It has been quite some time since I last blogged, this isn’t because I am not interested in writing for you anymore or have nothing to say - quite the opposite in fact! But I have been really, really busy which is what I am blogging about now.
There were two particularly important issues that came up immediately after the elections earlier this year. Firstly the possibility of Gatwick Airport expansion with a second runway, the other was a further very substantial reduction in funding for the County Council as a result of the Government’s spending review from 2015.
At the last County Council meeting a majority of Members agreed to support Gatwick Airport expansion 'in principle' because of the very clear economic benefits for the county. This overturned a 40 year policy - so not an easy decision to take, but policies made many years ago do not always best reflect the changes over that time. We have put in a submission to the Davis Commission on Airport Expansion and we now await the announcement early next year on whether Gatwick Airport can move to the next phase. If they do get the green light then there will be much to do and I will ensure that residents are kept well informed.
We are aware there will be a further reduction in Government funding for the County Council, so we have started work to focus on our key priorities.
I firmly believe that when there is very limited money it does not mean you have to stop doing things all together, although that can be the case sometimes. However, it does mean that to ensure things do get done, you need to be very clear on priorities, objectives and outcomes; so money is spent accordingly and to best effect. The County Council has developed three key themes: giving children the best start in life, the economy, and later life.
Underpinning this is building strong, vibrant self-reliant communities who are being there in an emergency, helping people to help themselves, and working with partners.
On that basis we have started on the road to commissioning our services. So what does that mean to residents?
We will continue to deliver services based on good and appropriate outcomes, including value for money. In future we may not necessarily be providing the service ourselves, but commissioning from another provider. Commissioning is based on what we want and need to achieve, so it is a distinct change from how we currently do things now.
Commissioning is not about saving money but as our plans develop, we need to ensure that these are within the reduced money available and over the next four years that amounts to around an eye-watering £140 million less than now, so perhaps you can understand why I and my Cabinet Members have been so very busy.
Plans are being developed and worked on as I write, and yes it is a very big challenge. Three years ago when we planned our £79 million savings plan we presented this to the County Council in December and plans were available to the residents we serve.
It is our intention to do the same again, but with some additional events such as information roadshows across the county, which we are planning to start in late November.
Although the economy is improving, and the enormous national deficit has reduced, there is a long way to go to reduce it further to ensure the finances are on a firm footing for the future prosperity of the country, and all councils have to play their part in helping the deficit reduction.
It is incredibly tough, which is why so much time is being put into planning. We have to change and adapt to our circumstances and no doubt I will be blogging about this more in the future.
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