One year on and Cheshire West and Chester Council is looking to the future. DAVID NORBURY reports.
April 1 2010 marked the first anniversary of the new, half billion pound authority which replaced the former county and district councils in Cheshire West and Chester.
Out went Cheshire County and Chester City, Ellesmere Port and Neston and Vale Royal district councils to make way for the new Conservative-controlled unitary authority.
Out too went old ways of working and more than 1,000 jobs.
Twelve months later the council claims it has taken great strides and ‘even in its short existence is an award-winning organisation delivering improved services with a saving of £43m, some of which has been invested in frontline services’.
It has launched an advertising campaign - Making a Positive Difference – throughout the region to highlight some of its achievements in the first year but leader Cllr Mike Jones (Con, Broxton) has made it clear he is looking forward.
“Our first priority is creating a new, efficient council to make it really focus on what we should be doing and not on things which we should not be doing,” he insists.
“The second one is regeneration and trying to make sure we really do help those people in our areas of disadvantage and deprivation with everything from jobs to making the places clean and tidy.
“The third one is creating the right facilities people actually want to have for themselves, their children, their grandparents and their brothers and sisters.
“We want to deliver the very best for our communities which is absolutely the right thing to do.”
His chief executive Steve Robinson, brought in from Stoke on Trent City Council, emphasises the ambition to deliver a modern authority that makes a positive difference to the lives of its residents. We took the view very much on day one that it was new, it was different.
“So we changed all the signage, we changed all the brands, we recruited 500 new managers into the new organisation – we said it was different.
“We made it very, very clear, this is new, this is different, this is not about the past and we should not be ashamed about that.”
The Tory controlled administration has undoubtedly been helped by the massive majority it gained in the elections held in 2008 which saw it take 55 of the 72 seats.
However, the opposition parties have not let go with Labour claiming the Conservatives could have found savings to reduce the council tax increase of 2.5% for the new financial year by half.
Finance spokesman Cllr Justin Madders (Lab, Central and Westminster) argues the Tories don’t have a grip on the council’s finances and have increased council tax unnecessarily ‘to build up a war chest for next year’s council elections’.
Chester’s deputy leader of the four strong Lib Dem group,
Cllr Bob Thompson (Lib Dem, Hoole and Newton) describes the 2010/11 budget as ‘a tomb of smoke and mirrors’ and believes the Tories are simply hoping something will turn up to help them actually deliver the budget.