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.

Suffolk Circle update

Just had an email from Belinda Bell the Chief Executive of Suffolk Circle updating me on their good progress.

She like me has been disappointed at the recent letter in the press accusing me and SCC of empire building with the creation of the Suffolk Circle; this comment is slightly odd in that what Suffolk County Council are funding is the opposite to empire building as the Suffolk Circle is not an in-house council run service, which could conceivably be called empire building, but surely by helping to create something different in Suffolk by funding a third sector separate community interest company to deliver a service that is entirely separate to the County Council cannot be empire building.

To me the whole point of the New Strategic Direction is the reverse of empire building it is about saying that the private companies, community group, charities can run services just as effectively and in some cases better than a Council , then why not. And if they can provide it at a lower cost than in house then that saving can be used to shield the people of Suffolk from further cuts; to my mind that has to be good news.

Anyway I digress, the Circle has now held successful prototyping exercise in six villages completed and run five social events with over 25 people involved as members/helpers. I appreciate there are those who will refer to the investment but every journey starts with a single step and the investment is over three years.

Importantly they have also held initial meetings or scheduled with Age UK Suffolk, Suffolk Family Carers, SAVO, Bury Volunteer Bureaux, ICVS as well as many more local organisations and individuals.

The Web site is also up and running at www.suffolkcircle.org.uk please go and have a look; or better still pop along to the official launch event which will be held on 12th Feb at the arc, in Bury, with a range of singing, dancing, learning, and more.

I shall pop along to see what the offer is and will be encouraging my parents to join.

Here I could have written a few pages about the Suffolk Circle and how it fits into the overall offer we are trying to build up with our third sector partners but I am minded of the my New Year’s resolution to keep my blogs shorter.

The Mark Murphy Show

Today I was interviewed on Mark Murphy’s show ahead of the BBC One Panorama Programme with Dame Joan Bakewell tonight, talking about our aging population, who is going to pay for their care and some of the initiative ways people are taking care of themselves.

Tonight they will discuss the national figures and I suspect it will make for worrying reading, in Suffolk what we know is that today there are 715,000 people living here, 140,000 some 19% are aged over 65; 40,000 6% of us are aged over 80. Today 10,000 people live with dementia Suffolk.

By 2015 the number of people aged over 65 will have increased to 169,000, rising to 211,000 by 2025 – an increase of 50%; the number of people aged over 80 will have increased to 46,500 rising to 67,000 by 2025 – an increase of 63% and by 2015 the number of people with dementia will have increased to 11,700 rising to 16,000 by 2025 – an increase of 60%.

It is too easy to think we face an overwhelming challenge, but as I said to Mark with all of this in mind we are working hard to work out ways Suffolk can be at the forefront of aging well.

If we are to succeed, we must make essential changes that could amount to revolutionising the way in which we offer care and support to Suffolk’s older people in future.

To start with Suffolk County Council has to change, last September we launched the New Strategic Direction because despite the then Labour Government saying KEEP CLAM and CARRY ON, we knew cuts and big ones at that were coming our way at a time when we also know we need to do something radical to address our aging population.

Different Councils are starting to talk about how they are going to deal with the coming cuts many are talking about becoming more efficient which whilst we will continue to be more efficient we know that other Councils have not been on the sort of efficiency journey we have been on since the Conservatives took control of the Council in 2005, we have saved over £60M of operational costs and are now rated as the second most cost efficient County Council in England and so we cannot find the savings that way.

That’s why we are changing through the New Strategic Direction vision.

That’s why we have launched Suffolk Flexicare which is about all local public services and providers looking at our whole care structure from housing to health care with all of Suffolk’s public bodies engaged in this work.

That’s why we are launching Suffolk Circle to change people’s perception of help and networking, support not charity.

That’s why we are working on new ways for our strong third sector, charities, community groups and social enterprises to be empowered to delivery services.

Beyond the national debate about how we pay for care for our aging population, beyond the demographics, we are determined that Suffolk shall be at the front of changing the perception of getting older and of caring.

Maybe just maybe tonight the programme will touch on the very embryonic thoughts about the value of caring, not just the unbelievable difference you can make to the life of another person whether they be your partner or parents but to the economic success of the country. In Suffolk there are 98,000 carers and if they stopped caring tomorrow the county care services would collapse, conversations about how we as a nation value that care is really important, conversations are just starting up around this and I hope the Royal Commission takes this debate on board.

I hope tonight’s programme picks up on the first conversations around, how we as a nation, value carers and encourage caring for another as a worthwhile profession; in short, how do we recognise that without making payment which we simply cannot afford.

Professor Heniz Wolff calls it care4care and we are very keen on this debate, its very very early days but we are working on it , so you heard it here first, Suffolk care4care, as with all the very best thinking we are determined that Suffolk should and will be at the forefront of such things. 

But what is care4care well it’s the theory that for every hour you spend caring for another, whoever that is, you bank that hour and one day if you need care yourself you can cash it and another person provides the care you need for free in the knowledge that they are banking that hour as well; and because everyone is giving of their time freely it cost the county nothing beyond the administration. Sounds simple, but is in fact full of if’s, but’s, and maybe’s that make it a very complex thing indeed, but we are working on it.

So, there you have it in a nutshell, Suffolk has an aging population and is getting less and less funding from Central Government to deal with it; but we are working on it, with Suffolk’s New Stratergic Direction; with Suffolk Flexicare; with Suffolk Circle; with Suffolk’s care providers and the third sector and long-term with all of us here in Suffolk working towards the Bigger Society David Cameron is talking about nationally and that’s what I told Mark Murphy this morning.

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