Thursday, 5 January 2017

Southern Rail – we need action now

Well 2017 is now with us and I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year. But in my heart of hearts I know that is simply not realistic when the situation with Southern Rail grinds on causing misery to commuters who face daily uncertainties about getting to work and getting home – at a reasonable time.

Whoever you are: young, old, working, retired, sick, well, I cannot think that anyone hasn’t been affected in some way by the strikes. As the Leader of West Sussex County Council - the third largest employer in the county – I have witnessed first-hand the impact the strikes have been having on staff and my fellow County Councillors. This is neither right, nor fair.

And it’s not just commuters affected, we have seen the ongoing situation directly impact on students getting to school and college and to patients attending hospital appointments.

I have written to the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling to highlight both the economic and social impact the industrial action is having on residents.

A recent study carried out by the University of Chichester found that the economic impact to date of the strikes could be as much as £300 million to the country. The findings put the impact on the economy at around £11 million for each strike day. The report calculated the total economic costs to the thousands of commuters who were delayed, have missed work or have had to stay at home.
The direct impact on commuters can be seen from the Association of British Commuters (ABC) survey 2016. The survey went live on 10 December last year and received more than 1,000 responses in just 24 hours. It asked a series of questions to establish the effect on commuters lives and wellbeing during the last six months of the Southern Rail crisis.

The findings make interesting reading and I would encourage you to have a look. Some of the key statistics show that 97.63% of respondents felt their overall travelling experience had got worse in the last six months. When looking at issues commuters faced, more than 95% of people said they had experienced cancelled trains ‘daily’ or ‘often’ and 73% said they had experienced delays to their journey.

A question asking how the poor service has impacted on work life brought some very poignant answers. Examples included tiredness and stress, considering moving house due to commute, changed job due to commute, losing out on job offers and receiving a warning for lateness or poor performance.

It was the same for a question on wellbeing and personal life. Some of the answers here included quality of life deteriorating, relationships under strain, suffering from physical health issues, financial impact and less time for family life.

When asked who is most responsible for the situation, 44% of respondents felt it laid equally between Southern Rail, the Department for Transport and the unions.

Wherever the fault may lie, it is clear the situation now feels out of control and it has certainly been going on for far too long. It’s time for all parties concerned to sit down in a room, leave egos and power struggles outside the door and sort out the issue once and for all for everyone. So that in the future residents and commuters will have a reliable, trustworthy service that they can depend on. Surely that’s not too big an ask?

Best wishes,

Friday, 30 December 2016

Reflections on a significant year

With 2016 fast coming to a close and we as move into 2017, it’s worth some reflection over what has been a very significant year in many ways.

As you know, at West Sussex County Council we provide 80% of the public services to our residents and we do that 24/7 - we never close. Whether it is a child in need of protection, a frail elderly resident, a road traffic accident or a fire - we are there supporting and working with our communities. But we do not do this work alone. We work in partnership with other agencies and organisations to ensure we are doing the best for our residents and communities.

Part of our role as Councillors is to raise important issues and debate them during our County Council meetings – this is all part of our wonderful UK democracy and we have had some interesting debates this year.

In July we debated the benefits of our Fire and Rescue Service, which is unique as it is so embedded in the County Council and plays a major role in supporting and working with our communities across the county – with some terrific results, such as our Flood Action Groups which is seen as a national exemplar. This particular debate was in response to proposals which could see the Fire and Rescue Service being moved to the Police and Crime Commissioner. In some cases this could be the right option, but here in West Sussex it most certainly isn’t right for our residents and we believe that West Sussex Fire and Rescue is ‘Safer in our Hands’ – a feeling which came out very strongly in the debate.

Our Fire and Rescue Service have had another busy year. Just one example was the Selsey Academy fire which started early on a Sunday morning and quickly took control with a strong wind, devastating the building. Crews from across the county and Hampshire all helped out and once again it was a fine example of good collaborative working. Our Education Team were on hand and worked with the Academy to ensure that there was minimum disruption to pupils.

One campaign we are supporting as a council together with our MPs is for fairer funding for West Sussex schools who are almost at the bottom of the league when it comes to funding from the Government. Headteachers are running the ‘Worthless’ campaign. The Government announced this year that they would be changing the funding formula over the next few years but there is a need for transitional funding for our schools – £20 million in total. This would really help our cash-strapped schools.

August saw the one year anniversary of the Shoreham Air Disaster. We remembered with families, friends and relatives of the victims and held a minute’s silence on Shoreham Tollbridge. This was a moving event for everyone involved.

Scams can make life a misery for those people targeted, and our Trading Standards team have had a busy year cracking down on scams and protecting our residents from scammers. This team is very effective in making life safer for all our residents.

We work closely with our District and Borough Council colleagues and are very supportive of their ambitions for their areas. To that end we are developing District Deals – these are a joint working agreement to support their plans. The first was signed in December with Crawley Borough Council. Watch this space for more to come in 2017.

Often in life, we find it is the small things that count the most and I see our Meals on Wheels Service as one that really does support our elderly in their homes. Some authorities have moved away from providing this service but we are committed to supporting our elderly and this service really does that.

These are just some of the many services we provide and the momentous events in West Sussex this year.

I couldn’t end without mentioning the finances of the County Council – of course they are very tight and we are faced with difficult choices daily. But we continue to provide value for money services focusing on our Start of Life, Economy and Later Life priorities. Supporting our amazing communities and helping them to help themselves, and rest assured we are there in an emergency, these are our priorities.

So we look forward to 2017 and the challenges it will bring. My wish for 2017? May it be peaceful and harmonious and may it be kind to everyone.

Best wishes,