Which City?

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Same old, same old - so let's do something different

Kids are back at school this week, traffic queues are tailing back from the city centre all morning. There's a semblance of normality about, but I feel quite weird, don't know about you?

I know I live a magpie life, dipping into this and that all the time, but the world is whizzing for me at the moment. Here's my list of what's on, how does it compare to yours?

Health - the end of an era, are we staring into the abyss, or is this the shake up the labyrinthine NHS needs. I end my term as a Non-Executive Director of Yorkshire and Humber SHA this month, not yet sure if I will carry on any association with the NHS, undecided about whether I feel sadness or relief. There is much doom expressed about the NHS Reform Bill, and I worry that the aspirations that my grandparents' generation had, and the services which guaranteed my own well being whatever the income of my family, will not be passed on as legacy to my children, or indeed to the millions of children who will need them. I feel we are breaking links in a chain.

Housing - our focus in Sheffield Homes is on the future, and on supporting the Council's thinking about how best to manage its housing after our contract ends in 2014. What is really important both in practical, political and emotional terms, we are asking? In leading the ALMO Board I am clearly on the side of the ALMO, but the outcome needs to be the best for tenants and the city.

On the broader national housing stage, our inability to provide housing for people who need it, to be resorting to talk of boats and caravans (whilst we clear a site of caravans for green belt) feels like failure. Will we ever be prepared to recognise that housing is too important to leave to the market? Investment in housing is not just in bricks and mortar, but in health, cohesion, community. The loss of Sarah Webb, Chief Executive of CIH, this week removes a wise and truthful spirit from the housing world.

Higher Education -  As the pre-fee hike generation starts university this month, those of us on governing bodies start to plan for a new world from 2012 onwards. We can't ignore predictions about how higher fees will dampen numbers and put off the poorer students and their families. As a governor, I would like to see us invest in young people and their futures as a society, rather than trying to anticipate the aggregate effect of individual decisions.
Having said that I am already deep into the role of higher education consumer, as my daughter starts her last year of school and we participate in the beauty parade of university open days.

And then there's the continuing aftermath of the riots, the constant looking back at 9/11, Libya and the rest of the Arab world in tumult, more empty shops on the high street, changeable weather, etc., etc..

As I write this, it dawns on me that the weird feeling is a combination of deja vu and the onset of old age. The current crisis all feels a bit 80s (or is it 70s or 90s - whatever, we have been there before). And yet if feels as if all the previous crises are happening at once this time; is this because I am getting old, and becoming frightened of life?

I hope not. After a sandwich and a cup of coffee, my energy's back and I can start to look on the brighter side. Change is a fact of life, it's inevitable and is actually the life force which keeps us going. Everyday the sun comes up, but no day is ever the same as the one before. So, we have seen it all before, but this time it is different. The benefit of recognising this, is that we take a fresh look and try new approaches to solve problems as they are now.

I am nervous about NHS reforms, but there is a lot to improve in the NHS. We have to be take on more responsiblity for our own health, expect  more responsive services and find better ways to pay for the costs of a growing and ageing population. Innovation and creativy are vital, smaller units of decision making, resources closer to patients could liberate us, but the system is enormous and will still need managing.

I hope the recognition that the market will not deliver new homes without some support for its risk will enable both central and local government to look at using the resources we have already to better effect - public land and buildings and empty homes need to be part of the equation, with flexible and creative ideas for funding development, and sharing costs and risk part of the picture.

And in Higher Education the market will make us sharpen up our act, to be supportive of students as well as challenging, so that they get not only a good experience at university but also a good outcome. But it will also make some potential students look elsewhere, to training and apprenticeships, to jobs with prospects. In some areas students will be lucky to have this choice - my worry is that in areas outside the most affluent, the rug will be pulled in all directions.

Family games make holiday travelling less boring for young children - our daughter is 17 now but we still had a holiday game this year, trying to think of as many proverbs or wise sayings as we could. I'll leave you with a couple:

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

and

If we keep doing the same thing, we get the same result