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Westlake Legal Group > Local government

Katrina Wood: Government meddling is making unitary status for local government in Buckinghamshire harder to achieve

Cllr Katrina Wood is the Leader of Wycombe District Council.

Unitary status has been a hot topic in Buckinghamshire for more than two years now.  This is since the County Council sent their proposal for a single unitary to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in September 2016, with the district councils following with their proposition for two Unitary Councils in January 2017.

Many months followed before there came a “minded to” decision in March 2018, which then allowed for a further period for representations. We know there were over three thousand representations to the Secretary of State which resulted in several more months of waiting before the final decision.

So, more than two years since this all started, we finally received the decision from the Secretary of State on 1 November 2018 detailing the way forward.

Having championed a two unitary council proposal along with the three other district councils in Bucks, which we knew had a great deal of support amongst our residents and businesses – and based on what we thought would be better for them and the overall economy – we were naturally disappointed when the decision was in favour of a single unitary council for Buckinghamshire.

However, with the decision promising a brand-new district unitary authority – not a continuing authority – the district councils united behind the Minister’s decision to create a single unitary council in Buckinghamshire by 1st April 2020, despite what you may have heard from other sources.

We were excited to be part of a process that would create something new and special for Buckinghamshire that wouldn’t just be a rehash of something old. We looked forward to being able to create something for our residents that would stand the test of time and provide improved services and experiences for everyone that lives and works in Buckinghamshire. We didn’t want an off the shelf product that would be the same old, same old. We wanted to bring together the best ideas, the best practises, and indeed the best of everything to ensure a sound innovative basis on which to build the future of local government in Buckinghamshire and which will be sustainable for many years to come.

Now bringing five councils together and forming one new unitary council is not a task to be underestimated, especially in the timescales allowed. I am sure that colleagues in Dorset would agree with this – and colleagues in Northamptonshire will soon be able to discover for themselves. There is an enormous amount of work involved, all of which must be done whilst keeping the day to day business of the existing councils functioning normally.

The task of forming the new Council, has however been made more difficult by government “interference” on decisions which should be made locally, such as predetermining the leader of the shadow executive and not allowing a partnership of equals in the formation of this new Council. We believe this is in direct conflict with the principles of democracy that we live and breathe as elected members. Elected being the operative word. The end we are fully supportive of; it’s the means that we have an issue with.

Another issue is the delay of the laying of the structural change orders from January until March, which in turn delays decision making by the yet to be formed shadow authority and shadow executive. This will mean we will effectively have around 10 months to get the new Council up and running.

So, what was already a tight timetable has now been squeezed even more, and with the original proposals now over two years old, we should be reviewing and amending them to ensure we have a model based on excellence that will provide a sustainable Local Government for the world of 2019 and beyond.

There is a very short space of time to set this new Council up, so we shouldn’t be running before we can walk. Our mantra for the new Council has to be – Safe, Legal and Operational. That is what we must aim for on 1 April 2020, and that is what we must make sure we deliver. Anything else would be incredibly ambitious and a bonus.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Meghan Gallacher: The SNP is breaking its election pledge to limit Council Tax rises to three per cent

Cllr Meghan Gallacher is the Leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Group on North Lanarkshire Council.

Local authorities, regardless of area, are the bread and butter of the government structure. After all, Councils provide basic necessary services, which we all use on a daily basis. As local government is devolved to Holyrood, it falls on the Scottish Parliament to set their yearly budget allowance.

Last year, the Accounts Commission, which polices local government finances across Scotland, published a report outlining that the Scottish Government had cut funding for local authorities by more than seven per cent per cent in real terms between 2013 and 2019. Since 2007, North Lanarkshire’s core budget has been cut by over £230m. This, despite Scotland receiving £1,300 more per head due to the UK Barnett formula.

The financial climate within Councils across Scotland is bleak. We have Councils, such as Clackmannanshire, which is considering reducing the hours children are taught within their secondary schools in an attempt to save £29 million. Within North Lanarkshire, we are facing a budget gap of over £36 million as a result of the Scottish Government’s draft plans for local authority funding. Although North Lanarkshire Council will receive £5.7m more than their initial cash settlement from the Scottish Government, front line services will still need to be reviewed in order to balance the books.

