Monday, 27 June 2016

Business as usual for WSCC after referendum vote

Like 72.2% of the population I went out and voted in the Referendum on Thursday. Like many, I really was not sure which way it would go and early on Friday morning the results came through for an exit from the EU.

It was – and will be -  a momentous decision for the UK and one which has to be respected whether the final decision was one you personally supported or not.

Over the next few weeks and months national and, to a lesser degree, local politicians will be involved in what happens next in one way or another. All politicians will have a duty to focus on making sure this decision works for everyone and the UK. But for all of us this is a first – there are no previous examples to follow. Much is uncertain but we have to move forward and, in doing so, create a new chapter in Britain’s history.

What we do know is that there will be a new Prime Minister and David Cameron has pledged to do all he can to ensure a period of stability, until his replacement is selected.

But it’s only natural that people from all walks of life, businesses, families and communities will be wondering what Thursday’s vote means for them. People are wondering what impact it have on their way of life, their home, their work, their futures and the futures of their children and grandchildren.

In this period of natural uncertainty, please be assured that West Sussex County Council will continue to run its services as normal -  our Fire and Rescue Service is still there for you in an emergency and we will still continue to keep our children, elderly and vulnerable residents safe from harm. Our focus remains on working with all our businesses to build a stronger economy, supporting and creating jobs for today, tomorrow and in the future.

Our crews will still be working around the clock to maintain our roads, our libraries will open as usual and our registration service will continue to help you when you need to register the birth of your baby or the death of someone you loved.

We will continue to spend every penny of the council tax we collect from you as if we’d earned it ourselves, investing in what you have told us is most important to you to support you to lead the long, healthy and happy lives you have told us you want.

All of the services we provide to our communities, day in day out, continue today in just the same way as they did last Wednesday, before people went to the polls.

It’s true that some of our longer term plans may have to change in the weeks and months ahead. If and when this happens of course I will keep you posted with what has had to change and, most importantly why.

But for now, it remains very much business as usual at WSCC.

Best wishes,

Friday, 10 June 2016

Small charities deserve greater recognition for the work they do

Courtesy of Sussex Post
We all know that charities do some great work and are much appreciated and supported by us all. Next week is Small Charity Week, a campaign which focuses on those small local charities that do so much, on usually so little, and make a real contribution to West Sussex communities.

We are all aware of the big established national charities, yet it is small charities that have an equal or sometimes bigger part to play since settling in their communities. In some cases, this is where it all started for one or two people who identified a need and have done something about it. There are many fine examples in West Sussex which is home to approximately 2,600 small charities.

Small charities often need a helping hand in order to start up or begin to expand. I am delighted by the fact that West Sussex County Council has been able to financially support 2,000 community groups, charities and organisations through our Community Initiative Fund since launching in 2006. In that time the County Council has awarded £3.2 million in CIF funding.

This year’s national Small Charity Week runs from 13 to 18 June and is set to devote each day to a different aspect of small charity management, including the Big Advice day on Tuesday 14 June. Voluntary Action Arun and Chichester are coinciding with the campaign to host appointment-only advice sessions for charities in both districts. This is a great chance for small charities to receive free advice on any topic of its choosing whether it be fundraising ideas or ways to attract volunteers.
CIF funding is managed by our network of County Local Committees (CLCs). During Small Charity Week, five CLCs will celebrate successful recent CIF applicants in their meetings from 13 to15 June. I think it is very fitting to recognise the achievements of CIF applicants at the very place where they received the funding.

Over the last few weeks we have been out and about around the county conducting interviews with three of our most recent CIF recipients who have invested the funding to great effect. I visited community interest company My Sister’s House, in Bognor Regis, this week to see their work for myself.

For me it was a reunion with founder Julie Budge, who I first met at a ‘CIF in the South’ event last year. Julie is very ambitious about the direction in which she is taking My Sister’s House and has proved that already by giving opportunities to young apprentices and maximising her equipment’s use. The charity used the CIF grant to purchase two industrial sewing machines for its apprentices and have since gone on to offer sewing classes to visitors.
After having a tour of the charity’s upcycled clothing boutique and newly expanded drop-in centre, I was introduced to apprentices Holly and Jade – who have both gained valuable experience since joining the charity.

Jade has learnt the trade from scratch under Julie’s guidance, meanwhile Holly has been able to build up an extensive clothing portfolio which has ultimately helped her to secure a university place on a textiles course. I think this is a fantastic example of a forward thinking community interest company which has encouraged the development of young employees.

