Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Moving Sid to the community

Ask any Councillor what is the best part of the job, and they will very probably say it is sorting out a knotty problem for someone they represent, or making something happen in the community.

Last Thursday was a very happy occasion with the official transfer of the Sidney Walter Centre in Worthing from West Sussex County Council to the community.

The County Council has provided youth and other community services at the Sidney Walter Centre for some time. The future has recently been under review, with the community willing to take on the full running of the centre. This was an aspiration very much supported by the local Councillors, who felt that the best way forward was for the community to take total responsibility for running the services and managing the building.

I believe that the local community is best placed to run such facilities, as they know what is needed for their community. That is why the County Council is prepared to transfer buildings such as the Sidney Walter Centre to the community. However, and without wanting to sound too bureaucratic, we do need to see a robust business case before we transfer buildings as we need to ensure not only that the facility becomes a real hub for the wider community, but also they are able to manage the centre for the long term and keep it sustainable.

Preparing the business plan does take time and effort, which is why we lend a hand at the County Council and local Councillors also get involved.

Talking to people at the Sidney Walter Centre, it was evident that they appreciate all the facilities they provide and many friendships have been made and grown. Looking around, I was particularly impressed by the lovely watercolour paintings produced by the local art group.

Dave Arseneault and Doreen Read at the Centre are totally committed to its future and have been instrumental in making the transfer happen. It was a delight to meet them as they are living examples of making a dream become a reality.

I wish the "Sid", as the Centre is so affectionately called, all the very best. I am sure it will flourish as the Community Centre run by the community for the community.

Best wishes,

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Wednesday, 19 September 2012

How Aspire aspired to a new future

For forty years West Sussex County Council has provided an Adult and Community Learning Service, running a range of courses across the county.

Demand has increased over the years, as has the variety of courses – in 1972 the Web and IT technology was definitely not around!

Keeping fit and various cookery classes have always been perennially popular, but these have altered over the years to reflect the changes and aspirations of society.

With a 806,900 population in West Sussex, and 21% of the population over the age of 65, we have a continuing demand for courses.

The service provides classes not only for those who have retired and those wanting to learn a new hobby, but those who want to improve their basic skills-set for further education or work opportunities, with recognised qualifications in many areas.

It is a service that we can be rightly proud of, with a high level of customer satisfaction, and it truly works at the heart of the community.

So developing and expanding the service to meet increased demand would seem a sensible way forward. This is why work on moving the service to a staff run social enterprise model has been underway for the last couple of years.

You may ask why has it taken so long, but for a highly regarded and effective community service we needed to ensure that the model was the right one, was sustainable and had a strong business case, and that took time.

Last Thursday I attended the launch of Aspire Sussex, the new staff run social enterprise for adult and community learning in the county.

Aspire Sussex will now be delivering adult and community learning across West Sussex on behalf of the County Council, and beyond as they build a client base and business.

Without the restriction of being tied to the County Council, they are able to expand and grow.

In my division I have already had enquiries about community learning in two of the villages I represent, and hopefully there will be courses available tailored to their particular need from Aspire.

Nationally there is a lot of interest in Aspire Sussex, and how it has developed from a County Council service into a social enterprise to meet the needs of the community.

So here's wishing Aspire a terrific future, and my thanks to all those who made it happen. To find out more about adult learning, go to

Best wishes,

Monday, 10 September 2012

Big changes in the Government

Although it has, as ever, been business as usual throughout August at the County Council, having had a week off over the Bank Holiday it felt rather like the start of a new term last week.

The big news was David Cameron's Cabinet reshuffle, and naturally I was sorry to learn that three of the West Sussex MPs had left their Ministerial posts. All three were most enthusiastic and diligent about their portfolios.

Now there are new names and faces in Health, Local Government, Children’s, Education, and Economy. No doubt all the newly appointed people are really busy with briefings and getting to grips with their portfolios after which there will be meetings and briefings, so it is going to be a really interesting autumn.

The debate over Heathrow continues with an Airport Consultation due and, of course, some people look to Gatwick and the possibility of a second runway. The County Council has a legal agreement in place that prevents the building of a second runway before 2019. We support the continued growth and expansion of Gatwick as a single runway, two terminal airport until then.

If the issue of a second runway after 2019 arises, then we will consider it at that time and on its merits. Any case for a second runway would need to be justified by compelling evidence that its economic benefits to the Gatwick Diamond outweigh the disadvantages. As a County Council, we would also need to be persuaded that the environmental impact of any second runway would be mitigated sufficiently.

Here at County Hall, the emphasis is on delivering our savings, looking at our services to ensure that we are delivering the best outcomes for our residents, improving our Children's Services, and developing our Public Health and Health and Wellbeing Board as we move from shadow role to full responsibility in 2013.

We are also working with businesses to support the economy, and to that end my thanks to Jeremy Pardey who runs Butlins, Bognor Regis, who came and gave a brilliant presentation to Cabinet Members last week. Butlins has made a
£100 million investment in the Bognor Regis site and provides a terrific offering to visitors. It was really interesting to learn how they are investing in developing a local work force and promoting visitor attractions outside Bognor Regis as well.

Having recently signed the Military Covenant, I was also delighted to learn that Butlins supports military personnel by offering discounts.

An interesting flavour of last week, which was as busy as it was fascinating.

Best wishes,