Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A humbling and inspiring afternoon at the Epic awards

Like many other County Councils we hold regular quarterly meetings with our West Sussex MPs.

These meeting allow everyone the opportunity for a wide range of issues to be discussed and, not for the first time, one such discussion topic at this most recent meeting last Friday was the A27 and our plans for a campaign which will call on the government to fund and build a dual carriageway east to west. We had leading business representatives at this meeting as well and the support of businesses for any future campaign is vital. Watch this space! I shall be blogging with more details in the future.

The West Sussex Youth Network asked if they could attend Friday's meeting as they are very keen to talk to elected members and want their views listened to.

The group, a mix of age ranges and representation across the county, gave a terrific presentation which impressed everyone. And, as they so eloquently stated at the end of their presentation, they are the future.

We were all asked to make a written commitment about what we would do to work with the Youth Network in the future and they collected 22 commitments from around the table. I am looking forward to being shadowed for a day by some of the Youth Network members - and will be blogging about that too in the future.

On Sunday WSCC held the 3rd Exceptional People In Care (EPIC) awards.

This event was organised in consultation with our Children in Care Council, which is a group of young people in care across West Sussex and also includes care leavers. They meet every fortnight and are very heavily involved in shaping the services that are provided to them.

These young people have recently been involved in delivering training to foster carers and social workers so they can give their own perspective on care and their needs, which is so important for all those involved who are working to give these children a real helping hand.

Currently we have around 649 children who are looked after, about 73% attend Ofsted-rated Good or Outstanding schools, and I am pleased to say that educational standards in this group are improving.

Many of these children have had some very difficult starts in life and have had to learn to cope with issues which in some cases are hard to imagine. With the help of social workers and the dedication and commitment of our amazing foster parents, these youngsters have got their lives back on track and are doing well - despite the odds.

Learning about what these children have achieved, listening to the various stories, meeting and talking to some of these children was quite humbling and inspirational in equal parts and was one of the best Sunday afternoons since, well, last year's EPIC awards.

Both children in care and children who are not in care are all part of our future and from what I have seen and experienced in West Sussex the future is reassuring.

Best wishes

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Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Helping communities to act against flooding

Last Thursday, I was in London speaking about Operation Watershed at the National Flood Forum Conference.

The National Flood Forum is a national charity set up to help people who are at threat of flooding or who have been flooded and, as you can imagine, it has been very busy this year.

In June 2012 parts of the county, particularly the coastal areas, suffered serious flooding with 780 homes affected. The National Flood Forum was active in the recovery programme and helped get people back into their homes as well as offer advice and guidance about how to protect their properties in the future and the all important insurance.

For anyone who has been flooded it is a most distressing experience and something people do not forget.

We, as WSCC, successfully applied to the government for funding, and the National Flood Forum has continued to work with us, supporting, helping and encouraging our 14 Flood Prevention Action Groups. Through this work we now have a further 12 such groups starting up.

With the current weather patterns, it certainly looks like we could have more extreme weather and these groups play a very active role in minimising potential flooding in their local area. This is a great self-help initiative, which is working well and very much in line with the County's policy of helping people to help themselves.

Last year WSCC allocated £8.25 million for Operation Watershed - £7 million for highways and drainage schemes and repairs with 1.25 million into Active, now Stronger Communities, where we invited communities to bid for money to fund flood prevention initiatives.

We knew that there is considerable local knowledge about localised flooding. Residents in a community who know about their local flood 'hot spots' and understood why flooding is happening and what needs to be done.

Operation Watershed allowed communities, and flood action groups to bid for grant money to resolve these flooding hot spots. Although slow to start, the level of interest and enquiries has grown considerably throughout the year and as we come to the end of the financial year all of the 1,25 million has been allocated to a range of initiatives.

This has given our engineers to have the opportunity to work with communities assessing their projects, which has provided the county council with a considerable amount of detailed local knowledge and information information, all of which will help in the future.

There have been a range of initiatives, often joint work, such as in Sidlesham where the community has worked with farmers on an extensive ditch clearing scheme.

In Angmering, a CCTV camera has been installed which allows both residents and the Environment Agency to check water levels at the 'Black Ditch' grill to the north of the village. It gives everyone an extra set of eyes on the ground and helps to reassure people during heavy rainfall events.
At Felpham, a grant of £8,500 was provided so residents could clear 168 tonnes of soil and debris from a ditch to the west of Beach Estate. The Operation Watershed grant paid for equipment hire and disposal of material. This has already provided extra capacity for storage of overflow surface water during recent heavy rain.
So has it worked? - well yes, despite the terrible wet weather with more than three times the average rainfall in West Sussex, all schemes performed really well.

But there is more to be done and communities and flood action groups have more plans which is why we made available a further million pounds so Operation Watershed can run for another year.

I was really delighted to have the opportunity to explain this scheme on Thursday and was heartened by the interest of many of the audience.

More details to follow in April when bidding will open for Watershed 14!

Best wishes

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