For the last six years we have been on a journey of change.
We’ve needed to do things differently to adapt to the significant challenges that we as a county council, and all other local authorities, face.
I won’t pretend for one minute that it hasn’t been difficult but it has been the right thing to do. It has absolutely narrowed our focus to the things that matter most for our county and our residents.
One of the most significant of those challenges has been our contribution to reducing the country’s deficit.
This authority has made more than £162million savings over the last six years and, while further, substantial, savings still need to be found, we have certainly done our bit.
And we’ve done it at a time when pressures on our services have never been greater, and the expectations of our residents have never been higher. And we know those pressures will only continue to grow. And we know that people’s expectations will only increase. And we know that we will continue to meet both in the best way we can because that’s why we’re here, doing what we do day in and day out 24/7.
So while this is a blog that reflects on the challenges of the last few years, it’s also one that looks to the future. And I believe that our future’s a bright one.
There will be challenges, of course, but we will face them and we will overcome them as we have always done.
And we will continue to be a council that spends every penny of our residents’ hard earned council tax as if it were our own because delivering quality and value for money are so very important to us.
At times of significant financial pressures it’s easy for organisations to solely concentrate on balancing the books, shrink services, look inwards and live in the here and now.
That’s never been our style. When I look back over the last six years it’s with a sense of pride that we’ve faced the challenges we have and unrelentingly pushed ahead with an ambitious agenda that will improve West Sussex for us all. Because I honestly believe this county and the people that live and work in it deserve nothing less.
We have worked hard to reshape and transform our organisation and will continue to do so in order to focus on delivering quality services around our three key priority areas. You’ve heard me talk about them before but our work to make sure that children have the very best start in life, that we support and grow our local economy and that we support our elderly and ageing population to live independently in their later years – these are the three core things that unite us all.
And sitting alongside those three vital areas are our fundamental principles of always helping people to help themselves and always being there for people in an emergency.
They unite us all, no matter what political colour we might be.
We have redesigned our Children's Services and continue our work to improve how we can better support our growing elderly population in their own communities so they can age with confidence.
We have delivered our £30million Better Roads Programme, resurfacing over 2.27million square metres of roads across the county, and our Operation Watershed project has been celebrated nationally as one of the very best examples of local government helping its communities to protect themselves against flooding.
We are currently purchasing the Novartis site in Horsham to further develop and support West Sussex’s life science sector.
And we are working on an exciting project in Bognor Regis to create a hub to support the growth of the creative digital sector in the town by providing a shared workspace where small businesses and start-ups could work in a creative environment, network, socialise, display work and share facilities. We’re also working with partners in Mid Sussex on exciting redevelopment plans for Burgess Hill.
We continue to push forward with our 3SC Devolution Bid to Government which will forge a new and exciting partnership with Surrey County Council and East Sussex County Council for the benefit of all our residents. We’re already starting to see the benefits of closer collaboration with partners - indeed we will be sharing our Legal Services across the 3SC and Brighton & Hove City Council.
So despite the very difficult financial landscape we are innovating and constantly looking at ways to better serve our residents.
And I want to thank again our dedicated and loyal staff who come to work every single day with the sole aim of making a difference. They’re the ones delivering our services and our vision on the front line in our communities. They’re a credit to West Sussex and they have my genuine thanks for all they do.
On Friday, our Full Council will meet for the second time this year and, together with the appointing committee, I will take great pleasure in asking council Members to ratify our new Chief Executive and introducing him to staff and political colleagues in the chamber.
Nathan Elvery will join us from Croydon Council in June and will continue to build on the substantial transformation work that has been undertaken over the last few years.
He started his working life at Crawley Borough Council so it is good to see him coming back to work in West Sussex, this time at the County Council.
I really believe this is a watershed time in West Sussex County Council’s long and proud history. We’ve got a bright, and challenging future ahead of us and I look forward to working with Nathan, all our dedicated politicians and staff, to achieve our ambitions for this great county that I am lucky enough to call home.
Anyone interested in watching Friday's meeting can view it via our live webcast here.