When I first became Leader I set out to make sure the County Council was run by councillors and not officers. After nearly two years we are getting there. Mark Lloyd, our chief exec now proudly tells his peers that his councillors are driving policy and run the show. And so we should and we will continue to do so on my watch. That means taking both praise and complaint as appropriate and no hiding behind officers when things get difficult.
I also set out to make sure we had business like values and approaches. I was accused by the Lib Dems of trying to run the council like a business, I smiled and said you bet I am. Efficient, customer focused and working to a financial plan works for me and works for our voters they tell me. It is certainly working for the council.
You will have heard about austerity. Today we need to confront what it really means. The days of councils having more money to spend, year on year, are gone. I’m told by elder statemen that budget time used to be when councillors sat around wondering how they were going to spend all the money. I wish.
It is now about having less money year on year and much bigger demands being placed on that money. Add to that the high expectations of individuals and you can see it is a perfect storm.
For the financial year of 2013/14 the Council must find savings of £32 million, which includes a like for like £10 million drop in Government funding and meeting extra costs generated by increased population and inflation. This is on top of the tough savings of £42 million we achieved last year and means we will make cumulative savings over 5 years of £466 million.
This year the census confirmed that Cambridgeshire is the fastest growing county in the country. Our population grew by 12% in a decade, something which brings both opportunities and challenges.
On the one hand it brings jobs and economic benefits while on the other massive pressures and cost to our frontline services to meet the needs of our rapidly growing population.
Remember, to many we are the organisation of last resort. if we do not deliver people suffer.
We have for many years been a low tax Conservative authority. This means we do not have the fat that northern Labour councils have salted away.
Our business plan is designed to protect the vulnerable while boosting jobs and prosperity, despite massive pressures from a fast growing population and much reduced funding.