What are the pressing issues in Norfolk and Suffolk which must be tackled in 2018?
Archant Norfolk 2015
A new year brings a fresh start. With 12 months stretching before us, it presents opportunities to get stuck into some of the issues which continue to affect Norfolk. Dan Grimmer reports on 6 key issues which need to be tackled in 2018.
1. MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES.
The services which some of Norfolk and Suffolk’s most vulnerable people receive from the region’s mental health trust are still not good enough.
Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission rated Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust as inadequate in 2014 and last year, progress was not considered good enough for that grading to be changed.
The trust has a new chief executive in Julie Cave, who began her tenure by apologising to patients and saying they were “determined” to improve.
The money to provide those services is clearly an issue - and that is one which will need to be resolved - but eyes will be on the trust and its board to ensure improvement happens and at a greater pace.
2. RAIL SERVICES.
A hike in rail fares and a series of cancellations due to train faults was not the most auspicious of starts for 2018.
And passengers between Norwich and London will face longer journeys at weekends for the first three months of the year because of work on new track and overhead lines on the route to Liverpool Street.
Passengers might be more inclined to accept that work if the result is that services are faster and more reliable.
2018, however, will not be the year the long-hoped for Norwich-in-90 service is finally launched.
Greater Anglia is investing £1.4bn in new carriages, but the current 30-year-old fleet will not be replaced until towards the end of 2020.
3. THE A47. Work on the £300m of improvements to the A47 will not start until 2020. But, in the meantime, 2018 needs to see pressure put on the government over the next round of investment, from 2020 to 2025.
Norfolk County Council has already made the dualling of the Acle Straight and the section between Tilney and East Winch priorities.
Worryingly, however, in Highways England’s initial report on where money could be pumped over that period, those sections were not flagged up as anything other than standard trunk roads.
The A47 Alliance, Norfolk County Council and business leaders will need to keep beating the drum.
4. FUNDING FOR OUR ELDERLY. Far from exclusively a Norfolk and Suffolk issue, the crisis in funding for adult social care, nonetheless, has a huge impact on counties like ours.
We can expect higher council tax bills to help cover the costs of looking after older people, but that is a sticking plaster.
There was no extra money for councils to provide social care in the autumn budget, yet the Local Government Association says there will be a £2.3bn funding gap for adult social care by 2020.
The government has promised a green paper on care and support for older people will be published by this summer.
5. MONEY FOR EDUCATION. A survey carried out by this newspaper revealed almost nine out of 10 schools are being forced to cut staff or fear they will soon have to as the funding crisis grips.
When asked how they were making ends meet, 59pc said by holding back on investment, 54pc said turning to reserves, 51pc said rethinking suppliers and 44pc said cutting numbers of, or hours of, teaching assistants.
The government’s national funding formula has been put forward, but some headteachers fear it will not assist their schools.
There has been an encouraging improvement in performance in Norfolk’s schools over the past two years or so.
It will be important to prevent funding woes from undoing the good work which has been achieved.
6. ECONOMIC ATTRACTION. The year 2017 ended horribly for hundreds of people.
Britvic announced 240 jobs would go, with production from its Carrow Works factory at Trowse switching elsewhere. Furniture brand Multiyork went into administration, while BAE Systems proposed cutting 245 jobs, including at RAF Marham. And the Construction Industry Training Board is looking to move from Bircham Newton to Peterborough. In 2018, the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, MPs, council leaders and chambers of commerce will have to make the case that Norfolk and Suffolk are open for business. Efforts will have to be redoubled to keep companies here and attract new ones.