Surprising, depressing or inspiring?

The Eastern ADCS region is made up of five large shire counties and six unitary authorities and, as for many colleagues across the country, lots of us are just out the other side of the local elections… New elected members joining, new cabinets being established and preparing for the first full council meetings of the new term.

It is a time to look forward to each new administration’s ambitions and intentions.

However, at the local councillor induction sessions last week it was also a time for reflection, and it stuck me just how much has changed and been achieved for children and families over the last four years, and how different things are now. Much for the better in terms of quality of relationship-based practice, in the outcomes for children and families and children in care, in standards of education and the extent of integration across the system. But also, how need has increased both in volume and complexity, how difficult the challenge of the SEND reforms has been, how increased deprivation and poverty is affecting children’s lives, and how complex the educational landscape has become.

I must say, though, that the one single thing that stood out more than anything for me was the amount of money that we have taken out of the County Council since 2010/11. The Suffolk’s budget is 47% less than seven years ago. Yes, that is 47%!

Of course, not all this has fallen proportionately across the council, and in children’s services our net reduction has been 25%, which means other areas have taken even bigger cuts. I also know other local authorities have suffered more than mine. However, the wheels are still turning and in many areas we are still improving.

So I had to ask myself, is this surprising, depressing, or inspiring?

Surprising, no – I have worked in local government for the last 26 years, and for the last eight budgets have been reducing. Nothing new there then, and it is not likely to change going forward.

Depressing, no – only if you let it, and it gets us nowhere. Shocking maybe but not depressing as this saps energy and creates inertia – there is no time for this when there is so much to do, with so very little resource.

Inspiring – well yes, a little I think. Partly because it is such an achievement, but mostly because it directly reflects upon, and speaks to, the amazing quality, calibre and commitment of every leader, manager, staff member and volunteer in children’s services and in local government more generally. Over my 26 years, I am proud to have been working alongside people who can create possibility out of nothing, keep going when things are tough, respond professionally to sweeping and constant change, selflessly take on more and more and admirably focus tirelessly and patiently on what matters – those we are here to serve – those who are far less fortunate than most.

Looking forward, I and my colleagues are going to have going to have to dig even deeper, but in hard times I always remind myself that those we are here to serve have to dig deep most of their lives just to keep going, so it is the least I can do to keep going for them.

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