Friday, 30 August 2019

#CouncilsCan: Spending Review 2019

This Monday, West Sussex County Council (WSCC) is supporting the Local Government Association’s campaign #CouncilsCan.

We all know councils can - we’ve proved it year in year out. But you can only manage on a shrinking budget for so long and we have all come to that point, that is why the announcement of the Government's Spending Review next week is so critical to not only WSCC but all other councils across the country. That is why we are all getting behind the campaign.

Between 2010 and 2020, councils across the country will have lost almost 60p out of every £1 the Government had provided for services. Despite this they have continued to deliver for their communities, providing vital services daily and supporting local communities to thrive.
Closer to home, in West Sussex the county council still has a gross budget gap, before council tax rises, of over £127 million, to close over the next 4 years. Years of austerity and funding reductions, coupled with rising demand and more complex care cases, have brought some of our essential services, such as children’s social care, to crisis point.

Earlier this month I wrote personal letters to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Secretary of State for Education and the Ministers for Care and Children and Families, reiterating the severe challenges that we are facing here in West Sussex in relation to protecting the most vulnerable children and families in our communities, calling on the Government to help relieve this significant financial pressure and ongoing uncertainty as a matter of urgency.
Let’s see what the Government announces next week.  Unless we see positive change it is going to become increasingly difficult for our councils to improve residents’ lives, reduce demand for public services and save money for the taxpayer. 

I do hope and pray that our voices are heard and that we continue #CouncilsCan rather than be forced to become increasingly #CouncilsCannot.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Finding the right foster placement

The police visit a home in response to an emergency call as neighbours have reported a disturbance and domestic violence. The police are concerned for the safety of the young children who look frightened and neglected.

A family has broken up, the mother has been struggling to manage on her own but her mental and physical health has deteriorated and she can no longer cope – the children are being neglected.

These are just a couple of examples where children, for their own safety and protection, are removed from their family and into care. Such decisions are never easy and never taken lightly, as removing a child from his/her parents is hugely traumatic.  It’s not just down to social workers or Police alone - many agencies are involved, including the courts.

When a decision is made to remove a child from his/her family, where to place the child is of great importance and that comes down to the Placement Team which is part of West Sussex County Council’s Children’s Services.

This specialist team do amazing, fascinating and vital work which I learnt much about on a recent visit to them.

Children and young people should live with their family wherever possible, but when their safety and welfare causes significant concern they can be placed in the care of West Sussex County Council either at the request of their parents or by a court order.

 The child’s social worker initially looks at whether the child/young person can be supported by a member of his/her extended family which helps keep the link with the child’s family.  Unfortunately, this is not always possible.

The Placement Team have developed important skills. The first is to find out as much as possible about the child/young person, taking into consideration carefully his/her needs and wishes in order to get as good a match as possible. Taking into account children’s likes and interests can really make a difference to how they settle into their new home.  As is so often the case it is not the big things that matter but those small details which can make a real difference. For example, if a child likes animals finding a foster carer who has a friendly dog or cat may help settle the child in the new placement and as a result build the relationship with their new carer.

Sometimes a foster placement is appropriate or a placement in a children’s home, depending on needs. Finding the right home for the child is often challenging as there is a high demand for places across the country. The Placement Team needs good listening and negotiating skills and a thorough knowledge of fostering and children’s homes regulations.

The number of children coming into care is increasing across the country and West Sussex is no exception.  There are 747 children/young people in care in West Sussex – that’s an increase compared to previous years.  The work of the Placement Team is crucial in getting the right support for the children who need us most and I was so impressed with the work they do.
Following our recent Ofsted report, considerable work is underway to improve our services including the experience of children coming into care.  We have some way to go but I’m heartened to see first-hand the dedication and commitment of our staff to the children and families they support - ensuring the voice of the child is at the centre of everything we do.

Friday, 9 August 2019

West Sussex – why go anywhere else?

