Suffolk Conservative’s Training Day

2014_10_11 Suffolk Conservatives Training DayOn Saturday Conservative Candidates from across Suffolk gathered in Stowmarket for a training day called the Road to 2015, looking at how to campaign in the local election and the general elections on the same day.

I kicked off the proceedings and spoke for 30 minutes about social media and a few reflections on what I think it is, what I think it isn’t and some of the things I have learnt over the past couple of years as I’ve dipped my toe in the water of the subject. At the start we did a short session about what people see as the advantage and disadvantages of social media. I then talked about the Facebook discussions that raged late last year as the Trustees of the Lakenheath Residential Care Home took the difficult decision to close it doors. We discussed twitter, blogs, ‘up my street’ and the many other ways to use social media to engage with residents and build networks as you work to get my message across.

Next up we heard from Richard from the CCA about canvassing and how to engage with people on the door step, later we heard from Paul from CCHQ about the software updates we would be getting shortly to help us in our canvassing and campaigning. And in between them we heard from Ben Gummer MP who spoke about that very morning’s canvass in Ipswich and the campaign he was engaged in, Vicky Ford MEP spoke about her reflections on may’s Euro Elections and the Clacton By-Election and then we had a flying visit from the Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate in North Norfolk Ann Steward about her campaign to give North Norfolk the kind of local representation it deserves and how she is going about winning back voters and unseating the lib dems Norman Lamb.

A meeting with Norman Lamb

The week before last at the LGA Community Wellbeing Board it started with a workshop session in the morning and the formal board meeting in the afternoon. First up was Norman Lamb MP, Minister of State for Care Services, talking about all things social care and the slow road to integration.

Much is written about this journey and along with his predecessor Paul Bristow MP between them and taking on-board the least controversial aspect of Andrew Lansley’s NHS reforms namely Health and Well Being Boards, between them this government has done more to travel along the journey of making a National Wellness service that the previous 13 years of labour mismanagement of government.

We discussed at length the Care Act Implementation and the cost modelling to date which indicated that we need additional monies as it places additional burdens over and above the modest sums the government is providing. But hey an age old issue, Nations Policy implementation lack of money provided to provide but with the added pageant of the cuts agenda at Suffolk and across the county the very sustainability of local government is now beginning to be a real discussion.

New Parliamentary Candidate for North Norfolk

After the Full Council meeting last Friday week I headed off to Sheringham some 63 miles away, 2 hours and 15 minutes later I arrived and of course it’s after journeys like that, I thought to myself whilst I occasionally moan about the A14, you certainly notice the rural nature of Norfolk and Suffolk when you have to use the other roads!

I was there to officiate at the North Norfolk Conservative Prospective parliamentary hustings, officiate is a posh way of saying count the votes for each of the candidates. The event took place in the wonderful new Community Centre built by Tesco’s money when they eventually landed a store in Sheringham after 10 years of trying and much opposition. I was taken back to business meetings I had in a work capacity more about 10 years ago when one of the PR company I commissioned in Norwich was on one side of the argument or the other either promoting the Tesco’s store or working for a rival supermarket chain already in the seaside town trying to stop them in their tracks. I can’t remember which side they were working for but I do remember the community engagement strategy.

Anyway I digress, in a packed room 3 candidates answered a series of set questions and open ones from the floor before the member of the Association voted. The short list was 3 excellent women with 2 of them being local to Norfolk and the other local to East Anglia and all of them Councillors. As they presented, myself and other assembled party hacks at the back pondered who won the day in terms of their performance and would they win. It was of course another opportunity to reflect on the thing called leadership, the qualities of each candidate and what the people in the room were looking for in a candidate to take the Conservative fight to Norman Lamb MP. As it was it was one of my former political oppos on Norfolk County Council and current Breckland District Councillor the excellent Ann Steward won the day. I’ve known Ann for a number of years and know she’ll work very hard to overturn Norman Lamb’s majority and return North Norfolk to its rightful blue colour on the map.

