Let me begin by thanking you for all your efforts and hard work over the last year. As you will be aware, Northumberland Labour Group will shortly set its first budget proposals before council. These proposals have been developed in the context of a £130M Coalition Government revenue cut over the next four years, a 30% reduction in our budget.
To say cuts of this magnitude won't affect service delivery or local businesses and communities would be ridiculous, but Labour Group members in Northumberland have decided to use our first budget to protect as many front line jobs as possible in order that we safeguard the local economies we serve.
Although the background to our first budget is one of bleak austerity, we have agreed to challenge the way we provide services and address future changes sitting just on the horizon such as those required through the Coalition Governments 'Care Bill' shortly to become the 'Care Act'. We want to ensure that we plan for more than just the short term, and to develop a genuine long term strategy for our services.
Since we were elected in May we have begun to change the way the Council thinks of itself and have begun our move from departments towards integrated workstreams through changes at the top of our organisation. We are working with your Trade Unions on all issues and are about to begin a return to town centres from a centralised County Hall system that has failed the County over the last five years. This will revitalise our ability to support Northumberland’s towns and their local businesses. Those of you who have worked there will know just as well as me that County Hall as a building requires a fortune spent on it just to keep it up to the most basic modern workplace standards. The current revenue position of the Council does not allow us to service the kind of debt we would take on to do that work, so much cheaper options will be sought to re-house our workstream teams.
Our commitment to attack the Housing Crisis is still strong with hundreds of new Council houses in either the planning, building or about to be let stage. Our consultation on the Local Development Framework that will protect 96% of our green belt for the next 20 years is going well and is being accepted by all but the most negative commentators. Streetscene services are working ever more closely with Town, Community and Parish Councils to deliver the services local people want the most on the ground and raise our standards to the pre 2009 level. We could not address these challenges without your support.
There are some disappointments that we will have to tackle without having cash available. We have been told we must improve our education system without the benefit of being able to drive through a sponsored structural change for staff, parents and children to work towards. We have soldiers and their families rebasing to Albemarle barracks without the benefit of any additional MoD assistance to aid that resettlement. The pressure on school places and services in such a rural area will be immense and the much vaunted Community Covenant scheme can't be accessed by Local Authorities to aid the situation.
Northumberland is the most sparsely populated county in England yet the Government’s sparsity offer is to invest in rural services today in order that we cut them next year. It’s much more difficult and costly to deliver services in very sparsely populated rural areas, as many of you who live and work here will know. To be faced with the choice of removing or cutting them is evidence that London based ministers have lost touch with societies such as ours. I want to be able to promise you, as our workforce, that we will work with you to enable all of us to address these challenges.
Can I add one final request to you all? If you’ve had an invitation to take part in our Employee Survey, and you haven’t yet done so, please take fifteen minutes out of your day to do so. We value your opinions, and we know that we can’t take on the challenges we face without your support and engagement, which is why we want to address any issues that arise from the survey.
Let me close by wishing you a Happy New Year, with my hope that we can all work together to meet the challenges we face,
Cllr Grant Davey