Jonathan Owen: In East Riding, we will build on the great community spirit shown throughout the pandemic

21 Jun

Cllr Jonathan Owen is the Leader of East Riding of Yorkshire Council

Prior to the 2019 local elections I submitted a piece to Conservative Home which outlined our positivity at East Riding of Yorkshire Council around the elections by our approach of concerning ourselves with local issues. At a time when national expectation was one of gloom for Conservative councils, we were one of the very few that increased our number of seats with a healthy majority. We enjoyed an influx of new councillors, who have integrated into the local government world.

With elections again in May 2023, will we be in the same position?

Never in my 22 years as a Councillor, most spent in a deputy Leader and Cabinet role, and now Leader, have I been more uncertain of the next election results.

Austerity, Brexit, Covid, Cost of Living, Inflation, now all are stacked against any Party with no clear vision of a route to tackle the issues – and the public are restless and many suffering.

Levelling up and devolution are the current way forward, but using the principle of universal proportionalism (understood by those in Public Health circles under the principles of Sir Michael Marmot) which advocates a proportional use of intervention across the whole – not just targeted at the areas of most need – we must ensure that everyone has that proportionate share of levelling up funding, for the long term, not short term politics.

‘Place’ is the new mantra – ensuring we are acting across our ‘place’, usually our upper tier local government boundaries shared between a couple of authorities.

Why are we in local government?.

My view is simple, we are here to protect the vulnerable and improve the quality of life for everyone else. To achieve this we need three simple things, originally put to me by Duncan Selbie, former head of Public Health England: to give people a job, a roof over their heads, and a friend, – and then you are supporting your residents for the best chances in life.

To achieve this? We use our non statutory, but essential role, to promote economic development across the spectrum, from multi-national companies, where we can assure the supply of land through our local plans and pressing for enterprise zones etc. We work with our MP’s to support local large businesses and our plethora of SME’s (Small and Medium Enterprises) through ensuring the planning system is geared up to get things moving – and continuing to invest in our start up business units with accompanying wrap-around support and advice.

We will accelerate our provision of affordable housing.

We will build on the great community spirit shown throughout the pandemic.

We are, again, entering a new world of change to the NHS with the introduction of the new Integrated Care Systems in July. The cynical ones among us who have experienced the constant top-down restructuring of the NHS and countless attempts to get away from the fact that the NHS has really become a National Hospital Service, not Health Service, can now involve ourselves in pushing for total system integration. This is through the new, local government weighted, Integrated Care Partnerships, working alongside and feeding into the Integrated Care Boards, to deliver on the intent of the NHS to involve itself in health prevention and tackling inequalities. We are pushing for this opportunity to claim funding from, and co-produced working with, the NHS to invest in our ‘place’ to tackle those inequalities the NHS is now to involve itself in: including economic development and working with local authorities who have influence in all those areas that affect our health and wellbeing, e.g. Early years, Education, Transport, Housing, Economic Development, Leisure, Culture and Arts, Streetscene, Public Health and Inequalities, Open spaces, Adult and Childrens Social Care etc.

We have the opportunity for integration post-Covid, where joint working, carried out through necessity, can be built on for new working relationships moving ahead. The pandemic has spotlighted the huge potential of the voluntary and community sector, which we in the East Riding do not want to lose. We have introduced a new priority in our council plan of ‘Empowering Communities’ where we ensure that the value of asset-based community development, building on the strengths already inherent in the community through community groups, societies, etc, can be used to support and invest our limited resources in what’s already there and working – to shift from a position where we think we know best to supporting what is actually proven to work and owned by the communities we support.

Our role in local government is to put the wishes of our residents first, in our ‘place’, to our leaders in national government, not just be the delivery arm of national policy.

I remind all new candidates entering politics that in an ideal scenario where you may have a 60 per cent turnout in an election (six in ten vote) and you have a wonderful result of over 50 per cent voting for you (three of the six) then seven out of ten did not actually vote for you (70 per cent).

You represent all of them and the slightest shift in opinion through a local or national issue can sway all those that don’t vote.

We cannot ever be complacent. But we’ll be fighting on the local issues.

The post Jonathan Owen: In East Riding, we will build on the great community spirit shown throughout the pandemic first appeared on Conservative Home.

