Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Coming together in times of tragedy

Life can be extremely random and the tragic air crash at the Shoreham Air Show highlights how fragile life and peace can be.

It is still incredible to me that on a warm Saturday afternoon, when so many people were enjoying a wonderful day out with their family, that peace was completely shattered.

News footage captures one woman’s instinctive reaction as she watches, powerless and in horror, as the Hawker Hunter plane fails to pull out of a loop and crashes into the busy A27 below. The mother reaches her arm out and pulls her child into an embrace.

That instinct to protect those we love is fundamental to us all. 

So while few of us can begin to imagine the despair felt by all those who knew and loved the victims of the Shoreham Air Show, our condolences for those who lost loved ones on that fateful day are truly heartfelt.

Social workers from West Sussex rushed to Worthing Hospital on the day to support all those facing such terrible loss.

That support will be there for as long as it is needed – helping bereaved families not only to try to come to terms with such a terrible loss but to deal with more mundane matters which must now seem so trivial.  

The natural warmth and compassion that draws people to a career in social work is vital at times like this but exposure to such raw grief will take its toll on all those professionals involved.

It is our duty not only to care for those families in greatest need but to support those sent in to save or support in times of crisis.

I am humbled by the emotional resilience demonstrated by our social workers, not just in times of crisis but every day of their working lives. 

It is with a mixture of humility and pride that I also reflect on the enormity of the task faced by all our emergency services in the hours and days after the crash.

Shortly after the tragic accident, a major incident was declared, with Sussex Police taking the strategic lead under Gold Command of all those first responders.

That included the ten pumps from West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service which were very quickly on the site.

These teams undergo regular training for major incidents, the value of which has been clearly on display in recent days.

However no amount of training could possibly prepare them for the horror of what they must have witnessed on arrival. Amid scenes of true devastation and horror, the emergency teams have worked valiantly, selflessly and with total dedication to the task in hand.

They deserve all the tributes they have so rightly received and my heartfelt thanks to all of them.

My thanks also go out to the men and women of the Red Cross who turned out day after day, and in some utterly appalling weather conditions, to make sure those working on site had food and warm drinks while they carried out their grim task.

The work to rebuild now begins.

To rebuild family lives shattered by those horrific events of Saturday, to help those who saw that appalling crash come to terms with their memories, to support our staff who have worked so tirelessly in its aftermath, to get the road re-opened and traffic flowing and to help Shoreham and the wider Sussex community to move on from that day.

And while we rebuild we must rely on all our staff to make sure our first class services are not disrupted through these difficult and dark days.

We are not alone in this endeavour.  I am so grateful to our local authority partners in East Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and Brighton and Hove who have offered whatever additional assistance we may need.

I have also been extremely moved by the show of solidarity from the public. I visited Shoreham’s toll bridge on Monday where floral tributes arrive by the minute and gentle tributes are laid.

Reading those messages it is clear to me that the instinct to protect stretches far beyond our immediate family, it stretches in sorrow to those we have never met but who we know are suffering.

The work to rebuild will take some time so it is reassuring to know everyone is pulling together at a time of great need.

And be assured that long after the media crews have pulled out of Shoreham and the terrible memories of that day begin to fade for those who were not there we will all continue to be there for those who were.

Best wishes,

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Helping residents bring their energy costs down

Energy bills account for a large chunk of most household budgets, during the summer they may be a little lighter, but when it comes to winter the costs go up, particularly if it is a cold one. Interestingly though only a few of us ever sit down and think about how we could bring the cost down although the savings made can often be considerable and it only takes a little time to do.

That is why I was delighted to drop in at the local energy café in Parklands, Chichester, last month where energy experts from Your Energy Sussex provided free, independent energy advice for residents.

The team ran a series of community events and energy cafés in Parklands, Tangmere and Sompting offering advice on anything from draught proofing and insulation to replacement boilers and solar panels. Their energy bill checking and switching service was particular popular, providing an average £200 saving on residents’ energy bills. One resident saved £780 by simply taking the time to dig out their energy bills and pop along for a chat.

Offering such a service which could help residents, particularly those on limited budgets, is really important so I am particularly pleased that West Sussex County Council is the driving force behind Your Energy Sussex, which is a partnership between local councils.

I have to admit to having high hopes that the partnership will help to change the face of energy in the county. Over the coming year you will be hearing a lot more about their work to improve the energy efficiency of our homes and businesses and increase the amount of renewable energy we generate in Sussex.

Through the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), they have the funding in place to succeed and the fact that much of their work is delivered through local companies is also good news for the Sussex economy. This will build confidence and nurture growth over time and help to provide employment, training and apprenticeship opportunities for the local workforce.

