Archive for June, 2013

The week the sun shone on the very best of Norfolk!

Let’s be honest for a second here, it isn’t very often in Norfolk that we are blessed with 2 consecutive days of sunshine and if we do, it is even more unlikely to coincide with the Royal Norfolk Show; well guess what… it happened.

I was at the Show yesterday and although I was adamant all week that I was only going to go “weather permitting” I’m glad I kept the day in the diary! It was simply stunning; the weather, the people, the stands. It was good to go into the Norfolk County Council tent which was a hype of activity all day and I should imagine is the same today. There were plenty of interactive stalls in there, one of which was “Guess the Budget” where members of the public were invited to fill a template of a pie chart to guess how County Council spending was allocated between departments. Initially, I was hesitant to take part (just think of the embarrassment) but in the end I gave in and although I was mostly correct, I decreased the Finance Budget and increased Cultural Services (there’s less than 5% between them, surely I can be forgiven?)! A huge Well Done must go to the staff of the County Council who manned the stalls for two days in what soon became a rather warm tent!

Meanwhile in London the Chancellor (after his burger) was unveiling the latest Spending Round. There’s no dressing it up, it was harsh for Local Government taking a 10% cut. It is unclear (at least to me) what exactly this means for Norfolk County Council in terms of figures, I expect it to unravel (as these things always do) in the next few days. I am off to the Local Government Association Conference in Manchester next week so no doubt will learn more then.

One thing that I was pleased about (I’m a glass half full type of guy) was the three year extension of the Council Tax freeze grant which I will be urging the administration at County Hall to take advantage of as I know of the pressure that there is on household bills from elsewhere.

Have a good weekend.

Not such a weekly blog…

So if you look down this page at my first post, I questioned if I would manage to keep into a routine of a “weekly” blog and how long it would last (I probably subconsciously admitted defeat before I started). However, I (partly) blame the fact that I managed to get abroad last week, I was in Turkey, where the weather ranged from 32 to a scorching (literally) 46 degrees!

Before I went away, I attended the first Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Panel of the new Council. It was slightly strange for me attending that meeting as I was formally Deputy Cabinet Member for Childrens Services and attended that meeting to be scrutinised whereas now I am the scrutiniser. Mind you, having done the previous role I am aware of actually how effective and helpful scrutiny can be, and I aim therefore to provide helpful challenge to the current administration for the benefit of the Children of Norfolk. The meeting did not have the meatiest of agendas (as often with the first meeting) but members did have the opportunity to put forward items for future scrutiny where I suggested that we look at the Children’s and Families Bill which is currently going through Parliament and will need work in Norfolk to prepare for it’s implementation before it becomes law (expected to be around September 2014). One of my concerns for Norfolk (which I highlighted at the panel) is the requirement of the bill to offer a “local offer” to disabled children. To try and explain this basically, in future if you have a disabled child in Norfolk the Local Offer will detail the service you can expect to receive; this will involve the County Council, NHS Services, individual schools, and voluntary sector organisations. This is a incredible leap forward in government thinking in services for disabled children, the challenge between now and summer 2014 is to get all those heads round the table and agreeing. I believe by bringing this to the O&S panel it will highlight it to thee administration to give it the importance it deserves (as we’ll only have one chance to get it right).

Also, what surprised me about the meeting of the Children’s Services O&S Panel was despite UKIPs vocal concerns over the departments challenges in safeguarding and the future of the Director in particular not one of their members asked a question or even speak! This lunchtime after considerable pressure Lisa Christensen has announced her decision to take early retirement which I think was a difficult but the right decision. My fear was that she would be seen as a scapegoat; the department has to undergo a major shift in culture in the next 18 months and I hope that the administration recognises that although Ms Christensen takes ultimate responsibility it is a long road ahead!

Last Monday, I was away for the much anticipated full council meeting on the proposed Energy from Waste plant in Kings Lynn. Now I could write (and probably will in the future) write a whole blogpost about this; but we are where we are. Monday morning I was following proceedings on Radio Norfolk and was relieved to hear that the Council postponed any debate until the Secretary of State’s decision on the planning enquiry as I think this is the right way forward for the Council to take. I am pleased that all members will get the chance to debate the proposals.

Finally, yesterday I was a book in a Human Library event at Acle Academy! What is a Human Library I hear you ask! Well, the aim of the events are to combat prejudice that you may have. My book is called “Young Man with Cerebral Palsy” for example and people can “book me out” and I talk and answer questions on my life. I’ve done it many times before, but this was the first time in a school with children aged 15/16. It was a enormous success with 31 books on offer from “Lesbian in the RAF”, “Burns Victim”, to “A Jewish man in Nazi Germany”. The questions yesterday were tough, but lead to enlightening conversations and wouldn’t have been such a success without the dedication of the staff of Acle Academy. More information at www.humanlibrary.org and if you ever get a chance, defiantly worth a browse!

Have a good weekend.

Calm before the (rest of the) storm?

If you’ve ever been in the middle of a storm and all of a sudden there is stillness, but you have a suspecting feeling that it is soon to whip up again unexpectedly; this is what this week has felt like.

After George Nobbs was elected Leader of the Council last Friday we had the long bank holiday weekend anxiously awaiting the announcements of his Cabinet – which came on Tuesday. I was now going to write “No real surprises”; but after the last month, nothing really surprises me anymore. As speculated, UKIP (despite being the second largest party on the Counci)l has no Cabinet positions. Whilst their own leader, Toby Cooke, has said that they want to take a “back seat” you’d have thought that they as a group would want some control for what they had a major part in creating. The danger is that when the administration is challaged they say “nothing to do with us” despite electing the Cabinet who are making the decisions. It will be interesting to see the relationship that UKIP councillors have with Cabinet Members in holding them to account in overview and scrutiny panels over coming months.

Talking of O&S panels this week (finally) we got to know which panels we would be serving on. I have been appointed to the Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Panel (which meets this Thursday) and the Norfolk Joint Museums and Archaeology Committee!

I thought I would sit down and type this weeks update to get myself into a “chatty” mood as I have been asked to write an article for the Local Government Association’s First magazine – which has a circlation of 18,000 Councillors. I’ve been asked to write about my experiences of being a young councillor with a disability. Yes, like you I’m now thinking “am I just ticking boxes here” something I should discuss!

Atfer which I have to complete the reading of Foster Panel Papers which meets on Monday. Following the election, I was thrilled to be re-appointed to the panel as it’s a meeting where you feel that you’re making a real difference!

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