Ray Dawe: Many challenges for councillors and council staff

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One could be forgiven from reading this newspaper for thinking that life for councillors and staff at Horsham District Council is based solely around housing and twenty year housing plans.

However, much goes on besides this. There seems little doubt that local government finances are undergoing major changes.

Gone are the days when some councils received the bulk of their financing from central government.

Already government support has dropped by over 30 per cent for most councils.

This has certainly had the effect of promoting action to create more efficient councils and find new ways of working.

As a Conservative run council we believe in low taxes and we already have one of the lowest levels of council tax in the country, effectively doing better for less and reducing bureaucracy.

In addition we are far advanced in working jointly with other councils in that for some years now we have shared our responsibilities for collecting council tax and business rates and for administering housing and council tax benefits with three neighbouring district councils.

We also provide the IT/computer services to four councils.

We are now looking in earnest at sharing the existing County offices in Horsham which will substantially reduce our running costs and allow us to release the value of the offices we currently occupy.

The future is one where all councils will receive a good part of their income from promoting economic development and business rates.

The government has made it very clear that this is an absolute priority and if we are to maintain our current level of services to the public we need to plan how we can do this while providing more jobs within our own District.

So what are our other priorities?

We continue to try and ensure we are there to support homeless people in our area.

The demand from people finding themselves in this position over recent years has been big and at times it has been far from easy for our staff but I congratulate our team at HDC for the sympathetic and understanding way that they have always approached their task.

It is pleasing to note that we have now reached a point where we currently have the lowest number of families in bed and breakfast accommodation for three years and none have been there for more than six weeks.

We have one of the best and most reliable waste and refuse collection services in the country and it constantly gets high public approval ratings.

While we were fortunate not tohave any major flooding in the District during all the recent very wet weather, the team had to cope with some almost impassable roads in that difficult time but by and large they still got through.

In our villages and in Horsham town, we are seeing the considerable hard work that is going into the development of neighbourhood plans that are part of the government’s new community agenda to give a distinctive voice to our communities.

These plans need big public involvement and our staff are working to help bring these to fruition.

We are very close to producing our new plans to get more affordable housing in the District and find ways of ensuring that the majority of these are offered to people who have a strong local connection.

These plans will be announced within the next two weeks. The services and plans that I have mentioned are only part of the many that are taking place at the district council.

It is certainly a challenging time for our councillors and our staff.