Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Responding to the ever-changing weather

The wet and windy weather continues - as you might have seen, parts of West Sussex experienced strong gusting winds late on Saturday and we had yet more rain on Sunday.

Throughout the on-going bad weather, our Emergency Management Team have been beavering away in the background and the Fire and Rescue Service has been busy answering and dealing with callouts.

Seven hundred and fifty ‘incident calls’ were dealt with by the County Council outside normal working hours over the Christmas period alone. Of those, 250 were flooding related, 250 were to do with fallen trees and others were related to other incidents.

My thanks to our dedicated teams who work closely with partners such as the Environment Agency, Southern Water and District and Borough Councils for our response effort.

This is the second year that the dramatically changing weather pattern is affecting so many across the county and residents are rightly concerned. As one person mentioned this is now ‘a regular occurrence’.

So as a County Council we need to respond to the question of how do we manage in future years if this weather pattern is going to continue. This is something that we will certainly be looking at with our partners in the coming months. You can get more information on flooding on our website.

Last year we launched Operation Watershed, which has undoubtedly been a success, in particular the community element.

Completed schemes have held up against storm winds, heavy rainfall and very high tides, set against a backdrop of land absolutely saturated and drains full, leaving water with nowhere to go.

The £8.25 million allocated for Operation Watershed has been allocated and it was anticipated that the scheme would be wound up this spring. However, after the recent bad weather we know that there is more that could and should be done, particularly to help residents to help themselves. This is why we are currently looking for additional monies to invest in Operation Watershed 2014 for community projects.

More than 700 pot holes have been reported to the County Council since the start of the year and we have three extra gangs deployed to deal with these. But we also ask residents to help and do their bit – for example if you see a tree or branch that has fallen in your private ditch, please help by clearing it, as blocked ditches and watercourses can prolong drainage problems or stop water draining away properly.

I’m pleased to say that we are proposing an additional £30 million to be invested in our road network, which will pay for improvements to unclassified roads - these make up 55% of our entire network and include both residential and rural roads. This forms part of our draft budget, which will go before the next County Council meeting on Friday 14 February.

Best wishes,

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Tuesday, 14 January 2014

All change at the County Council

Last week I announced that West Sussex County Council would be making the post of Chief Executive redundant and instead replace it with a Chief Operating officer and a Transformation Director, the latter on a temporary contract for nine to 18 months.

Over the last 18 months there has been considerable work – indeed it is on-going - to ensure the Council is in the very best position to meet the many challenges that come with having less and less income. This is not easy for any local politician - whatever colour - but this is the very much the responsibility of the majority Group of the Council.

Last July, the newly elected County Council agreed three key priority areas of focus for the organisation. Start of Life, giving our children the very best start in life. The Economy, building a strong economy and creating jobs and Later Life, helping to support our elderly population live as independently as possible.

These priorities will guide us and every decision we make as we move to a commissioning council model in the coming months and identify where to spend our reducing grants from Government.

I regularly speak about the County Council evolving. Just like any other organisation it needs to be flexible and adapt. No organisation, particularly local authorities, can stand still and operate as they did 10 or 20 years ago. Looking back at the Council I joined in 2001, the organisation has changed considerably and that change will continue.

Let me stress that the decision that has been made about the post of Chief Executive being made redundant is a part of that evolution.

Nobody has been sacked. There have been no arguments or disagreements. It has simply been agreed, by both myself and Kieran Stigant, that now is the right time for change.
Kieran has given twenty-two years of diligent and loyal service to the County Council, three of those as Chief Executive. I am, and will always remain grateful to him for his tireless commitment to both the Council and to West Sussex.
This decision was certainly not made on a whim. It was made after careful consideration, long conversations between myself and Kieran and after taking on board advice and guidance from a number of experts. As well as Kieran, it also involved the agreement of the Cabinet and the Chairman of the Council.

I have heard comments made about whether I have a mandate to make such a decision. I do. The 2001 Local Government Act gives the Leader of the Council the remit to deal with such issues.

I have spent the last week with staff around the county, explaining this decision and answering their questions and queries. I know our workforce will always be the greatest ambassadors of this organisation. We are lucky to have such diligent and loyal people working for us, delivering our services day after day and striving to make a difference. It is important to me that our Council staff have the opportunity to hear from me personally about why Kieran and I have reached this decision together.

Over the coming weeks we will appoint a Chief Operating Officer who will look after the day-to-day running of West Sussex County Council and build on our already good relationships with our partners across West Sussex. We will also appoint a Transformation Director who will be tasked with continuing Kieran’s excellent work to ensure we deliver on our priorities and our commissioning intentions.

Shortly we will finalise the budget for the next financial year. Despite one of the most financially challenging times we have ever known, West Sussex County Council is in good shape to face the challenges ahead.

This will be the fourth successive year that we will announce that we have been able to maintain a Council Tax freeze. And although the Council has faced a funding reduction of 7.9% , through greater internal efficiencies we have been able to respond positively to the ever growing needs in Adults’ Services, increasing the Health and Social Care portfolio spend by £5.55 million.

We are also about to embark on a huge programme to improve some of the county’s unclassified roads, investing around £30 million on this. We also have made considerable investment in the Age of Transfer in Worthing.

The County Council is evolving. What we have to do now allows us to continue delivering services, helping our communities, responding in times of emergencies such as flooding (including last year investing £8.25 million in Operation Watershed), investing in roads and schools, building a vibrant economy across the county and campaigning for better infrastructure such as the A27.

Rest assured, I answer to the electorate and every decision that I make is based on delivering the best services that we can for our communities.

I understand that times of change can be unsettling but there are real opportunities that we can and will seize to make West Sussex an even better place to live, work and do business.

Best wishes,

P.S Those of you with an encyclopaedic knowledge of local government law will have spotted that there was a typo in the year of the Local Government Act and it should, in fact, be The Local Government Act 2000 rather than 2001. All decisions always need to be ratified by West Sussex County Council’s Governance Committee and, ultimately, Full Council. The next Full Council meeting is on Friday, February 14. This meeting is open to the public and will also be webcast live on the Council’s website.

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