Lobbying the government for a better transport deal  

So much of our economic future depends on the infrastructure investment Kirklees – and the north of England in general – desperately needs. But while we all know the potential return on that investment, securing the funding and the commitment from national government is incredibly difficult.

A train

That is why I spent some time this week in London lobbying the Transport Minister Chris Grayling for a better deal for the north.

Across the region, we regard transport investment as the most important contributor to economic success. If we are to attract the industry and employers we need to attract the people who will work with them to deliver our economic goals.

If we want to cut pollution associated with cross Pennine travel, as people head to and from Leeds and Manchester through Huddersfield and Dewsbury, it is vital our rail infrastructure is up to the job.

Along with other council leaders from West Yorkshire, I asked the Minister to intervene to reverse the decades of under-investment by successive governments that are holding back the jobs creation and economic growth in Yorkshire.

It cannot be right that that London – as important as it is as our capital city – benefits from more than 10 times the transport investment in the north of England. I am not saying we should stop investing in transport in the south, I am arguing that everybody benefits more if government also invests in the north of England as well. That has to be in the national interest.

A devolution deal will unlock some of the decision making on investment, but we have to get on with the job of lobbying for more funding now. The West Yorkshire Plus Transport fund is a step in the right direction, but does not go far enough to turn round the legacy of decades of under-funding.

The Minster assured us that he was well aware of the need to improve all the Trans Pennine links and he demonstrated that he was fully aware of our concerns and demonstrated his detailed knowledge of the proposals currently being considered.

Developing our services for children and families

The Department for Education has published a report which looks at future options for children’s services in Kirklees.

A Children’s Commissioner was appointed to work with us following our Ofsted inspection in the autumn of 2016. The role of the Commissioner, Eleanor Brazil, was to review children’s services, to help drive improvement and to make a recommendation to the Secretary of State.

A number of options were available to Eleanor, but her recommendation is that we should enter a formal partnership with Leeds City Council which will drive and sustain improvement across children’s social care. The partnership will be in place for up to three years.

The Commissioner’s report was actually completed in March but its publication was delayed by this year’s general election. Whilst the outcome is very much what we anticipated, it’s important to stress that a great deal has changed in the six months since the report was completed.

The partnership with Leeds is something we began to establish in early 2017. This relationship is flourishing, is strongly supported by both authorities and is already having a major impact.

We have a huge commitment to developing our services and achieving the best possible outcomes for children, young people and their families. A new senior leadership team has been in place since early summer, headed by Steve Walker who is now the Director of Children’s Services for both Kirklees and Leeds.

The new arrangements have strengthened and stabilised the leadership of children’s services, which is vitally important at a challenging time. We are seeing clear evidence of progress, though we absolutely recognise there is still a long way to go.

We accept Eleanor’s findings and agree with her report. We would like to thank Eleanor for the support she provided over several months in Kirklees. We are also continuing to tackle a number of ongoing issues in children’s social care, such as implementing a new IT system, reducing social work caseloads, co-ordinating a complex area of work and recruiting more permanent staff.

As the report makes clear, “all political parties understand the challenge and have expressed strong support for whatever is needed”. The additional support which has already come from Leeds – who have been on an improvement journey of their own and have emerged as a national partner in practice – is increasing the pace of change.

The dedication of our workforce in supporting children and families is equally crucial, so it’s pleasing that Eleanor has highlighted the way staff are committed to their work and to their community. This is a very positive building block. We expect Ofsted to visit Kirklees in the near future for another monitoring visit, which will be a chance to demonstrate the progress we are undoubtedly making.

At the same time, I have always been clear that improving children’s services can never be regarded as a ‘quick fix’. Whilst we do have areas of good practice, it is a long-term challenge to bring all of our work to the same high standard. I know the rest of the leadership team are in agreement with this.

The Commissioner’s report is an important milestone and, although we have made significant improvements since it was written in March, it is helping to tighten our focus on what needs to be done. Keeping children and young people safe, achieving better outcomes and enhancing life chances is – and will remain – an absolute priority for the council and its partners.

If you would like to read the full report, it is available here.

The right leadership for Kirklees

I have said many times on here that local councils like ours are facing a time of unprecedented financial challenge and must develop a new relationship with our residents and businesses if we are to be effective in future.

Part of my role in that is to ensure that we have the right senior leadership in place to enable that to happen.

We are transforming Kirklees – from the necessary investment in technology to enable new ways of working, to the fundamental service change required to ensure we can still afford to support our most vulnerable residents in the future. Our partners also need the confidence and assurance that there is a long term team in place that they can work alongside to deliver our shared aims.

It is for that reason that Personnel Committee members have taken some key strategic decisions this week.

