The leader of Buckinghamshire County council has shared his thoughts on a challenging year.
2018 was quite a year.
With Brexit ongoing, two Royal weddings, a pretty good year for English football and of course the ‘Beast from the East’ and the long, long hot Summer – it was certainly one to remember.
Local government also had its highlights and challenges too. We were one of the first two counties to lose all central government day to day funding and that’s been really tough. We also faced massively increased demands in both children’s services and for looking after our vulnerable and elderly adults. These are really important services and, because we are a financially strong and well-run council that has taken the difficult decisions ahead of time, I am pleased that we were able to provide substantially increased funding in both areas.
Another area that I know everyone cares strongly about is the condition of our roads. Along with just about every other county, our roads suffered badly from last Winter’s weather. Again, we were able to draw on our reserves and find £25 million to spend on repairs.
But that’s not enough. A lot of roads are still not as good as we would all like, so in 2019 we’ll continue to spend at least another £15m on resurfacing, along with a further £6m on fixing this Winter’s potholes when we have the better Spring weather. Frustrating as it is to wait, trying to fix potholes permanently in the cold and wet is pointless, as any repair will not last.
I've loved watching the recent ‘The Blue Planet’ series. This made us all aware of how important recycling is and I'm really pleased that our Household Recycling Centres recycle some 60% of all waste received. In 2019 we will continue our ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards fly-tipping, prosecuting whenever possible those who ruin our towns and countryside. Bucks must be a ‘no go’ area for fly-tippers.
When watching films or TV series, we sometimes say ‘hey, I recognise that!’ Well, it could be one of our Bucks country parks has been used for the filming. Our parks, like the beautiful Black Park, used to lose money, they now don’t. In 2018, over a million people visited them and they contribute to the health and wellbeing of families from across the county. They are also the outdoor sets for many great films made at nearby Pinewood Studios!
Staying healthy is hugely important, so the council has actively promoted regular exercise, quitting smoking and Winter flu inoculations. In 2019 we will continue working with the NHS to make health and social care less complex to use for those who need it. Most importantly, both the council and the NHS are committed to removing the stigma of mental health. This has, and continues to be, a major joint priority.
We all care about our children’s education. The County Council is determined to have an education system that helps all our children achieve their best. I’m therefore delighted that in 2018, 91% of our schools were rated by Ofsted as ‘Good’ or 'Outstanding’. And of course, Bucks pupils continue to have some of the very best results at GCSE and A Level in the country.
Looking further ahead in 2019, two things really stand out. Firstly, the government’s determination to see far more houses built as the country’s population rises. In Bucks we already have a high housing target from the Government. In addition, the Government will want to see the housing target rise far higher as part of its plans for the Oxford to Cambridge area. It will be challenging to provide the infrastructure like roads, schools, parks and libraries that these new houses will require.
Secondly, I’m delighted that the Secretary of State has approved the Business Case put forward by the County Council to modernise local government in Buckinghamshire. This is a historic decision. A new, single Buckinghamshire council, replacing the County and District Councils, will sweep away confusion for residents, remove duplication and bring all local services together. No more ‘buck passing’ or finger pointing.
As part of planning for the new council, we have the opportunity to increasingly ‘get local’ with information and advice down at town and even village level - closer to people. This is the design for 21st century local government and I particularly look forward to working with my important District Council colleagues, together with local voluntary organisations, the NHS and our emergency services, to make this happen.
Lastly, may I also thank everyone who donated gifts to the 2018 Christmas present appeal for disadvantaged children, young people and care leavers. In total, more than 2,000 gifts were given to young people and opened on Christmas day. This is a magnificent achievement and a real testimony to the generosity and kindness of the people of this wonderful county. From the bottom of my heart on behalf of everyone at Buckinghamshire County Council a big ‘thank you’ and all the very best for 2019.
Leader, Buckinghamshire County Council