Following the Scottish Parliament Budget debate which took place on 31st January 2019, the revised budget, which received the support of the Scottish Green Party, includes an SNP broken election manifesto promise not to increase Council Tax beyond three per cent. The Council tax cap is set to increase from three per cent to 4.79 per cent. Furthermore, Councils will also have the ability to implement a levy on workplace car parking places. This means that North Lanarkshire residents could see their Council tax increase substantially and also be taxed hundreds of pounds a year for taking the car to work.

However, budget preparations are currently underway. Given the current financial climate, the North Lanarkshire Conservative Group – alongside Labour and the Independent Councillors – has joined a budget sounding board in order to share information outlined by Council Officers. However, the SNP has decided to go it alone because ‘they won’t work with the Tories’. In my view, I think they are embarrassed to sit alongside opposition parties because they know that it is their Scottish Government which is delivering this savage cut to local government. Further proof – if needed – that North Lanarkshire SNP is arrogant and unwilling to work with others in a difficult situation.

Another challenge in terms of the upcoming budget is “Club 365”. For anyone who is not aware, “Club 365” is a project introduced by the minority Labour administration to ensure that Primary school pupils – who are eligible for free school meals – can receive a free meal 365 days of the year. The meals are provided at community hubs and also include activities, such as painting and sports. Whilst I believe that this idea is noble, it has already cost the Council £414,000 and this is set to increase to £1.5m per year. Our group has been wrongly criticised for questioning this project as we have called for a funding model – the fiscally responsible option. However, as always with Labour, they have a “spend now, think later” attitude and my concern is that we will have to cut vital front line services in order to fund “Club 365”.

As always, the North Lanarkshire Conservative Council Group will stand up for hard working people to protect the services they value.

 

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

David Burrowes and Nickie Aiken: Coming to you soon. The family hubs revolution.

David Burrowes is Executive Director of the Manifesto to Strengthen Families and was MP for Enfield Southgate from 2005-2017. Cllr Nickie Aiken is the Leader of Westminster City Council.

This week in Westminster whilst MPs attention was on Brexit, a revolution began. It took place within the eight minute distance it takes to get to the division lobby in the Commons. But it was not about votes or Parliamentary plots – and certainly not about Brexit. It was the first National Family Hubs Fair and Conference. That does not sound too revolutionary, but these family hubs are transforming the lives of children and parents up and down the country, and are carrying the torch for the Government for when its attention returns to the domestic policy agenda.

The National Family Hubs Fair and Conference brought together around 50 organisations and family hub areas who are committed to supporting families. It was initiated by the Manifesto to Strengthen Families (led by Fiona Bruce and Lord Farmer in 2017 and signed by 60 MPs and several peers), which had a key recommendation: that the Government “encourage every Local Authority to work with voluntary and private sector partners to deliver Family Hubs, local ‘one stop shops’ offering families with children and young people, aged 0-19, early help to overcome difficulties and build stronger relationships…and put in place a transformation fund and national task force to encourage Local Authorities to move towards this model”.

Westminster Council did not need any encouragement, because it has been on the journey of service integration for many years. An integrated leadership team, consisting of statutory and voluntary organisations, oversees the development and work of the hub, and is committed to developing a shared approach through sharing of information, assessments, meeting processes and, importantly, their resources.

The significant funding challenges for children and family services mean that councils have to integrate, but in Westminster we have done it to improve and expand the reach of our services. We have shifted to a Family Hub model as a natural evolution from Sure Start Children’s Centres, realising that parents of older children (five plus) need and were asking for the same integrated support. We have launched the Bessborough Family hub as one of three hubs, supporting families with children across the age spectrum from under one to 19. As well as a physical building, the hubs will be a network of providers working across a given area.

All this sounds like management changes rather than a revolution but what we heard at our conference is that in Westminster and across the country in places like Chelmsford, the Isle of Wight and Rochdale, family hubs are tackling at source the biggest social problem which is relationship and family breakdown.

A lack of readily accessible early support for families with children aged from between under one to 19 who experience difficulties in their parenting and couple relationships and in their mental health threatens to undermine efforts to narrow the education attainment gap. It also fuels crises in social care services which are faced with unremittingly high numbers of children who are ‘in need’, on child protection plans, and coming into care.

Over half of referrals to children’s services come from the police, schools and health services, for whom the child or family’s presenting need was significant enough to require more help than they could offer. Yet without additional help many of these families will, sooner or later, require costly social services interventions.