Most importantly we think it is important that we get on with the appointment of a permanent chief executive and alongside that permanent senior leadership at strategic Director level at the Council. Jacqui Gedman was appointed on an interim basis in February. That recruitment was based on our experience of interviewing her in an open recruitment for the post of Deputy Chief Executive earlier in 2016.The drive, leadership and pace she has brought to the organisation is evident for all to see. The transformation has picked up pace under her leadership, and she has brought in senior support to help us tackle our biggest issues.

It is clear however because of a number of on-going challenging issues facing the Council that there is a need for it to have in place permanent senior leadership to keep this Council moving forwards in the positive direction it has started along. This means putting in place a process to appoint to the post of Chief Executive permanently and sooner than originally anticipated when the decision was made last year to fill the post on an Acting basis and so we will shortly be recommending to the next ordinary meeting of Council that Jacqui Gedman be appointed permanently to the post of Chief Executive.

This will also allow us to have clarity about other posts at a senior level and take steps to fill the Strategic Director vacancies for Childrens and Economy and Infrastructure through external advert.

I believe that with that permanent  team in place sooner rather than later residents, local businesses, councillors and our partners can have confidence we will thrive in the future.

 

Update on the Kirklees local plan

We are now at the stage where we need to agree on our Local plan – the blueprint for the next 15 years of development and employment decisions.

As a reminder, we need to find space for about 31,000 homes and enough development land to sustain the thriving economy we all want to see. Having a plan is not a choice – government tells us we must have one in place, and they are also the referee on whether our plan is acceptable – or sound.

Which is why we have a problem come the council meetings next week, because what is acceptable to government may not be acceptable to local residents, businesses or councillors or any of our MPs. But without a sound plan – however politically difficult that is – we lose all control of the process.

So where should local residents make their views known? If they come to council, we still have to agree a plan that is sound before one that is politically united.

I think therefore that the best place for them to make representations is to the planning inspector themselves.

Cabinet will receive an officer document on the basis that this is a sound plan, one which we believe will be found to be sound by the Planning Inspectorate.

 It is really important that the plan is found to be sound because if we are in a position where there is no plan at all, the Secretary of State would intervene and impose a plan on us.

If no plan is in place, we would have much less control over planning processes, so it would be difficult if not impossible to safeguard our urban greenspace or our green belt. That would continue to be at risk. We have already lost almost all control over “provisional open land”.

The test is of soundness in relation to planning law and guidelines as set by national government rather than political acceptance.

The process allows for people to make representations to the Planning Inspectorate. I believe that people should come forward to make objections or support applications at that stage where they can be judged on their merit.

I believe all political groups on the council, while probably not agreeing entirely with the proposals as they stand, understand and recognise the need for us to have a sound plan in place. I think they believe the proposals we have are sound, although politically they are difficult. The issue is bigger than any piece of land in any individual ward, and I am asking all councillors to see that bigger picture.

We will discuss the Local Plan on Wednesday and I am sure it will be lively – but we all know that the person we really have to convince is the inspector, and he or she will not be in the room.

Improving support for children, young people and families

Doing things differently is very much the way forward for the council, and it’s part of the fundamental shift in the way we are shaping our services.

Whilst there might be some things affecting everybody which are stopped or reduced – for example glass collections or the cutting of grass verges – there will be a greater focus on huge, life-changing interventions for the people who need them most.

A few months ago, our budget consultation about future services showed strong support for helping those people with the greatest need. And that supports the council’s main priorities, which are:

  • Keeping vulnerable people safe and helping them to stay in control of their lives
  • Focusing on the things that only the council can do
  • Supporting communities to do more for themselves and each other

It’s also vital that we intervene early, give people the support they need and try to make sure their situation doesn’t become any worse.

Providing this early help can prevent people from needing more acute services in the future, so we save money and save resources for our hard-pressed health service at the same time as supporting vulnerable members of our community.

For a long time, we have been considering ways to improve our support for children, young people and families whilst also managing a growing demand for these services. An engagement process is running at the moment, asking for your views on the way we might work with partners and communities to support people with low level health and social care needs, ensuring they stay well and get the right help.

The fact we are changing these services is not simply down to money. Maybe the process has been accelerated by the fact we are under such huge financial pressures, but this is an area we would have looked at regardless of finance. We need to do things differently, using early help, working with other organisations and better co-ordinating services for children, young people and families.

The engagement is a chance for everyone to have their say. We want feedback from a wide cross-section of the community, including families, so please take part by visiting the website by August 7th.

At this point we are asking for your views on some of the general principles and approaches, but these will be used to develop more specific proposals. A consultation will then follow, enabling us to change services in a way which best reflects local needs.

