Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Fenland Discussions at County Council

At Cambs County Council Cabinet meeting this morning we had some very serious discussions about Fenland.  The first one was to agree to underwriting some of Fenland District Council's cost for the proposed new College of  West Anglia facility.  The County Council's approach to this is really important, not least because it proves its commitment to education in Fenland.  Something that is also shown by the way we fought to keep Building Schools for the Future in Fenland and have supported Thomas Clarkson Community College on its journey of improvement, both of which I was actively involved in as Lead Member for Children in the years running up to May 2011.

The next debate was about the issues highlighted by the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (which is, largely, a set of data that highlights Helath and Wellbeing outcomes across the County) and shows Fenland to be the area of highest Multiple Deprivation in the County.   Cllr Sales, a Labour Councillor for whom I have huge respect, chose to use the opportunity to suggest that the evidence shows a County Council failing.

I think his approach is misguided and, actually, a shame.  Whilst it is wrong to deny the existence of deprivation, and wrong to deny there is much more to do, the truth is that turning round areas of multiple deprivation takes a considerable amount of time, not least because it needs cultural change from deep within communities.  It is already clear that we have made a start.  Nationally, the Government have made huge changes to the way Public Health and Health and Wellbeing works, which allow us to take the sort of holistic preventative approach to communities that is needed at ground level, they have also introduce the Pupil Premium, which means additional funding for students from deprived backgrounds.  The County have taken a real proactive approach to schools and our Superfast Broadband policy has potential to benefit rural Fenland more than any other area of the County.  The investment in COWA (as already discussed) is the County Council investing its own money when the previous Labour Government chose to unilaterally withdraw from its commitment to fund the proposed March premises.  We invest in parenting support in Fenland to stop children going into care by working proactively with difficult families and have set priorities for the new County Wide Health and Wellbeing board that are directly related to the issues Fenland faces.

The truth is, turning around areas of deprivation takes time, but as long as I have been a County Councillor, the issues in Fenland have been a priority, there is also no doubt that the top down methodology of the previous 13 years of Labour Government have inhibited our ability to deliver, in a way that is a direct contrast to the localism agenda and an exciting new approach to managing the way Health and Wellbeing works.  We are further aided in this in Cambridgeshire by having GPs who are striving to work with us on this sort of thinking.

I want to give Paul Sales something to think about.  Where were his Fenland colleagues when the Labour Government were denying us funding?  They almost completely vanished when times were tough for Labour in Fenland, only to reappear when they thought there was potential for rich electoral pickings after the change in Government; some of them re-emerging as independent candidates to maximise their electoral opportunities.  As Conservatives we are lobbying this Government to get the case for Fenland across; his Labour colleagues should have been showing genuine support for the communities they want to serve, by lobbying and striving for a better deal from their Government.

Let's not also forget, Fenland is still a great place to live.  Core services are good, the countryside around us is magnificent, it is full of people with real heart and there are some real signs of good stuff happening.  So whilst there are serious struggles to overcome some real problems, we should not let anyone portray a total sense of gloom - but I suspect that might be Labour's latest strategy for the area.

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