Friday, 24 February 2017

Working to boost our West Sussex economy

Last Wednesday I signed our second District Deal - with Mid Sussex District Council, coming hot on the heels of our first agreement with Crawley Borough Council.

This deal was particularly important for me as for the last couple of years I have been sitting on the Burgess Hill Development Board where West Sussex, Mid Sussex and Burgess Hill councils have been working side-by-side on exciting development plans for Burgess Hill. They are big and ambitious plans, which is why it is so important that we all work collaboratively to ensure we are doing the very best for Burgess Hill and the residents – today and tomorrow. It is a very important legacy.

As partners, we have developed successful Burgess Hill bids to the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) for additional funding, securing a LEP commitment to allocate more than £30 million to support growth in Burgess Hill.

There is no doubt in my mind that Government agencies and businesses, large and small, want to know local government is working as one, which is why our District Deals are so important as they demonstrate exactly that.

We are not stopping at two District Deals though – next month we will be signing a deal with Worthing and Adur. There is currently considerable work underway on plans for Worthing Town Centre and once again West Sussex County Council is playing its part in making this work happen. And I hope we will be able to announce more district deals in the future as part of our continued closer working with our partners.

The LEP is providing substantial investment into areas of West Sussex as part of its Growth Deal. The County Council has identified £30 million as part of our Capital Programme which we will be using to complement LEP investment and helping to support economic growth in our county.

It is vital we invest and so attract new business and economic growth to our area. The West Sussex economy is one of our three priority areas as a County Council and something we will continue to focus on.

Although we are facing continued financial pressures as a council, we also recognise it is important we invest so we don’t fall behind. As such, we have agreed our Capital Programme setting out our infrastructure projects over the next five years. These investments will boost our highways network, social care and schools as well as the economy. It is an ambitious programme, but one that will help improve the day-to-day lives of our residents and help West Sussex thrive in the future.

I strongly believe that with investments such as these and our close working with our partners, we will achieve the very best outcomes and firmly put West Sussex on the map.

Best wishes,

Friday, 10 February 2017

It takes a village to raise a child

I haven’t blogged for a while about what’s been happening in our Children’s Services – known as Start of Life. That’s not because nothing much is happening – indeed very much to the contrary. We have been really busy focusing on how we deliver those vital services for children and families based on our Early Help and Prevention Plan.

A key example is the considerable work being undertaken to redesign our model of support for families and children. This will look at how vital early help support is given to children and families in our county.

We know if we can help families early, the outcomes are better all round – you know the old saying ‘a stitch in time saves nine’, and sometimes we need to look at a different way to solve a problem.

Our ambition is to give children in West Sussex the best start in life. We are totally committed to that key principle and there are many children around the county who do have the best start in life but sadly, for a variety of reasons, that is not the case for everyone. It is those youngsters that we need to concentrate on to help them and their families when needed.

Just this week we welcomed the Harvard Kennedy Graduate Performance Lab (GPL) to the County Council. GPL looks at how governments in America can improve the results they achieve for their citizens. They wanted to visit us to get a wider understanding of how our Think Family programme delivers whole family working in West Sussex. While here, they spoke to the Think Family team, front line workers and also families who have been helped. They were clearly impressed with how successful Think Family has been in West Sussex and they will be keeping in touch with us to further explore how our system works.

Last month, I was delighted to attend a very inspiring event, which looked at our vision for children and young people in West Sussex. We were lucky enough to welcome the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, where she spoke about the national picture and how to improve the outcomes for children in need.

It was so good to hear her praise our Children and Young Peoples’ Services. You can view a video to see Anne speaking about the work going on in West Sussex. Anne also answered questions from the West Sussex Youth Cabinet on a range of topics including plans for the country to leave the European Union and her views on lowering the age at which young people can vote.

The event brought together my fellow Council Members together with health services, partners and professionals to showcase the innovative ways they are helping young people and families in West Sussex. That was really important because we do not do this work alone – we work in partnership with other organisations including the NHS, focused on the need of the child and family. It is the same across the County Council –we work in partnership with fellow organisations delivering the key services to provide the best outcomes for residents in our communities.

