Innovate or pay more

innovationAt last Thursday’s Budget Debate I ‘suffered’ the full fury of the Liberal’s Cllr. Page, who decided this year, slightly ‘left field’ to launch at me about the money spent on Suffolk Circle.

It is interesting that Cllr. Page failed to comment that one of the programmes in the budget delivering the biggest savings is the Supporting Lives and Connecting Communities, this year aiming to save the council £6 million. A programme developed and instigated when I was Cabinet Member for Adult and Communities Services which has 3 or 4 core papers as the basis on which I managed to convince my cabinet colleagues that we should reshape the way in which we deliver services in our communities. One of these documents is the original work done by Participle the organisation behind the circle movement. It researched, over the course of a year, how Suffolk’s communities are connected, and why the differences in capacity between similar places exist and if the Circle could be a part of the way forward in Suffolk. This extensive body of work is a document I still refer to today in my role for the Local Government Association sitting as a member on the national TLAP Board and on TLAP’s Building Community Capacity (BCC) Framework programme board, from my point of view, its work is very much it is informed by the original Participle paper and to some extent our Suffolk experience of why the Circle movement did not work.

Another thing that so infuriated the Liberals at the time was the notion of providing start-up funding to a Circle model which was primarily not about providing services to those who can’t afford anything themselves but about addressing loneliness and connections in communities by individuals, in the social economic group just above those that qualify, who will pay for services themselves in order to stop them tipping into services. Interestingly this notion of councils having responsibility to inform and market shape not just for those who qualify is now about to become an actual duty under the Care Act when it comes into operation in April this year. Prevention and addressing the causes that make people tip into expensive services is very much the new agenda.

Over the course of 3 years we spent about £680,000 on funding the Suffolk Circle as a start-up, the organisation behind the circle movement is a not for profit social enterprise and the circles staff were drawn from the Suffolk voluntary sector, it hit its membership targets but did not exceed them and at the end of the three year start-up period the Suffolk Circle and Participle decided that they could not sustain the organisation and all the existing members were transferred to other voluntary sector organisations in Suffolk who took over aspects of its activity, programmes that are still running today. Since then the Southwark Circle has also closed yet others are still in existence. Much has been written about the circle approach and community involvement indeed the role of councils and other voluntary organisations. The TLAP BCC Framework, which I led a workshop on at the Annual TLAP conference last year on, attempts to build on all the different learning out there.

In terms of risk I suppose you are always going to have the Cllr. Pages’ of this world who just want to throw mud and not understand the detail but it important that Council’s innovate and work on how to lead the way to delivery services in an environment of less funding. In the period that the circle start-up was funded the Council spent over £650 million on Adult and Community Services and so in this context the less that 0.001% of its spending on something that was expected to succeed but did not was a part of the mix of service delivery being trialled, but we must keep trying to find new ways of supporting our communities and help prevent people from needing services in the first place, this one did not success but that does not mean you stop.

When we Conservative took over in 2005 the structure of the council was a basket case, 9 years later literally thousands of staff have gone and the council delivers more service today than it did then. But you know what unless we try new ways of working I suppose the only recourse is to do what Cllr. Page’s party did the last time they had power and simply keep spending without innovating and then demand ever more of people’s hard earned money to pay for it.

One slow night

White Van Image from Rochester By Election 2014Stayed up last Thursday night to see the result of the Rochester and Strood by-election, absolutely fascinating for a number of reasons but at one point I tweeted about the slowness of the count and how I recalled many an evening on my feet watching other equally slow counts and was so pleased to be on my sofa for this one, flicking as I did between the BBC and Sky coverage to stave off the boredom.

Firstly as someone interested in the use of social media it still surprises at the increasing importance of these things, quite quick and easy to use and to make mistakes, particularly for Labour’s shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry who ended her shadow ministerial career with one of the shortest tweets possible and a picture. Crass, yes and apparently Ed Miliband was ‘Professor Angry’ not so much for the picture or words but because it touches at their real sensitivity about UKIP’s lesser success but still very worrying for Labour in gaining a tradition Labour working class vote in addition to the conservative right flank. Not to mention in a by-election where they hoped the headlines would be about UKIP and Conservatives but it turned out that they had the front pages to themselves, you just could not make this stuff up!

