Monday 30 September 2013


This is a bit of a cut and paste, but it's important. Stoptober starts tomorrow. Most people who smoke want to stop - so why not join forces with loads of like minded people and try tomorrow:

What is Stoptober?

Stoptober is the 28-day national stop smoking challenge which is set to return following its launch in October 2012when more than a quarter of a million people nationallypledged to make a quit attempt, and over 160,000 successfully managed to quit. In Cambridgeshire approximately 800 people attempted to quit smoking during Stoptober last year, almost 200 more compared to October the previousyear. Evidence shows that stopping smoking for 28 days means that an individual is five times more likely to stop for good. Stoptober provides the opportunity for local stop smoking advice to be supported by a high-profile nationwide advertising campaign and aims to generate motivation and intention, making quitting more of a norm and to encourage people to collectively quit and support each other with their quit attempts. Stoptober is being supported by a number of nationwide organisations, companies and charities. Stoptober is calling upon people across the country to get behind the campaign and encourage as many smokers as possible to attempt to go smokefree for 28-days, from 1 October. In its second year, Stoptober is expected to be bigger and better than last year.

Stop smoking services

More people want to quit than make a quit attempt, with 68% of smokers reporting they’d like to stop, compared with 38% actually making a quit attempt. Stop smoking services, like Camquit, can assist smokers to make a successful quit attempt. Those living, or working, in Cambridgeshire whowant to stop smoking can access intensive support and advice from a trained advisor at Cambridgeshire’s local stop smoking service, Camquit. Camquit stop smoking advisors can provide smokers contemplating quitting, or ready to make a quit attempt, with expert advice on how to stop together with discussions about the best options when it comes to stop smoking medicines. Camquit are a team of professional advisors who understand that quitting is different for everyone. Advisors can arrange Nicotine ReplacementTherapies at prescription only cost and for those who don’t pay prescriptions these are free. They have extended open hours, including weekends and evenings, and hold clinics right across the county. Smokers are followed up for at least four weeks following the quit date to help them through the most difficult period. Those who attend Camquit can expect friendly and non-judgmental support from their stop smoking advisor. The first session lasts around 20 minutes, then follow-up sessions of around ten minutes in each of the following weekly sessions. Smokers who are supported through their quit attempt are up to four times more likely to be successful than if they try on their own.

For advice, information, and support making a quit attemptCamquit, Cambridgeshire’s local stop smoking service can be contacted on: 0800 018 4304 or referrals can be made on our website

Smokers can register with Stoptober at

Friday 27 September 2013

Life can be fun. Grafham Water Centre

I have had quite a difficult week this week, focussing on trying to get across a very difficult message about the tough situation Cambridgeshire is in financially because of massive reductions in Government grant.

So it was great to have a bit of light relief today when I visited the Grafham Water Centre to see the work they are doing providing outdoor and adventurous activities for young people. I have always loved what Grafham do, largely because I know how much good having fun in the outdoors can do for children's development. What surprised me today was how much they have moved forwards since my last visit; I particularly enjoyed hearing about the outreach work they are doing with schools.

Today, I think the plan was to put me on a RIB and motor around watching the children sail across the lake. I appreciate their flexibility, because I suggested I would much rather sail across with them so they found an instructor who sailed across the lake with me, they then (bravely) allowed me to sail back on my own. (I am no sailor, but it really wasn't that difficult).

Before today I never could have imagined you could put two 10 year old completely novice sailors in a boat with a minimum of training and get them to sail across a lake and back with very few problems; it provided a perfect example of the benefits children get from being stretched (of course they had back up from the instructors who were around all the time in the RIB's). I enjoyed the sailing today, but I got the most satisfaction from seeing the nervous faces (and tears in one case) of the children heading one way across the lake turn into smiles and laughter coming back. They then had even more fun having a massive splash-about in the water when they got back to the Centre.