What is particularly great about My Sister’s House is that women of any age are able to drop in and have a chat. This is particularly helpful for women in an abusive or coercive relationship who feel very isolated. The featured kitchen table allows people to sit and have a cup of tea or coffee with the volunteers who are happy to chat – no ties, no judgement just a willing and friendly ear which is how it should be. This small charity really does do a very important job. 

Best wishes,

Friday, 3 June 2016

Why our Fire Service needs to stay just where it is

The Home Secretary Theresa May is looking at making changes to the way fire services in the country are run and managed.

She’s asking Police and Crime Commissioners to look at the business case of bringing them under the direct control of the Police and Crime Commissioner.

At the moment fire and rescue services exist in two forms in the UK - they’re either their own independent fire authorities (like East Sussex) or they are joined with the county council like ours is in West Sussex.

Anyone who attended full council on Friday, or who has watched the meeting online since, will have seen something a little bit unusual happen in the council chamber.

We have 71 Councillors elected to represent the views of West Sussex’s 800,000+ population. We’ve got Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, Labour and Independent party politicians that come together to form our Council.

We may – and quite often do! -  have different views on how or why things should be done or not, which gives for some lively debate at times. But just sometimes we all agree because we all feel strongly about what is right for our communities. And this is exactly what happened on Friday (you can watch it here if you want to see it).

The issue that united all political colours on Friday was this bid by the Home Secretary to look at reforming our fire service.

Because, in our opinion, it’s absolutely fine as it is.

Over recent years we have integrated our fire and rescue into the County Council and we have led the field in developing a very different and successful approach to how we do things.

Our firefighters and all the staff that make up our fire service work shoulder to shoulder with all our other council services.

They do this at the same time as undertaking considerable preventative work, particularly with our vulnerable residents. Last year alone 6,516 home safety visits were undertaken by the service. This means that nearly 7,000 people are living in safer homes and have a plan for how to escape should the worst happen and a fire break out in their home. The team fitted 4,000 smoke alarms and 3,749 community fire links – these are radio-linked smoke alarms for vulnerable residents which link to existing 'Careline' or 'Lifeline' monitoring centres.

Our FireBreak programme puts some of the most vulnerable and troubled youngsters in our county through a special training course that encourages them to become positive role models among their peers and within their communities.

This innovative scheme is run by West Sussex firefighters in partnership with County Council colleagues from Targeted Youth Support. Last year 128 youngsters took part.

The ceremony that marks the end of the course is so heart-warming to watch. These youngsters learn and achieve so much.

Cast your minds back to June 2012 when we suffered some of the worst flooding in history. Our fire and rescue teams were busy responding to the huge amount of emergency calls and, since then, they have been working with local communities to make them more flood resilient. 

But our fire service isn’t just about putting out fires. We help make communities stronger and we help make them safer. For us, this is a natural evolution of a service that responds to what our residents need and want but that doesn't stop up being incredibly proud to have been recognised nationally for this work.

Our fire service is about so much more than responding to a 999 call.

All this preventative work is immensely valuable in so many ways to our communities, so of course I am really concerned that this work which we have developed, to help our communities, could be put at risk by these reforms. We achieve what we achieve because we have worked hard to make the fire service an intrinsic part of county council business, wired into all that the County Council does.

There is talk of the potential savings if this reform was to happen and that’s a valid point to consider.

But we’ve already achieved significant savings across the board. Our fire service share what is known as back office functions - payroll, HR, legal services etc with the County Council already so we’re stamping out duplication and unnecessary costs. Our fire service control centre is shared with East Sussex and, over the years, the Fire and Rescue Service have joined in with procurement, purchasing consortia, with other authorities to ensure some very good deals. Of course we can always improve but we have so much good collaborative working and that is what we should be building on.

Last year the Shoreham tragedy tested our resilience to the limit, there was terrific working with the Police and other Fire and Rescue Authorities helped either with dealing with the incident or helping us provide backup cover to our residents so it just shows what can be done.

Over the coming months residents will hear more on these possible changes and in July there will be another debate at Full Council.

I have invited Theresa May to visit us and see for herself the set-up we have in West Sussex. Our communities don’t need a reformed fire service. They need an integrated fire service that is committed to helping them become stronger and more resilient.

I am immensely proud of the work that our Fire and Rescue Service does 24/7, 365 days a year, working for West Sussex communities. Whether it’s in an emergency situation or not, they are always there serving our residents of West Sussex.

So we will be making our case loudly for our excellent fire service to stay just as it is and I hope that you join us.