Has Bucks County Council got its priorities right?

The strategic plan

The strategic plan

  • Words of warning from expert
  • Council debates plan for future of Bucks
  • Key stats on the state of the county
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Bucks County Council has set out its three key priorities for the coming years.

The list has been reduced from eight themes to just three and now places a much greater emphasis on young people –arguably in reaction to the stinging criticism from Ofsted which claimed the authority was not prioritising its children’s services.

Library image.

Library image.

The three key areas are: Safeguarding our vulnerable; keeping Bucks thriving and attractive; and creating opportunities and building self reliance.

Opening the debate on the plan, leader Martin Tett said building self-reliance was ‘very important’

“It’s not just about handing out money to people, we do not want to create in Bucks a welfare dependency culture.

“This is about helping people when they are vulnerable and is also about providing opportunities for people to improve themselves, and the lives of their families. Self reliance is so important in terms of self esteem.”

Britain is changing, we are going to have a smaller state in the long term

Tony Travers, the London School of Economics

He questionned whether some services should be continued as council finances continue to be squeezed: “We are faced with financial pressure, we are faced with population pressures, we are faced with infrastructure pressures, we are faced with challenges around so many aspects of the way we work.

“So how do we deliver against the many priorities that we have stood for? How many of the ‘to dos’ do we carry forward, are they all still relevant?”

The plan includes a drive to get the authority’s beleaguered children’s services department out of special measures, by better learning how to cope with the 126% increase in referrals since 2009/10.

Avril Davies, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition at the council, said politicians must take more responsibility for the authority’s actions.

This pothole goes across the entire lane in Oxford Road, Aylesbury

This pothole goes across the entire lane in Oxford Road, Aylesbury

“Last year’s Ofsted into children’s services – were the members exempt from blame?” she asked.

“Was it a management failure or a whole council failure?

“If we had good governance the members should have known what was happening at any given time.

“So while we continue to take the pain rather than the gain, and with no certainty, we need to focus on areas of risk, we need to emphasise performance and quality and we needed to be guided by the customer – we must not forget that, be the man in the street.”

Tony Travers of the London School of Economics speaks at the meeting

Tony Travers of the London School of Economics speaks at the meeting

She added: “And above all, we need to promote and encourage sustainable energy, water and waste, otherwise we will all be wasting our time.”

UKIP leader Andy Huxley used his speech to address his concerns about the council’s responsibility for adult care.

He said: “My concern is how much carers are paid, which could relate to the quality of care in relation to what we pay agencies.

“And I don’t think it’s crash and burn when asking for a review to take place of this particular service.”

The issue of the nation’s aging population was also discussed by councillors.

Responding to claims that politicians tend to look after older people rather than the younger generation because it is the older people that vote, Mr Travers said: “There has been a 95% increase in people aged over 90 years old. This is good for them, but it means that governments need to tilt the budget away from people of working age and younger, towards people of retirement age.”

In terms of younger people, the strategic plan places emphasis on combatting child sexual exploitation, increasing school places to support a baby boom in the north of the county and narrowing the 41% attainment gap between rich and poor pupils.

BLEAK PICTURE OF PUBLIC SERVICES

A bleak picture of how council services will be affected by George Osborne’s deficit reduction plan was laid out at a special debate.

According to an expert services will be reduced so significantly that the only developed country in the world with less provided by the state will be South Korea.

Bucks County Council held the debate as part of its annual general meeting on Thursday.

Tony Travers, of the London School of Economics appeared as a special guest, and delivered a speech warning of the challenges faced by councils between now and 2020.

Mr Travers explained that while spending in protected areas like the NHS and education will go up, unprotected services such as the police, justice and local government and its services will be ‘sharply cut’.

The chancellor’s latest budget announcement of a living wage of up to £9 an hour will also affect the council, which will have to spend more money on staff costs.

Since George Osborne became chancellor local government employment nationally has dropped by 25%, but Mr Travers warned that this figure will stand at around 60% by 2020.

He said: “Overwhelmingly the cuts in the deficit have been achieved by cutting public services and capital investment.”

He added: “Britain is changing, and we are going to have a smaller state in the long term than most of us have seen in our lifetimes.”

After the speech there was a debate on the issues raised, with Twitter questions sent in by constituents on a range of subjects.

Commenting on Mr Travers’ address, Labour councillor Robin Stuchbury said: “I don’t buy into this theory (George Osborne’s plan) and it verges on a neo-Thatcherism approach.”

He added: “The political classes have let us down, people will happily buy into having two holidays or having a new car, but I think we all need to think about the services we want and how they would help other people.

“I find the plan quite depressing, and it doesn’t sit right with where I socially fit.”

In his budget speech Mr Osborne said the government had a strong economic record which helped create jobs and that bringing down the deficit would help create a secure future for the country.

He went on: “Many difficult but necessary decisions are required to save money and this will be done with moderation but determination.

“This is a one nation government that does the best thing for the economy and the right thing for the country.

“In 2019-20 we move into a surplus higher than previously forecast of £10bn which rises to £11.6bn the year after that – Britain finally doing the responsible thing and raising more money than it spends. Five years ago, we inherited a situation where our national debt as a share of our national income was soaring. This year, that national debt share is falling. Bringing to an end the longest continued rise in our national debt since the 17th century.”

KEY STATS

£94million investment in roads

£4.5million investment for pavements

3,750 new businesses in Bucks with improving survival rates

£500k being invested in voluntary and community sector capacity

482 fly-tipping prosecutions to date

12th lowest council tax rates in the country

£49million needs to be saved over the next two years

Children’s services safeguarding referrals increased by 126%

30% less residents aged 18 to 64 permanently admitted into residential care

81% of children attend a good or outstanding school

69% of pupils achieve five or more GCSEs A* to C grades