I must finish by saying thanks to everyone at the Grafham Water Centre for looking after me this morning and, indeed, the amazing children who laughed their way through the whole morning while I was there (and of course their teachers).
Every Briton knows that it was really us that won the America's cup this week. It seemed a perfect time for me to spend a few hours pretending I was Ben Ainsley.
Photos to follow.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

No across the board salary reduction

I had a meeting with some of my cabinet colleagues at Cambridgeshire County Council today where we talked about the recent pay and conditions consultation that has been carried out to help meet the millions of pounds of savings we need to make. I was pleased to see that Cabinet colleagues who had been looking at the consultation results, talking to staff and investigating what happens in other Councils were in agreement. They felt we were right to look at these options but also, like me, agreed it was right not to look further at an across the board pay reduction

There will be an ongoing debate, including using arenas like Group Leaders to ensure that other political groups have their say, but I believe the final recommendations are highly unlikely to include a recommendation to reduce pay.

Cabinet have always wanted this to be a proper consultation and whilst, in light of the savings we have got to make next year, it was right to test the appetite for this measure, it is clear that staff do not want it, it is also clear that some other councils who have implemented similar measures have suffered recruitment and retention difficulties which affect their ability to deliver services (think of the implications, for example, on our ability to protect vulnerable children if we find staff leaving at a faster rate than we would like or if we were struggling to recruit).

I signalled this latter issue as a concern at the last Full Council meeting. It was also included in an email that I sent to the Chief Executive of the County Council on 29th August where I said:

" Another issue was raised with us about terms and conditions.  That is, to a degree, inevitable given that the consultation is happening.  One aspect raised was about the need for understanding of the wider circumstances that are affecting incomes, such as benefits cuts etc. etc. – things that are outside of our gift, but need to be considered.  It is interesting that this was linked to recruitment and retention – which you know was one of my concerns and correlates directly with what I was told by a leader of another authority a few days ago, who had been through a similar process, implemented a 2% cut and is now suffering a R&R problem with social workers as a result.  His advice was clear – don’t do it."

I have highlighted this email because it demonstrates that the Cabinet view is entirely based around the interests of the employees of the County Council who are our greatest asset, and because it shows that the line of thinking predates recent political spats about the behaviour of certain Councillors.

The financial pressures facing the Council mean that we still must deliver very significant budget savings so the review of other terms and conditions is on-going -as is consideration of other ways of saving money put forward by staff as part of the consultation.
To me, this is what politics should be about. Having a mature conversation and debate which sets out the problems and look at all the evidence before picking the best course ahead. These are difficult times and we have many difficult and challenging decisions to make to meet the tough savings required. but we aim to do this in a common sense way.
I hope that when staff see all of the formal recommendations around pay and conditions they will recognise that we have made active use of the consultation in coming to a conclusion.

Thursday 19 September 2013

Staff Pay Awards

The details of the pay awards for Cambridgeshire County Council employees have now been announced.  The agreement is for a 1% pay rise for the majority of staff, 0.8% for the middle management band and 0.5% for the most senior staff. 
It is interesting to see the conflicting pressures and views on this – our two biggest opposition political groups called for 0% for the top two tiers (albeit the Lib Dem member of the committee  voted at the committee just for 0% for the most senior management - more of which later) whereas the Unions called for 1% across the board – that suggests to me that the recommendation that Cabinet put to the Appointments and Remuneration Committee was probably about right.

I found the Liberal Democrat stance on this extraordinary.  The proposed pay rise went through our group leaders before the recommendation went forwards.  To be fair to the UKIP group, they were consistently opposed to a rise in the top two tiers – and they were the only group to oppose at group leaders.
So having nodded the change through at group leaders, imagine my surprise when all of a sudden the Lib Dems chose to release details of a confidential paper to the media and, in my view, blatantly lied. 

Their press release said this:
High-earning Cambridgeshire County Council officers could get a pay increase just weeks after the rest of the staff were told they face a pay cut and even possible redundancy.”

