The battle for Row Heath

10-04-2013-interview-with-kim-riley-from-bbc-look-east-about-the-usaf-training-flight-cuts-and-impact-on-our-community

 

Over the past 11 year years I have had the honour of representing my community on Suffolk County Council and as elections approach I start my campaign full of beans.  After 11 years on a council it might seem that you might have done everything but far from it, Local Government is changing and resident’s expectation of the services they want and need is also changing. On the one hand, there is considerable less money in Local Government that there used to be, in the past 7 years Suffolk County Council has saved over £200M yet delivers more services that ever before. We done this by being business like in our approach to the way the council runs.

People want faster better services such as road repairs and want to know that Children are protected, we have prioritised Children Services and protected the budgets with which hard working teams go about their business, and this is recognised by OFSTED who rate our Children services as good.  For older residents who can’t afford their own care, we make sure they are looked after with love and dignity, and quite right to, we do this by making sure we have a robust relationship with providers of services, holding them to account, ever mindful we are the holders of the public purse.

Locally, housing for our younger people so they can start to get on the housing ladder is vital, as is new schools and school places. As the housing arrives we want better facilities in our communities and we also want to know that if we reach a stage in life that we can’t use a car that our lovely rural villages do not become traps.  On all these fronts, I try to be a strong voice for Row Heath advocating locally, in Ipswich and nationally for our area. Today for instances I am in Cambridge meeting senior officials about the future of RAF Mildenhall a set of decisions that will affect the economic prospect of Row Heath for years to come.

We have a number of plans we will be putting forwards in our manifesto, all careful costed out.  Labour Finance Spokesperson on the county council Len Jacklyn is on record as saying ‘It is predicted that finances should improve over the next four years and spending now on statutory costs will begin to pay off in 2020’. A truly scary comment as they have been to all the same conferences I have been and at not one of them did it predicted that the finances will improve much.  Their Financially Dangerous Manifesto makes promises they could not hope or maybe even be allowed to fulfil or maybe Labour have some Corbinista moneytree nightmare where he takes power and removes the Council Tax cap and they can go back to the good of days of treating your hard-earned money as their personal piggy bank.  It’s well worth having a look at their bizarrely already published Manifesto it is truly Financially Dangerous.

So, what a contrast we have spent the past year working on our manifesto, carefully costing it every step of the way. And I can’t wait to get it launched and be out their explaining to residents how we are going to take Suffolk forward.

In the meantime, as I am out and about I am asking residents to fill in my survey or do it on line.  The one for my Division Row Heath is http://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RowHeath please do click through and take the survey, as I am very keen to hear your views.

 

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

BudgetLast week I blogged about the next few months nationally but as a Councillor my and others focus is far more on the local issues and for us at the County Council it’s a mixture of two heady things Devolution and Budget, now you know you are a local gov geek when you use the word ‘heady’ to describe what is essentially rather dry subjects however important both are to Suffolk.

For any Council deciding where to spend its funding in the coming year is its biggest decision.  The one that effects the quality of services it provides and importantly for our most vulnerable residents the quality of aspects of their lives. Thus, it’s the single biggest decision we have to make in our annual cycle.

Last week, Suffolk County Council Cabinet started the process of sharing each department thoughts on the budget they would require and the debate then starts that will take the next few months through to a Full Council meeting to debate and decide.

I try to work hard to get out there with our #WeAreListening events and I have lead more public consultation on things that are happening than the Council has ever undertaken, both in terms of surveys people can fill in on line, to town and village hall meetings. We have commissioned Ipsos Mori and others to provide the backbone to these events with statistically valid polling. Our desire to ask people what they think is critical to me as we have a number of tough decisions to make. But hey, let’s be clear, asking people is but one part of the decision making process, debate in the Conservative group is another, as is the debates at Full Council.  All are component parts into trying to make the right decisions. People often are not going to agree, but, we make the best decisions we can to serve the wider population of Suffolk and to make sure the organisation has the financial resources and capacity to deal with the often more hidden issue we have to deal with.

A couple of weeks ago, I did a sort of reply piece on Mark Murphy’s BBC Radio Suffolk show to address some political pot shots from the opposition about Care Homes and how they are funded and the extent to which SCC work with them for the good of residents that was on the day before’s show.  In essence, I provided context to oppositions Councillors comment that implied we provided all the places a few years ago and now we sold everything off to the private sector. What we actually did was bring in a private provider to provision the 9% of the Suffolk total number of beds we were the provider of.  But, beyond the political point scoring, it was a really good debate highlighting one of the many discreet services provided few people hear or know about, unless faced with such very tough and difficult choices.  As an adult there are few things more daunting than that of care provision for one’s parents and loved ones.

