Thursday, 2 December 2010

Editorial EADT on Suffolk's New Strategic Direction

This editorial is an excellent piece of journalism which summarizes the deep unease among local readers of the EADT towards the NSD.
It is a shame they did not splash it over the front page!

East Anglian Daily Times Thursday, December 2, 2010 www.eadt.co.uk



A message to Suffolk’s county councillors
On one of the most significant days in Suffolk County Council history, the EADT offers advice - and more questions - to the elected members

TODAY, Suffolk County Council will make the most far-reaching decisions affecting people who use its services in half a century. The effects could be especially significant for children, families, adults and older people who need care or support at critical periods in their lives.

Today the EADT asks: Are Suffolk county councillors sure enough about the implications and risks of what they are agreeing for the thousands of people who need social care support - now and into the longer-term future?

The changes the county council is proposing are certainly more radical, and probably irreversible, than anything ever before.

The New Strategic Direction, and especially the Divestment Strategy, even though phased up to 2013 and open to further developments and modifications, go much further than big changes in past decades.

What it will mean is:
• It will not be Suffolk County Council to whom you turn for intervention, advice, support or a service. It will be to whichever provider organisation emerges from very unclear selection processes for a particular service or block of services.

• It will not be the county council which takes an overall view of needs in the county and has a commissioning approach which ensures that what is available is what is planned. It will be organisations - voluntary, social enterprise or commercial - deciding what they think is best.

• It will not be the county council which ensures the quality of services available to local communities across the county, or to the most vulnerable individuals and families. It will only be possible for the county council to step in after something has gone badly wrong, perhaps too little and too late given the limited staff resources it will have at its disposal.

If the county council thinks any of these points are exaggerated or wrong then that's because, three months on, people across the county, through the columns of this newspaper and elsewhere, have had few answers and no detail in response to the many questions which have been asked.

The financial climate and need to reduce public spending is challenging for the county council. Tough decisions do need to be made. We recognise this. But are the people of Suffolk ready for such far reaching and irreversible changes in order to address the financial challenges?

We are told that the changes will probably be faster and more fundamental than in any of the other 151 local authorities in England with statutory responsibilities for children's and adults services. Their financial challenges are little different -` from those in Suffolk.

Is this wise for our county? Is this wise for:

• Protecting children at risk?
• Safeguarding vulnerable adults?
• Families under stress?
• Physically or mentally frail older people?
• Parents of disabled children?
• Adults with disabilities, chronic illnesses or mental health difficulties?
• Family carers?

We ask all Suffolk county councillors three questions:

1. Do you feel that you have been able to think through sufficiently the risks and implications of what is proposed before making decisions to implement the New Strategic Direction in the ways and over the time period proposed?

2. Do you feel confident that you will want to stand by your decisions further into this decade, and more ahead, as the implications of what you have decided unfold?

3. Do you feel confident that your leading officers and their staff are equipped to be able to carry through safely and effectively the scale of what you decide?
If the answer to these questions is `yes', then we respect your right as democratically elected representatives to so decide.

If the answer to these questions is `not sure', then perhaps you might want to think further about:

• A slower timescale
• Monitoring and evaluation of the outcomes for the people affected before you go from Phase One to Phase Two, and Phase Two to Phase Three.
• Being more discriminating about what services and functions lend themselves to divestment and which do not.

The EADT offers this advice not from a standpoint of opposition to the New Strategic Direction. We neither oppose nor support the policy.

We offer this advice because, like many people in Suffolk, we are concerned about the far- reaching effects of the changes.

That's why our message to our democratically elected councillors is: Please be absolutely sure that you are doing the correct thing.

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