Abuse at another Care Home

Like many people on Wednesday I listened to the various commentary ahead of the evening’s Panorama programme about abuse at a Care Home in Essex and so was to some extent, ready for what I watched. However even after far too many of this type of report, I was shocked at the disgusting lack of human kindness shown by some care workers at the home in Essex.

Over the past few years I have had the privilege to be, at least politically, involved in the world of care homes and have in my time, previously in the role of Cabinet Member for Adult Care at Suffolk and more recently as a member of the LGA National Board for Community and Wellbeing learnt a great deal about domiciliary and residential care standards and their implementation.

I have sat down at length with successive Care Ministers and most recently with Norman Lamb MP and I know we all share the same frustration, in that how through National Policy, national policing of standards through the CQC, an open culture through top tier authorities prioritising and funding a robust Adult Safeguarding Board and it’s processes, through to the culture of the Care Home providers in an area showing real leadership. An integral part of this is the role of the local authority local authority paying a sufficient rate for a care bed and importantly providing the public thought timely and un-bias useful information, enough advice for the 60% of the market who make their own arrangements to avoid and thus ‘starve out’ poor providers, encouraging the good providers to flourish.

In Suffolk the County Council actually ‘buys’ some 40% of the total number of care beds in the system for those who do not have the means to pay for residential care for themselves. Over a 4 year period I got to know a large number of the providers through chairing the joint meetings between the County Council and the Suffolk Association of Independent Care Providers and helping to facility workshops and conferences with them over that period. I also came to have a good understanding of the market and its financial drivers as I lead the 18 month process Suffolk went through with my determination to deal with the problem successive administrations and previous Cabinet Members has not dealt with, namely the last 16 of Suffolk’s residential care homes and our eventually decision to transfer to Care UK who are currently working through a programme of £60 million of investment in 10 new state of the art homes.

In terms of the local authorities whilst they must not waste the public purse they must make sure they pays a rate for the beds they buy that allows appropriate staffing levels to be maintained.

There is across the system an ever increasing pressure on budgets and as I exit the Suffolk’s County Council cabinet, I am absolutely determined that those in the cabinet are acutely aware of their duty to those vulnerable members in our community that we must maintain adequate funding to look after people and as I suspect thinks do come down to the crunch it is not about defending departments budgets but to stop doing things that do not matter and focus on those things that do, such as funding care and making sure the authority has the capacity to react to such shocking stories as seen last night, if they were to occur in Suffolk.

Much is said about care worker pay rates and the private market operation of care homes and actual profit. But in my understanding of the national picture abuse is not limited to purely private sector homes. You only have to look at the Francis Report on abuse at Mid Staffs Hospital Trust, a more public sector organisation you could not wish to find, yet right out in the open, not even behind the closed doors of a Residential Care Homes abuse was happening.

Also it is often said or implied that because private providers seek to make a profit they pay badly and this can lead to abuse. I would contest this based on my actual experience working with different providers seeking to take over Suffolk County Councils 16 care homes. The market is investing vast tracks of money, just look at the £60m we achieved being invested in Suffolk and that was one smallish deal. Such levels of investment and long term approach to their business model requires a high standard of care so that partners such as Suffolk do not break the relationship, equally listed companies can be devalued by such reputation damage and so the good providers are intently focused on maintaining a high standard of care precisely because they want to make long term sustainable profits.

What is also clear is that for all the above, for all the regulation, making sure pay rates are sufficient both in terms of bed rates and pay for care workers and every other thing that Leadership can effect, I would say that personal responsibility must play a part and the care workers who indulged themselves in such shocking behaviour and I use the right word for such a lack of basic human kindness is a self-indulgence in not behaving appropriate, should be utterly ashamed of themselves and frankly should receive a tariff based ban from working with vulnerable people. We must all work to stamp this out.

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