Faye Purbrick: A new beginning for Somerset

1 Apr

Cllr Faye Purbrick is the Cabinet Member for Education and Transformation on Somerset County Council

On March 18th 2022, the statutory change orders (SCO) that represent the final piece of the puzzle in creating a new unitary council for Somerset passed through the House of Commons and the House of Lords. With the legal boxes ticked, Somerset (along with colleagues in North Yorkshire and Cumbria) will see local government structures from 1974 fall away on the 1st April 2023 as we make a once in a generation step change in the way that services are delivered and decisions made across our county. Some may ask “what’s the big deal?”; others will have been living in unitary areas for years and will not see what the fuss is about – but for us, in Somerset, 2023 marks a new beginning.

It aligns with government policy and ambition around levelling up (West Somerset was the second-lowest area for social mobility when opportunity areas were rolled out last decade), builds on the opportunities of devolution (enabling economic development and inward investment to be driven from the heart of Somerset, not the heart of government) building on the successes of Hinkley C and the Gravity Smart Campus; and it provides a platform for the whole area to build back better as we recover from the pandemic with our communities at the heart of decisions, delivery, and ambition.

A 2019 report titled The Future of Local Government in Somerset (FOLGIS) highlighted key challenges for the county: challenges for disadvantaged children; an underperforming economy marred by high housing costs; poor connectivity and low productivity, skills and wages; environmental challenges from flooding to the drive to carbon-neutral; education, housing and wellbeing challenges for young adults; and a growing older population with health, care, and isolation issues. Now most councillors I know across the country will say they face the same challenges in their area; ever more so as we slowly emerge from the COVID pandemic – but what Somerset had before it was a solution. A solution that could free-up millions of pounds to invest in frontline services and improvements that could work to address these challenges. A solution that could bring services and support together in a way that was logical for residents and businesses, not civil servants, starting from a place of what is possible, not what have we always done. And finally, a solution that could build on the strengths of our communities that had become so apparent during COVID and support those communities in a way that best meets their needs, their ambitions, and their resources. Not a one size fits all, but a one council solution that was large enough to manage strategically, whilst being hyper-local to adapt to community needs.

When we sat down in February 2020 to build our case for a new Somerset, our communities were at the heart of our ambition. Addressing those challenges identified in FOLGIS was essential but we knew it was time to look at things differently. Looking at colleagues who have preceded us on the journey from two-tier to unitary, a number of opportunities and risks became apparent, but the biggest opportunity lay in an ability to take a county-wide ambition and strategy and deliver it in the right way, with the right priorities in our communities. We saw amazing examples of this work in other counties, known as Area Boards in Wiltshire and Community Networks in Cornwall – we weren’t looking to reinvent the wheel, but we were going to customise it, for Somerset, for our community needs and for the best possible solution to deliver levelling up across our county.

We called these utopian entities Local Community Networks (LCNs). And, in the best examples of doing what it says on the tin, these were imagined to be networks of communities across Somerset bundled into local groups. These LCNs will remain part of the unitary council but be spread out across the county in communities, driving the conversation about what a place needs and drawing on the services of the council alongside town and parish councils, health, education, police, and voluntary sector partners. They will act as a voice for the community into these organisations and a conduit for support, services, and enablement back into those communities to address the wider FOLGIS challenges and their local nuances.

Some remain uncomfortable that, with 12 months to go until the new council is formed, these LCNs are not fully formed and mandated. For me, this is the essence of them. When we were writing the business case for a unitary Somerset, it was clear that we must work together to address the challenges and opportunities ahead. I ask you this: if a community voice is key is shaping and delivering services in a new council, how can that voice not be a part of shaping how these LCNs will work? Don’t get me wrong, this is the South West not the wild west, so there are clear principals and a vision for what they will deliver, as I’m often heard to say “it’s in the business case”, but their boundaries and operating models will be set in conjunction with the people of Somerset.

Our new advisory board are already starting to help that shape and ambition. And no, the advisory board is not just another group of councillors tasked to find solutions – it’s open to everyone from our partners in the voluntary sector, health, education, police, town and parish councils and every business and member of the public in Somerset – all views are valid, all views are welcome, and I invite anyone from Somerset reading this piece to get involved with shaping the future of our Somerset Council. There is no doubt that there are challenges to be faced in the coming decade; there is no doubt that there are amazing opportunities for our county to drive our ambition and level up across Somerset; and there is no doubt that the future starts now.

