What a fantastic year to be British. The excitement of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, will live long in the memory of the nation I’m sure.
2012 has also been a memorable year for me personally and has been my first full year as Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council.
For the County Council the last 18 months have been tough but rewarding. We have faced massive challenges and major growth but we have made big differences and seen great successes. I must, at this point, pay tribute to my Cabinet, Councillors and staff who have worked tirelessly for the public good often with little or no public recognition.
But the challenges are set to continue and get tougher. As I write this after just checking on my sleeping two-year-old grandson I know we have to do our best for current and future generations in Cambridgeshire.
My wish for a prosperous New Year will be to see a Cambridgeshire where our children have a great start in life; a County where business flourish and jobs are created as well as communities where people can keep their health, dignity and independence.
Absolutely the best part of my role as Leader is the chance I get to meet the people that make Cambridgeshire great. This year I’ve spent time with our social workers, our carers, and our youth workers. I’ve also spent time with those people in the county who use our services, people that are in our care and support. My thoughts will be with all of them over the festive period.
I’ve also spent the last 18 months doing everything I can to raise the profile of Cambridgeshire. I think that we have been too modest in the past about what we’re good at and what we have to offer. Cambridgeshire is a special place, and it was great to hear our Prime Minister recognise that when he came to visit us this month. We were all pleased to hear that he has now joined the club of us that are pushing for quicker improvements to the A14.
As Leader I’ve focused on growing our economy, because we all benefit from a thriving economy with local businesses providing more local job opportunities. I’m happy to say that we’ve seen a real impact already:
- There have been 4052 new apprenticeships in our county over the last academic year – that is a 30% increase on our figures for the previous year
- New business start-ups in Cambridgeshire have reached record levels this year
- We have cut through red tape and It is now easier for local businesses to win our contracts because of Source Cambridgeshire
This year I also launched a new bank which is helping local businesses that are ready to grow. I am now Non-Executive Director of the newly formed Cambridge & Counties Bank. In this position on the bank’s board I have ensured that we have a solid business case, that we absolutely do not have a reckless bonus culture, and that we get the best possible returns for the investment of the County Council’s Pension Fund. This month was the 6 month anniversary of the Bank, and we were pleased to announce that we are meeting our targets for lending money to businesses, and exceeding our targets for the deposits we are taking.
We’ve also announced a number of major activities which will really help our county’s people and businesses. We are investing millions in breaking down barriers to business to help make it more attractive for people to create jobs as well as putting in the transport, schools and IT infrastructure our county needs. This includes bringing superfast broadband to Cambridgeshire and especially our rural areas. We continue to fight for the much needed improvements by the Government to the A14 which strangles our economy and has seen tragedy after tragedy.
We are investing heavily in improving transport from the new Cambridge Science Park Station to a new link at Ely. Business is also getting a massive boost with the Alconbury Enterprise Zone and millions of investment to provide new skills for youngsters at the College of West Anglia in Wisbech.
Probably the most important thing the County Council does is to support and protect our residents. This happens in many ways, from the young to the old – we have a duty to care. Currently there are about 12,300 people in Cambridgeshire, young and old, that receive some form of social care from us.
We continue to be innovative in the way that we provide these services, and in 2013 we will carry on our path of reforming our social care for children – so it is much more focused on the needs of the whole family.
We will also continue our successful reablement programme where we help people stay out of hospital and therefore keep their independence for longer.
In the year that we learned Cambridgeshire is the fastest growing county in the country, we have been more aware than ever that we will have more and more people to look after.
I believe that there is only so much we can do locally. We will continue to improve our services and get more efficient at what we do, but that just won’t be enough. That is why this year I spoke nationally to call on our Government to reform the social care system. I hope that 2013 is the year that they really sit up and listen, and we all work together to provide the best possible services for our communities.
I am proud of the way in which we have driven even more costs out of the way we work, so that we can channel even more of our resources into frontline services.
The cost of the Council’s senior managers has reduced by £625,000 in the last financial year – reflecting the fact that we need less managers and more social workers.
We have the country’s biggest shared service arrangement for local government, and that has so far saved us and our neighbours over £3.8m. This year we brought three more councils into this arrangement, and one further council is due to come onboard early in 2013. This will save the taxpayer even more money.
Whilst 2012 saw unprecedented challenges for the County Council, 2013 will bring even more. We all know that it is taking longer than we hoped for the national economy to recover – and that has a knock on effect for all of us, including the public sector. Undoubtedly we will have difficult decisions to make so that we can protect vital services.
But I am up for the challenge. It is up to all of us in 2013 to make the most of the opportunities we have here, to do our best to care for each other, and to enjoy another wonderful and prosperous New Year.