I WOULD welcome the opportunity to expand on some issues of interest to our residents. As there is an election in the offing I need to don my political hat. Not a comfortable attire but one that is necessary to ensure our voice is heard and not misrepresented!
Here, in no particular order, are a few observations from my position as leader of the last council. There are many challenges for our council in these difficult times. The biggest have to be: coping with the very large cuts in government grants (circa 28 per cent), while doing all we can to keep a low rate of taxation and maintain services, especially to those who are most reliant on us.
Providing sufficient housing for our local needs, local health care facilities in the form of a hospital, quality of the environment and a successful local economy to ensure the quality of life we enjoy in this district is maintained or improved for all.
These were all highlighted as important issues in our recent consultation on what our residents wanted. There are many reasons why the Conservative Party is best placed to deliver for you.
In brief, Conservative councillors are generally very hard working, enthusiastic, innovative and committed to improving our district. I believe we offer considerably more business experience and diversity of skills.
Over many years we have successfully used these skills to raise Horsham district to one of the best in the UK and at a very low cost to the tax payer. Like it or not, ultimately the quality of our district and the aspirations we all have for further improvement nearly all revolve around the availability of money.
Under my leadership the Conservatives have been working quietly in the background to increase Horsham District Council’s ability to generate income. To date we have managed to develop a number of significant areas of opportunity that I am confident will raise many millions of pounds in the next few years.
Invested in the right way this will produce a revenue income to replace the grant lost from government. My own vision is for Horsham to be the first council not to charge a council tax. Laugh if you will, but why not?
We already earn a high portion of our income from past investments made on your behalf. For example, did you know that 15 per cent of the rent taken from shops in Swan Walk is paid to the council? There is no doubt it is possible, given the determination, to drive the vision!
It is this type of Conservative drive and initiative that will best successfully address the problems we all face.
This last council has seen many successes despite the dismal economic climate. To highlight a few: we have delivered a further swimming pool in Billingshurst and went the extra mile to include a Combined Heat and Power unit.
We have driven pedestrianisation in East Street in Horsham and refurbished Storrington centre. In Acorn Plus we have introduced one of the most innovative and successful waste collection systems in the UK today.
At the same time this cutting edge award winning scheme, despite a few teething problems, has cut the cost of waste and recycling collection.
Yes, despite what the Lib Dems say, we have provided you with an additional bin free of charge, have raised our recycling levels to almost 60 per cent, reduced CO2 emission considerably, reduced waste to landfill and all at lower cost.
In addition this highly complex project was rolled out to replace the old system seamlessly and without major problems.
We have been highly successful in many other areas from supporting small business through initiatives such as Microbiz, to caring for the elderly and those in need of help by maintaining grants for Age Concern and Citizens Advice, to name just two.
As one of a number of accolades we won a national award for Excellence in Property Management to boot. Don’t forget our unsung heroes; a whole host of services that run on a daily basis that are effective and efficient in a way that means they are seldom the subject of attention.
Ultimately the simplest and most effective measure of success has to be that after years of solid Conservative control Horsham district has one of the lowest levels of council tax in the UK for indisputably one of the highest levels of service and standards of living.
For this year and next year we have further pledged to keep council tax increases to 0 per cent. The Lib Dems describe us as incompetent. If this is incompetence I can only say one thing - give me more!
One of the biggest concerns to many residents is the issue of housing. Currently we await clarification of policy from central government. Until the government’s position is clear we will continue to try and ensure that local communities’ wishes are heard and acted on.
In Billingshurst and Southwater we have said that if re-elected we will abide by the view of the community from our consultation. This does not negate the fact that we recognise we still need new houses for our ageing population, more single people and other local needs.
This is not easy as we have to remember that the housing market is just that - a market. We cannot control who buys which house. We also understand the need to focus on living working communities as opposed to just houses.
Our past and future policies focus on aiding small and home-based businesses. These are the lifeblood of our community. They employ over 80 per cent of the workforce, are very dynamic and thrive on innovation. They can make a real difference to employment.
As I indicated earlier the way we deliver homes is going to change. Until government decides its position there are significant unknowns.
What we need to ensure is that there are homes for local people from all walks of life that provide the best facilities available, where we can influence it; at affordable prices and where community really works.
One of the options I have bought forward for consideration is a new market town. Certainly my own opinion is that it must be better to build a purpose-built settlement with all the modern facilities and environmental benefits, rather than continuing to bolt developments on to existing settlements where they are patently not wanted.
We have completed a significant first step with this project and while there are always some obstacles there appear to be no show stoppers. Watch this space!
I believe your district has been in very capable hands. If you want to maintain these high standards of performance please vote Conservative on May 5. Thank you.
Conservative leader of Horsham District Council and councillor for Itchingfield, Slinfold and Warnham
North Street, Horsham