Elections to town, parish, city, and the new unitary council (following a year of sitting as county councillors) take place on May 5th. All those elected will serve a five-year term overseeing and implementing the new local government structures and ambitions for Somerset. Everyone, from parish councillors to the unitary leader, has a key role to play in shaping Somerset for a generation. So, take a look at the business case, think about how you want to be involved, and step into this once in a lifetime chance to deliver real change, real vision, and real success.

Ed McGuinness: Afghanistan – and the changes that should now be made to better support our veterans

10 Sep

Ed McGuinness is a founder of Conservatives in the City, and contested Hornsey & Wood Green during last year’s General Election.

This week the summer seemed to return and, as the sun rose over Westminster, MPs began filling the House of Commons once again, bringing a buzz to the start of a new political term. In a week packed with domestic legislation, the Prime Minister took to his feet to make a statement on what was surely the major story of the summer: Afghanistan.

Many have pored over the strategy of the withdrawal – and will continue to.  Even more will consider the operational and tactical decisions that led to chaotic scenes at Kabul airport. What can, I believe, be objectively said is that the bravery, dedication and professionalism of our Armed Forces and diplomatic service is without question. However, as the Prime Minister pointed out, those men and women were only the final team of the over 150,000 British service personnel who have served in the country since 2001.

It was therefore welcome that the Government laid out extra support, in the form of an extra £5 million, for veterans of the conflict who are undergoing mental and physical health issues as a consequence of their service to the nation.  A quick calculation, assuming that five per cent of those who served are undergoing or require treatment, is that this new measure will provide an extra spend of around £650 per person.

But however welcome this extra funding may be, it is not is not enough in and of itself. There is a tremendous amount of knowledge and best practice in the public domain with respect to promoting aspects of service life: one need only look at the number of military charities that are out there. And the Veterans Affairs Office was a good start to coordinating the Government action to protecting and promoting veterans’ interests from a top-down perspective.

However, structures do not make a strategy, and I believe that there are three changes that could be made to strengthen the bonds between the Government and the Armed Forces.

First, the Government should make the Minister for Veterans Affairs a Cabinet-level position – or else place it under the purview of the Secretary of State for Defence with a Defence Minister (it currently resides in the Cabinet Office), so that it has the requisite clout when negotiating for funding with other departments.

Second, there ought to be a serious consultation with the Armed Forces charity sector. In 2020, there were around 2,000 Armed Forces charities. Some of these charities have a very broad remit, and some very specific. The Government should establish an umbrella organisation to act as a forum to share best practice, identify areas not covered and allow better co-ordination. Most importantly, this would allow for the identification of where public funding can be more efficiently allocated to better support serving and retired service personnel.

Third, and perhaps the most difficult objective to implement, is a mindset change. There needs to be a recognition that the Armed Forces are a unique public service. Whilst many public servants, especially the emergency services and health services, will undergo traumatic experiences through their careers, there is no expectation that those public servants will explicitly lay down their lives in the service of the nation, although it is recognised that many have made brave sacrifices.

Furthermore, the Armed Forces are the only public service whose major purpose is to actually stand ready to act for the majority of the time, rather than to be acting all the time. To this end, resourcing the Armed Forces for “outcomes” is not an appropriate mindset. Instead, Ministers should resource single living accommodation for serving soldiers, provide sufficient funding for equipment and good food, and make sure there is adequate housing (including families) and employment for retired soldiers. Changing mindset from quantitative outcomes to qualitative is more appropriate in this respect.

The withdrawal from Afghanistan was painful for a whole spectrum of people, for a whole series of reasons, but it presents an opportunity to reform our approach to the Armed Forces and how we support soldiers. There has been a hugely positive change in mindset over the past 20 years when it comes to soldiers’ mental and physical health.  But in order to solidify this and build on it more reform is needed.

Not all of it requires lots of additional funding; most simply requires a willingness to engage and support. Our Armed Forces come to our need, domestically and overseas, time and time again. Our efforts to support them should never be exhausted – there is always going to be scope to do more, and it is government’s duty to do so.

