Ray Dawe: Challenges of doing more for less - and better

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By the time you read this your district councillors will have debated the 20 year housing and jobs strategy (the Horsham District Planning Framework) that we have been talking about for many months now.

This is a vitally important issue and my immediate expectation would be that this strategy should have generated the greatest amount of interest and concern in correspondence coming into my postbag (and here I include emails as well as conventional letters) particularly given the vociferous campaign by those objecting to it.

Surprisingly, this is not the case!

It is interesting to note the correlation or maybe the lack of correlation between the volume of correspondence received directly and the amount of space that is given over to a matter in the press.

It is also interesting to note the much greater diversity of people who write in directly compared with those who write into this paper where the same names often appear.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference between correspondence received and press space given both to articles and letters is over the position of council chairman and the way that the council reaches policy decisions.

I have received only three direct communications about this.

In fact, since I became Council Leader nearly two and a half years ago, the topic I have received most emails and letters about was the possible closure of the leisure centre at Broadbridge Heath.

Effectively, the moment I took over I inherited all the controversy that had faced my predecessor, in particular based around an idea that there was little justification for replacing an ageing building.

Add to this the correspondence received recently regarding re-provision of the bowls club there, then the numbers about this whole matter swell greatly.

It is pleasing to see that a replacement leisure centre is now very much in the council’s plans and if the latest ideas go ahead we will have an up to date replacement facility and one that will not burden the council’s finances or push up council tax – quite a turnaround, in effect.

I have said in this column before that while controversy on a particular topic fills many newspaper columns, not all big challenges for councillors arouse much public or media interest at all and meanwhile we get on with doing the day job of making sure council services are being delivered.

In fact the third major challenge at the moment is in many ways possibly the one that affects most people but has not really caused many members of the public to contact me directly or appeared to be of interest to those people who write into this newspaper.

It will affect every one of us in terms of the council tax levels we pay and how the council services to us all are delivered.

Such services range from something as simple as how and when your dustbin is emptied to making sure homeless families have a roof over their heads.

This challenge is that of balancing council finances, and undertaking a major transformation of the council’s administrative structure.

This transformation has taken a long time and it needed us to look at how we can slim down bureaucracy and levels of management to get faster decision making yet continue to provide the same high level of services to the public - effectively doing more for less.

This has needed both a determination to see it through and an acceptance by our staff of the need for change.

I am pleased to say that the new ‘team’ is almost in place now.

As for the finances, we are able to freeze council tax again this year but there are many unknowns out there to face us in the future, in particular Government policy towards councils after the 2015 General Election.