The family hubs developing across the UK are key to tackling the “burning injustices” which the Prime Minister has identified as her mission – identifying families with complex needs as early as possible, no matter which service they come into contact with; preventing family breakdown; preventing children from going into care and from entering the criminal justice system; helping parents to gain employment; providing access to first-line mental health support to reduce referrals to higher level, more costly intervention.

Family Hubs are delivering significant outcomes: children and young people feeling safer; families being helped to improve parenting and children’s behaviour; better emotional wellbeing of mothers and children in the perinatal period and beyond; good lifestyle choices; more resilient families who can respond well to crises and cope with shocks; young people having strong attachment to at least one adult; and people being connected to and involved in their local community.

Nadhim Zahawi, Minister for Children and Families, opened the Family Hubs Fair and expressed his support for family hubs and highlighted the £8.5 million LGA fund to support delivery of best practice. He then poignantly went off script to talk about the Valentine’s Day card he had received from his daughter Mia, and those strong relationships between family or friends which we all want in life.

Andrea Leadsom later took time out of a busy Brexit day to deliver a speech outlining her work as Chair of the Inter Ministerial Group for the Early Years. She emphasised the progress being made in supporting the crucial attachment between parent and child in the perinatal period and beyond and the implementation of her 20 years of experience encapsulated here at www.1001criticaldays.co.uk.

The call for early intervention is not new, but now there is a clarion call for leadership nationally and locally so children and family services can not only survive but thrive through partnership working of innovative Councils such as Westminster developing family hubs. So look out for a family hub coming to you soon and join the family hubs revolution!

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Vivienne Michael: Collaborating across the party political divide? In Mole Valley we are familiar with the challenges.

Cllr Vivienne Michael is the Leader of Mole Valley District Council.

2018 was, undeniably, a year of rancour and division, not just in national politics but in the country as a whole, a year when we seemed more divided and less tolerant than ever. So, it was no surprise that, as we entered 2019, commentators were urging politicians to set aside their differences and come together in the national interest. As I write, our MPs may not be setting aside differences but they are certainly casting off traditional allegiances to form new cross Party alliances in an attempt to extricate us from the Brexit stalemate.

At the local level, there have always been people who believe that Party politics have no place in local democracy. From the perspective of the South East, this view seems, once again, to be gaining traction with Independent candidates and councillors challenging the traditional Parties, driven by what they see as the need to represent local people, place and community, rather than Party.

I am, and always will be, a Conservative but, since becoming Leader of Mole Valley District Council (MVDC), I have consistently called for councillors of all political parties (and of none) to work together in a spirit of collaboration. I have done so for one simple reason – when I talk to residents, most of them tell me that’s what they want to see.

Of course, when we lost our slim Conservative majority last year, we didn’t have much choice but to engage with other Groups in the Council and our early discussions were, understandably, tinged with some suspicion on both sides. However, when we talked with the Independent Group it really didn’t take us long to identify common ground – we were all united in wanting to do our best for our respective communities and for the District as a whole. In short, we could do business with these people.

The outcome of those talks was a Cabinet of three Independents and six Conservatives including myself as Leader and we faced our first test early on – which Group would hold the Deputy Leadership? We agreed a creative compromise – we would retain the Deputy Leadership but the Independent Group Leader would join us in a new “top team” of three meeting regularly with the CEO. This has worked well and I like to think that it set the tone for our subsequent working relationship.

It was clear that Independent Cabinet Members, all of whom had been councillors for a relatively short time, would face a steep learning curve – but so too did those of us with more Cabinet experience as we adapted to working in the very different environment of a coalition. So, very early on, we brought in the LGA to facilitate training for the entire Cabinet and senior officers. This helped everyone’s understanding of how the Council worked and the way in which policy was developed and we identified some significant improvements that needed to be made to our decision making processes. The training sessions also helped officers understand the Members’ perspective – something that becomes much more important in a coalition.

Just as valuable was the chance for Cabinet Members to get to know each other, something that has helped break down barriers to an honest discussion in our private Cabinet meetings and avoid overt disagreement in public. If this all sounds a bit touchy-feely to those who thrive on the adversarial style of politics, it’s really not, it’s just pragmatic and effective politics. After all, isn’t politics all about people and the art of compromise.

Our biggest challenge as a coalition – finalising the Local Plan – is still to come and I won’t attempt to predict how that will play out. But having just succeeded in putting forward proposals for a balanced Budget – one that keeps Council tax low, invests in key areas and secures medium-term stability, all without cuts in services – I’m allowing myself to be cautiously optimistic.