Harry Fone: Councils have saved millions on their printing bills

21 May

Harry Fone is the Grassroots Campaign Manager for the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

Following the local elections, there will be many newly elected councillors, possibly now in overall control of a council, eager to make a big difference in their local communities. One of the best ways to do this is by ensuring that every penny of council tax nets maximum possible value. But of course hand-wringing council bosses and bureaucrats may well claim that there is no fat left to trim. That’s why I’ve laid out where simple savings can be made.

Printing costs

New research by the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) reveals that councils made huge savings on printing over the last twelve months. Local authorities spent just £41.6 million from April 2020 to February 2021, a staggering £32 million less than the previous financial year.

Some things must be printed out, perhaps most notably everything required to run a successful local election, but big reductions are possible as Chorley and East Riding have shown. Locking in these economic and environmental savings for the future can only be a good thing.

Make changes to senior staffing 

As the latest edition of the Town Hall Rich List revealed, thousands of council employees are enjoying remuneration in excess of £100,000 per year. Polling by the TPA showed that 59 per cent of people want their salaries to be frozen or cut.

But questions remain about whether these executive positions are needed in the first place. Many insiders I’ve spoken to argue that there are too many directors in councils – a lot of the work could be done at management level.

Stoke City Council is seeking to reduce its number of senior staff and save taxpayers £360,000 a year in the process. If staff numbers can’t be cut, why not consider sharing senior staff between two councils and halve the wage bill for taxpayers?

Work with the private and voluntary sectors

I think most Conservatives would agree that the private sector tends to be more efficient than the public sector. I would argue that local government doesn’t fully explore the potential that’s available – there is no shortage of people and organisations seeking to make their area better for all.

Consider council award ceremonies for example. In 2019 the TPA discovered that nearly £6.6 million was spent on these extravagances. A minority of entrepreneurial councils managed to cover the costs through private sponsorship. More authorities should do so – not just for awards ceremonies (which are highly questionable in the first place). But perhaps for beautifying town centres or even covering the costs of Christmas lights. The possibilities are endless and if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Councillor allowances

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen numerous examples of councillors awarding themselves increases in their allowances. From Bristol to Tower Hamlets, elected members have been seemingly tone-deaf to the financial problems many households have experienced.

As a newly-elected councillor, why not lead by example and return a portion of your allowances to taxpayers? If more of your fellow councillors follow suit there are huge savings to be made. In 2018-19 alone the TPA calculated the cost of allowances to the taxpayer at £255 million. At the very least, councils should commit to a freeze in allowances for as long as possible. Local taxpayers will thank you for it.

Seize the benefits of the working from home revolution

As I recently highlighted, councils are all too eager to splash the cash on shiny new headquarters. But given the pandemic has seemingly kickstarted the working from home revolution, should councils think again before building a new office block? With fewer people coming into the office, a smaller amount of space will be needed. Hot-desking is likely to be more widely adopted. With it comes very welcome savings on heating, electricity, IT equipment, to name a few.

It’s also worth considering what impact working from home could have on productivity and absenteeism. Figures by the ONS showed a huge decline in public sector productivity in Q2 and Q3 of 2020. Public sector absenteeism is still greater than that of the private sector and the trend doesn’t look like reversing anytime soon. Council wage bills eat up huge amounts of taxpayers’ cash. Councillors must enact policies and practices that get the best performance out of staff.

Savings must be made

It’s very plausible that in 2022-23, the average Band D council tax bill in England could be just shy of £2,000. Residents want a break from inflation-busting rate rises. They need proactive councillors who will keep a tight grip on the purse strings and ramp up efficiency.

There will be plenty of people who will tell you this can’t be done, but the government begs to differ. This document outlines even more ways to make savings. I hope this will inspire you to launch a ‘War on Waste’ in your local authority. If you’d like a helping hand, feel free to email me, harry.fone@taxpayersalliance.com

Danny Kruger: Charities must be allowed to carry out their work. Our most vulnerable children need them.

29 Apr

Danny Kruger is MP for Devizes. He chairs the Centre for Social Justice’s Commission on Safely Reducing the Number of Children in Care.

