I’m sure every Council Leader will recognise, we are experiencing the greatest period of public service change in peacetime history.
Local Government is digging deep into its capacity for innovation as we all seek to adapt to life with less money but more responsibilities. Each Council will have to find its own answer but in Buckinghamshire we’ve started to put the pieces together for a solution of compromise, reality and affordability.
For the coming year, the Government’s financial settlement confirmed further grant reductions for Buckinghamshire of £11 million and another £8 million for 2012/13. With other pressures such as our ageing population, increasing landfill tax and the continuing economic downturn, we have a funding gap of £56 million over the next three years. This is on top of having already banked savings totalling over £57 million. Of course, new services are also heading our way such as concessionary bus fares, flood management and public health and these must be factored in as well.
The reality was that to live within our means meant going back to the drawing board to assess how to best to target our scarce resources. From this, a new Corporate Plan has emerged which directly reflects the views of local people through our autumn consultation, ‘The Bucks Debate’. The Plan is focussed and straight-talking and is specifically designed to get Buckinghamshire through the next two-years, offering protection for the most vulnerable but still continuing to offer those more universal services that our residents said were most important.
We’ve also taken advantage of the Government’s offer to freeze Council Tax, have been able to fund a number of ‘Big Society’ initiatives and received an unexpected capital boost allowing much needed investment in our buildings and roads.
Running alongside, we are also planning a multi-million pound investment in a new energy from waste facility, carrying out a robust ‘transformation’ efficiency programme of all council services with a savings target of £21 million, making our office accommodation more efficient and exploring news ways of providing many of our back office services.
I believe we’ve made a bold start in Buckinghamshire but the key to the future will be about strengthening the confidence and attitude of the entire local government sector as we all work together and learn together.