I’m also a strong advocate of the council facilitating or promoting support groups for people of all ages. You only need to see the phenomenal success of Facebook and other social media to understand how virtual communities can link people together.

When there are networks which keep people connected with those they know and who can help them in some way, they can still receive vital support without the need for formal care services. In some cases we may need to break down barriers for people who are reluctant to go online, but social networks are another way that the council is keen to take new approaches which achieve real, long-term benefits for the people of Kirklees.

Have your say on the future of museums and galleries

The council wants your views on the future of its museums and galleries – please take part and have your say.

This is a really important process because our museums and galleries will be changing. Unfortunately it’s not a question of ‘if’ this will happen, it’s a matter of ‘how’.

I’ve talked before about funding cuts from central government causing immense pressure on council budgets. Museums and galleries are one of many, many services which need to be reshaped, but the engagement process which is currently under way isn’t just about financial savings. It’s something we should be doing anyway, because we need to make sure our visitor attractions are relevant to local people and fit for the 21st century.

We want venues which are not only high quality but also appeal to a range of people in a way that provides longer-term viability.

To me, our museums should not be about rooms full of curiosities – they should tell our local story and resonate with audiences.

Different approaches have already been trialled, for example a successful pop-up museum. We are looking to offer new ways of experiencing our collections and your views are important in shaping the future.

The council’s present museums are Dewsbury Museum in Crow Nest Park; Bagshaw Museum in Wilton Park, Batley; and Tolson Museum in Ravensknowle Park, Huddersfield. The council also manages Huddersfield Art Gallery and is responsible for two historic houses: Oakwell Hall and Country Park, Birstall; and Red House Museum, Gomersal.

The available funding means the number of sites needs to be reduced and it’s being proposed that Oakwell Hall and Country Park would stay open, along with Bagshaw Museum. Both of these sites are in North Kirklees while, in the south of the district, both Huddersfield Art Gallery and Tolson Museum would stay open for the time being.

However, to attract more visitors into a revitalised Huddersfield town centre, the council would look to develop a combined Huddersfield Museum and Art Gallery in a town-centre location still to be decided. Once this was open, Tolson Museum and the current Art Gallery would close and appropriate collections would transfer to the new site.

This would leave the three sites as Oakwell Hall and Country Park, Bagshaw Museum and a new Huddersfield Museum and Art Gallery. Other sites would close and their collections would be transferred or stored. We are mindful of the historical context of our buildings, so this would be considered when alternative uses were being found.

It’s inevitable that museums and galleries will change so, as the saying goes, doing nothing is not an option. Instead we want to hear some really constructive feedback which will help us to make difficult decisions.

You can find a lot more detail, including a survey, on our dedicated web page. Please have your say by the deadline of July 24th – thank you.

Focus on the future

Following an uncertain and difficult couple of months both inside and outside the council, I have now been re-elected as Leader of Kirklees Council.

A lot has been said and written about how and why we were in the position where we temporarily did not have a political leader, but now our focus has to be on the future.

The Jo Cox murder, the EU referendum, and political struggles at a national level have all served to highlight issues and tensions we must address. Leadership has to be at the heart of our response to those issues.

Councillors have to step up their community leadership roles, and I have committed to involving a wider number of councillors so that all 69 have a role; and not just those in Cabinet or on licensing or planning committees.

I have asked Cllr Shabir Pandor to be my deputy – his previous cabinet roles and experience outside the council mean that he brings a challenge and perspective we will need if we are to reach the best decisions for all of Kirklees.

My Cabinet will be:

Name Description of Portfolio or other responsibility
David SheardShabir Pandor LeaderDeputy Leader – Strategy and Strategic Resources, New Council & Regional Issues (Shared Portfolio)
 Peter McBride  Economy, Skills, Transportation & Planning
 Naheed Mather  Housing and Enforcement Management
Musarrat Khan Other Place:Highways and Neighbourhoods
Erin Hill Family Support & Child Protection(Statutory Responsibility for Children)
Viv Kendrick  Adults, Health & Activity to Improve Health(Statutory Responsibility of Adults & Public Health)
 Masood Ahmed  Community Cohesion & Schools
 Graham Turner  Asset Strategy, Resources & Creative Kirklees (Arts)

The challenges we face are huge – we have talked endlessly about finances, but the reality is that we must live within the budgets we have while still tackling our major priorities.

How we work is key to our service delivery in the future – if we can get right the Early Intervention and Prevention and also the Economic Resilience strands, we will see more manageable future demand on services, at the same time as a positive impact on our local economy.

Many of our decisions will be emotive – none of us became councillors so we could close buildings and services down. But hard decisions must be made so we can protect the services we see as essential.

The hard work does not start here – it has been going on for some time – but the pace certainly has to pick up from now on.