The number of children in care has never been greater. Over 68,000 children were living apart from their families in June 2020 – an increase of three per cent over the previous year.

Already before the pandemic, the care system that should support these children was under pressure. In 2018 Ofsted judged 58 per cent of local authorities to be ‘Inadequate’ or ‘Requires improvement to be good’ with regard to their children’s services.

But the pandemic has made things much worse. In the first six months of the pandemic, incidents involving death or serious harm to under-one year olds because of suspected negligence or abuse increased by 31 per cent over the same period in 2019. Among one to five year olds, it increased by 50 per cent.

Directors of Children’s Services reported that, as a result of Covid-19, families face less support, more investigations and more removals of children in response to their difficulties.

But the pandemic has also tapped an extraordinary voluntary movement in this country. Small local charities have worked in innovative ways to help feed, educate and advise families. Charities provide ideas, energy, and cost-effective interventions.

By relying on these under-used grassroots voluntary organisations, service professionals can reach deep into the community, engaging with the most disengaged. Using informal networks – including youth organisations, church groups, local volunteers – complement statutory services to support the most vulnerable. Free of bureaucracy, place-based and highly flexible, this community-level support can transform outcomes for children at the risk of going into care.

Vulnerable families like volunteers because they are local, less intimidating, and often unpaid. They also invest the kind of time that social workers, overwhelmed by caseloads, cannot afford to dedicate.

One model is the wrap-around service offered by the charity Safe Families for Children. A church-based volunteer organisation, Safe Families for Children delivers temporary foster care to support families in crisis.  The charity offers a befriending service whereby a volunteer will act as a mentor/befriender for the family in crisis and offer financial support for the family in terms of goods or skills. They host the family, and will support them for months on end, developing a strong relationship with family members.

The programme has reduced the flow of children into care by between nine to 16 per cent, and is now working with more than 30 local authorities. It numbers 4,500 volunteers from over 1,000 churches and community groups, and 100 professional staff.

The West London Zone for Children and Young People, a charity I set up in one of the most unequal areas in the country, is another example. WLZ covers an area with 60,000 school-age children and young people, among whom one in five is at risk of leaving school without the proper skills to thrive. Twenty-nine schools across four councils refer children to the charity because of needs such as low grades, poor attendance, wellbeing concerns, low levels of parental involvement. All children referred are below the threshold for additional statutory support.

Service professionals should welcome such collaborations, as they offer a way to scale programmes in a cost-efficient way. But, all too often, grassroot organisations report a defensive, “territorial” mindset among statutory partners. A survey of the 400 plus Centre for Social Justice Alliance’s charities found that members felt undermined by statutory services:

  •  “It’s as if they see themselves in competition with us”.
  • “It has not always felt like a mutually respectful platform”.
  • “I think some budget holders see us as competition eg. we have had occasional times where the cost benefit the LA has been willing to attribute to services has been down scaled because of concerns it would result in them losing staff.”
  • “It’s as if they see voluntary as secondary.”
  • “The demands to fall in line with “clunky” operating systems and LA databases can be prohibitive from a resource perspective with a small staff structures.”
  • “There is a definite sense that we are helping them with “their” cases. “

They also reported facing serious obstacles in getting funding from local government and non‑governmental organisations.[5]  One reason for this is that government funding comes in a large number of discreet, time-limited funds, pilots and initiatives which are too short-term for small charities to cope with.

Government can enforce the stipulation that public service commissioners’ contracts meet “social value” criteria. The taxpayer spends £300 billion a year on goods and services through hundreds of thousands of separate contracts that follow guidance laid down by government.

The Public Service (Social Value) Act 2011 required commissioners to consider the wider social value of bids when awarding contracts for services. Despite this, Social Enterprise UK found that only eight per cent of the £300 billion public sector procurement budget actively champions socially and environmentally responsible business practice.

Government can also ensure that Job Centre Plus staff are aware of the amount of volunteering claimants can take part in, and correctly informing them of it; and it can include information on volunteering in the pensions pack sent to those who reach retirement age, as was recommended by the House of Lords committee on civic engagement.

