Saturday, 25 March 2017

A pause on my thoughts

We are fast approaching the end of our current four year County Council administration and I have to say those years have just whistled by so quickly.

I can honestly say it has been very busy and eventful over the last four years. There have been major changes and events both locally and nationally and the organisation has responded well to all that has come its way. However the one constant thing that doesn’t change is our need to do the best for you, our residents and your communities as your County Council. We’ve faced financial challenges and have had to take some difficult decisions. And to be realistic, this is something the new County Council will need to continue to do after the elections.

Throughout the last four years I have tried to make time to write my blog, helping to keep everyone informed. I would like to thank everyone for their interest and for reading the blog.

The County Council election will be held on Thursday 4 May – I would encourage as many people as possible to make sure they vote and have their say. It’s not too late to register to vote – you can find out more on our website.

We enter into our ‘purdah’ period from next week, so I will not be blogging during that time but am looking forward to the election and to meeting residents during the next few weeks.

I would like to thank you all for your ongoing interest in reading my blog and for the comments you send in.

Best wishes,

Monday, 20 March 2017

Coming together to find big bold solutions for the A27

As I am writing this the plans for the next A27 Community Workshop in Chichester are being finalised.

There has been a huge amount of support for this approach from all quarters and it is really heartening to have so many offers of help and interest.

We, the community in and around Chichester, have the opportunity to put our thoughts and ideas on a blank sheet of paper and speak with one collective voice to secure improvements which are so desperately needed.

The A27 affects all our lives in one way or another, but it is not just about this single road and its traffic – it’s about transport in the local area in general as well as issues such as air quality.

From experience I know that community based solutions are the best ones and that is what we will be looking for in the forthcoming workshops.

It is a community led approach and not for the County Council alone. But we know that we will need some expert help and advice at some stage. At the last workshop it was agreed that it was important that this advice is independent and can offer a different approach and fresh thinking. The County Council will help make this happen and ensure those requirements are met and that is why £100,000 has been put aside for this purpose so we can help our communities to help themselves.

Some may ask why didn’t you do this last year? The reason is quite simple – the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, commissioned Highways England to develop schemes for the A27 – the County Council’s role was a statutory consultee, Highways England prepare plans and then consult. It is a format that they adhere to and we had no power to change this.

We know the results of the consultation showed 47% said ‘no option’ and that is where we are. Some people take a negative view saying it will take 10 years plus before a further allocation of funding and it is all too difficult.

Having listened and read the many comments I know how much people wanted to be involved to have their voice heard to make sure we had the best solution.

Now we need as a community to come together to find those solutions - short, medium, and long term – so the Secretary of State and Highways England know we can work together, and that we, as a community, can find the right answer for our residents and our beautiful city.

It is a bold vision but it is the right thing to do and I look forward to our first proper workshop event and more to come, judging by the considerable positive comments many others feel the same.

So a big bold step for all of us but we need to take it to find big bold solutions.

I will keep you posted.  

Best wishes,


Monday, 6 March 2017

It’s not rocket science, it’s neuroscience

Some days are particularly significant and represent the culmination of considerable background work. And so it was on 2 March when we launched the 1001 Critical Days Manifesto.

This isn’t a political manifesto, but a critically important matter, extremely dear to my heart, which will affect not only those born today and those who have just been born, but those who will be born in the future.

The Manifesto highlights the huge importance from when a baby is conceived until the age of two.

Research has confirmed and reinforced what we have known for a very long time – that from conception up to two years old is a critical time in a child’s development. What happens in those 1,001 days can set the course of a child’s life. Scans of a child’s brain highlights the development of the brain’s function – the evidence is startling and worrying but clear for all to see.

While a baby is in the womb there is a person growing and forming, it requires nourishing food and nurturing – all as important as after the baby is born. Sadly we see more children born with foetal alcoholism, drug addiction and other problems. It is the worst start for those babies, it damages the child’s life chances right from the start and sadly in most cases right the way through life. But that doesn’t have to be the case – which is why this Manifesto is so important.