Often the debate is about roads and this year many of us will have seen the significant investment £10M we have made over and above our normal expenditure on the highways. Yet, few of us actually know which of our neighbours receive some form of care service support or hear about the discreet Children’s services to protect our young people from harm. Getting Mrs. Smith out of bed each morning and helping her wash and dress, those hundreds of care beds we provide for people who can’t afford to pay for them themselves and all of these services to the most vulnerable in our communities largely go unnoticed. But we all, me included love to moan about pot holes for its the universal services, our roads.

So over the coming months there will be the chance to have your say and for the Cabinet to set out its plans for the coming year’s budget and when you do, it is important to say what you would divert money from to address something else.   For these are the debates your Councillors will be having as well.

Devolution

National Local signpostLast week I had two principle things on my plate, seemingly in conflict but actually very similar in their principle regard.  Firstly I was in North Yorkshire to do a LGA Corporate Peer Challenge for North Yorkshire County Council, something I committed to before Christmas as a part of the role of LGA Leaders who help provide the LGA’s sector lead improvement work.  At the same time, I played my very active role in the final discussions on the first stage of Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Peterborough and Suffolk Devolution know in short hand as either CNPS or increasingly ‘East Anglia’.  For both there was many conversations, and complex papers to read and consider, and packed days of numerous meetings and teleconferences.

The devolution deal is embargoed until the Chancellor’s Budget speech and if announced, even then it is but a broad set of headings, a first stage in a process if you will.  I and others have been extremely clear that this ‘deal’ is a first stage. Some people always say ‘done deal’ but as we have seen from Manchester this is a process and journey.  Of course Manchester have, in reality, with the Greater Manchester Authority been on this journey for many years but we can learn from that and use it to inform us as we collectively across our communities, businesses and councils now have a period of real debate to refine and put the ‘flesh on the bone’ of what this means to us, and I am determined we will do this over the coming months.  Then and only then it will be debated by every council to be democratically backed, to move forward. But hey if councils don’t back it then that democracy in action either way.

For me that would be a great shame, for me Devolution has always been built on a simple premise I have long held. Whitehall is far too remote to understand the real issues in our communities and regarding such local and complex issues such as infrastructure, Housing and Health needs, so Whitehall does not, in my opinion, make really informed meaningful decisions.  There is rightly a role for Whitehall and Parliament in policy making and national issues such as Defence but when it comes to know where to invest to unlock Growth or how to organise such important things as Health and Social Care in a geography to make sure only those people who need to go to A&E actual do. These decisions are far, far better made at the local level by people who live and breath their area.

So as I interviewed Councillors, partner organisations and residents in North Yorkshire it struck me the similarity between the two things, here was I, not from the area trying to understand its complexities.  Yes, I hope the external prospective presented to their senior team on Friday, the private conversations with their senior figures and the report the team of us will now be writing up will be useful to them as they ponder the future, I certainly hope so given the hard work that went into it.  But they know their place as a level and complexity we could not hope to understand, they and their community are far, far better able to make decision for their community, just as we are for ours and that is why I think and am working for Devolution as the important next step for this country’s and our county’s delivery of Public Services.

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.

Stonewall Top 100

LGB&T SCC LogoGood news came reached me last Tuesday when I was informed that at an awards ceremony in London, Stonewall announced which organisations have been included in their Workplace Equality Index for 2016 and  Suffolk County Council was confirmed as having been  successful in maintaining a place in the Top 100 at position 78.  This represents a significant rise of 20 places compared to 2015 when Stonewall introduced more challenging criteria. Also congratulations are in order to Suffolk Police at position 15.

This success demonstrates Suffolk CC is a good place to work for LGB&T staff and that SCC makes efforts to ensure that staff across the organisation understand how to support their LGB&T colleagues.  Cllr Sarah Stamp, Cabinet Member for Communities and thus lead member for equalities and inclusion said: “I am delighted that Suffolk County Council is recognised as one of the Top 100 employers in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 2016.  This achievement acts as a demonstration of our ongoing commitment to support LGB&T staff across the organisation”.

Matt Woor, Chair of the Suffolk County Council LGB&T Staff Network said: “I am thrilled that Suffolk County Council has improved its position within the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.  Every year the work involved in making the top 100 gets harder, so it is fantastic that we have been able to rise to this challenge once again.”

I echo both comments, for some this seems a difficult subject area, but not for me, I believe that we are here in public life to protect our values, our heritage and that a tolerant, fair society is at the heart of our great county and I will do all I can in the time, I am involved in Public Life to promote this position in any of the organisations I am involved in.  Being a Stonewall Top 100 employer clearly demonstration the importance that Suffolk County Council places upon supporting LGB&T equality, both within its workforce and also within the wider community of Suffolk.