The post-pandemic economy will see a surge in unemployment. Channelling the energy and creativity of job-seekers and the job-less, especially among the young, into community engagement will benefit these individuals and the local area. According to Department for Work and Pensions guidance, volunteering can count for up to 50 per cent of a jobseeker’s time that they are spending taking reasonable action to find a job.

The introduction of the government’s Innovation Partnership model may help counter this: it allows commissioners to work with potential providers on the design of a contract, seeking to leverage their resources to support the public budget using simpler, outcomes-based contracts.

It would be a shame for the goodwill, energy and flexibility of the voluntary sector to be wasted by bureaucracy and wrong assumptions. Government must act urgently to ensure that charities are allowed to carry out their work: our most vulnerable children need them.

The CSJ’s report Safely reducing the number of children going into care was published this week.

Peter Craske: Community pride in Bexley is stronger than ever

28 Aug

Cllr Peter Craske is the Cabinet Member for Places on Bexley Council.

This has been a hard time for everyone, but in Bexley one of the most positive things has been seeing our community come together, even more than we usually do. In the first week of lockdown, our volunteer bureau asked for help, and within a few days over 600 residents signed up.

I was one of them, and I spent two months as part of a group of people delivering hot food to vulnerable residents across the Borough.

For those residents, living alone but used to seeing lots of friends or family regularly, or just being able to say hello to their neighbours, this has been a very difficult time, suddenly faced with being on their own all the time.

Our daily visits became of huge importance for them, someone to talk to for one thing, but also it gave them comfort that, even if no-one else could drop food or goods over, they would get a hot meal everyday. If they needed anything, whether that was essential supplies or medicines collected, we could report that back to the central hub and it would be dropped round. That Hub was also supported by another group of volunteers as well as brilliant Council staff who played a key role in getting essential supplies and food to those who needed it.

For a Conservative borough, like Bexley, community spirit has always been the bedrock of what makes our borough tick, and every day thousands of people volunteer in all sorts of ways, from running charities to organising Scout or Brownie packs. It is just that this crisis has really brought this to the forefront, and we have lots of new volunteers helping out.

One example has been the reaction to the frankly upsetting amounts of litter that has been dropped in parks, even though there are plenty of bins to use. It has been an issue across the country of course – think of the scenes at Bournemouth Beach – but here, while a few people moaned about it on social media while, of course, never actually doing anything to help, we’ve set up a new Parks Volunteer Service, and in the first week of it being launched, 130 residents signed up, to help pick up litter.

They were astonished at the sheer volumes of litter a small minority of people were dropping and even though our parks have plenty of bins and we doubled the number of crews emptying them and picking up litter from the ground, they could see that despite our commitment it was proving an immense challenge – and they wanted to help.

This is both fantastic and unsurprising.

When we set up our Community Litter Picking scheme three years ago, we were unsure how it would go, but we now have over 350 people taking part and making a difference.

Pride in our Borough and standing together as a community has always been a fundamental part of what makes Bexley such a great place, and one of the reasons why 75 per cent of residents recommend it to others as a place to live.

Naturally not everyone agrees with this. Bexley’s Labour Councillors, fresh from a fourth landslide defeat, and who believe it is the role of the state to do everything all the time, opposed the creation of these types of schemes. At a recent Council meeting, one Labour councillor actually condemned volunteering projects like this as a “cheapskate charter.”

But, as with everything else they do, Labour’s sneering attitude remains firmly in the minority.

The real spirit of our Borough, which is encapsulated in our “Do it For Bexley” message, is seen by everyone who rolls up their sleeves, getting on with life, making the community better for everyone.

Judy Terry: Suffolk has shown has small chroties can make a big difference in helping the vulnerable

4 Aug

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

One of 46 across the UK, Suffolk Community Foundation recently celebrated its 14th year, reporting record levels of income, grantmaking and endowment fund growth.

665 grants, with a combined value of £2.76m were awarded during 2018/19, supporting essential services to help over 164,000 vulnerable and disadvantaged people across the county, including those suffering winter fuel poverty, with funds raised through its annual Surviving Winter Appeal campaign.

Retiring Chairman, James Buckle, a Trustee for nine years, explained:

“Unlike traditional grantmaking trusts and foundations, we develop lasting partnerships with individuals, families, businesses, public bodies and trusts. We worth together to ensure that areas of acute need are addressed compassionately, respectfully and sustainably. Our priority is to reach those in most need by combining robust evidence with local service delivery.