But if you look at it another way it is even more damaging, to me the of the reasons some people are voting UKIP is not Europe, not immigration but because they look a bit more real and human that the Westminster Parties, they are not always on message, they make mistakes and some people like them for it, some people can more easily identify with them and that is important in politics, of course Farage knows and drives this home on a constant basis, but such an overreaction to one tweet rather makes the point for him.

The turn-out at 50.67% was high for a by-election but well below a general election, the truth of the matter is that at the 2010 election UKIP failed to carry forward their 2009 European Election vote share, in May 2015 it will be fascinating to see if it holds this time as the general election arrives and importance of keeping Labour out hits home.

Speaking of making mistakes, this week Mark Reckless was not beyond making a gaff himself having to ‘clarify’ his words on what would happen to European migrants if the UK withdrew from the EU, not that it overtly hurt him at the ballot box, which is my earlier point. However it’s interesting how these things are always expressed in terms of Europeans living and working in the UK (and of course what they really mean is ‘taking our jobs’) and little is spoken of the millions of Britons who live and work in Europe including a couple of my mates and their families, a small but important point, ‘quid pro quo’ and all that?

During the course of the count Sky interviewed the Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett whom I shared a platform with a couple of weeks ago and as she spoke, her words seemed to confirm that the Green Party seem increasingly to be positioning itself to the left of Labour.

Mark Reckless won but not of course with quite the sensational result of Clacton, but hey he’s no Douglas Carswell is he, nor is Rochester the same as Clacton, one small silver lining was of course the Liberal vote collapse with them getting dangerously close to polling less than the Monster Raving Loony Party.

There is no doubt that UKIP do struck a cord with many people but in the white heat of a general election I suspect UKIP’s lack of a broad range of actual policies will, in part, be their undoing, equally as much as UKIP would like the election to be about immigration and EU membership, it won’t, it will predominately be about the economy and on that issue the Conservative message could not be stronger and Labour’s could not be more scary! Having said that it does increasingly look that, as life gets more complex, so does our politics and over the next few months the potential and debate about the smaller parties to be king makers on May 8th will have as much air time as the economy, Farage will argue that UKIP can hold the balance of power, so vote UKIP, but he will simply not have enough MPs with other bigger parties far more likely to be the king makers, whatever happens the next 7 months will be fascinating.

Voters Choice in the Euro elections

Whatever you think about Europe, there is no doubt that UKIP will have a good set of European elections here in the East. As I said in my blog yesterday the key for Conservatives rests on two things, one true of all elections and all parties getting our core voters out and the other I would say is how people view the Referendum promise.

Last week in Haverhill’s St. Edmunds Borough Council by-election quite a lot of people vote UKIP perhaps beyond their simply articulation on Europe it is of course convenient to peg it to this or that but you can’t ignore 54% of the vote share and to do so is a mistake. On politics in general they, like liberals before them, do not have to deal with the complexity of actually having to potentially run the country and they seek to represent a point of view to return to some sort of ‘how it used to be’ and whilst I do not think they are a racist party, they do tap into a cohort of people who are a bit shocked at the pace of change they see in their community. I personally welcome all people if they can contribute to our communities and I think that predominately those who have made this area home are hardworking and add to the rich diversity of our communities by I do recognize the sheer change in our market town and high streets with the variety of ethic shops is tough for some in our community to get their heads around.

Also I think it fair to say UKIP have, since the Liberals joined coalition government, become the party of protest, hovering up right wing conservative votes and liberals who are really a sort of protest cohort the liberals used to tap into but have found it increasingly difficult since they had to face the harsh reality of having to actually seek to delivery on some of their policies in coalition! And in this vein they seem to be picking up a, albeit smaller, cohort of Labour supporters who hark back to an imaginary better time.

So how to engage the electorate in the coming election and how to get across the conservative message. Vote Conservative and signal we want to continue to work hard to reform the EU and that you want a referendum where you get to vote whatever your views, for it gives David Cameron the leverage he needs in Europe to renegotiate the terms of our relationship with Europe and then for the first time we the British people can fully and openly debate this subject properly, a debate which will be rigorous on both sides of the argument, which is precisely how we as a nation make good decisions.

or:

Vote UKIP and signal out and hang the consequences. But even if you do, whatever you do, do not vote UKIP in 2015 because you will simply let Labour win, we saw this in Norfolk and look what an absolute mess Norfolk County Council are in with its rainbow hiatus.

