We have now started the consultation exercise with residents to receive their views on our proposed merger with Warwick District Council to create a South Warwickshire Council. The consultation process conforms to best professional standards. Its methodology is established and has been proven to be robust. Why would we do anything else?
There are two points that I think need to be clear in residents’ minds;
- Local government reorganisation is coming down the track. As Warwickshire County Council has already submitted a proposal for a single Warwickshire Unitary Council, it is a plain matter of fact that the dissolution of Stratford on Avon District Council is only a matter of time. The status quo is not a realistic option.
- The savings we, jointly, need to make over the next five years are very substantial. The sooner we can have a clear mandate to push on, the more likelihood there is of being able to deliver those savings and to do our best to maintain services. There are people who appear to believe that because we are a public sector organisation, we will not be allowed to “go broke”. They think the District Council will be bailed out by Central Government. I had a discussion with someone from the Local Government Association this week who thought that this idea was a nice fantasy (my words). He said that where councils get into financial difficulties, the Government simply appoints Commissioners whose job it is to restore financial sustainability. Services will be cut without reference to councillors who are there to represent residents’ wishes. I should stress that we have no intention of ending up in that position.
Indeed, we are facing a perfect storm of the things most people find hard with which to come to terms:
- An uncomfortable reality which I have already covered.
- Tough decisions that will force hard choices.
My view has always been that we have to face up to the difficult issues in front of us. We have to understand, as best we can, the issues coming down the track and provide leadership that shapes our future to give the best outcome for us all. The alternative is to bury our heads in the sand; pretend it will all go away and then wonder why we end up losing out.
There is, allegedly, an old Chinese curse; “May you live in interesting times.” Well we certainly do and there is no prospect of escape.
People really do need to keep the “big picture” in mind. I will repeat what I said above; “.the dissolution of Stratford on Avon District council is only a matter of time”. I am not sure that many residents fully grasp this reality, and, perhaps a few councillors don’t either.
Creating a South Warwickshire District is a huge challenge and we will not have all the answers to detailed questions by December this year. Expecting that is unrealistic.
We are, I think, making reasonably good progress although there are one or two bumps in the road that have had to be overcome. With combined savings of £8.3 million to be made by 2025/26 we have to make it work.
You may want to turn up to the briefing meeting being held on 12th October where Andrew Day, Leader of WDC, and I are presenting and taking questions.
Now for some good news. By August the number of cars in our car parks had exceeded 2019 levels. People are still being attracted to Stratford town. This is good news for all the businesses in tourism, hospitality and retail, for the people they employ and for the businesses that provide services to them. It is not surprising that key shops wish to remain in the town centre and others are seeking to move in. There are still many vacant shops but, given the scale of the downturn, that should not be surprising.
I have heard that one of the shops that moved in was the best performer out of 30 new openings by that particular retailer. Furthermore, the market operator tells stallholders not to treat Stratford markets on Waterside as “normal” markets and they need to bring far more of their wares than they would take to other markets.
There will also be more good news on the employment front from the Wellesbourne Campus for public announcement in the next few weeks.
After the fire at the Ettington recycling centre, Biffa had caught up on all the collection rounds by Friday 13 August. They had introduced four extra rounds so that many people would not have had service from their usual crews which, I believe, has resulted in some collections hiccups. Having caught up in such a short space of time, however, was quite a staggering achievement. We are now operating with only three extra collection rounds.
The challenge we now have is to find a less expensive option to the emergency approach we have had to put in place immediately after the fire. This is far from easy because there is very limited spare operational capacity at the moment across the recycling industry.
On Monday 6 September The Cabinet agreed to two investments in the future; first, £4.5 million for the purchase of refuse vehicles and food caddies for the new waste contract and, second, £3.1 million for investment in our leisure centres as part of the new leisure contract. These investment decisions still need approval by full Council. There are sound financial reasons for these decisions because, as a local authority, we can borrow money at a lower interest rate than can private sector companies. It is more cost effective for us to buy the vehicles. By investing in the leisure centres we not only provide a better service to residents but also recoup the investment through the fees paid to us by the operator.
Life continues to be busy and occasionally fraught. Dull moments are both rare and treasured.
Tony Jefferson; September 2021.