Mole Valley councillors have taken the spirit of collaboration one step further recently with all three Groups unanimously opposing County Council proposals to close Children’s Centres and Community Recycling Centres in the District – perhaps this is a sign that even our most tribal Opposition colleagues now realise that, at a time of great uncertainty, when local government is facing so many financial and social challenges, we can be stronger and more effective when we work together and speak with one voice.

What, if anything, can others learn from the MVDC experience? I would say it’s that engagement and collaboration can’t be superficial or a last minute add-on. You have to start early earning trust with openness, honesty and a lot of work on both sides.

Finally, does any of this signal a significant shift in the local political landscape? I suspect it does. Nationally, people now seem to identify as Remain or Leave rather than Conservative or Labour and they are, clearly, increasingly frustrated by our MPs reluctance to work together in difficult times. So, how long before the public’s expectations of their local politicians change just as radically? And are we as a Party ready for that?

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Alison Cork: To flourish, the retail sector in London needs the chance to adapt

Alison Cork is an entrepreneur specialising in home interiors, and a television presenter. She was among those shortlisted to be the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London.

Far from being paved with gold, the shopping streets of London currently tell a tale of retail woe. Empty units, an unhealthy balance (literally) of fast food outlets, and most depressingly for me, a lack of spark and originality in the brands on offer. High street retail should be an exciting process of discovery and consumer courtship, but more often than not it is now a repetitive and uninspiring affair.

Rent, rates and online retail are normally quoted as the reasons for this malaise, all of which play their part, but I don’t feel that this paints a wholly balanced picture.

All businesses have to face competition, whether they are online or physical retail, and to say that online retail should pay supplementary taxes to counteract their supposed advantage seems a counter-intuitive way to deal with the problem (I’m not referring here to the well known behemoths of online retail who seem particularly adept at paying tiny amounts of tax – this should definitely be addressed). I’m saying that we should be looking positively to reinvent the high street, rather than penalizing online shopping,  which appears to be succeeding in serving up speed and convenience to the consumer.

Part of the solution I feel lies in how we use physical retail space and the way in which increasingly we spend our leisure time. Shopping is now less about the mechanics of purchasing an item at the till and carrying it home, and more about having an enjoyable leisure experience discovering new product and services, whilst relaxing and socializing. Physical retail needs to respond to this, particularly the large stores which have such enormous overheads and considerable square footage to monetize.

A few years ago my own homeward brand won a retail competition to run a concession in House of Fraser on Oxford Street for two weeks. Whilst it was a great opportunity and one we hugely enjoyed, I remember feeling a deep sense of foreboding that there were many days when the sales staff seemed to outnumber the customers passing through, and I could only wonder at the electricity bill. Fast forward a few years and we know what happened to HoF. And they are not alone, retail profit warnings generally recently reached a seven-year high, so something needs to be done and quickly.

However, I do believe that large stores could reinvent themselves and provide the lifestyle experience people now want. Increasingly we are working for ourselves, demanding flexible working hours and arrangements, and wanting low overhead workspace, hence the growing success of shared workspace businesses such as Wework.

Why not combine this demand with the more fluid lifestyle people now lead, and build more co-working spaces into large retail units? Places like Pret A Manger already double as mobile offices for many people, but this would be taking the concept to its next logical step and providing a more comprehensive yet still flexible workspace. It would also facilitate networking amongst the self-employed, something I know to be very important from the work we do at Make It Your Business. This approach could also be adapted to help the elderly, providing a more formal place to meet people and socialise, counteracting another big challenge – that of modern-day loneliness.

Add in a bigger choice of eateries, other services such as child care, fun interactive brand experiences harnessing technology and efficient, cost-effective home delivery of purchases (so we can continue our retail experience hands free so to speak) and the overall result might be that we spend more time exposed to the retail proposition and end up spending more. All of a sudden, House of Fraser sounds a bit more interesting and relevant to our everyday needs and changing work/life habits. Physical retail needs to become multi functioning and go beyond its somewhat linear offering.

This is perhaps a solution for the larger stores, but what is the solution to my other point about wanting retail to be a journey of discovery of new product and brands? I think it lies in the other type of shopping street we have in London, the traditional high street of what is often 20th century construct, a parade of shops with retail outlets on the ground floor and more often than not, offices on the first floor and above.

