Two Bridges, One Suffolk

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On Friday I walked along the Ipswich Marina dockside and the sun was shining as I headed for the press announcement of the Architectural Practice we have appointed to Design the Upper Orwell Crossing in Ipswich…Foster + Partners who are one of the world’s foremost practices.  Who also have a wonderful track record in Ipswich having already designed the iconic Willis Building in 1975 that looks as if it was completed yesterday.

Earlier in the day I was ready about the press launch of the Lake Loathing Bridge announcement which was led by my colleague Guy McGregor.

These press events follow years of lobbying and hard work by Councillors and our great Local MPs Peter Aldous and Ben Gummer. The County has provided all the technical answers to the various questions and loops you must go through when obtaining funding and this has resulted in £73.39M from central Government for the Lowestoft bridge and £77.546M for the Ipswich bridges.  The County Council took a paper to Cabinet in May 2016 pledging the reminder of the monies £18.3M for the Lowestoft Bridge and about £19.1M for the Ipswich bridges.  Which demonstrated our commitment to these two exciting projects, both have different aims but both demonstrate Conservatives are committed to investing in our county’s infrastructure across Suffolk.

As you can see from the visuals the bridges will address the difficulty in getting about in Lowestoft and in Ipswich the bridges will open up significant high value employment land in a beautiful part of our County Town.

In the recent Annual Budget the Labour party proposed the spending of the general reserve over the next two years and then they would be eating into the very money allocated for these Bridge projects, their manifesto would cost so much that by the time the Council needed to contribute the sum we have promised there would be no money left with which to do so and we would have to borrow it!

So, imagine the irony when last week when Labour said the money is not there to build the Lake Loathing crossing in Lowestoft.  While I would not go as far to suggest this is “Fake News’, it would be fair to say the claim is entirely false. The funding required to complete Lake Loathing Third crossing is there and we are committed to ensuring the projects are completed. The shamelessness of the Corbynistas is just staggering.

My response to Labour’s comments was simple “The bridges will be build”.

And what I mean by that is, back in the real world, we have made a financial commitment to these two important projects in our County and if elected they will be built by a Conservative County Council.

Vote Conservative on 4th May.

Hard Choices

On 22nd April I blogged about the visits I and county officers made to the Care Homes across Suffolk that would directly be effected by our PFI Funding bid for three new state of the Art Care Homes we were planning to build; and the many great people, staff, carers and customers that we met.

Now that seems like an age ago and the KEEP CALM and CARRY ON attitude towards the finances of this country has rightly been replaced with a realism about the national debt and the need to get it under control.

But for us that means we have hard choices to make about the things we want to do and the things we can afford to do. Simply put we do not have the budget to carry on with the proposals.

At the Cabinet meeting Tuesday I presented a paper and reiterated an important principle, at an unprecedented time of change in local government, we must be prepared to take difficult decisions if we are to provide, value for money and maintain essential services to Suffolk taxpayers.

This is why one I proposed we take is stopping work to pursue a Public Finance Initiative project to create three new care homes in Suffolk.  In making that decision I thought long and hard about the potential missed opportunity but can clearly justify my thinking for three reasons:

  1. Our financial assessment showed that the project would cost the county council an additional £3m in the first five years. This is simply unaffordable in the current economic climate.
  2. The county council owns 17 care homes and operates 16 of them. While the PFI credits would have benefited part of our overall estate, replacing four of the homes with three new ones, we need to consider the homes estate as a whole. This should be within the wider context of a need to develop a range of services for older people to meet their changing expectations. Options must be affordable, sustainable, and most importantly be truly fit for purpose.  
  3.  Our care homes provide a range of services which are important for the wellbeing of many older people, but we cannot provide these services in isolation. As part of Suffolk’s Flexicare vision, we must ensure we are working with partners to consider the long-term needs for older people in Suffolk. This includes delivering better services in a climate in which a growing ageing population will push up demand for services and when people expect to be able to have more choice and control over the care and support they need.

That said at this time I believe it is more important for us to consider how we can work smarter and more effectively, by reviewing alternative options to meet the needs of all older people in the coming years. 

Our work to develop the PFI option included a period of consultation earlier this year, which produced valuable and insightful feedback from many people.

Just before I wrap up my blog and as I said on Tuesday in presenting the papers I would like to publicly thank everyone who took the time to send in their comments about the PFI proposals and in particular those good people who took the time to meet myself and the team as we presented the proposals to people living in Mildenhall, Haverhill and Lowestoft; and would like to reassure them that their feedback will most definitely influence my consideration of future proposals.

Visits to Care Homes to discuss New Homes

Over the past couple of weeks I have been visiting Care Homes in Mildenhall, Lowestoft and Haverhill.

The tour was to meet with the Customers, Families, Carers and Staff at each home that will be relocated to three brand new homes if our bid for £30M of PFI Credits is successful which will allow the County Council to build 3 new Care Homes in the county over the next 4 years.

At each home I and a small team of Officers went through what and why we are building new homes and was a great opportunity to hear and learn what residents and their families wanted from our outline proposals. If you were one of those who came along thank you for taking the time to come and listen to what I hope was helpful information about our proposals to build a fantastic new care home facilities as part of a round of investment of £30million pounds for older people in Suffolk.

These meetings were residents opportunity not only to find out more, but to ask questions and have your say on the proposals.

We took along a scale model that intentionally was not meant to be any sort of finished model but to demonstrate the concept about what we are thinking to achieve and it proved quite a talking point at each presentation.

The first question we tried to answer was why we were thinking of bulding new homes. All 16 of the County Council care homes in Suffolk are rated core either ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ according to the Care Quality Commission and the homes we visited were no exception.

I personally think this is both reassuring and points to the high standard of care for older people in Suffolk we currently and want to in the future provide.

However, we know that the demand for care will increase in future with a growing older population and more people who will have special care needs, particularly associated with dementia or memory difficulties and other issues.

We need to plan for this demand increase this means meeting the standards of excellence expected of care homes in the 21st Century, supported by research which shows that careful building design can be a tremendous aid to people’s health and wellbeing. We want to reflect this in our homes and meet the high expectations of the people we serve.

Of course, our main focus is to support people to live independent lives at home wherever possible, but when that is no longer achievable, we have a duty to ensure that we can provide the best care and support wherever people live.

So if the proposals go ahead, all the residents in the four homes we visited will be able to move into a new home in 2015 in their town, and we will help them prepare for the move well in advance and all along the way.

What we prosing will be cutting edge and what we actually mean by modern cutting edge is a home that in the background is efficient with modern kitchens and the best equipped bathrooms etc., but at the same time is designed as, you or I, would want it to be.

I think the danger when you here about a larger home is that you might think that it will be some large impersonal institution and that is absolutely not what it will be.

It will be design around small clusters of rooms to deliver a home within a home, warn, friendly, a place where residents will get to keep the friendships they have built up with their neighbours in their home and those who care for them.

We got lots of very useful and interesting feedback that will become an integral part of my thinking as we finalise our plans to bid for Government Money to build the new homes.

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