times change and it was great to see pictures of Councillors past and present, some looking quite a bit younger in some of the photos!

The ceremonial events went on so long I was unable to stay for the party Leaders speeches but was able to pick them up on Ipswich Spy (www.ipswichspy.wordpress.com) who filmed the meeting, as I had to travel to Sheringham in Norfolk to officiate at the North Norfolk Conservative Association’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate hustings but more of that on another day.

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