Leader's Update December 2011
From Cllr Lynden Stowe
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any comments or questions.
Looking back over 2011, this has probably been the most challenging year ever for the Council. The economic outlook in the UK and elsewhere has continued to be very uncertain, and global issues such as the Euro crisis are still creating significant problems which ultimately have a knock-on effect on this Council’s funding, investment strategy, and overall spending power. We started the year in the knowledge that the Council’s settlement grant from the government – in percentage terms the most punitive in the whole of the country - would reduce by 31% over the next two years. This amounted to a total cut of £1.45 million over this current financial year (2011/12) and the following year (2012/13.
Against this unpromising financial backdrop, I am proud to say that we have plans in place to absorb these reductions – and other planned cuts - without impacting on any of our frontline services. On top of that, we are also freezing Council Tax over a four-year period. We are able to do all this because of the continuing success of our efficiency programmes.
There are many excellent examples to show how we are cutting back on expenditure without damaging the interests of the taxpayer. In previous updates, I have already mentioned the innovative programmes underway to share our HR, finance, payroll and procurement ‘back office’ functions with three other authorities (Cheltenham, Forest of Dean, and West Oxfordshire) and I have also set out our plans to form a separate company with Cheltenham Borough Council for the provision of waste services. These two initiatives alone will save this Council over £700,000 per year. However, this time around I want to highlight the continuing success of our shared working with West Oxfordshire. We began to do this three years ago when, starting right at the top, David Neudegg became Chief Executive across both councils. David did remarkably well from the outset, and this encouraged us to look for further potential shared working opportunities. As a result, we now have some 25 Officers – including two out of our three Directors and three Service Heads (increasing soon to four) – who are dividing their time between the two councils. That’s not all – running alongside these changes, we have reviewed our management structures and have created a much leaner and flexible hierarchy. We now have 11 Service Heads compared with 22 Service Managers less than three years ago. Taken together, the job sharing and service restructuring is saving the Council about £650,000 per year. We are aiming to be recognised as the most efficient council in the country and this sort of progress underlines our commitment to make this happen.
I am aware that the Council’s recent decision to make the Old Prison at Northleach available for sale has attracted considerable attention, and I am pleased to note that the Cotswold Conservation Board is bidding for a Heritage Lottery grant to help fund a potential purchase. At this stage, I cannot comment on the status of any bidders but I would like to clarify why most Members of the Council voted to put the building on the market. Given everything I have said about the acute need to tighten our belts, we believe we can no longer afford to retain the Old Prison. Over the last five years, the building has racked up a financial shortfall of £266,000, and this does not include an estimated additional bill of £100,000 for essential maintenance work in the near future, or indeed Officer time and the property management resources spent on this building. It makes sound economic sense to sell off this property and, because it is a listed building, the community has the reassurance that it will be subject to safeguards which any potential buyer must respect.
One of the drivers to improve our local economy is the provision of high-speed broadband communications. The Cotswolds is one of a number of rural areas where nearly half of households have speeds below or at 2Mbps - the Government’s acceptable minimum level of service. For this reason, we are backing a campaign to bring high-speed broadband to rural Gloucestershire by means of the multi-million pound Borders Broadband project, which aims to secure private investment in a new fast broadband infrastructure. As part of the campaign, a Gloucestershire-wide survey of households and businesses is underway to show there is demand for fast broadband services in rural communities. (See www.gfirst.co.uk/broadband.) So far about 80 volunteers in nearly 50 parishes and towns in Cotswold district have stepped up to become broadband champions, and they are urging residents to sign up to this campaign. Almost 2,500 people have already completed the residential survey and I urge more of you to follow suit.
On the whole the weather has been very kind so far this winter, and there have been no disruptions to waste collections across the district. However, in the event of substantial snowfalls or widespread ice, I would urge you all to keep a close eye on the Council’s website – www.cotswold.gov.uk - which will be updated regularly to inform you about alternative collection arrangements should the weather begin to pose problems. You can also call our Waste Hotline on 01285 623 123 for updates. I would also remind you that there will be no waste collection on Monday 26th December – instead, this will be replaced by a collection on Saturday 31 December. There are no other planned changes over the Christmas / New Year holiday period. As usual, for the first collection after Christmas Day, residents will be allowed to leave out additional amounts of non-recyclable waste in bin liners next to their grey wheeled bin or beige refuse bags. Everything will be collected. See http://www.cotswold.gov.uk/nqcontent.cfm?a_id=14048 for more details.
Finally, on behalf of the Members and Officers of the Council, may I wish you all a very happy Christmas and prosperous New Year.
Lynden Stowe, Leader Cotswold District Council
Lynden Stowe email@example.com
Telephone: 01285 623 882