The Lib Dems know (they know because they tried to spin this before and had the truth pointed out to them) that if the reduction in salaries we are consulting on is implemented it will apply to absolutely all staff – so if the proposed reduction was combined with the pay rise which is 1% for the lower tier, 0.8% for the middle tier and 0.5% for the top tier, senior staff would face a bigger reduction (2.5%) than more junior staff (3%).  The Lib Dems have since spun this to talk about specific figures – but the basic truth is clear, if we went forwards with a salary reduction, senior staff would be hit hardest both in percentage and numerical terms (although it is worth pointing out for accuracy that the reduction would start next April whereas all the agreed pay rises will be backdated to April). 
Does this matter? It does for two reasons:
1. The electorate deserve to be told the truth; I want opposing groups to challenge when they think we have got it wrong and to put forward alternative arguments – but if they have to bend and twist the truth like this, then it helps no-one.  
2.  This particular deceit has the potential to drive a wedge between senior staff and the employees of the Council.  We have amazing staff who are facing tough times, they do not deserve to be lied to, things are tough enough financially in Cambridgeshire without this.
Next year there are elections taking place in Cambridge and in some of our Districts.  Ask yourselves this question – do you want to elect someone to power who is willing to mislead you in the way the Lib Dems have here?

The issue about salary reductions is being sold by some almost as a done deal; it is absolutely not the case.  The proposal is part of a wider review of pay and conditions which encompasses a number of options, we decided to include a possible 3% across the board reduction in salaries in light of the fact that we have £33m of savings to find for FY2014/2015; it was right to ask the question – but I made it clear at the last full council meeting that we had to be very mindful of the impact of such decisions on staff morale and on recruitment and retention - so we will listen to the voice of staff.  I have also consulted with a few other Council Leaders who have already made decisions to reduce salaries so I can get their views on the impact on their staff.  I, and my Cabinet colleagues, are waiting to see the responses from the consultation before we make any recommendations (and of course we will consult other political groups as well).  I am pretty sure that any final outcome will have a number of significant tweaks to what was consulted on, because I am determined that this should be a proper consultation and not tokenism.

For information, here are a few basic facts about salaries in Cambridgeshire:

1.    Government indicated to Council’s that it should challenge the ratio between the lowest paid council employees and the highest and if it was higher than 1:20 then it should do something about this.  Cambridgeshire’s ratio is well below this at 1:15.
2.    Cambridgeshire’s workforce has been reducing over recent years and this has included the senior leadership team; for example from our CLT team over the last 2 years we have seen a reduction in the number of Executive and Service Directors, which has resulted in 15% less capacity and equivalent reduction in cost of over £300,000 per annum.     
3.    The pay increases announced were not just concerned with Directors and senior managers, in fact these were the minor number - it included over 1,000 of our employees that deliver services to our communities on a daily basis – senior social workers, children’s centre managers, engineers, education advisers; senior professionals/managers whose average salary is 36k.
A final point, we could of course have given absolutely nothing to our most senior managers, and some would say they can afford it.  However – we do have a duty to ensure that we keep the best staff in Cambridgeshire.  The Leader of the UKIP group has challenged whether there is a real issue here – in fact he said on the radio:

“At the end of the day it’s a captured market. So these executives move from council to council, constantly raising the costs, and claiming that they’d earn twice the money if they were out in the public sector.”
The accuracy of that comment will unravel in the next few weeks.  But the truth is that our Strategic Directors are responsible for budgets that can run into hundreds of millions of pounds, they run services that keep children and vulnerable adults safe and are responsible for leveraging millions of pounds into the County Council’s coffers – so I want the best people in Cambridgeshire because 2nd best means less safe people and less money coming in from outside sources; our view was that the differential pay rise sends a message that we recognise the value and the great work that all of our staff do from the top to the bottom of the organisation whilst providing some balance.

UPDATE:   The news was released late last week that one of our Strategic Directors is moving to take up a Directorship in Royal Mail - this means that the last two Directors to leave the employ of Cambridgeshire County Council have not moved from "council to council" - which is the claim made by UKIP.

Which Cambridgeshire Councillor said this about Cambridge..

"Cambridge doesn’t sell anything that’s bulky. People come here, people whisper in their ears, they tell them stories, they tell them facts, they tell them fairytales. They teach them to speak English. Off they go again, no packaging, no transport, nothing, they do it…and if they forget it, it is their fault they’re stupid"

(think purple)