Monday, 22 October 2018

Tackling Plastic On The Ground

I know I keep saying it but West Sussex is made up of some amazing communities. There are groups of people everywhere taking action to help their community in some way.

Take for example Amanda Hine who has her own business ‘Message in a Bottle’. She has set up the Litter Ladies of Chichester who are really doing their bit by running litter picks and, more importantly, raising the issue of single use plastic in and around Chichester.  Discarded plastic is seriously damaging our environment, choking our seas and harming wildlife.

I joined them on Saturday afternoon to clear a footpath running along the City Walls and Prebendal Playing field. Now this is a busy footpath next to the Lavant river bed – at present dry. Although this area had a thorough litter pick three weeks ago, in just under an hour, we filled eight bags of mainly plastic rubbish. There were bottles, crisp packets, sweet wrappers, sandwich cartons, plastic bags- it really was an eye opener.

Clearing the river bed was particularly important because when the river starts running again all that plastic would have gone straight out to the sea.

The pick was really enjoyable and I was made to feel so very welcome by the other Litter Ladies. A couple of highlights of the hour included a young lad out with his family who helped us collect litter and a man who gave us a couple of empty beer bottles, because the litter bin had been vandalised and was overflowing.  
What is abundantly clear is that we are facing an ever-rising tsunami of plastic. The recent Blue Planet and other documentaries have made everyone more aware that we are being choked by plastic and we should try to do our bit to reduce our use of it. 

I will continue to litter pick and look forward to joining the pickers again soon. There is a huge amount to be done to reduce our reliance on non-biodegradable plastic which stays, not for decades, but for so much longer.

I have several reusable water bottles and am delighted that WSCC has joined the Refill Scheme (it’s an easy-to-use app and it is free too). I use a soap bar not liquid soap in a plastic bottle and I find greaseproof paper works just as well as cling film. I avoid using plastic bags in the supermarket - in fact I would prefer paper bags.

I would really like to hear from you about how you are changing your use of plastic. What plastic are you doing without? If we can all make some changes in our lives, not just for a short time, as "every little helps" to quote one major supermarket. But companies have a really big and important role to play too.  Do we really need all that extra packaging? I really don’t think so.
Now here’s one final ask from me – don’t drop your litter – take it home and put it in your bin – let’s make a real effort to be a cleaner, greener West Sussex and to all those litter pickers across the County – thank you. You are amazing to give up your time to keep the local environment nicer for everyone.

As I once read – tread lightly on this planet –we are just life tenants here and should leave behind a planet that all who come behind us can enjoy too.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Our West Sussex charities

Did you know there are more than 185,000 registered charities in the UK? From the very large such as Macmillan or the RNLI to some very small local charities.

We are a nation of givers and we donate money, time and support to a plethora of charities depending on our own values and causes we support. We have many local Charities in West Sussex – something we should be very proud of as we know charities make a difference to someone.

The Sussex Community Foundation raises funds to provide grants of around £2million a year to local charities and local community groups across the whole of Sussex.

On Saturday they held their first Charities Fair and I came away truly inspired. It was a really great initiative, with thought provoking speakers together with charities exhibiting what they do. All the charities, large and small, had one mission in common – a  passion for what they do and the difference they make.

As I chatted to the different groups I learned that some charities had been started up by a couple of parents or friends who want to help and make a difference. And they really are - it is absolutely inspiring. From Auntie Val’s; a charity supporting people with disabilities well known locally for a wide range of delicious jams and preserves, to Asperger’s Voice, Blueprint, St Wilfrid’s Hospice and too many more to mention – we couldn’t do without them.

Many charities work closely with services across West Sussex. In 2015/16 West Sussex Age UK Money Advice Service advised 5,315 people of which 4,970 were given benefit advice. Indeed the value of additional benefits accessed by West Sussex Age UK was 1.9 million- that’s a big number.

We, as West Sussex County Council, commission or purchase services from many charities too so of course they are concerned about our challenging financial situation – which is the same for all county and unitary councils across the country.

One area of this which has had a lot of focus is our review of our funding for supported housing, announced at the end of August.

