Friday, 4 March 2011

In denial

Why do the opposition groups struggle to come to terms with the fact that the council has made such giant strides over the last few years in service delivery and organisational performance? The facts speak for themselves! In all areas of the council we have seen improvements in the quality of services provided. Substantial parts of the organisation now perform at top quartile levels with continuing rises in both customer and staff satisfaction levels. A range of our teams have enjoyed national recognition to include those in Revenues and Benefits, Street Cleaning and cleanliness, museums and libraries, cycling, and housing. Our youth offending team is one of the best performing in the country and our family intervention project and work on autism have both received national recognition. The Care Quality Commissions assessment of our adult social care department demonstrates the transformation of this service over the last 4 years. These are only a few examples of cross organisational success which have been recognised by our short listing for the most improved council last year and our recent short listing for council of the year.
In addition we will have delivered capital projects with a value in excess of £100M to include the much complimented new swimming and diving pool at Garon Park, a modern and safe pay on exit town centre multi storey car park, and the four creating a better Southend schemes which notwithstanding the onerous time limits imposed by the previous government remain on time and on budget. Opposition councillors are good are "heartfelt" statements about council employees whose jobs are at risk but don't they understand that their constant nasty and inaccurate jibes about council performance are more damaging to staff morale than the cuts we are having to find. Come on - step up to your responsibilities as corporate employers and start giving our employees and the services they provide the credit they deserve.


Cllr Woodley and his independent group have now decided that the next great issue is the level of council borrowing. Notwithstanding his self proclaimed status as financial guru Cllr Woodley expresses sudden concern and surpise at council borrowing levels as though he has just discovered the situation following some detailed investigation. Infact every member of council receives 3 monthly treasury management reports, an annual treasury management statement and details of funding linked to the capital programme which means that anyone who bothers to read the paperwork must be fully aware of our treasury management policy. He has been on the council for four years - did he not understand this information or if he did why did he not raise his concerns before. What he fails to mention is that in calculating local government funding the government has always included an allowance for the funding of capital borrowing realising that capital investment is essential. Previously this was seperately identified but more recently has just been included in the general pot. A failure to use this funding would result in significant underinvestment which was the case before we got a proper hold of the capital programme a few years ago. The cost of borrowing is about 2% of the council's annual budget which is less than many other authorities and is"prudent, affordable and sustainable" to use the words of our Head of Finance (who is qualified and experienced in public funding). So Ron why is this only mentioned now and without giving the full story and which capital projects which we have funded over recent years do you oppose? And the really frightening thing is that the Independents think that members should be micro managing the councils overall buget of £500M rather than make the policy relying on the expertise of our professional officers.

Budget Debate

It was the budget debate last night and I continue to be perplexed by the attitude of our three opposition parties.Cllr Longley on behalf of the Lib Dems criticised the Labour Party for creating an economic situation where cuts of £15.5M were required and then criticised the Conservative Administration for making them, without giving any alternative suggestions or proposals of any kind. If he accepts that cuts have to be made and he doesn't have alternative suggestions it seems ridiculous to oppose our budget. Cllr Woodley on behalf of the Independents once again demonstrated (at considerable length) that he either doesn't understand public finance or chooses to mis interpret the information provided to him. Once again no amendments or alternatives but simply opposition to our budget without sensible reason. Finally Cllr Gilbert on behalf of the Labour Group, who is simply in denial that there is a national deficit or that it has anything to do with his party - once again no alternatives or amendments but just opposition. Tey even fail to acknowledge the progress the council has made in all areas of service provision over the last 4 years. So much for constructive opposition!