Under the Manifesto we are promising more support and guidance to families and parents of infants. We want to look at things like improving support for mothers at risk of mental health issues, giving all parents access to ante-natal classes and ensuring services and organisations are working together to share data and information. This is not new to us, we are already working very closely with our health partners such as midwives. We all want a seamless service to support and help mums-to-be and parents, thus ensuring children have the best start in life.

Of course, we can’t achieve this on our own and I’m pleased to say that a number of organisations have already joined us and signed up to the manifesto including the maternity teams from Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, as well as Sussex Community NHS Foundation  Trust. Yet again an example of how much we can achieve by working together as organisations.

In our busy lives we often forget that the contact with our baby, whether a cuddle, holding a hand, playing or talking, are absolutely key to a child’s development – they cost nothing but have a huge impact on a child. Finding the time is sometimes the hardest thing to do, but such interaction is a vital part of a child’s development. Sadly some parents, because of a history of poor parenting, do not know how to interact with their child.

Our ambition is for every baby to receive sensitive, appropriate and responsive care, whilst ensuring parents feel confident they are raising their children in a loving and supportive environment.

I’m pleased to say that at the County Council our services and professionals already recognise the significance of help early on and we have been praised for our work. The Manifesto will add to this work by putting in place a secure foundation to build upon. I firmly believe this gives a really positive start to ensuring our residents are receiving the support they and their loved ones need for the best start in life.

We held the launch at St Richard’s Hospital in Chichester and it was attended by a number of people including Tim Loughton, one of our local MPs. Tim is Co-Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Conception to Age 2 and is a very strong advocate of the Manifesto. It was Tim who first introduced it to me and asked me if it was something we would consider implementing at the County Council.

We are just the second council in the country to commit to a 1001 Critical Days Manifesto, following in the footsteps of Northampton County Council last year.

We know nationally that the cost of failing to deal adequately with perinatal mental health and child maltreatment has been estimated at £23 billion per year. Reports show this is largely avoidable and we need to do all we can to tackle the problem locally. Once again it highlights the importance of preventative work rather than reactive work and the impact this can have long-term.

In West Sussex we have approximately 9,000 births per year – we need to ensure each and every child, parent and carer has the support they need for those 1,001 critical days and beyond.

We’re asking all West Sussex based services and professionals who work with children in the 1,001 days age group to support the manifesto by signing the pledge – you can find out more on our website. You can also view a video from the launch.

Best wishes,

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

It is essential we get A27 Chichester improvements

The news today that the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, has cancelled the A27 Chichester improvement scheme is deeply disappointing to say the least.

The cancellation means that the dreadful congestion experienced by motorists everyday on this road will now only get worse. This is not only felt especially at peak times, but also on the alternative routes used locally by motorists avoiding the A27.

We have not been given a proper explanation as to why the minister has reached this decision. But to suggest this is because of a lack of support from West Sussex County Council is just wrong.

The County Council has long campaigned for improvements to the A27 at Chichester and has committed £10 million towards the scheme.

These funds have been committed to the improvements for some time and they remain so. Let there be no doubt over that.

I wrote to the minister at the end of January – one of my many letters and emails calling for an open and transparent consultation process and clear communications with the public. The letter – which can be read here – clearly sets out our position and in no way withdrew support for the scheme.

What the letter did say – and these are things we have said repeatedly – is that people should have an opportunity to voice their concerns and preferences on every aspect of the scheme, the consultation results should be published promptly and a decision on the scheme should be reached as soon as possible.

The letter also stressed that we would work with Highways England and the Department for Transport on their preferred option – whatever that might be – provided it meets the strategic objectives which were originally set out for the benefit of the residents of West Sussex.

What is important now is that we all unite together to do all we can to persuade the minister to reconsider his decision given the evident need of investment for the infrastructure of our county.

I am today urging people to come together and work towards finding a solution that will meet with the approval of our community. This is the only way we can provide the Secretary of State with the reassurance he needs. I would welcome a meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss the matter further.

I know many people will be very upset with this latest news, but please be assured I am fully committed to working with everyone in our communities and Chichester District Council to help find a solution for Chichester.
Best wishes,