“Each year we have grown stronger, more effective and more ambitious to make Suffolk a better place to live for everyone, raising over £45 million since 2005.”

The website relaunched a year ago, now attracts 25,000 hits, “enabling people to learn more about Hidden Needs, apply for a grant or donate,” says Stephen Singleton, Chief Executive.

“Although Suffolk is a very generous county, it is our mission to raise greater awareness of how local charities and community groups meet need at grassroots level.

“Currently, almost 80 per cent of people’s donations go to the top three per cent of the largest national and international charities, instead of being focused locally. By working with our professional advisors, businesses, families and individuals wishing to contribute to, or establish, funds can tailor their generosity to specific projects with clear outcomes.”

With Social Care services under so much pressure, Stephen Singleton is especially proud of the innovative Sustainability & Transformation Partnership with North East Essex, bringing together both statutory and voluntary sectors to redesign and integrate primary, secondary physical and mental health as well as social care, with the creation of an Integrated Care System (ICS).

As an ICS Board member, the Foundation plays a leading role through its Realising Ambitions fund, with volunteer panels allocating and distributing £1.2m in the last year to address reducing loneliness and suicides, improve mental health and obesity, and reducing the impacts of poverty on health.

Other initiatives include the creation of Suffolk 100 members, and Community Champions, who directly support the Foundation and the Young Philanthropists, inspiring young people to raise money for their local communities, whilst developing key skills in research, negotiation, decision making and public speaking.”

“Building positive futures for our young people is a constant focus,” explains Stephen Singleton:

“The Youth Intervention Fund, for example, addresses issues as diverse as online safety, isolation and wellbeing, especially in rural locations, to ‘up the anti’ on resources to support young people whose lives and futures are in serious jeopardy.

“With knife crime just one of the serious issues increasingly hitting the headlines, we’ve commissioned workshops across 32 primaries, and funded research in close consultation with 75 young people to address their concerns.”

Coming together with The Diocese, University of Suffolk and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, as well as the Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC), this programme has identified the need to include young people in decisions, improve accessibility to services, and provide safe social spaces in consultation with them.

When the PCC pledged an initial £50,000, a further £100,000 was quickly raised to deliver on expectations, and address challenges including antisocial behaviour and gang culture, drugs and alcohol addition, and County Lines.

Tim Passmore, the PCC says:

“During my term in office, I have seen at first hand some shocking and heart-wrenching situations involving our young people that are completely unbelievable in 21st century Suffolk. The research was vital to implementing solutions as a team, and I was delighted with the response to create the Youth Intervention Fund.”

In another success, 2018/19 saw nearly 500 people donating all or part of their Winter Fuel Payment to raise over £125,000 to heat over 800 households, as well as help with insulation improvements and energy tariffs. “We really broke new ground, and committed every penny to those vulnerable older people in genuine need,” adds Mr. Singleton.

The annual Suffolk Action week in early autumn showcases the role volunteers play in local wellbeing, reaching over 40,000 people, highlighting opportunities to volunteer at least once a month by joining one of the many organisations changing lives across the region.

One of the most popular annual events, deferred until next year, is Suffolk Dog Day, run entirely by volunteers, bringing together tens of thousands of dog lovers at the magnificent Helmingham Hall. Since 2008, it has raised over £500,000, benefiting over 100,000 vulnerable people through 250 grants. Importantly, it is a fun day out for people of all ages, enjoying each other’s company, entertainment and food, as well as delighting in dogs’ performance.

Recognising and rewarding all this effort is the aim of the annual High Sheriff’s Awards, inviting entries across seven categories.

“We are very fortunate in Suffolk, to have so many people willing to devote their time and energy to helping others. Cooking meals, driving people to the shops or doctors’ appointments, digging a garden, organising a book club or children’s sporting event; they are a lifeline for so many people, but do all these things out of love, without expecting anything in return, so these Awards are a wonderful opportunity to say a simple ‘thank you’,” explains Mr. Singleton.

The strength of the Foundation’s relationship with the High Sheriff is evident as it welcomes George Vestey, as its new Chairman. High Sheriff of Suffolk in 2018/19, he praised his predecessor for his “kindness, support and thoughtful leadership”. A significant act to follow, for which he is well qualified.

