Six big challenges facing Norfolk and Suffolk in 2019
PUBLISHED: 06:30 01 January 2019 | UPDATED: 09:04 01 January 2019
Archant Norfolk 2018
As the new year begins, public affairs correspondent Dan Grimmer takes a look at six of the biggest challenges which the region is facing in 2019.
Funding for care for older people
With Parliament preoccupied with Brexit, a crucial issue which has rather slipped from the national agenda is how social care for adults is paid for.
And that is a big problem for our region, because looking after an elderly population which is living longer does not come cheap.
The Conservative government said in the 2017 March budget that it would publish a green paper on social care, but publication has repeatedly been delayed.
A vague promise has been made of publication “at the first opportunity in 2019”, but the government really needs to address this matter and not simply leave it to local councils and relatives to deal with.
Our council tax bills are going up to help to cover the cost, but that is a sticking plaster and not the solution to a difficult issue.
Ditto the one-off £240m for social care which the government announced to ease winter pressure on hospitals.
Stark warnings were issued in the special report which a United Nations panel on climate change produced in October.
In Norfolk, rising sea levels and local climate changes will have significant impacts on the coastline and to wildlife.
Communities such as Hemsby, Walcott and Happisburgh have suffered batterings from the sea in recent years and such events are likely to become more frequent. Those affected deserve reassurance from central and local government that everything which can be done to protect them is being done.
The hot summer also stretched fire crews in Norfolk and Suffolk, with scores of grass fires. Experts say climate change will bring similar summers in the future.
Campaigners also want to see more action to cut carbon emissions and pollution in urban areas such as Norwich, while the drive to get more people recycling household waste will continue.
There has been a significant turn around at Norfolk’s schools since five years ago, when the then head of inspectors Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw declared “too many” schools in the county were failing.
As of the end of October, more than four in every five of the county’s schools were judged good or outstanding by watchdogs.
It was disappointing to see, when the so-called school league tables were recently published that performance by primary school pupils at key stage 2 in Norfolk and Suffolk remains below the national average.
And it was also disheartening that more than 20 primary schools in Norfolk are under-performing when it comes to 11-year-olds meeting the required standards.
In provisional statistics, Norfolk was ranked 106th out of 151 local authorities when it came to the pass rate for grade 9 to 5 in the new-style GCSEs, so there remains room for improvement.
The mental health trust upon which some of Norfolk and Suffolk’s most vulnerable people depend is still not giving a good enough service.
Inspectors were highly critical of Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust following a September inspection, rating it inadequate for the third time in a row.
MPs branded that “deeply disturbing” and there have been calls to break it up into smaller organisations, with efforts to improve it not having worked or, in some cases, having created more problems.
Staff were praised in the Care Quality Commission’s report and the pressure is on trust boss Antek Lejk and the board to deliver improvements.
The same is true of those in charge at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn.
Both hospitals have been put in special measures after inspections.
The rise in rough sleeping in the likes of Norwich and King’s Lynn is clear to see.
While the reasons are complex, including drug and alcohol addictions, relationship breakdowns and mental health issues, a lack of housing obviously plays a part.
And where housing should go in our region remains a fiercely debated issue.
Council leaders in the
Greater Norwich area have clashed over whether
new homes should be built close to the city or further afield.
Controversy has also surrounded suggestions for garden towns and villages.
A mooted 10,000-home settlement between North Elmham, Billingford and Bintree, proved divisive.
And the Norfolk branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England says existing housing allocations must be built before thousands of new ones are earmarked.
There’s no doubt the debate will continue in 2019, as will people’s need to have a roof over their heads.
Roads, rail and broadband
Work on the £300m of improvements to the A47 in Norfolk will not start until next year2020, but it will see just eight further miles dualled.
Council and business leaders need to keep up the pressure on the government to make the point that is not good enough for our region.
The dualling of the A11 has gone some way to dispel Norfolk’s reputation as hard to get to, but the A47 improvements are crucial to really demonstrating that the region is open for business.
The painful loss of Britvic and Colman’s shows exactly what can happen when companies believe there are better places to do business than Norfolk - and that must be a wake-up call.
On the railways, this year will see Greater Anglia rolling out its new Stadler trains, although it will
be next year before the current stock is all replaced.
And more still needs to be done to get the counties better connected, with broadband and mobile phone coverage.