Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Senior staff changes at the County Council

I just wanted to update you on some staff changes that will be happening over the next few months.

We have carried out final interviews for three key posts – the Director of Adults Services, Director of Finance and Director of Public Health.  I am pleased to say there are three successful candidates.  More information will be circulated after due diligence has been completed.

These appointments are important steps forward in our change programme and will continue the improvements we are already making in these areas.

However, as well as welcoming new staff we will be saying goodbye to others.
As you will be aware Gill Steward, our Chief Operating Officer, has been on an interim contract which has been extended until the spring of 2016. 

The transformation phase comes to its conclusion in line with Gill’s contract ending next spring.  For the next few months, Gill and I will continue to work together on tackling the big issues that the county faces, including the Government’s upcoming spending review, the council’s budget and working with our partners on developing our devolution proposals.
Gill has been a fantastic COO and has achieved much. I and the Cabinet have very much enjoyed working with her and wish her much success in the future.

I can also confirm that Nicola Debnam, our Director of Highways and Transport, has been offered a high profile Director’s role with Highways England and will be leaving us in December.

Since her arrival, Nicola has overseen a major restructure of the Highways and Transport Department, has dealt with the impact of budget cuts and led the highway team’s response to the Shoreham Air Show tragedy.

Work has begun on finding Nicola’s replacement but she will truly be a tough act to follow.

Best wishes,


Monday, 26 October 2015

Experiencing West Sussex Care Month in person

No two days are ever the same as Leader. Last week I swapped the Council Chamber for the role of a care assistant as part of the County Council’s West Sussex Care Month.

On Thursday afternoon I undertook a shift at Valerie Manor Care Home in Upper Beeding. I was one of a number of Members and staff to be going ‘back to the floor’ as a care worker.

The home is the first in West Sussex to achieve an ‘outstanding’ CQC rating and I was delighted to be able to observe at first hand their very best practices.

The home’s owner and manager is Zoe Bates who is a fully qualified nurse.

After a full briefing I started my shift, helping serve lunches and generally supporting staff. My bed making skills were put to the test making sure I did proper hospital corners and no creases in the bed sheets.

Throughout the various tasks it was really good to see was how the staff interacted with the residents, taking an interest in them so there was a friendly family atmosphere.

One of the most important activities is the handover of staff from one shift to another. This is a potential risk area if not given sufficient time and detail where care could fall down. I was able to sit in on the handover and see how it was done. The thoroughness of the process involved going through each of the residents’ needs and how they were being addressed and what to look out for. I was impressed with the obvious knowledge and understanding by staff of the home’s residents.

Another area of learning for me was the protocols of drug management and administration. I was given a very comprehensive briefing of how that was done.

So what did I learn from my shift? It was a privilege to be able to do the shift with the staff. I learned the job of a care worker can be demanding but also very rewarding. You have the opportunity to build a real rapport with residents who are dependent on you as a care worker.

We hear a lot about what is not good but having observed the very best I was very impressed we need to be aware that there are good care homes in the county  that, day in day out, are providing  good care and support to their residents.

Look out for information in the local media, social media and on the County Council’s website about West Sussex Care Month which runs until the end of October. Already a number of events have been held this month including the West Sussex Care Accolades and a care jobs event.

Best wishes,

Monday, 12 October 2015

Investing in our future

Along with the usual work going on at County Hall there have been two big issues that have been taking a lot of my time recently.  

Devolution, but that is for another day, and the Capital Programme which is how we plan and fund major projects across the county rather than the day to day business. 

Traditionally, when preparing the budget we have a detailed list of capital schemes programmed for the year ahead and that system has worked well for us. So you might be thinking why change it? 

However change it we must to meet the significant challenges that lie ahead of us.

Over the last couple of years our District and Borough Councils have been preparing their Local Plans, which include identifying sites for future housing.

These plans are gradually being given the green light by the Government and have major implications for the County Council.

Taking into account the number of houses in these Local Plans, means that by the year 2029 an extra 57,000 homes will be built across West Sussex.  For this year alone it is anticipated that around 3,250 homes will be built, with a further 4,000 projected for the following year.

Whatever your personal views are, this presents a big challenge for the County Council as we need to ensure there are good schools and enough classroom places for the children who will be growing up in these new homes.

It also means ensuring there are good roads to travel on, (not just sit on) to support a strong economy providing those all-important jobs for this and future generations of West Sussex residents.

Then, as people grow older, we need to ensure we have a good level of care and support for our elderly frail residents, either in their own home or in residential care.

So all our Capital Programme planning is around our three key priorities: start of life, the economy and later life.

Taking a five year view allows us to plan and manage the impact of the growth in house building but it will be an evolving process as we have to adapt to changes and I am sure in that time there will be a few!

The price ticket for this investment is an eye-watering £676 million over the next five years.  This is not all from the County Council I must stress but is made up of some WSCC money, government grants and developer contributions.

However when money is tight we need to take a planned and proactive approach to investment to ensure we get better value for taxpayers’ money and that funding is being targeted to the right places to ensure we continue to build a strong and vibrant economy and provide the best quality services for our residents.

The County Council will be meeting to debate and, all being well, agree these proposals on the 30th October and I am sure there will a good debate but I firmly believe we are doing what is best for our residents and the county, both now and in the future.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Why our new solar farm is great news for the environment and taxpayers

On Wednesday morning I made my way to Tangmere to visit our newly completed solar farm in time for the all-important switch on.

It has been two years in the planning, with the inevitable twists and turns, but it is now complete and I am unashamedly proud of our achievement.

Built on 25 acres of West Sussex County Council land near to Tangmere Airfield, this location is tucked away and is just the right place to build a solar farm.

Some 18,300 solar panels, which were installed over 15 days, will provide enough energy for 1,500 homes.  It will also prevent 2,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide being produced annually so it is also beneficial to the environment.

And the solar farm represents good value for money for the taxpayer too.

The initial investment of £5.2 million will pay for itself within seven and a half years.  The overall return over 20 years is £13.8 million - money that the County Council can invest into frontline services.

This is a new venture for the County Council and you may ask why we are doing it. Well the answer is simple really, we are receiving less from the Government so we need to look at our assets and find innovative new ways of raising money that we can re-invest in our services.

So this particular project is not only environmentally friendly but makes economic sense for West Sussex residents.

The site is very low maintenance, a local small holder will be grazing sheep on the land and we will be planting wild flowers as well. So this will be a quiet place where wildlife can thrive.

I am delighted to see this project come to fruition and look forward to more to come.