Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Out and about across West Sussex

As part of my job I try and get out and about visiting businesses, and various groups in the County. It is really interesting to learn what is happening 'on the ground' around the West Sussex and also thinking about the different ways the County Council can help.

A few weeks ago I met up with the County Adviser, Chairman and other farmers of the West Sussex NFU( National Farmers Union).

When the County Council was formed 125 years ago it was a very rural County, one of the concerns then was the condition of the roads, not for cars but for driving cattle! Animal welfare was very much a priority, particularly good animal husbandry.

Over the years the County has changed but the rural and farming part is still very important as farmers in West Sussex not only play an important part in food security but also in promoting English produce where farming is the foundation stone of the food and drink industry.

Equally important, and in addition, farmers are stewards of the land. Keeping it in good shape, looking after the hedgerows and protecting the environment, they play an important part in maintaining the beautiful West Sussex landscape whether in the High Wield, National Park or in the coastal Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

If farmers from 125 years ago came back today and saw how the land is managed and farmed today they really would be astounded. One large high tech tractor doing the work of tens of agricultural workers in a very short time.

Farming has changed. It's been mechanised and is a science and knowledge based industry to maximise food production to meet growing demand for a regular supply of reasonably priced produce.

It is often said that there is a disconnect of understanding about where our food comes from. Farmers' Markets where local produce is promoted helps with understanding the connections of food and farming. At WSCC we also play a part in producing the Taste West Sussex Magazine which is very popular with readers So I was really pleased to have this meeting and it was a productive meeting. Like everyone else across the County the farmers have had to cope with flooding. So flooding was very much on their list along with shared concerns about the dissolution of Internal Drainage Boards and it was really helpful to learn how they were approaching this issue , as well as food security and the farming role for the nation's future.

The NFU explained their awareness campaign about the damage Chinese Lanterns can do not just to the countryside but harm to animals as well.

Hopefully something that will be debated at Full County Council on the 6th June.

I look forward to our next meeting in the Autumn.

But in the meantime I hope you will forgive me for giving a plug to our UK farmers by encouraging, where possible, people to buy British (or even better West Sussex) and support our farmers and food producers.

Best wishes,

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Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The next steps for West Sussex County Council

Back at the beginning of the year I announced changes to the senior officers of West Sussex County Council. The post of chief executive was removed and we created two short term posts – a chief operating officer and a transformation director.

This builds on the work that was underway for sometime to make fundamental changes to the way we work, concentrating around our 3 key priorities and supporting our communities to help themselves.

We are evolving as a County Council and we’re not alone in that. Other councils up and down the country are going through the same thing.

After 3 months the time is right to bring you up to date with what we have been doing.

We have a clear vision for West Sussex County Council which has been well received and understood. We need to make sure it is delivered for the benefit of the residents we serve.

You could say that local government is at a crossroads - grants are reducing year on year from central government, yet demand increases for our services and our customers’ expectations of us increase with that demand

We need to become a different kind of authority to meet the many challenges that face us.

At the heart of this change is our residents. Each and every person we serve, the people who pay their council tax month in and month out and who ask for effective, efficient services.

We have to become more commercial as an organisation, less reliant on government grants to fund us and we have to start investing more in the things that will help us to deliver our priorities of ensuring our children have the best start in life and are supported to achieve their potential, of growing our economy and ensuring there are jobs for our children and our children’s children, and supporting our elderly population to remain as independent as possible in later life.

We must make sure we continue to work with our partners and the different organisations and agencies out there because we can’t achieve what we need to alone. We must shift our focus to delivering the right outcomes for local people with the limited budget we have. And we have to make sure that we look after this beautiful, natural county that we are lucky enough to live and work in.

We do know what is important and what needs to be done.

As part of our evolution and to put us in the best possible position to deliver the best outcomes we have had to look at our management structure – like councils up and down the land are finding themselves doing.

It is vital that our structure is fit for purpose to deliver the changes we need now and in the future. Therefore, we feel some changes need to be made and this is what we are currently discussing.

I will say more about this when I can but what I want to assure you is that, whatever changes may be made to the management structure at West Sussex County Council in the future, all our staff are dedicated to doing the very best they can for the people of the county and our commitment to delivering the best services that we can will never change.

Best wishes,

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Thursday, 1 May 2014

A27 action campaign

Earlier this week I was listening to BBC Radio Sussex. The lead traffic item on the news was delays on the A27 out of Chichester and a bottleneck at Arundel, this is an all too regular announcement.

On the TV Steph, the business correspondent on BBC Breakfast, was reporting from Montezuma in Chichester about the growth of small businesses and their contribution to the national economy.

Both of these stories are so timely given the conversations I’ve been having in recent months about the shortcomings of the A27 and the potential limitations that it places on possible business expansion across the county.

Many of you will have first-hand experience of the traffic hold ups on the A27.

Being stuck in traffic is too regular an experience for commuters. The concept of “rush” hour on that road is a misnomer, it is always busy and getting busier as the economy is improving.

To avoid the possible hold ups, particularly at peak times, many drivers are taking alternative routes, which means some of our villages, which are really not suitable for heavy traffic, are suffering and the air quality is poor, they are rightly saying enough is enough.

So, we’ve joined forces with local MPs and local businesses and we’re lobbying Government hard for improvements to the A27 from Chichester right through to Worthing and Lancing.

We know residents rely on it and, these days, people’s time is too precious to be stuck in traffic for too long. It’s not good for the environment or for people’s health and it’s certainly not good for the health of the West Sussex economy.

We need a reliable, free flowing, efficient dual carriage way along the coast to allow local companies to go about their business quickly and with the minimum of fuss. If we want to build up and nurture our economy in the county we need to ensure that businesses can get their staff, products and vehicles where they need to be when they need to be there.

The A27 is on a list of six roads across the country being considered by the Government for improvement, and over the last 6 months we have had meeting with the Department of Transport and BIS to make the case for improvements on the A27, but we do now need to work extra, extra hard to get the A27 to the top of that list.

Best wishes,

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