As 2017 draws to a close I can’t help thinking what a year that was. It’s been a whirlwind of activity for me since I took on the role of Chairman of Policy and Resources Committee.
Basildon Council is now in a very different place to where it was before the annual meeting in May that saw councillors take the step of changing the way the council is governed and electing a whole new administration, sweeping away the Conservatives after 14 years.
We’ve set a new tone and new expectations in the council. A new corporate plan was formally adopted by Council in October with a new focus on inclusive growth across our borough’s five towns and benefiting everyone in all our communities.
We have also appointed a new management team for the council that better fits the new political system, putting the emphasis on collaborative, smarter and more streamlined working to progress that new corporate plan.
We have turned the council round to focus on the community and the people it serves. We have agreed a number of measures to become more open, transparent and responsive to local people. We have engaged more people in having a say about our budget proposals, our new local council tax support scheme and we have agreed a plan to webcast council meetings and for a modernised, fit-for-purpose council chamber.
In the few short months we have been in charge we have made great strides to implement the promises we make in our corporate plan.
First, strong, safe and healthy communities with access to quality homes.
Decent housing is the bedrock of a strong community – we all need to feel we have a secure roof over our head – it’s a basic need. We have an ambitious building programme, we have some good development partners but we will need to find ways to be sure we are providing homes suitable for those that really need them. So we have developed a key worker scheme, so that those services – like the health service and the fire service – are able to attract and retain the workers they need to protect and support our communities.
We also need a reliable and quality private rented sector. So we have agreed to develop a private sector management plan to raise standards and increase protection for people renting. The plan will have a particular focus on improving the safety and quality of houses in multiple occupation.
On community safety, with Essex police being called 80 times a day to incidents of domestic abuse Basildon experiencing the county’s second highest incidence of domestic violence, I have made a priority of tackling these terrible crimes.
And we have agreed an ambitious programme of work with Basildon Hospital that will see real improvements in local health provision and benefits for patients.
Second, vibrant town centres and a thriving economy for everyone. I am passionate about inclusive growth. We know that Basildon already has the largest economy in Essex and it has the potential to grow even more. But too many local residents are currently locked out of the benefits this economy provides. So I have launched the Breakthrough Basildon Borough Commission made up of independent experts to research and propose policy initiatives that can help us make sure that everyone benefits fairly from growth.
We have also held a very successful education and skills breakfast summit to kick off our Pathways to Success panel to improve the match between the skills young people are working towards and what employers are looking for.
We have also progressed regeneration proposals for Pitsea and Wickford and are actively supporting the work led by Swan in Laindon. We have commissioned an options appraisal for Billericay pool because we know it needs significant investment after decades without any. In Basildon we have now agreed a funding strategy that makes the cinema-led regeneration of East Square real and I hope we will start 2018 with an announcement of the cinema operator we will be working with.
Third, enhanced local environment and increased pride in our borough. I’m really pleased we have been able to increase the number of Pride teams that are cleaning up pathways and areas on our estates. We have increased resources dealing with illegal temporary traveller sites and any other illegal developments on green belt and I am personally leading the charge in galvanising local opinion behind our calls to government for greater powers to allow us to tackle these problems more swiftly and effectively.
I’m proud of what we have managed to achieve so far, but there is so much more to do. Early in the New Year I will announce plans for
a balanced budget for next year that closes the gap without impacting on front line services or suppressing the innovation that is at the heart of the new growth strategy for the council as we look to manage our finances differently. We have just agreed our first commercial asset acquisition under a programme that will generate income to protect local services that families across the borough rely on.
I’m grateful to all 42 councillors in the borough for dedication and commitment to championing their communities and standing up for what they believe in. Special thanks must go to the chairs of fellow committees who are working extraordinary hours to deliver for the people of the borough.
The council is here to make a difference to people’s lives, or it is here for nothing. We know there are so many people in our communities who struggle to make ends meet. I am so grateful for those who responded so generously to the Give a Gift for Christmas campaign.
My resolution for next year is to come back from the Christmas break with even more energy to further improve the lives of all residents across our five towns in this brilliant borough we all call home.