The leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, Martin Tett, has issued his new year's message, in which he discusses HS2, financial challenges, and plans for a unitary council.
He said: “I’ll certainly remember 2017 as a roller-coaster year: our own local county elections, the snap general election, the continuing Brexit negotiations, the announcement of a royal wedding, freezing temperatures and snow and even an embarrassing mistake at the Oscars nearly denying ‘Moonlight’ winner of the Best Picture award.
"And, as we move into 2018, there’s even more on the agenda for Buckinghamshire and its half a million residents and thousands of businesses.
"In February, the Council will agree its final budget after months of planning, scrutiny and challenge. While the Government continues to bring its spending in line with its income, local government will continue to find its spending constrained. At the end of this financial year, Bucks will be one of only two county councils to have completely lost all of its central government funding. This means that it will have to rely entirely on its Council Tax, some business rates and its own income from fees, charges and investments.
"Tough and difficult decisions about continued, targeted savings remain necessary alongside investment and using innovation and new techniques to improve services. It remains a hugely difficult time for the public sector, and one we expect to continue for some years to come.
"With HS2 construction drawing ever closer, we continue to fight for every penny in mitigation to protect Buckinghamshire. Ensuring new jobs and growth also remains vital. That is why we have agreed to more investment in rolling out high speed broadband to more parts of the county. In addition, Bucks now has three ‘Enterprise Zones’ where new high-quality jobs can be developed. I was also pleased to see the commitment in the Chancellor’s autumn budget for the East-West rail project through the County linking Oxford with Milton Keynes and Cambridge.
"Our new Energy from Waste plant at Greatmoor is generating more electricity than expected and we continue to be one of the best counties for recycling waste, We’ll also continue our ‘zero tolerance’ approach to fly-tipping and will bring proceedings against anyone we can prove commits these offences that blight our countryside.
"As a top priority, we will continue to safeguard and protect the most vulnerable children and adults in our society. This now represents almost 65 pence in every pound that we spend, which shows just how important this is. Can I also thank all those who donated literally hundreds of Christmas presents during December for those less fortunate children around the county – it was a fantastic and over-whelming response.
"I know that a big topic for everyone remains the quality of our roads and pavements. Over the last seven years we’ve invested over £120 million in repairing them but more still needs to be done. It’s a mammoth task but we will be increasing the budget for resurfacing from £10 million per year to £15 million for each of the next four years despite our financial challenges.
"2018 represents 70 years of the NHS which is timely as we forge closer and closer links between social care and health. Bucks is leading the way as one of just eight so-called Accountable Care Systems across the country pioneering new ways of working together to redesign how and where people access services, the joining up of health and social care services and the provision of better care in the community, at home or in hospital.
"Financially, during 2017 the County Council continued to show its innovative and commercial approach. For example, our property investments are now bringing in more than £5.1 million extra to help fund the vital front line services that residents depend upon.
"We also still await a decision from government on whether one or two new councils would be the best solution going forward for Buckinghamshire. I am still firmly of the opinion that one single council delivering all services in a joined up way such as housing with infrastructure and waste collection with waste disposal will make things far simpler, cheaper and much more locally focused. So, fingers crossed.
"Can I end with thanking all those who work so hard in Buckinghamshire to keep us all safe and well. These include our social services and highways staff and the fantastic staff in the NHS, fire service and police, along with the many hundreds of volunteers and community members who make Buckinghamshire the wonderful place that it continues to be. Have a great 2018."