Friday 24 February 2012

Review of Allowances

There has been some media and twitter comment about the latest review of Councillors' Allowances at Cambridgeshire County Council (note the way I conveniently skip past the previous disaster!!), this review is something that Councils are obliged to do, the Cambridgeshire one is years overdue. There is a public meeting about the review next Monday at Anglia Ruskin University.

The panel will take into account the workload and responsibility of Councillors and how our rates compare to others, it will also take into account current economic circumstances.

Once the panel's recommendations are made County Councillors will have to vote on whether to adopt them or not.

I am putting this blog post here to repeat my previous view and my intention.  Whatever the outcomes of that review, my vote will be to support its recommendations.  MPs no longer vote on their salaries, yet have kept a scheme in place that makes Councillors vote on their allowances - if they know it is not right for them, they should not force it on us.  I am therefore not going to play any games and I am declaring my intention now, which is not to intervene in the decisions of the independent panel and therefore to accept whatever it recommends.

Just to reiterate the point, when Fenland District Council voted on the review, Councillors chose to amend the proposed scheme.  As a result of this, I chose to abstain from the vote.  I have also voted in support of a successful motion at Cambridgeshire County Council calling on the Government to change this ludicrous system.

Thursday 23 February 2012

How independent was he?

The Lib Dems chose not to oppose Mark Archer at last year's Fenland elections to give him a free run as an independent against the Conservative candidate. He ran a campaign where he described himself as "fiercely independent" and after the election thanked the residents of Manea and described them as "independently minded".

A short year after being given a free ride by the Lib Dems, he has chosen to join a new political group- at Fenland called "the Lib Dem Alliance". The residents of Manea have every right to question whether they were conned a year ago.

During last year's elections I wrote a blog about the dangers of voting independent which was used by the Cambs Times.  That article concluded with the comment:
"So, my message is this - unless you really, really know what you are voting for and who you are voting for, be very cautious about voting independent; independence may not offer the benefits you think it does."
I think my views back then have been somewhat vindicated.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Budget and Council Tax Rise Agreed and I was nice to some Lib Dems

We had our budget debate at Cambridgeshire County Council earlier this week.  It is normally one of our livelier meetings and certainly was not without controversy.  Surprisingly, one of the least contentious issue was about the Council Tax rise, with broad support for the decision to go for an increase of 2.95% and reject the Pickles Promise.  I have raised this before on my blog, so I don't propose to go back over it.

The Lib Dems were broadly supportive of our Council Tax rise and had (as usual)  managed to miraculously magic money to spray around like confetti on their pet projects.  In fact a major part of that money was £28m they would take away from the development of Northstowe (which is effectively a new Town proposed to the North West of Cambridge).  This money would not stop Northstowe happening and was effectively an investment that gave us a greater say in how the development happen; it should come back into the Council coffers at a later date. One of my criticisms of politicians is that they often fail to learn from the mistakes of the past - one of those mistakes from a Cambridgeshire perspective is that when we developed Cambourne there was a failure to deliver community infrastructure early in the project so people arrived without an easy way of building communities, something that caused significant social problems. In proposing to cut this funding the Lib Dems are in danger of saying they are willing to repeat the same mistake.

From a Whittlesey and Fenland perspective Councillor Alan Melton, the Leader of FDC stood up and reminded Cambridgeshire of the priority that the A605 Whittlesey bypass was and how important it is to economic development for the whole of Fenland.

In some ways my own Cabinet Portfolio got a bit of a rough ride. Not because of the ambition and vision that I outlined for Adult Services.  In fact two of the Lib Dems talked about the sort of need for change that I have been espousing for some time - and I thanked them for that, but because the scrutiny committee  report presented to Full Council about Adult Services expressed some cynicism about the budget. I have no issue with that, the history of Adult Services budget is not good, so some concern is to be expected.  However, I did point out that circumstances are different, that there is a renewed drive for change, but also that we had used the Council Tax increase to invest an additional £12m over three years into the budget to help deal with past problems and make sure we had the space to invest in prevention and transformation.  

What was interesting for me was that the Lib Dems were able to stand up and point to that scrutiny report, but not one of them was able to say that their budget identified the solution.  Adult Services is 40% of the Council's spend, yet the Liberal Democrats had put virtually nothing into it from the millions they claimed to have identified for investment - probably because investing in Adult Services was not a headline grabber.  I made that point at the meeting and the body language from the opposition benches showed that they knew I was right (heads down, furtive sideways glances - that sort of thing).

One of the more controversial aspects of the day was a vote to curtail the debate on the Lib Dem alternative budget and to have it put to the vote early,  I supported that vote after listening to some of the comments from my colleagues, but with hindsight I am not sure it was the right thing to do.  There is a danger that those sorts of votes create the headlines, when actually they should be about the budget and what was, for the most, an extremely healthy debate.  That said, we were at a point where we had spent some 6 hours talking about the budget ,a sizable proportion of which was spent on the Lib Dem proposals.