Last year on a warm summer’s evening I was enjoying a walk with a friend along the beach on Selsey and happened to meet with a couple who were visiting West Sussex for the first time.

Living in London, they had decided to go out for the day and headed to West Sussex. Neither of them had visited the county before. They started at Chichester Harbour and had a long pleasurable walk followed by an excellent lunch then they decided to visit the RSPB Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve and were rounding off their day at Selsey beach. They were contemplating an overnight stay and that was the start of the conversation as they asked about accommodation in the area. In the end they decided that there was so much more to see that they would revisit for a week to sample all the delights that West Sussex has to offer.

To say they were enthusiastic about their day visit was an understatement! But is that surprising? Well to me, no. This county has so many things to do whatever age, interest or budget and through Experience West Sussex we are busy encouraging more people, whether residents or visitors, to sample the many delights that West Sussex has to offer whether you are young,  old or not so old!

Now add that to the fact the summers feel like they are getting warmer, and that is certainly the case this year, so having a staycation has many appeals. Rather than jetting off somewhere – resist the urge and in doing so help the environment too by reducing your carbon footprint and with the pound at an all-time low you will save money too.

So let me share with you some of the delights West Sussex has – if it is the great outdoors you hanker for there is nowhere better! Fabulous sandy beaches along the South Coast, so you can kayak, paddle board, windsurf, sail or just enjoy a lazy day on the beach and a swim in sea. In West Sussex, West Wittering has the illustrious Blue Flag award, which means high water quality and excellent facilities.

Then there is the magnificent South Downs National Park, Chichester Harbour and High Weald AoNB - all offering a range of trails to explore with varying landscapes. Pack your water bottle and a picnic and enjoy a hike getting away from it all – there’s nothing quite like it and we have some amazing views to discover. Prefer exploring our county on two wheels? We have some fantastic cycle routes in West Sussex and Experience West Sussex offers some fun cycling itineraries for you to try.

Fancy a wander around some lovely gardens? Well you are spoilt for choice in West Sussex – we have so many to visit including Wakehurst Place, Borde Hill, Leonardslee, Parham, High Beeches, and West Dean, to name just a few.

Is history more your thing? Where better than Arundel to visit with its castle, gardens and river walks. And at the end of the month there is the brilliant Arundel Festival – which has a great art trail. Or pop over to Bosham, visit the church, wander along the trippet and eat an ice cream or two. A meander around Petworth and Petworth House or Midhurst and Cowdray are all good ways to spend a day. Of course the Weald and Downland Living Museum gives a great opportunity to understand how people lived their lives hundreds of years ago and all in some amazing countryside.

We have some great National Trust properties from East Grinstead to the Hampshire Borders which provide a great family day out with so much to do and see.

And if you want art – well start at the amazing Pallant House Gallery in Chichester which has some fantastic art work to enjoy – easy to spend a day just browsing round Chichester and pop into the Oxmarket Art Gallery as well or combine it with a visit to the Cass Sculpture Foundation Park.
Now don’t forget we have some excellent vineyards across the county producing delicious wines – many offer tours to learn about English Wines and of course tastings! Our outstanding vineyards include Bolney Wine Estate, Tinwood Estate and Nyetimber, to name but a few.

More interested in birds and wildlife? A visit to Pagham Harbour Local Nature Reserve or RSPB Pulborough Brooks has much to offer, as does the Arundel Wetland Centre where if you are lucky you may also spot a water vole or two.

I could go on – we are so, so lucky in what we have in West Sussex. But don’t just let me tell you. We’ve interviewed West Sussex schoolchildren and asked them their favourite places to visit in West Sussex – this is what they had to say. So if you’re stuck for ideas for what to do or where to visit this summer holidays then why not try out some of their ideas!

But don’t forget – this is not just about summer holidays – you can Experience West Sussex’s many delights all year round.

I just hope I’ve tempted you to Experience West Sussex – there is nowhere quite like it.

Best wishes,