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.
The new council has listed examples of how it says it has been having an impact on the lives of people who work in, learn in, live in or visit the borough:
Children and Young People
Prepared and served 3.2m healthy school lunches.
Taught 2,700 children to swim.
Provided ‘excellent education’ for 47,944 children in the borough.
Provided cycle training to 3,093 school children.
Safer and Stronger Communities
288 junior road safety officers delivering road safety messages in their schools.
442 suspected benefits cheat cases investigated in the first year.
Homelessness prevented for 929 households.
307 new affordable homes enabled.
The council provides 110 playgrounds, 1,110 open spaces, 17 major country parks, 15 major urban parks and more than 786 miles of rights of way to enable people to enjoy the great outdoors.
Jobs and Enterprise
7,000 people being enrolled into skills for life courses.
Adult Health and Wellbeing
40,000 hot meals delivered to vulnerable adults.
Discounted leisure facilities provided to 655 people following GP referrals
797 people given the choice of buying their own social care.
IT taught to 2,944 adults.
46% of all household waste recycled.
5,541 potholes repaired with the help of the online system for people to report a highway fault.
280 junior recycling officers delivering recycling messages in their schools
More than 235 tonnes of fly-tipping cleared.
3,015 planning applications dealt with.
More than 500,000 waste and recycling collections made every week.
Resources and Transformation
More than £35m saved by the council in its first year.
£768,000 saved through negotiation of prices and contracts with suppliers
Equality and Diversity
113 disabled people supported in paid employment.