Vote Labour and signal continue with membership as is (although I wonder if that will change in the run in to the General Election, if the conservative referendum starts to gather up voters)

Vote Liberal and err. I think it’s in or would you prefer out, we are nothing if not flexible in the pursuit of power, just look at their track record in coalition!

What no Manifesto?

Out on the campaign trail in Undley

Out on the campaign trail – 0% County Council Tax increase for Undley

I was out campaigning yesterday and was asked a simply question, “what’s in the liberal manifesto” to which I had to confess “not a clue mate, can’t find it anywhere”.

So when I got in, after the days campaigning, I sat down, logged on and set my Google to work, hunting it down, I recalled and found an article in one newspaper where David Wood their leader made a few comments in response to the Conservative, Labour and Green manifesto’s where he said they have a policy document, only problem is I just can’t seem to find it anywhere?

First I went to their web site – nothing.

Then I went to their other area web sites – nothing

I put the words Lib Dem Suffolk policy document in to Google and err… nothing.

Next I looked at the blog pages of the Liberal County Councillors that have one maybe this there but again nothing, although I did see on their Leader’s blog front page a thoughtful article, which I disagree with, about the Police and Crime Commissioner elections posted back in November last year, but hardly current.

So please can anyone help me find it?

The only reference I can find anywhere is on Caroline Page’s blog, who, to be fair is an active blogger, even if I do disagree with most of what she writes. She has announced that she is standing again and there is a scanned copy of her latest leaflet with a small panel for people to respond to her question “What do we want the County Council to do?” More public transport? Better Care? Freezing Council Tax? Improve Education? Help for local businesses? In May Suffolk is electing our County Council for the next 4 years. Money is tight, so what should be its priorities be? Tell us what YOU think!”

Firstly, Caroline has clearly been reading our manifesto – a manifesto built precisely because we have been asking people what they think, amongst surveys and surgeries, we even held a manifesto open day for people to come along and tell us what they thought should be in the Conservative manifesto way back in September last year, amongst the many sagacious suggestions was that residents would welcome a freeze on the Council Tax as people are struggling to make their household budget stretch in these difficult times.

Secondly err…surely…it’s a bit late to be asking people what they want to see 5 weeks out from an election. To my mind the whole point of an election is to set out your vision for what you would do for the people of Suffolk in office and ask people to vote for you.

Three years ago I teased the Liberals during the Suffolk County Council budget debate asking them if their less than one side A4 response was because they forgot the deadline date to submit their homework?, it got a few chuckles at the time but now we seem to have arrived at an election where the Liberals are standing with no manifesto, even the Greens have managed to put out something!

Simply not good enough, whether you agree with a party’s polices or not they should at least bother to set them out before asking people to vote for them.

Manifesto time

So I’ve had a good read through all the manifesto’s from the Greens wish list to Labour’s uncosted nonsense; only one still to come and surprise, surprise (and I checked goggle and their out of date web site this morning but still nothing) it is the Liberals but given their track record and the complete lack of effort they put into each year’s County budget process we can probably expect a side of A4 maybe the day before the election!

Also seen various from UKIP which reflects what my moles at Monday night’s UKIP meeting in Brandon have been saying about when Nigel Farage spoke, his passion was totally focused on immigration and Europe and frankly he seemed disinterested in local government other than a means to promote his party. These elections are not about immigration and Europe those are national issues. This is the county council local government elections and it’s about local services, protecting our rural bus services, repairing our roads, ensuring our council ‘lives within its means’ and the Council tax you pay; not Europe and European migration, that’s next year with the European elections.

So from the Greens we have a few points that are, as is their two man party in the Council Chamber one deep red, one deep green and between them they have produced a schizophrenic mixture of socialist dogma and the somewhat idealistic deep green agenda.

As for Labour’s, well take a good dollop (don’t you just love that word dollop) of socialist dogma, some things we’d all like to do but don’t have the money to and most importantly mix it all together with lashings of amnesia – at times, just as in the Council Chamber over the past 4 years, it’s as if the economic situation has completely past them by, it’s as if the cut in government grant is an optional thing, it’s as if 13 years of Labour’s fiscal madness never happened – recession what recession!