Currently, the ground floor typically would be classified as retail, as it has a street frontage, but it is this very advantage which makes it expensive and beyond the reach of many new and more niche retailers. Why don’t we amend or allow more flexibility around our building classification to allow first floor and above also to be divided into smaller retail units (as opposed to office units), which could give rise to a honeycomb of exciting, new and niche brands getting the high street exposure they need. It would also give back the consumer that sense of discovery, originality and authenticity that I think they crave and miss. Take a walk down somewhere like South Molton Street and imagine how much more enticing it would be if every building was three floors of retail discovery. I know I’d be there like a shot.

London has the potential to be the best retail destination in the world. We certainly have the creative spirit to deliver on that. Let’s match that with some creative retail thinking and policy making.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Ferris Cowper: In East Hampshire we are breaking away from the “jobsworth” approach

Cllr Ferris Cowper is the Cabinet Member for Finance of East Hampshire District Council.

The great Peter Drucker was a committed believer in the benefits of change and once said “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old”. Since leaving one of the great exemplars of modern industrial success, Mars, Inc., my 20 years in local government have taught me that we really need to embrace this notion.

There are so many “somethings old” that we cling to in local government. We have to raise taxes. We are risk averse. We can’t make a profit. We don’t pay our staff commercial rates. Some even wear the “jobsworth” badge with a resigned fatalism.

I want “something new”, like Drucker. At East Hampshire District Council we have been removing our  unwanted “somethings old” for quite a few years now. Amongst the unwanted “somethings old” are freebie government hand-outs which used to kill off our sense of entrepreneurism, and levying Council Tax which hits rich and poor indiscriminately and makes you pay for things you don’t use.

  • Over the past 20 years, (the time our Conservative administration has been in power at EHDC), we have the best District Council Tax record in Britain*.
  • The Local Government Association’s latest benchmarking survey shows EHDC having the fourth highest resident satisfaction rate in the nation. (The benchmarking data for the councils in second and third place is at least 5 years old and ours is current)
  • Over that time front-line services have been improved dramatically with no cuts.
  • EHDC are finalists in this month’s Local Government Chronicle “Entrepreneurial Council of the Year Awards”.
  • All three of our corporate directors in post last summer are now Chief Executives, so we have peer recognition as well.

We have agreed to freeze Council Tax for the forthcoming financial year.

This success comes from a radical rethink of who we are. Of course we provide vital services for those that need them free of charge. That is never challenged because that is why we are here.

By the way, before readers tell me I’m so lucky to live in a rich person’s leafy lane paradise, we have wards with some of the worst deprivation statistics in England. At no cost to the taxpayer we’re rebuilding one of least affluent communities in record time with a total cross sector investment of £1 billion. We’re about to launch a mold-breaking welfare strategy and we’ve even offered to take on local adult social care from the county council.

So what are we doing that’s new?

We charge for services where customers have choice. We market and sell a range of products and services and in Regenco we have one of Britain’s most respected regeneration consultancies.

We invest and yes, we invest in commercial property. Before Lord Oakshott vents his spleen on us upstart competitors raining on his cosy parade, our property procedures in all aspects have been independently vetted by one of the top UK pension fund advisers.

We look hard at all our jobs and we cut out those that are unnecessary. EHDC taxpayers only pay for half of the top three layers of management because they are shared 50/50 with a neighbouring council. We share premises with the Police. We don’t need these bloated overheads from the “something old” culture.

All of us in the public sector have to face the fact there just isn’t enough tax in the economy to pay for all these public services. That’s why the public sector, across the board is in a shocking financial mess. This tax-and-handouts based financial framework is delivering embarrassing adult social care for our elderly folk and a progressively weakening NHS. Colleagues, it’s nothing whatsoever to be proud of.

But I’m proud of my Council because we improve services all the time, we cut tax in cash terms to be the best in Britain and we have one of the highest customer satisfaction rates in the nation. We did that because we wanted something new and to get that we stopped doing something old.

That should be the mantra of all in public service in order to lead the nation towards post-Brexit prosperity.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Stephen Greenhalgh: The Conservatives need a stronger crime-fighting agenda for the capital

Stephen Greenhalgh was the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime in London, and has also served as Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

After yet another bloody weekend in the capital, Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced another in his long line of timid pilot projects.  This one to tag, using the Global Positioning System, only 100 habitual knife-crime criminals in just four London boroughs when they leave prison in order to reduce their re-offending. In The Times, Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has called for collective action to prevent violent crime from “scarring our society, terrorising our communities, and, most devastatingly, destroying the lives of our next generation.”

