Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Successfully handing over assets to the community

On Saturday morning I drove over to Ferring to attend the official opening of Glebelands Community Centre, formerly known as the Ferring Rifers Youth and Community Centre. This was the fourth Community Asset Transfer from West Sussex County Council to a community group.

For the last two years much work has been underway to transfer the centre to the community on a 25 year lease at a peppercorn rent. The management committee have been running the centre for a little while now, but Saturday was the formal handover.

You may wonder why a transfer can take so long, but it is really important that the community has a sound business plan. As everyone is a volunteer, this can take time to prepare. Transfers are fairly new to the County Council as well, but our officers are always available to help work through issues.

The centre was really busy and I met up with the Talking Hands Group and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, who are regular users, along with others such as the Judo Club and fitness club. I was also very interested to learn about the retirement club and what they currently offer and their plans for the future.

It was an inspirational morning seeing a much loved centre run by the community for their community. This only happens because of the dedicated team of people who give up their time to make this happen, they are true community heroes - and there are a lot in West Sussex and a big thank you from me for all their commitment.

After leaving the Glebelands Community Centre, the local County Councillor Peter Evans and I walked along the Ferring Rife. Another group of volunteers had been out on a clear up and litter pick, and they had done a really good job with not a speck of litter anywhere to be seen.

We met them as they were leaving the Ferring Centre, which had kindly provided hot drinks and rock cakes for the volunteers. All of which was most appreciated as these volunteers had been working in icy temperatures and freezing winds.

So in just one morning two very fine examples of volunteers working for their community, and obviously enjoying what they do and the comradeship that is built up in doing so.

There are many other examples all across the county, which is one of the many reasons why West Sussex is such a great place to live.

Best wishes,

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Monday, 18 February 2013

Reassuring residents in West Sussex

I hadn't planned to Blog about the horse meat scandal at all, but the comment from the Chief Executive of Iceland, Malcolm Walker, stating the problem was down to hospitals and local authorities driving out cost when negotiating contracts, certainly changed my mind.

Blaming others is shameful and not at all helpful as this is a very serious issue, and in my opinion, there should be a big debate around food and processed food. There have been some interesting articles in the newspapers and commentary on the radio, which has been helpful, but there should be more.

Convenience and ready-made food has been around for centuries, the Cornish Pasty being one example of a small amount of meat with potato and veg wrapped in pastry. It provided plenty of carbohydrates for those doing really physical work for ten or more hours a day. The important issue is that meat specified on labels is accurate and truthful.

Along with other local authorities, we do not directly provide the majority of school meals but buy, or commission, from a provider. In West Sussex, our main primary school contractors are Chartwells/Cygnet, although we do directly cater in-house for our special schools across ten sites. Around ten other primary schools use a different provider.

Over the last few years Councillors have been invited to sample these and our Meals on Wheels meals. On both occasions the meal supplied was tasty and neither too salty or sugary, and provided a balanced meal which included two of the five-a-day allocation of fruit and veg.

As a County Council we must make sure that the school meals are healthy and balanced, we do also have to consider cost when negotiating the contract as we need to ensure we get the very best value for money for our taxpayers.

When this scandal first emerged we did indeed check with our suppliers about meat content. We have been assured that due checking takes place to ensure that there are no other meats, i.e. horse, in those meals. In fact, their suppliers undergo regular independent checks to ensure strict food quality and safety standards are upheld.

Whilst I do not agree with harking back to the past, I do remember the Domestic Science Class that I and every pupil had on their timetable. Our teacher taught us about food and nutrition, and we learnt how to make cheese sauce, macaroni cheese, shepherd’s pie, spaghetti bolognese and even nut cutlets. We were taught the foundations to make a cheap nutritious meal, and I am grateful for that education.

It was recently announced that the new draft national curriculum contains proposals for primary school students to have compulsory practical lessons in how to make simple, healthy food. I think this is a really good idea as everyone should know the basics for how to cook for themselves and how to eat healthily.

Best wishes,

26 February 2013: You can never be sure in life. At the time when I wrote this blog we had been reassured by our contractors. However, Sodexo have announced that they have withdrawn all frozen beef products nationally after some tested positive for horsemeat. Sodexo do supply a limited number of schools in the county with meals. On-going testing is taking place across the country and we are working closely with all our contractors.

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Monday, 4 February 2013

Planning for end of life care

Last Thursday the Shadow Health and Wellbeing Board met in Horsham. It was particularly heartening to see quite a few people in the audience observing the meeting.

In West Sussex we have three Clinical Commissioning Groups who will be providing health care across the county from April, and each presented their draft commissioning plans for the year ahead, which they have all been working hard on, to the Shadow Health and Wellbeing Board for final sign off.

We also had a very useful and informative presentation from the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC) who talked about end of life care. Whilst I accept that this is not the easiest issue to discuss, in principle everyone wants a good death. Whether that happens depends on many things, including our own personal wishes and making them known.

Being able to discuss and having some really helpful literature is very much down to the NCPC raising awareness through their Dying Matters Campaign, which I support and I very much hope that the County Council will be involved in the Dying Matters Awareness Week this coming May.

The presentation provided a useful platform where the Doctors from the Clinical Commissioning Groups were able to speak about the importance about end of life care and how this will be embedded in their plans, but also for the Health and Wellbeing Board to co-ordinate a strategy.

Without Health and Wellbeing Boards there would be no other way to learn what all our West Sussex Clinical Commissioning Groups think about such important matters, or how they are integrating them into their plans.

We have many providers such as hospices, Macmillan, and Marie Curie, to name but a few, in the county who are committed to working with patients who are at the end of their life. The work they do is tremendous as is the support they receive from the communities either as volunteers or fundraising. They have a really important role to play, but they can be even more effective if we learn to be more comfortable in talking about such matters.

If this has sparked an interest in you please do look at the website http://www.ncpc.org.uk/.

To find out more about the work of the Shadow Health and Wellbeing Board, click here.

Best wishes,

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