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Tuesday, 4 January 2011

A new year message to Jackie listeners from the leader of Richmond Council

Dear Colleagues and Residents,

As the New Year looms we all look forward to it as ever with hope, but this time, perhaps with more than usual apprehension.

2010 has been hugely challenging for local government across the country. It has been no different in Richmond upon Thames. The unparallelled mass of debt in which the country has found itself has meant that the public sector and local councils in particular have had to bear much of the pain necessary for the country to get back on to a sustainable financial footing. Even after action taken so far Britain is plunging deeper into debt, like a submarine falling into darker and ever more pressured water. It cannot go on.

In December as you will know we had our grant settlement. This saw our formula grant cut by 14% or over £5 million. It was tough but vindicated our decision to set out early our budget proposals containing the target £35 million savings the council needs to make over the next four years. As the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has said - and every household knows - delaying necessary economies makes the pain greater in the long run.

The budget settlement has vindicated our decision to freeze council tax next year as this has earned us an additional grant of £2.9 million.

In Richmond we have to make some difficult decisions over the coming years. I recognised this in May. My first action as Leader of the Council was to cut my own allowance by 12.5%. We face the loss of some 200 and 300 council jobs and difficult changes to some of our services. When greater sacrifice is expected of others, people at the top have to give an example.

I want to end the culture of ‘Town Hall Knows Best’ and really listen to local people. That is why in 2010 we scrapped the council’s magazine ‘Arcadia’ which pushed out what the Council thinks and invested savings towards our ‘All In One’ consultation, to draw in ideas of what people really want for their local areas.

13,000 residents have returned completed questionnaires. We are analysing the results as I write. It has been a fantastic response. It proves how much people in this borough care about the places they live in. We will be using these results to work with local communities in ‘Barefoot’ consultations to develop plans for their local areas in 2011.

I was encouraged by the involvement of local people in Twickenham during the summer and autumn. Over 1,000 attended a ‘Barefoot’ consultation and a conference to let us know what they wanted for the future of the town. The results from the Twickenham events are now feeding into draft plans for the future of the town. A panel of local people, for which there will be interviews soon, will help the Council develop these plans. The revival of Twickenham is a key objective for this Council.

Following on from this in January we are launching the ‘Business All in One’ survey to find out how we can support local business. The prosperity of local areas depends on the success of the private sector and our small local businesses in particular. We want to do everything in our power to help them.

One of the greatest complaints from small shopkeepers is about parking problems. The widely unpopular C02 related “Parking Tax” is to be finally consigned to the history books in the New Year and replaced with a new system of Fair Parking. This will see standard rates across the board, discount for residents and half-hour free parking to support local businesses. We also want a more humane system of enforcement. Overall, our Fair Parking programme actually saves money for the taxpayer. Good value meets common sense.

New year, we will advance our 10 year vision for local schools. This will involve working towards academy status for all schools, developing plans for sixth forms in secondary schools and continuing work to get a catholic secondary for our Borough. We will also progress our strategy to provide a further 300 primary school places in Richmond Upon Thames over the next ten years.

Local Government will inevitably change. I want Richmond to be in the forefront so we shape our future together and do not let it just happen to us. In years to come we will employ fewer people directly and must look for new and more efficient ways of working that involve partnership with other authorities and various forms of commissioning.

I have three other clear priorities for next year:

•We will protect and improve the services that matter most to local people
•We will continue to make the council a more efficient organisation
•We will deliver a zero percent council tax increase in March
2010 has been a challenging year – 2011 promises to be just as tough. I am convinced however that if we face the challenges together we will emerge stronger as a community.

I wish you, your families and friends a healthy, happy and successful 2011 and hope very much you can join with us at some stage in working for the benefit of our Borough.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Nicholas True

Leader of the Council
posted by Radio Jackie News Team @ 8:55 pm  

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