The Home Secretary has made a commitment to do everything in his power to give those on the front line of the fight, the tools they need to end the bloodshed. He has backed this up with the announcement of the knife crime prevention orders in response to the police wanting more powers to help them divert young people away from the dangers of knife crime.

So why is the London Mayor not using GPS tagging in combination with these new civil orders? Perhaps the Home Secretary can put this to the Mayor, in the cross-party serious violence taskforce that he is convening today. This is yet another example of the Mayor focusing on PR rather than the measures that will do something to stem the bloodshed on London’s streets. GPS tagging has been around for years and should be rolled out far more widely – not just to reduce re-offending but also with preventative measures such as these new knife crime prevention orders, gang injunctions, and criminal behaviour orders. With the murder rate and knife crime at a 10 year high, Londoners deserve a Mayor who prioritises the prevention of knife crime.

However, we also need more police officers in our capital city. This Home Secretary has risen to the challenge and is providing the biggest increase in police budgets since 2010. Police and Crime Commissioners all over the country are planning to recruit thousands more officers. However, the Mayor of London has let police officers fall to below 30,000 from at or around 32,000 when Mayor Johnson left office in 2016.  This is despite receiving a flat cash settlement from the Home Office. The Mayor needs to have a budget plan to increase officer numbers dramatically and this will not emerge with more pointless PR. Under Mayor Johnson we had a plan to release under-utilised police buildings, reduce overhead, and reform the policing model to keep police officer numbers high in spite of having £100 million less to spend each year.

Finally, if we are going to stem this mindless violence, our candidate for Mayor, Shaun Bailey, should pledge to bring in the technology developed by British scientists that allows frontline officers to carry scanners which enable them to detect knives and guns beneath clothing. These portable scanners can differentiate knives from everyday items such as keys. A widespread roll-out of this technology will give the police another tool that will enable the Met to ramp up intelligence-led and targeted stop and search so that we can get the knives off the streets of our capital city.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Barry Lewis: The Conservatives are delivering for Derbyshire

Cllr Barry Lewis is the Leader of Derbyshire County Council

It has now been almost two years since the Conservatives took control of Derbyshire County Council. This was with a cataclysmic landslide that has rarely been seen in local politics, mid-term, with the same party in government. We bucked the national trend by overturning a majority of 43 Labour councillors to achieve our own majority of ten, achieving a result that many thought unthinkable.

Two years on, we are now leading an ambitious change agenda focused on delivering the most efficient and effective public services at the lowest cost to the taxpayer. Our aim is to become an “Enterprising Council”. This is not just about providing services in a different way but also about changing the mindset of the council. We are one of the biggest county councils in the country and culture change in local government is never easy. However, we are steadily moving from a bureaucratic approach to decision-making to one where teams and individuals feel empowered to get things done. In doing so, we are underpinning a sense of individual responsibility to make the organisation and culture far less paternalistic.

A few people have read “Enterprising Council” to equate to a programme of privatisation – which is wrong. This is not something that is driven by ideology, but by a desire to always find the best solution to delivering the highest quality of public services, at the lowest cost to the taxpayer. In doing so, we want to tap into the creativity and passion of our own staff to come up with different solutions. An example of this is a new operating model for our highways services which is already regarded as one of the best in the country, thanks to an extra £6 million of investment since we won the election. This has seen a record number of 68,000 potholes repaired in 2018. The new model will mean even better performance and efficiency in the future.

We are rolling out a new libraries strategy that is working with local people to turn 20 of our least visited and used libraries into community-run facilities that will not only safeguard their future but also ensure that they play a leading role in the community. We are also looking to work with local organisations to safeguard the future of our mobile library service, a service decimated by previous Labour cuts.

The sea change in the way that we work with local communities is fundamental to Enterprising Council. We do not want to be a council that “does things to” local communities, we want to be a council that works with local communities to find the best solutions. In doing so, we are changing the whole dynamic of the council by driving top to bottom culture change. I make no bones about it: I want people to recognise that Derbyshire County Council is a Conservative County Council.  Working hand-in-glove with our senior officer team, we are developing leadership skills across the organisation to embed an ethos of efficiency, effectiveness, and enterprise, while making sure that the ethos is cascaded down.

We have just completed a Corporate Peer Challenge from the LGA which has not happened in Derbyshire for more than 10 years. This has been a nerve-wracking experience because you open the council to criticism. We did it because we wanted to benchmark ourselves with other authorities.  Overall we came out well with many of the issues identified already clear in our minds and already being addressed via the emerging Enterprising Council approach.

