As a new year and a new decade begin I would like to wish everyone throughout the West Lindsey district, and in particular the people who live in my ward – in Grange-de-Lings, Nettleham and Riseholme – my very best wishes for a happy and prosperous new year.
I was delighted to be re-elected and then to become the Leader of West Lindsey District Council, following the local elections in May.
I have, so far, been rebuilding relationships across Greater Lincolnshire to ensure that West Lindsey is part of the conversation – getting our agenda included in the strategies and plans that will affect our lives.
One of the first official events I attended in my new role was the turf cutting ceremony in Market Rasen for the new Leisure Centre. Works have been ongoing for most of the last six months of 2019. I very much look forward to the opening of this wonderful new centre in 2020. I remain committed to a review on the viability of a pool that I expect will be undertaken once the facility has had chance to get up and running.
In our manifesto, for the local elections earlier in the year, we promised to ensure ‘that the senior appointments at the authority represent value for money for local taxpayers and roles are fit for purpose.’ We have concluded the review of our chief officer structure and appointed a new chief executive. I was pleased to welcome Ian Knowles to his new position. A management structure of directors and asssistant directors will sit below this to ensure that we have a proper structure going forward. It does mean that we will be saying ‘good bye’ to Eve Fawcett-Moralee, who has been our Executive Director of Commercial and Economic Growth. I am sad to see her go, she has done a tremendous amount of work for the Council, and will depart at an appropriate time that alignes with her work programmes.
West Lindsey District Council had some real successes during 2019. Securing a £100,000 grant for the Mayflower400 celebrations and, more recently, securing £1.9m funding for heritage-led regeneration of the centre of Gainsborough from the National Lottery.
By working with various stakeholders, including Northern Rail, we now have regular, hourly services at Gainsborough Central station, after a 26-year absence and the Gainsborough Lea Road station has a beautiful new northbound platform, that opened recently.
When I became the leader, I spoke of challenges we faced – climate change, an ever-growing population, the scarcity of resources, the blight of poverty on people’s lives. I am proud that a motion, jointly put forward by myself and Trevor Young, the Leader of the Opposition, was agreed unanimously by councillors to create a strategy on sustainability and climate change. The review of the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan will help us manage a growing population whilst the result of the general election should mean that we will get a multi-year financial settlement.
Local government has faced difficult financial settlements from central government in recent years; austerity has continued far longer than many expected and tough choices have had to be made to continue to provide frontline services with far less money. West Lindsey has been well placed to adapt to these changes, having embraced a commercial approach. And whilst some occasionally make fun that the council owns a knicker factory: these investments are contributing the equivalent of eleven and a half per cent of the district’s share of the council tax.
Commercialisation is an important solution for local councils, who have borne the brunt of the Government’s austerity programme, allowing us to use assets to help to pay for the delivery of services. West Lindsey’s approach ensures that monies invested are returned to the council for future use, whilst the profits are used to keep frontline services funded.
I will continue efforts to lobby for Fairer Funding for local government and our police across the county.
Before becoming the leader, I had been the Chairman of the Governance and Audit Committee, so it will come as no surprise, that I was delighted that during the summer we got the very best possible outcome from our external auditors. A double unqualified opinion on both the Statement of Accounts and on if the council’s provides Value for Money (the jargon for spending public money wisely), for the sixth year in a row! This is a tremendous achievement and only a small number of local authorities could boast such a record.
In our South West ward in Gainsborough we have some of the greatest deprivation in the country. Tackling this is paramount. Without our own council housing stock (it was all sold off back in the 1990s to a housing association) we must come up with creative methods to improve the lives of people. The introduction of selective licensing is helping to improve the private-rented homes that people live in. Slowly, but deliberately we are making progress.
Another significant project that has taken form during 2019 is the new Lea Fields Crematorium. This will open in early January 2020, on time and on budget. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to tour the site and see the works. There is going to be a ‘behind the scenes’ open day on Saturday, 11th January between 10am and 4pm for the public. It can be difficult to talk about death and dying, and our open day will hopefully help people understand how crematoriums work and provide a space to ask about anything they would like to know.
The recent flooding across all parts of the district – from the Trent in the west, to the Barlings Eau in the south-east, the flooding at Sturton-by-Stow and the problems at Holton-le-Moor – has been tough on people. I understand the frustration that local people have felt at the response of the public services that are supposed to be on our side in times of crisis. It hasn’t always felt like that.
During the general election campaign, Sir Edward Leigh, put forward the idea of a Greater Lincolnshire Rivers Authority, like that which they have in Somerset. It is certainly an idea that I hope to look at in 2020 and see if the other parts of the wider county would support as a way of making decisions more local and more responsive to our local needs.
In the next few years I plan for West Lindsey to be ready face the changes and challenges of the next decade. In 2020 I hope we can put aside the things that have caused division. I will work hard for all the peoples of the district to give everyone a brighter future.
For each and all I offer my sincere wish for health, prosperity and happiness.