The Housing Crisis and how we might start to solve it

Elphicke-ReportLast Wednesday week I was in the Grand Committee room of the House of Common for the launch of the long awaited Elphicke-House Report ‘From statutory provider to housing delivery enabler: Review into the local authority role in housing supply’.

It’s an important report in that it was commissioned by the Treasury to look at the issue of how we as a country can build more houses from a local government’s role prospective and by that I don’t mean the usual planning policy prospective. how we as a country can and need to build more houses. Danny Alexander MP, The Finance Minister of State and Brandon Lewis MP the Local Government Minister of State for planning and housing, spoke at the launch and this gives you some idea of how seriously it is taken.

I had a particular interest in this report as I was asked to be one of its ‘expert witnesses’ essentially because I have some 30 years knowledge of the Housebuilding, land and planning sector but can also blend this with knowledge of local government across County and District council responsibilities and my more detailed knowledge of Adult Social Care and housing for older people, something I have led on in Suffolk with the two conferences I arranged on Housing for an Ageing population.

The report can be downloaded from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/398829/150126_LA_Housing_Review_Report_FINAL.pdf and if you have an interest in local government and housing delivery this is a must read.

It’s not a report about the planning system nor about money, both Natalie and Keith were clear about that as they introduced it. As Keith put it it’s about how Councils should be Housing Delivery Enablers not just a sausage machine for developers to get planning permissions.

In her introduction Natalie posed a really great question to the bankers and investment fund managers in the room ‘How many meetings would you attend before you gave up and went to a different use class of investment’ as they found that sometimes, before a brick is laid up to 300 meetings will take place and this needs to change.

The report itself draws on the innovative approaches and case study examples, from the a very wide range 15% to 20% of the councils who are active in this space and following this report hopefully others taking a central role as Housing Delivery Enablers, working collaboratively with partners across all sectors to increase the building of new homes that can support strong and prosperous communities.

It’s also great news that government has welcomed the report, and accepted its core recommendation that councils should become Housing Delivery Enablers. By being proactive in identifying housing need and opportunity, working with partners, and actively using their assets and knowledge to unlock housing opportunities, councils can and frankly should be at the heart of delivering more homes and building strong communities.
Government’s response can be viewed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/councils-can-enable-more-homes-to-be-built

Speaking in Northern Ireland

nimapA couple of weeks ago I was invited to be a speaker at a Conference just outside Belfast by the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA), called ‘Creative Service Delivery’ to an audience of Councillors and Officers from Northern Ireland’s Local Government community. Essentially to give a Councillor prospective on political leadership and real examples of what councils have done to innovatively reduce costs yet deliver better services by looking at ‘delivery in new ways – designing in customer services that continue to meet public’s needs within totally barren funding environments’. In short what I have tried to champion in Suffolk over the past few years. I travelled the afternoon before because the weather forecast for the day was for snow and indeed one of the other speaker’s attempts to get to the conference on the day, was dashed as planes were grounded due to the poor weather conditions. I was met at the airport by Derek McCallan Chief Executive of the NILGA who kindly took me to the conference hotel and joined me for dinner.

It was meant to be a quick supper and a short chat but as he explained all thing Northern Ireland local government politics and the differences to England’s local government arrangements the time just whizzed by and it was absolutely fascinating as I wrote page after page in my note book. One of the staggering facts we discussed was that the public sector accounts for about 65% of the total economy in Northern Ireland and the unique challenges this presents as Northern Ireland looks to continue its progress from its troubled past to a place of high value jobs in a wonderful part of the country.

At times we think English local government is in a state of flux but next day as I described the political leadership of the mutuals and companies created in Suffolk I also talked about the incredible change the audience were a part of and that ‘I took my hat off to them’ in the their desire to look at different approaches as their world was being reformed with 26 local councils becoming 11 in March this year and that for the first time planning decisions across the Provence were moving from an executive function with no councillors involved, which again staggered me!, to Development Control committees as we know them here.

On the platform with me was a Nigel Curthers, Senior Advisor for workforce policy and strategy at the LGA who gave a presentation on aspect of change management and we were meant to be joined by Richard Selwyn, Assistant Director Commissioning from Suffolk County Council giving a presentation entitled ‘Innovative Commissioning’ but he was the one snowed in. Essentially his presentation was going to be based on his book entitled ‘Outcomes & Efficiency’ which I read as I waited for my plane home later that day. It is certainly well worth a read if you are remotely interested in this area of councils reshaping and it can be downloaded from http://tinyurl.com/1f8o4p5 In his absence Derek, Nigel and I did an extended questions and answer session and in the discussion you could see the real commitment from the Councillors present to really think about the new councils that are about to happen on 31st March 2015 and how in this environment of less money how services can be delivered and reshaped as Northern Ireland progresses.

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