Our Labour colleagues have already lambasted us for not taking the full 4.99 per cent council tax rise allowed by Government without triggering a referendum.  We had to explain to them, and the local press bizarrely, that it’s not a target to aim for. We have a responsibility to balance our budget and take into account that residents are squeezed too. It is critical to remember that taxpayers fund our services and the people who we employ or commission. Often it seems that they get very little that is noticeable from us on a day-to-day basis. For them, it is all about street lights, well-maintained roads, bins and pavements. Of course, go below the surface and you will see the sheer range of life-changing services and support that we provide, particularly to people who are more vulnerable. We also take care of large areas of countryside, former pits, railways and opencast sites, canals and other assets that are there for environmental or recreational purposes.  Not every taxpayer will benefit directly from this provision. So we should always ask the question: could someone else look after these sites?  If so, who from the local community would come forward to manage the assets at less cost while deriving more benefit from that sense of involvement?

There is of course a huge range of other things we do, which is mostly unseen. For example, facilitating economic growth, promoting tourism, providing public transport, managing budgets for schools, and a whole host of other things.  All these things cost money, some of which is non-statutory but if we did not do it, who would?  This means that Derbyshire has a circa £1.1 billion annual operating budget.  A not inconsiderable sum which demonstrates the need to take a carefully balanced view on how we spend the money.

I hope that I have given you a flavour of the sense of change that we are trying to engender in Derbyshire. I am unapologetic in my ambition for Derbyshire to be seen as, and feel like, a “Conservative County Council” in four short years. There’s no reason why, with good policies and a laser-like focus on efficiency, effectiveness, and lower tax we could not be as safe as a Sussex council.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Council by-election results from yesterday

Bradford – Bolton & Undercliffe 

Lib Dems 1,733 (51.3 per cent, +9.0 on 2018) Labour (34.1 per cent, -10.6) Conservatives (12.4 per cent, +2.4) Green Party 73 (2.2 per cent, -0.8)

Lib Dems gain from Labour.

Buckinghamshire – Totteridge & Bowerdean 

Labour 978 (40.8 per cent, +15.5 on 2017) East Wycombe Independent 668 (27.8 per cent, -12.1) Lib Dems 508 (21.2 per cent, +6.4) Conservatives 245 (10.2 per cent, -9.8)

Labour gain from East Wycombe Independent.

Lambeth – Thornton

Labour 1,154 (44.7 per cent, -18.2 on 2018) Lib Dems 845 (32.8 per cent, +23.1) Green Party 251 (9.7 per cent, -1.7) Conservatives 247 (9.6 per cent, -6.4) Women’s Equality Party 46 (1.8 per cent, +1.8) UKIP 36 (1.4 per cent, +1.4)

Labour hold

Tower Hamlets – Lansbury 

Labour 1,308 (40.8 per cent, +2.5 on 2018) Aspire 1,002 (31.3 per cent, +7.0) Lib Dems 290 (9.0 per cent, 0.0) UKIP 176 (5.5 per cent, +5.5) Conservatives 175 (5.5 per cent, -1.7) Green Party 166 (5.2 per cent, -1.6) House Party, Homes for Londoners 85 (2.8 per cent, +2.8)

Labour hold

Tower Hamlets – Shadwell 

Aspire 1,012 (34.8 per cent, +13.4 on 2018) Labour 914 (31.5 per cent, +4.1) Lib Dems 484 (16.7 per cent, +13.1) Conservatives 185 (6.4 per cent, +2.5) Green Party 125 (4.3 per cent, 0.0) Independent 119 (4.1 per cent, -1.2) Women’s Equality Party 65 (2.2 per cent, +2.2)

Aspire gain from Labour

Wokingham – Evendons

Lib Dems 1,441 (63.1 per cent, +16.3 on 2018) Conservatives 729 (31.9 per cent, -8.8) Labour 115 (5.0 per cent, -7.5)

Lib Dems hold

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Thomas Kerr: Why the people of Scotland deserve a Council Tax freeze

Cllr Thomas Kerr represents Shettleston Ward on Glasgow City Council.

It won’t be a surprise to many of you reading this today that times are tough, especially for local government. As budgets get tighter our services get strained and in Glasgow that is the position we find ourselves in as we draw ever closer to the council’s budget on 21st February.

