John Field’s Report to Gipping Valley: February 2016

Grants

Kevin Welsby and I agreed the use of the £10,000 district grant funds allocated to us.  We could not meet all requests in full so I decided to top up some applications to the full amount using £2,300 from my County Locality budget.

Bramford Church, Little Blakenham Parish, Bramford Primary School PTA, Bramford Open Spaces and Bramford Playing Field received grants.

Young Families

I had an enjoyable visit to Claydon Young Families, meeting toddlers, mums, organisers and other councillors.  This is a vibrant well-organised group run by enthusiastic volunteers who are clearly providing activities the toddlers enjoy and a chance for all to chat.

Police and Crime Panel

I have been involved this month with the confirmation of the appointment by Tim Passmore, the PCC, of the Chief Constable and the setting of the police precept.

There was only one applicant for the Chief Constable role.  This was due to the restriction to people with experience as Chief or Deputy Chief Constable.  However, the recruitment process had been sound and Gareth Wilson, whose appointment was confirmed, has been performing well as Acting Chief for a year.

I used the opportunity to raise the issue of part funded PCSO’s that has been concerning parishes in Gipping Valley and since then it has been decided that current arrangements will continue for this year.

We agreed that the PCC should raise the precept by 2% to address the challenges of abuse and cyber-crime.

Pension Fund

At the Pension Fund Committee, we agreed to join the pool of similar county funds covering most of the south east of England.  Government is forcing local government funds to pool to achieve £25 billion funds.  This approaches the size of a fund like BT’s but is still much smaller than sovereign wealth funds.  The aim is to reduce management fees and probably to encourage investment in UK infrastructure.

Final Budget Setting at the County

You will have seen that the Cabinet is to adopt the Chancellor’s proposal for a 2% rise in council tax to fund care as we asked at Scrutiny.  This helps solve the funding problem in Adults and Community Services.

The numbers of frail elderly with complex needs is rising and they need help. It cannot be good to see tax increases but this will go to services that limit the increased demand the NHS is suffering.

The forecast deficit has fallen sharply from £48.7 million to £39.6 million as estimates of council tax base and collection fund surpluses are now less pessimistic.  £34.4m savings and the £5.2m social care precept will meet this deficit.

The very recent £3.6m from the government Suffolk gets as a rural county will reduce the sum taken from reserves to £1.6m – leaving only £35.3 m contingency reserve!

At Council, we debated a proposal to use an additional £10.72m from reserves, equal to the amount added per year in recent years.  It would have removed the need to cut social care, young people’s services, health and transport.   The need for reserves “for a rainy day” won.

Procurement

This month’s scrutiny covered procurement, which now accounts for some 70% of council spend.  There are about 3,000 contracts ranging from £15m to £488 with 120 contract managers.

Scrutiny revealed that, although we do quite well by local government standards, the commercial approach still needs sharpening significantly.  Our proposal from 18 months ago to add private sector skills to the team still needs action.

Devolution

Our scrutiny of the devolution proposals gave a rather confusing picture of a process going I am not quite sure where, with many changes of direction.

Norfolk’s involvement now appears certain but Cambridge is reluctant to join.  Their desperate need for housing that even well paid workers can afford is an incentive to join.  The combined authority would benefit from Cambridge’s world-class organisations and university are a major economic powerhouse.

We understand that there are items, which have been agreed with Government, and that details of these will be revealed soon.  Not before time if we are to keep you informed before the inevitable consultation.