By the end of this year, the first solar farm on council-owned land at Tangmere will be generating clean, low-carbon electricity for the National Grid. Developments such as these will generate an income and pay for energy efficiency work for low income households, such as the existing Your Energy Sussex boiler replacement and insulation scheme. A programme to make WSCC-owned buildings, including offices, Children and Family Centres and libraries, is also about to get underway alongside a project to fit solar panels to social housing. This will provide cheaper, low-carbon electricity for tenants.

With more local councils looking to sign up to the partnership and deliver projects of their own using the available funding, there is a real opportunity for the whole of Sussex to reap positive environmental and economic benefits and help our residents from this work. You can find out more about the partnership on the Your Energy Sussex website.

Best wishes,

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Why planning for the future needs a joined up approach

August is a quieter month at County Hall with fewer meetings, but work in some priority areas continues at a pace – one of those being putting together our Capital Plan.

In my speech to Full Council in July I referred to the considerable work that is currently underway on this. Our Capital Plan sets out how we will fund our services for the next four years and where we will make investments.

So why is so much effort going into this plan and why isn’t it just business as usual for us?

As a county we’re facing unprecedented housing development over the next few years. It’s estimated that around 3,500 homes will be built in West Sussex this year and that level is set to grow.

People who buy new homes need good performing schools for their children to go to, roads to drive on, a fire service to protect them, medical centres for when they are ill, the list goes on and on.

These demands need careful planning and investment and although our district and borough councils have the responsibility for producing their own Local Plans – which sets out how they will individually cope with housing growth within their areas -  and giving planning permission for developments, there’s far more to it than that.

As a County Council we take the lead for ensuring that the county has the infrastructure it needs to support housing growth so we need to make sure our approach to getting this right is as joined up as possible.

To be honest, we’ve never before had to respond to such a high volume of house development. It is a big responsibility for Councils and Councillors alike and we have to step up to the mark to meet these challenges. So you can see why putting together a Capital Plan is no easy job!

However I am pleased to say we are responding to these needs and challenges, but we know we simply can’t do it alone. We are working closely with our district and borough councillors to ensure we meet the demands of increased housing growth in that joined up way.

We are setting up growth boards with our district and borough authorities and we are sharing information and working side by side with colleagues.

This is new and ground breaking work which is much needed because, like any organisation, we have to adapt to the demands of the environment we live in and things are changing all the time.

And we can’t lose sight of the fact that we are living and operating in one of the most challenging financial climates we have ever known.

We are seeking pragmatic solutions with all our public sector partners across the county to do the very best for our residents and that also means greater working with partners responding to their needs as well as our own in delivering services to our residents. That’s not the same as being ‘obsessed’ with outsourcing as I read recently.

I look back to when I joined the County Council in 2001 - how the world and the County Council has changed over the last 14 years! We thought the financial situation was tough back then then but in comparison it was really quite kind.

But looking back to the past with rose tinted glasses and thinking that it is the right model then and therefore the right model for the future – think on. The world has changed out of all recognition – you only have to look at how we communicate and the use of iPhones and technology to see how far we have moved and we need to embrace all that technology into everything we do.

And the demands on our own services have changed enormously and the pressures on public services have never been greater. Some truly terrible child abuse cases such as Baby P and the recent awful revelations of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham have put extensive demands on our Children’s Services like we have never seen before – and we absolutely have to respond to this challenge to ensure we are safeguarding our youngsters.

In West Sussex we have a growing elderly population, which is good, but this also puts further demands on our Adults’ Social Services. Our Adults’ Services budget is £180million – the biggest of all our County Council services – and it provides some absolutely vital services. But talk to any County Council Leader across the country, whatever their political colour, and you will hear the same message that this budget is under severe pressure and these pressures are  set to grow.

Yes, the government has responded and given additional funding for the increased duties under Care Act and of course the Better Care Fund, but where this budget is concerned  it is simply the Oliver Twist message ‘Please sir, can I have some more’.

So it's never been more important to get our capital plan absolutely right – and that’s no easy task .

But despite the financial climate, this County Council has saved more than £120 million pounds over the last five years – and we’ve done it without putting our share of the council tax up by even one penny.  These savings mark our contribution to reducing the country’s deficit. We have all had a part to play – it has been and will continue to be hard  BUT it is the absolutely the right thing to do. You only have to look at Greece to sadly see the alternative option.

So we continue to operate in the knowledge that more savings are needed and will be needed in the future.

But West Sussex County Council remains committed to its three key core priorities  – giving children the best start in life, supporting and growing the economy and helping and supporting our older residents to remain independent in later life.

These, along with ensuring we’re always there for people in an emergency, ensuring we protect and safeguard our young and old and ensuring we help our communities to help themselves will form the backbone of our Capital Plan for the next four years.
Best wishes


Louise Goldsmith.

Leader West Sussex County Council

Chichester West Division.

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