Leader's Gazette Column - March 2012
I am now in my twelfth year as Leader of Hillingdon Council and one of the more pleasing aspects of being in office for so long is to see some of our long term projects coming towards completion – our superb sports and leisure facilities and our library rebuild and refurbish programme, the envy of other councils and their residents are two such examples.
I can recall in the early years the scare stories being put about that we would sell off assets in the south of the borough and apply the money to facilities in the north of the borough. It seems laughable now but it is true – there were politicians working on the basis that you can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time – but with the actual passing of time the people can look back and make up their own minds as to who was telling the truth, and consider this when casting their votes at election time. To complete the saying “you cannot fool all of the people all of the time” but I believe there are still one or two old school politicians who think they can.
In Hillingdon due to the exceptional increase in the birth rate across London we will over the next, and following two financial years, complete our primary school expansion programme to ensure that every child of primary school age in Hillingdon has a decent school place as close as possible to where they live. We will by 2014/15 need to have provided, either in expansion or new schools, sufficient classrooms to accommodate up to an additional 900 children, mainly in the south of the borough. The programme will cost the council £126million which fortunately through our sound financial management we can resource but the programme is challenging as is the timescale.
There is not a councillor in Hillingdon who does not regard the basic right of every child to a place in a decent school, to be given the best possible start life as essential – it is one of the things that transcends party politics. So we should not witness the usual duck, dive, dither and delay tactics from any but the most short sighted.
As a Conservative Administration we do not intend to fail the children of Hillingdon in the North or the South of the Borough. This Administration is one of action and delivery and we intend to deliver for Hayes as we would and did for Ruislip.
Other councils and certainly their residents are asking how we are doing so well financially in Hillingdon. As I said at the last Council Meeting “ I have to admit to being one of those sad people who enjoys the construction of the council’s budget and the Medium Term Financial Forecast. I appreciate the logic of the development and risk contingency that we introduced some years back that has served us so well – the concept of priority growth funding in the Revenue Budget introduced this year for the first time in the Capital Budget – setting aside revenue funding on a year by year basis to fund further capital expenditure – which incidentally is how we are able to finance the primary school expansion.”
But the biggest impact over recent years has been our work through the Hillingdon Improvement Programme on Business Improvement Delivery. In the year just ended we reduced the operational cost of the council by £26million and residents’ satisfaction with services provided by the council increased. This year we will take a further £17million from operating costs through the BID process.
Now let us be clear, we are not doing the things other councils are doing in service and facility reduction and massive redundancy programmes – the opposition claim last year that 400 people would be made redundant in Hillingdon was a little far off the mark. It was 51 last year and 136 this year. In earlier years before the government cutbacks it averaged about 40 a year, so in effect the recession has been responsible for the loss of about 100 jobs in Hillingdon.
Our record of sound financial management has, even in these financially difficult times, allowed us to continue to protect and enhance the services that our residents are telling us are important to them and, equally important, to continue to invest in our facilities and our environment. As we move to the next financial year and beyond and, whilst I appreciate there is always more to do, our top priorities remain the same – a clear focus on our people, our natural environment, our built environment and our finances.