I cannot stress enough how much I understand the worry for charities and communities for an announcement like this.

What I would say though is we have a duty to balance the books this year and the next and the next and to do that we must look at every area of spending and make sure every penny we spend is being spent in the right way for the communities we serve.

Having said that I would like to give some reassurance.

The charities affected have joined together to form a consortium; this is a great way of helping us to make sure we are involving and engaging everyone we need to. West Sussex officers have been engaging with this group and the Cabinet Member Amanda Jupp is involved and meeting various groups listening to what they have to say.

We have also set up a working group including the County Council, District Council, police and health representatives so we are all working in this area understanding each other demands and what needs to be done. Working collectively sharing data and information helps all of us be more effective in what and how we are supporting these charities.

This is just the start and we have some way to go but for the first time we are all working collectively on an issue that concerns us all.

We have a number of contracts with the supported housing providers, some of them have not been reviewed for some time, so it is absolutely right that we review them with our partners. No different with your house or car insurance – when it comes up for renewal most of us look around check the deal we have meets what we need at the price we can afford.

So let’s be clear at present there are no cuts – but there is a review.

We will undertake that review fairly taking everyone’s views into consideration, look at the impact of any change and see where it can be mitigated, we will work collectively with all partners.

In the meantime we await the outcome of the Government’s spending review – it is estimated by the Local Government Association and the County Council Network that there needs to be a government injection of funding of £3.5 billion for Adults Services and £2 billion for Children’s Services which just shows the scale of the situation. I am not too hopeful that there will be anything like this sum of money available – but I do hope there is a serious acknowledgement of the very severe financial plight all counties and unitaries are currently working in and yet still delivering services.

 A little fiscal easing would go some way to help us in delivering more and I think that is something we would all want.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

A wonderful welcome for our Royal couple

Well Wednesday could truly be described as Wonderful Wednesday when Sussex’s very own Duke and Duchess, Harry and Meghan, visited Chichester and Bognor.

West Sussex certainly lived up to its reputation of being the sunniest county in the country with blissful autumn sunshine, just right for a royal walkabout in West Street, Chichester, where young old and not so old lined the street to catch a glimpse of the couple. For West Sussex County Council staff it was a particular delight and honour when they visited our magnificent Edes House to inspect our copy of the Declaration of Independence.

Little did I think when I saw the document in the beginning of July the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would be viewing it this Autumn. This exquisite document, so painstakingly and no doubt lovingly handwritten exudes a sense of history that is difficult to explain. I am sure it had a particular resonance to the Duchess.

Then off they went to open the Tech Park; Chichester University’s latest expansion on the Bognor Regis Campus. Chichester University, West Sussex County Council, Arun District Council and the Coast to Capital LEP have all worked together on this project over the past few years, to make  this cutting edge Technology Park a reality and open up so many opportunities for the creative and digital technology sector as well as engineering and design it is a significant investment in the county and will attract businesses and students into the area. 

As they opened the Tech Park the royal couple  spoke about how impressed they were with what they had seen how it would benefit the students and thanked everyone involved. Relaxed and smiling this royal couple are a great partnership and will be terrific ambassadors for Sussex in so many ways.

For many of us Harry and his brother are very much part of our lives, we have seen them grow up, we shared their grief, we watched their lives transform from young men setting out into the world to settling down and marrying and much in between. 

We revelled in their marriages. Now Harry and Meghan start  their public life together man and wife, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and just five months later here they are visiting West Sussex. Prince Harry has impressed us all in his role as a fine soldier, his support of servicemen and women and the veterans, the creation and running of the amazing Invictus Games and raising the awareness of mental health. His love for Meghan is there for us all to see, she is a woman of our time and together they make a great team 

To me they embody West Sussex, roots in the traditional but with heads reflecting society today and in the future.

After the first Duke of Sussex died the role became obsolete and it took 175 years for the Duke of Sussex title to be recreated but when it was Sussex was truly blessed and honoured with Prince Harry and Meghan. Certainly they had a busy day visiting lots of places across Sussex I hope they enjoyed their day and were impressed with all they saw and hopefully they will be back to visit us very soon.