NORFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL BUDGET SPEECH 2022 (my first time seconding a county council budget amendment) Norfolk is a beautiful place to grow up and grow old in, but so much of what we value and need is not equally available to all.
Covid showed us the importance of community, local services, decent living standards and open spaces. As we emerge from covid, we have an opportunity to take stock, to reprioritise and revalue those things that make Norfolk the place we love, to safeguard them for future generations and to ensure that all of Norfolk’s residents have equal opportunity to experience that quality of life.
Over the past nine months I’ve had to deal with some of the most difficult and distressing casework from my time as a Councillor.
Supporting the mother of someone who’s mental health quickly deteriorated after a routine hospital appointment, at 75, and on her own, she became exhausted and distraught once her son finally left hospital, only for him to be placed in a home on the other side of the County with no public transport available for her to visit. With no alternatives available, I found myself driving her to the home and providing moral support along the way. Or, the family of someone in need of palliative care, but no carers available, the family desperate to make the final days of their loved one as comfortable and stress-free as possible. Or, the family of someone that has significant learning disabilities, who was stuck in hospital for months and months, as there was nowhere suitable for her to go to. Traumatic enough for anyone, but unimaginable anguish for someone that finds change and noise and a lack of a routine so unsettling.
What these and other cases represent and confirm for me is that the status quo is not acceptable. It cannot be business as usual as we move on post covid. Our residents in Norfolk are being badly let down and with the Care Quality Commission rating Norfolk as the worst in the country when it comes to care standards, further proof if it were needed that something’s got to change.
The administrations answer to these challenges? Newton Europe.
During the various pieces of casework over the last 9 months, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with health & social care staff; they’re not short of ideas and suggestions for how we can make our services better. They don’t feel listened to. I’ve spoken with service users; they’re not resigned to the standards that they’ve been receiving but are actively wanting to contribute and help and advise. But they don’t feel engaged.
It took the mother of a child with down’s syndrome to successfully challenge this council in court on the minimum income guarantee for there to be a change in direction.
We need fewer consultants, and more compassion.
We need to be more focussed on listening, then we are on litigating.
The Labour Group amendment today is about investing in our own workforce, empowering and supporting the individuals that know Norfolk and know our residents.
When Covid struck, public sector workers up and down the country including here in Norfolk got the job done. They went above and beyond. Local Government worked at its best. But yet, by engaging another private company, arms-length consultants, we’re outsourcing the difficult decisions. What message are we sending to a workforce that already feels undervalued, unsupported, with morale a real challenge.
Where is the leadership and direction from the Cabinet? When it’s a bad news story, the much revered albeit mythical ‘NCC Spokesperson’ is wheeled out, they’re called upon so often of late that I fear they will soon need their own special responsibility allowance. And it’s not just in adult social care – Norfolk’s children, our collective future, are being badly let down. Many, many children still waiting for educational health and care plans. At the school in Thetford where I am a Governor, this is incredibly frustrating for the staff who work tirelessly to support these children with limited resources. They don’t feel listened to either and it’s no wonder that one of the major challenges for our schools is recruitment.
Shockingly, the council has just had to revoke an unlawful policy that cut access to speech and language therapy, after legal action was brought by parents. This council will spend over half a million pounds this year on legal costs fighting families despite losing 90% of these decisions. What a waste of public money and what message does it send out to children with SEND and their families?
Becoming one of the governments new educational investment areas is not a badge of honour. It shows many years of this county consistently failing to help young people get the best from their education and the best life chances.
Norfolk’s children and young people deserve so much better.
I urge you to support this amendment.