Matthew Hicks, Leader of Suffolk County Council (SCC), acknowledges the considerable benefits of joint working with the Foundation and its army of volunteers and fundraisers:

“Suffolk is a wonderful place to live, but, like so many rural counties, it has its fair share of challenges to overcome.

“These challenges include some people who may be living in rural isolation, facing loneliness and potential financial distress. Too often these issues are handled by the individual, on their own in silence, leading to incidents of poor mental health.

“When I became Leader of SCC in May 2018, I made clear my belief that no one individual organisation has all the answers to these challenges. I believe that we must work together with partners across the county to find solutions and mitigations that work. Through its sympathetic approach, the Foundation identifies a whole range of Hidden Needs across all age groups, which helps all of us to work in partnership to find the right solutions without invading anyone’s privacy. They are a pleasure to work with.”

Stephen Singleton and Matthew Hicks both agree that the current Covid-19 pandemic “is an exceptional event that will have an impact on local charities and community groups. We want to offer reassurance that we all stand together to address these challenges, focusing on the vital work of supporting the most vulnerable people across the county.”

Salim Chowdhury: Integration not division offers the best future for British Bangladeshis

29 Jul

Salim Chowdhury is the Founder and President of the British Bangladeshi Caterers Association. He is a former Police officer and a former Conservative Councillor.

Public Health England’s  COVID-19 report showed that Bangladeshi’s had the highest risk of death, a risk twice as high as those from White backgrounds. The challenged plight of the community was echoed in the Race Disparity Audit too, which has British Bangladeshis at the low end of almost all measures of performance in society – from the lowest average wage to the lowest school grades.

Bengalis came to the UK as early as the 17th Century as lascar seamen. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that the bulk of the community arrived. I was one of these people, coming from Syhlet like most of the diaspora. This economic migration saw all Bengalis get to work, or at least try to. Many initially found progress in the restaurant industry, creating a British staple in communities in the curry house.

Integration was everything. It was what led me to join the police and serve as a councillor, despite almost nobody from my background following these paths at the time. It is one of the reasons why any Minister engaging with the diaspora goes viral in Bangladesh – because the nation is impressed that its sons and daughters have made the journey to the UK, and in effect, made it. So for all the difficult readings of the RDA, there is actually a huge amount of pride in the community – and we need to tap into that in this recovery.

As the Founder and President of the British Bangladeshi Caterers Association representing thousands of members across the country, I requested that all members running restaurants prioritised free meals for the elderly, vulnerable, NHS staff and care workers. This started on March 18th with the Food for the Most Vulnerable campaign. This has involved all restaurants providing over 9,000 free meals to these groups including special delivery options. Meals were provided to NHS staff across four different hospitals. This included Northwick Park Hospital which was one of the first to be hit hard and is home to a disproportionately high number of ethnic minority patients and staff in servicing Brent and Harrow.

We have seen Britons from all backgrounds come together. We have learned from each other. Tom Moore was the reason for Bangladeshi, Dabirul Choudhury, to also walk for charity – receiving huge coverage across major broadcasters in the UK and Bangladesh. Charity has reflected the best of us. The British Asian Trust’s ‘Big Curry Night In’ was an idea which worked and helped me to sign up 101 restaurants to raise money for those most in need of food and essentials throughout the crisis – and now there are British Bangladeshis participating in and with charities that they might not have done otherwise.

For all the pain caused by the crisis, British Bangladeshis are emerging with pride intact and with immense hope for the future of this country, our home. We are British first. It is up to all of us to deliver a social and economic recovery so that no ethnicity must look at statistics and see large gaps between them and another group, in turn confirming their notion of difference. All lives lost are tragic and won’t be forgotten, but we must look at all the positives, or else we’ll never have a chance to come out of the dangers to public health and the economy.

Our communities are one more than ever. It is an economic recovery, from levelling up to industries like my own in curry houses, that will deliver for our families and in turn provide them with conditions and choice which will not make them so vulnerable to other winds and storms in their lives. We must remember who and what we have got as well as who and what we have lost. My ancestors once navigated rough seas in a more challenging age. If they could, we can.