We believe politics exists to serve people.
That might sound obvious, but it’s easy to look at the way public services are currently run and feel like they’re really serving anyone but!
The difficulty comes in working out how to un-pick the way things are, in order to achieve genuine change.
As Liberal Democrats we stand against the concentration of power whether in the hands of big business or the state. As soon as power is given over to institutions or wealth it starts to serve them, not everyone else.
Few people in politics would say they are in it to make people poorer. Yet throughout history a great many disastrous things have been done by left-leaning governments in the name of trying to make things fairer – just like the inequality of capitalism means many people don’t have what they need to lead good lives, through no fault of their own.
The answer is complex – and we recognise that some problems call for the state to get involved, whilst others are best dealt with through business and innovation. Yet no answer is ever the right one forever and, as progressives, we remain permanently critical of the status quo and believe more can always be done.
We believe the best way to do this is to make sure that power stays with people – and this has some big implications for the way county council services are designed.
Modern businesses put their customers at the heart of the way they organise what they do – and we believe Norfolk County Council should do the same.
At the moment so many services are siloed, it takes an army of staff who are paid just to assess and direct people to the right places.
We also believe that people should be trusted to be able to control the services they receive from the council themselves.
If elected we will reorganise how all services are delivered so that every citizen can find and access the services they need throughout their lifetime, as well as having relevant services recommended to them at the right point in their journey. This includes merging Adult Social Care and Children’s Services to provide a more joined up service for those most in need in our county.
Imagine if dealing with the council was as easy as sending a message on Facebook, or buying something on a well-designed website; we believe this is achievable within five years if it is done gradually, one step at a time. In due course, this would include a My Account facility for every citizen to access their council services throughout their lives - digital-first but with all the necessary fall backs for those whom online access is not appropriate.
Part of our plans to merge Adult Social Care and Children’s Services is to allow us to design more specialised, tailored services with those people who need the most help.
If elected, we will make a long-term commitment to those in Norfolk living with disabilities, starting by reversing the minimum income guarantee (MIG) cuts, and making sure the level keeps pace with inflation;
We will also commit to protecting re-ablement services as part of this; and
Place greater emphasis on equality assessments when taking council decisions;
And by focusing council services on individuals, as we are committed to doing, we will give our front-line staff the time and freedom to invest in prevention and focus on building the individual resilience of their clients, not short-term cost-savings.
Focus on Norfolk
Again it might sound obvious, but we believe the County Council should focus on delivering services for the people of Norfolk, not Suffolk, Essex and beyond. Yet this is part of what Norse, the council-owned facilities management company, does. Norse does many things well – including running several outstanding care homes in our county. But we believe the County Council should focus on developing services, not building a business.
If elected we will re-focus Norse towards providing services Norfolk needs.
Likewise, the County Council’s housebuilding company Repton has tried to make money by buying land and building houses – but these have always been to maximise profit, including the private profit of developers that Repton has partnered with.
If elected we will use Repton to promote building in parts of the county with the highest need, with the type of housing that is most needed, in particular to build high quality housing for older people, that is well-connected to local services.
People have been forced to sing for their supper for too long – it’s time the council took a benefits test. If elected, we will measure every policy, service and economic initiative against our commitment to deliver a fairer and more equal county. If it doesn’t do this, it won’t pass the test, and it won’t happen.
Doing Things With People
As liberals we believe that power sits with people. But too often, public services are designed behind closed doors without enough of a voice from the people who will be using them. Sometimes this is in spite of the best intentions of the people designing them; other times it’s because those in charge simply don’t want to know what the reality of life is like for many people in our society.
Council consultations have become a running joke – some of the most drastic changes to public services in the past few years have had legally-required consultation but the people most likely to be affected haven’t even been able to access them.
If elected, we are committed to ensure services are designed with people, not dished out to them, or done for them. Genuine coproduction has been shown through social research to deliver better outcomes, greater satisfaction from service users, and lower costs in the long-term. The evidence is clear – and with our county benefiting from some of the best academic minds in the country in areas of social research, if elected we will seek to contribute, to the fullest extent possible, with academic partnerships – helping us develop better policy, and bringing county council data and assets to help inform research.
Working With Our Young People
Another group in our society that has lost out disproportionately in the past is our county’s young people. If we are to maintain a vibrant economy, and bring in the money through council tax and business rates to fund the services we all deserve, we must make sure our county is a place where young people can prosper, learn, set up businesses, and forge careers.
As part of our commitment to young people in Norfolk, if elected we will use partnerships to restore a proper Youth Service to Norfolk that can provide services for, and designed with young people;
Safeguard Special Needs and Disability funding; and
Protect Music Service budgets.
And although the move to academies means the council no longer runs as many schools, we will extend our support for our small schools by committing resources to help them improve performance.
Having already worked with many of our young people, and understood their concerns about how services are delivered in Norfolk, we will also create parity of esteem for mental health services.
Excellent Care for All
Our economic strategy already recognises the importance of the elderly care sector to Norfolk. To further highlight excellence in our county’s care system, if elected we will create a quality assurance scheme as part of taking a greater leadership role in the care homes sector, to ensure everyone gets the high quality of care they’re entitled to.
Social care is still too varied depending on where you live. So as part of our ‘hub and spoke’ approach to rural transport, we will seek to remodel the delivery of social care in rural areas so that everyone can access services independently for as long as they are fit and willing to do so.
Part of the way we assess social care also needs to recognise its interdependence with the health care and criminal justice systems. If elected, we will add measures to elderly care assessment that target performance on delayed transfers of care from hospital, and seek to make domestic abuse support easier to access and more supportive.
Achieving lasting wellbeing for a population depends on getting a lot right, across the board. The policies we stand by are driven by a desire to put the wellbeing of the people of Norfolk first, and to cement this, if elected we will measure all council policies based on their potential health outcomes – both physical and mental health.
In addition we will give our Public Health department an increased budget and encourage it to be a challenging, independent voice, standing up to political power wherever it sits.
As well as encouraging greater scrutiny and participation in council business by the people of Norfolk, we will mandate that every policy decision the council takes is measured on health and environmental outcomes, as well as financial cost
As Liberal Democrats, we believe that local communities are the natural places where society thrives. In rural areas, they are often the most effective place for social support, as well as for organisation, information sharing and making things happen.
We believe the County Council needs to do more in its commitment to local communities by giving them more power, more funding, and more influence over the way services are delivered.
We believe that services are better provided close to, if not in, the communities where people live and work.
If elected, we will expand and create community hubs in key locations for the public to access all services.
At the time of writing, rumours are circulating that the Government is planning on another attempt at creating unitary authorities - getting rid of District and County Councils and rolling their functions together.
As Liberal Democrats we are concerned about all attempts by Government to centralise power. There are also several practical issues – as well as opportunities – caused by Unitary Authorities.
This is not the first time that Unitaries have been discussed in Norfolk, and it remains to be seen whether Government has time to pass the necessary legislation to affect Norfolk next year. Nevertheless, our main concern is to ensure that the people of Norfolk are well