I am particularly thrilled that we will also be launching our 1,001 critical days manifesto in March. The aim of this is to highlight the importance of the 1,001 days from when a baby is conceived until the age of two. This period of life is a crucial time to increase a child’s life chances. Research shows that it is not when a baby is born, but what happens during pregnancy. This is still pioneering work and West Sussex is very much to the fore in this work. As you know, we are committed to doing all we can to give children the best start in life from the very beginning – watch out for more news on this in further blogs.

I mustn’t forget that our Healthy Child Programme was also discussed at the event. We’ve recently awarded Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust the contract to provide the 0 to 19 community nursing service for families in West Sussex. This will create a more integrated model bringing together health visiting, school nurses and early help and prevention services. We’ve extended the service to cover children and young people up to the age of 19 and we will be working in partnership with Barnardo’s to provide a new Skills for Life service for people with special educational needs and disabilities aged up to 25-years-old. We’re also planning additional investment into digital technologies to improve communication and engagement between young people, parents, carers and professionals.

And why is all this so important? Well, it’s estimated that we have 12,000 children in need of support across West Sussex. It’s important that we provide the right support at the start of life – working with the whole family. This was something stressed by Anne at the event, who said: ‘It’s really important that we recognise that children have their own social networks, they have their family environments and digital environments, and the services need to understand that they are part of that whole - if they want to help support young people to flourish, use some of those ways of doing that too’.

The event brought many like-minded people and organisations together – we all want to ensure our West Sussex children are given the very best start in life and have plenty of opportunities open to them. As ever, we know there’s more we can do, and that’s why our partnership working is so very important.

The event saw lots of interesting questions and conversations, and I’m delighted the Children’s Commissioner for England was able to take part.

Best wishes,

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Good luck to our latest Fire and Rescue Service recruits

I was lucky enough to welcome the 12 newest Fire and Rescue recruits to the service this week. They came to a session here at County Hall as part of their training to learn more about the County Council and I spoke to them about the role of Members, how the council works and how the Fire and Rescue Service plays a key role as part of the County Council.

The session was at the beginning of their 14 week training, which starts to enable them to become a West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service firefighter. The training is challenging and demanding, as you would expect. All recruits are well supported by experienced trainers throughout the course. Speaking to those who have completed the training they have found it immensely rewarding as well as having a great sense of achievement at the end.

Although we are training these newest recruits, we do need more retained firefighters for our Fire and Rescue Service. Retained firefighters form a vital part of the service and are mainly based in our more rural areas. These crew members perform the same duties as full-time firefighters and receive training. They are on call through bleepers when needed.

We have been running a recruitment campaign to encourage people who would like to become retained firefighters to come forward and on Saturday I visited Selsey Fire Station, where they held an open day. I have to say, there is always a warm welcome at our fire stations and it was good to talk to the crew members and go around and look at the excellently maintained equipment and learn how it is used.

It is all so interesting, and every time I learn something new. This was exactly the case on Saturday when I was introduced to a very special item the firefighters use. Volunteers hand-knit teddy bears for the fire crews to use when helping children in trauma situations. It is a perfect way to build up a rapport with a distressed child and is another example of the breadth of work our firefighters undertake. They are dealing with people in frightening situations, helping them is crucial to their work.

Our new recruits will learn many skills as they go through their training. When they have completed this, many will undertake further training to develop additional often specialist skills in order to meet the demands of keeping our residents safe.

Training will continue throughout their time with the service as new equipment and techniques come forward. Some firefighters may undertake very specialised training sometime in their future career. One example of this is our Technical Rescue Unit which is made up of a team of experts with specialist skills that can be called out to help across the county. This team has also supported national and international resilience and has a key role in the UK’s International Search and Rescue Team.

Just as important is the preventative work undertaken by the service, particularly with vulnerable members of our communities. This includes fitting smoke alarms, community fire links (radio-linked smoke alarms for vulnerable residents) and home safety visits.

If you would be interested in becoming a retained firefighter, you can find out more on the website, email: or phone: 01243 642134.
Best wishes,