So many lovely things we’d all love to do but how can I put this simply:

We don’t have the money and the government is given us less and less of it each year!

But wait a minute – hey you do! What about all that lovely money you the Council tax payers have stashed away?

Time for Labour to come clean – what would it be this time? a repeat of the last time they were in power with the liberals in Suffolk? 11.9% Council Tax rise followed by an 18.5% rise the very next year? or just go for the 30% increase in one easy step!?

Budget day 2013 – 10th Anniversary of Liberal and Labour Council Tax raids.

On Budget day 2002 the Liberals and Labour who controlled the County Council put the Council tax up by 11.9% and just as people were struggling to adjust to that hike they ‘came a knocking’ again and hiked it up by 18.5% in 2003, a staggering over 30% hike in two years.

So ten years on have they learned anything? – I think not.

Last Thursday as the opposition tried to counter our announcement that if elected we will Freeze the Council Tax for the whole of the next 4 year term, and as they spectacularly failed to come up with a response. There were some very interesting insights to opposition attitude towards the hard earn money of Suffolk Council Tax payers; perhaps the most bizarre intervention came from Cllr. Ereira who said such a move would be the death nail of local government, to my mind the County Council is the servant of the people of Suffolk and they are telling us loud and clear to ‘live within your means’; perhaps Cllr. Ereira and others think that regardless of how tight money is for hard pressed families and pensioners on fixed incomes trying to deal with rising food and energy prices, the County Council should sail serenity on rather than meet the challenges this time presents shoulder to shoulder with residents, head on.

In my seconder speech I reminded the opposition of this dark anniversary and they seemed rather annoyed that I did so, which I can quite understand!, afterall this is an anniversary that all Liberal and Labour Councillors would want to brush such appauling behaviour under the carpet; 10 years ago there were financial pressures but compared to today’s more of a ‘storm in a tea cup’ in comparison.

But at that time, rather than listen to people and demand and lead the Council to live within it’s means; it was a time they demostrated such little regard for people hard earned money trying to cope with such massive rises in Council Tax, instead the residents of Suffok were seen as an easy ‘Cash cow’, rather than do the tough stuff we have since they were kicked out of power, making the organisation more and more effeicent finding new ways fo working and demanding that every single cost line to examined and reduced.

So the question, as we face the election and people have a choice to make, is, have the Liberals and Labour learned to respect people hard earned money thay pay in Council Tax?

Well, in November 2012 we announced that we would be proposing the freeze the Council tax in 2013 for the third year running at 0%; Cllr. Wood, the leader of the opposition, said in the East Anglia Daily Times and I quote “Looking back it’s a good job the rate did rise all those years ago…”

Frankly I think that says it all.

People have a choice to make on 2nd May and I think it’s a simple one, do you want a County Council that protects front line services, protects hard pressed families and pensioners as they struggle to pay their household bills and has a mantra that ‘this Council will live within its means’ or not.

The Local Elections 2011

As the night and day unfolded on Thursday and Friday it was clear that across the land the Liberals were getting a good ‘political kicking’ and you have to wonder why!

Now being the political geek I am, I have looked at a number of the results both as Agent for Norwich North and as a Suffolk Conservative and whilst you can clearly see a pattern of liberal voters turning to Labour and the Greens but that does not explain some results such as North Norfolk where the Conservatives took control (watch out Norman Lamb you’re next!).

So there must be more to it that a simply anti-vote; after all the Conservatives are in power as well and we held our own.

It seems to me that for the first time on national scale the Liberals have been exposed for what they are, a party that lacks principles. In Suffolk all we hear about is that they are for the this group and that group, yet the last time they were in power they put up the Council by a third in two years thus hurting everyone.

It’s funny I can stand in the Council Chamber across from the Labour Leader Cllr. Sandy Martin and we can argue, clear in the knowledge that we both are trying to do the best for the people of Suffolk but come at the subject from a completely difference stance. The problem when faced with the Liberal front bench is I can’t see the principles, they flip flop accordingly to what they think is populist and we can all hear the rhetoric but fundamentally fail to see bedrock principles.

I think what we are seeing in this country is that people are realising that the Liberals want power and will never let a principle get in the way of their lust for it. I am reminded of Groucho Marks’s famous one liner ‘Those are my principles. If you don’t like them…..I have others!’

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