So what are the options facing our city and how did we get here. The story begins as all major economic failures do with a previous Labour administration and, while normally that saying is used to pivot the blame, this time the finger is pointed and extremely accurate.

In 2006 Glasgow took the decision to bring in a new pay and grading scheme – a scheme I may add which was supported by officers, unions and the opposition parties. Its introduction however, created more problems than it solved and to cut a long story short we ended up in a position where the new system disproportionately penalised female workers. The council and trade unions fought this in the courts for years and while Labour, the beacon of equality that it claims to be, refused to settle it was left to the new intake of 2017 councillors to sort out their mess. Glasgow’s budget this year and for years to come must find a way of paying out around £500 million in equal pay settlements, money which these women are entitled to but which will leave us having to face many tough decisions in the years ahead.

The Scottish Government would love nothing more than to be able to blame Glasgow’s financial problems on the previous Labour Administration – for as we know there is nothing the SNP like more than to engage in grievance politics and play the blame game. This time however they can’t. Despite their claim that “Tory Austerity” is the cause of all of Scotland’s problems, the reality is that the SNP mismanagement of Scotland’s public purse is endangering the public services upon which my constituents rely. Nicola Sturgeon and Derek Mackay have decimated local government budgets throughout the country and the blame for this lays squarely at their door. Combined with the equal pay bill, these cuts are set to devastate local services.

Scotland’s block grant has been rising in recent years but the SNP are still cutting council budgets, why? It’s because they have no respect for the services that councils like Glasgow deal with. Enough is enough, this isn’t the “Westminster Tory Government’s” fault this is yours First Minister and it is about time you and your Government accept some responsibility. This Scottish Government should hang its head in shame for the complete contempt in which they hold Scotland’s local authorities. As a Glasgow MSP, Nicola Sturgeon’s apathy towards the city is evident on a daily basis – and her cohort of councillors are scarcely any better. Glaswegians expect their governing party in the City Chambers to be fighting our corner but in this administration, we see the exact opposite.

The Council Leader, Cllr Susan Aitken, is not Glasgow’s voice in the SNP and she never has been. Rather she is the SNP’s cheerleader in Glasgow and that must change.

That brings me to the now – Glasgow is facing a £50.9 million shortfall to makeup and the options we are now seeing include higher council tax for fewer services that just isn’t on. The makeup of Glasgow City Council means two parties need to come together to agree on a budget. Glasgow Conservatives were elected to oppose the SNP’s obsession with Scottish Independence and we will continue to do so every step of the way. Given the financial circumstances that have been imposed on Glasgow, we’ve made clear five key priorities for any budget that we would need to see in any budget for us to consider supporting. These are:

  • Safeguarding addiction/homelessness services: We believe in protecting the most vulnerable in our society – and that includes those suffering from addiction and those who find themselves homeless. We are therefore asking the administration to protect and enhance funding towards these vital services.
  • More investment in our roads/pavements: Our city is heavily reliant on roads and pavements to ensure not only that Glaswegians can get to work and live their lives but also to make sure that visitors to Glasgow enjoy the transport links that a world class city deserves. The Conservatives are therefore calling on the Administration to use capital funding to bring our road network up to a standard fit for the modern age.
  • Taking the non-residential parking levy off the table: Removing the current threat of the administration introducing a non-residential parking levy. Such a proposal would hurt business, workers and commuters and is completely unacceptable. For any talks to be serious the SNP administration must take this proposal off the table.
  • More support for small businesses: Small businesses are the backbone of any economy – especially Glasgow’s. However, under Susan Aitken’s leadership, small businesses have not had a champion within the city chambers. We are offering the administration a chance to reverse this record by supporting small businesses and changing a culture that is driving investment away from our city.
  • A council tax freeze: Over the past couple of years Glaswegians have seen their income and council tax bills rise. We say enough is enough. No more should Glasgow’s taxpayers have to foot the bill for SNP spending cuts to local government. Our constituents have seen increases in their taxes but no improvement in local services. This is why Conservatives are standing up for hard-working families by opposing any further increase in council tax at February’s budget.

Glasgow Conservatives are showing the SNP, Labour and Green Parties what effective opposition looks like. For too long Glasgow politicians have been ducking the hard decisions. Our five priorities are common sense and realistic and we would urge the administration to take them seriously and engage constructively. We as a party believe in a common sense approach to dealing with our city’s problems that is why we are willing to find common ground on issues for the greater benefit of all Glaswegians.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com