Friday, 22 March 2013

Looking back and to the future

County Councils have a four year term so as our last election was in 2009 we are fast approaching County Council Elections which will take place on May 2nd.

When I was elected as Leader in 2010 three years seemed a way off but the time has absolutely flown by.

It became quite evident not long after being elected that there were three key priorities, firstly to plan for and deliver £79 million savings over three years,  keep any council tax increases to an absolute minimum, and to improve our Safeguarding children's service, which was rated as inadequate in an Ofsted Inspection October 2010.

During the three years there has been so much else going on - much of it to support the three key priorities – and, yes, I have had a few sleepless night and sometimes it has been really manic, but that is very much part of the job.

So as I get ready to go out canvassing and talking to residents there has been some reflection and, of course, looking to the future.

Implementing a huge change in how we do things and rationalising our property portfolio has meant we have already achieved £59 million pounds of saving and have identified the final £20 million for this year. At the same time there has been no increase in Council Tax for the last three years.

There has been a real focus on the Children's Safeguarding Service with weekly one-to-ones with the Chief Executive and Director of Children's Service and the Cabinet Member for Children and Families, as well as visits by myself and Councillors to various parts of the service.

A continual drive for improvement of standards across the Safeguarding Service, investment in better technology and training are just some of examples of what has been done. During that time there has been a more stringent inspection criteria for us to meet.

The Ofsted inspectors made an unannounced inspection a couple of weeks ago. It was rigorous but fair and I am more than pleased that we have been rated now as adequate, but with so many other parts of our Children's Service rated as good the benchmark has been set for the future.

So, with all three key priorities met, we look to the future.

Today there was a full County Council Meeting, which was not the usual one with the normal agenda because it was all about the new Governance arrangements for the next County Council after the May Elections.

After Tuesday, when the County Council Election is formally called, there is a ‘black out’ on media about any County Councillor, so no more blogs.

I would just like to thank readers for their interest and for the comments sent in, which I always look at.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Supporting our foster carers and adoptive parents

A little while ago, the West Sussex Fostering and Adoption Services were inspected by Ofsted and both were rated as ‘good’ with some ‘outstanding’ features.

There are currently proposals going through Parliament to speed up the adoption process, so I thought it timely to go and visit our team and see for myself the excellent work they do. The County Council has a small and productive team which plays a very important role.

Research shows that children thrive better with foster carers than in children’s homes, although there will always be a need for specialised children's homes in certain cases.

Children who are adopted have the opportunity to develop long-term stable family relationships. However, many of the children that need to be fostered or adopted are deeply troubled, having experienced verbal, physical and/or sexual abuse or in some awful cases a combination of all on a sustained basis.

To survive, these children have had to develop coping strategies well beyond their years and beyond what many will experience in their lifetime.

The reality is that when these children move from such difficult environments, it can take time to settle, adjust and build trust. They may exhibit challenging behaviour and be withdrawn, for them the fear of letting down their defences and taking a leap of faith in trusting someone is enormous.

These are real examples of the complexities that the Fostering and Adopting teams have to deal with, so it is down to them to ensure our foster carers and potential adoptive parents are aware of the issues, and are able to deal with whatever is thrown at them.

That is done in the initial recruitment process and with on-going training and support from our team. There is a lot of discussion at present about on-going support for adoptive parents and I think this has a strong and reasoned case.

For both the services and ourselves as Councillors, we need to ensure that the safeguarding of these children is paramount in all that we do at all times.

We currently have 337 foster carers doing a terrific job for the children they care for, and the satisfaction in helping these children is second to none.

As a County Council we need to ensure we continue to provide a really good service to the children, foster carers and adoptive parents alike.

We are always looking for more foster carers and adoptive parents to come forward across West Sussex. You can click here to find out more, including details of informal monthly drop-in sessions for those interested in becoming foster carers.

Best wishes,

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Monday, 4 March 2013

Committing to improve the A27

Some of you may have picked up that the County Council has redoubled its efforts to find a solution to improve the whole of the A27. On Friday we held a summit meeting – those present included the Head of Strategic Roads Division at the Department for Transport, the Highways Agency, Nick Herbert MP, and Leaders and senior Members and Officers from the District and Borough Councils.

It was a thought provoking meeting with good contributions and challenges.
There are a couple of really big issues to consider. Firstly, funding. Secondly, the land available, as this is tightly restricted between the sea and the South Downs with considerable demand from agricultural, housing and business premises as well as environmental considerations.

So creative thinking is an absolute must and that is where we are starting from, together with a real determination and commitment to work together.

More work is planned including looking at how this it is financed, and that work starts now.

We meet back in May and I will blog updates as we progress.

Best wishes,

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