Despite the 2.95% Council Tax rise, it needs to be said that savings still have to be made in the next financial year - including in Adult Services (which will still have a tough year). It is my belief that the money we are able to generate from having a higher Council Tax rise minimises the impct of those cuts, but also that it provides scope for necessary capital investment that will drive the County forwards. As a Fenland resident, it is probably the superfast broadband project, the investment on the College of West Anglia site and the completion of our Building Schools for the Future programme that I am looking forward to most - but there is something in there for the whole County.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

The annual undeliverable alternative budget

Cambridgeshire Lib Dems published their alternative budget yesterday.  It was, as ever, an attempt to be all things to all people.  It takes money from the Northstowe development - which it also vaguely claims the Lib Dems support, and then does the usual thing of trying to deliver all things to all people.  Yet, it doesn't.  Interestingly I have real doubts about whether whether the Lib Dems are able to do what they want to do - and more importantly, I suspect there would be a huge legal challenge from developers if they did.

In terms of my Cabinet portrfolio, there are just two references to the Adult Services budget that I can find.  The first is this quote

"We would implement a plan to responsibly manage Adult Care, instead of helter skelter budgeting that has demoralised staff and service-users alike and resulted in a 25% to cut in care levels mid-year."

Yet - they make no mention of what that plan is or how they would cost it - and offer no new money to the overall budget.  It ignores the vision that myself and Officers have been discussing over recent months - often quite publicly, including on radio interviews and elsewhere and simply makes a statement that is, at best, a stretch of reality.  The 25% cut they mention, was planned well in advance, but much of it was implemented mid-year so we could ensure it was properly planned and managed so that it minimised impact - which is why, to date, we have had little complaint about it.  And it was for only part of the Adult Services budget.  The statement about staff morale is fatuous rubbish.  I have been astonished by how well staff in Adult Services have reacted to the challenge that has been put to them about delivering change.

Adult Services faces big problems, such as a forecast 37% increase in the number of over 65s in the County over the next ten years.  Of course, that is a good thing because it comes about largely because people are living longer, but it creates big pressures on our future budget.  This statement from the Lib Dems is irresponsible because it is not coupled with any sort of articulation of how they would solve the issues.  In contrast, I have been clear at scrutiny meetings and elsewhere that we have to change - to be more integrated, do prevention better to stop people needing our services and to transform the way we work.

The second statement is this (which is contained in a section called communities and the elderly):

"Line 50 enabling better dementia care (£830 thousand over 5 years)

At present the Lead Mental Health GP's current business case for training dementia care staff in homes cannot get passed because there is no ring-fenced budget for training. This means that essential training cannot get done despite the CCC's supposed commitment to our dementia review and to the mental health strategy paper, where training was emphasised.  If you have trained personnel rather than untrained you are likely to get better clinical and therefore cost outcomes."

The first point on this is to highlight that the Lib Dems are so desperate for credibility that they have claimed that a dementia report from one of the County Council's independent, all-party scrutiny committees as theirs (they didn't like me raising this at scrutiny today!!).   One of the people that has been most committed to mental health issues is one of our Labour Councillors, he deserves credit for his commitment and challenge in this area is due an apology.  Secondly, we have absolutely endorsed the recommendations in both the scrutiny report and the NHS paper.  Indeed at the Cabinet meeting where we provided that support, I made the point that it was improved knowledge and training for dementia across the board that was needed and not just amongst one section of people.  So their statement is much more limited in ambition than what we have already endorsed.  Thirdly, whilst dementia is more prevalent amongst older people, it is certainly not just an older people's illness, the fact that they have clearly labelled it as such is yet another indicator of their total lack of understanding of the adult services arena (probably because they sacked the Lib Dem with the most knowledge of Health issues from their front bench).

No doubt the Lib Dems will criticise the Adult Services budget and claim we won't deliver it - when they do they need to explain why it is that they have not offered any alternative or additional funding when they have chosen to spray unavailable money like confetti around almost every other area of council spend.

The Adult Services budget is about 40% of the Councils total spend - this year's budget is about £157m.  In the past it has proven very difficult to balance - which is one of the reasons we are focusing on transormation.  The Lib Dems have made just two references to it in their proposals; one is a generic catch-all statement that lacks detail, vision or credibility, and the other lacks the ambition of the Conservatives and shows severe shortcomings in their knowledge of the Adult Services function.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Which do you prefer..?

So, who do you think is best to make decisions about what is best for patients:

1.  GPs who are seeing patients day-in day-out
2.  Bureaucrats

What is the best option for a failing NHS service:

1.  Keep NHS doctors and nurses and bring in some proven commercial management with a record of providing innovative dynamic management to turn the service around.
2.  Closure and end of provision.
3.  Keep throwing good money after bad.

Of course the answer to both questions from the vast majority of people would be option 1 for both questions. So why all the fuss about Andrew Lansley's NHS changes?

I accept this is very simplistic.  But it does give some necessary down to earth focus on what the proposed changes mean.