In almost 40 years as a local councillor I have rarely felt the need to write a letter to the editor, but am grateful for this opportunity to address your readers directly on a matter of importance.
It is a stark fact that as a nation we are still in financial difficulties. The reining in of central Government finances naturally cascades down to local government, and one of the impacts is a reduction in the cash we are able to spend on local services here in the Derbyshire Dales.
The latest Government spending review indicates a further 15% cut for district councils and I have to tell you this could seriously impact on the services we currently offer you, with £1.7-million additional savings needed in the next three years.
The Derbyshire Dales gets less Government cash than any other authority in the county and the overall grant reduction over a five-year period could hit a staggering 70% loss. While we are absolutely committed to rising to this challenge by examining new smart ways of saving money, this is the most serious single issue I have experienced in all my time in local government. That is why we are currently reviewing all our services.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in the Derbyshire Dales and have come to expect and receive excellent local services could get an unwanted wake-up call in the very near future. Every service we currently deliver is under scrutiny and none is sacrosanct.
Currently the money spent by the District Council comes equally from three sources - Council Tax, fees and charges, and Government grant. We have for some time been fighting on your behalf further grant cuts and will continue to campaign alongside similar rural authorities through the Local Government Association (LGA) and the SPARSE rural services network, because the issues smaller rural districts have to deal with are very different from those facing larger counties and boroughs. Believe me, we are making our voice heard.
You can help by signing a petition on our reception desks and online at
www.derbyshiredales.gov.uk/ruralfairshare, supporting the Rural Fair Share campaign, which comprises over 100 cross-party MPs aiming to ensure public services in rural areas receive a fair share of Government funding.
Derbyshire Dales Council Tax payers currently contribute around 50p a day for district council services such as providing affordable housing for local people, free business advice, and operating parks, gardens, markets and four leisure centres in addition to organising waste and recycling collections, dealing with planning applications, homelessness and much more. We have to ensure statutory services happen, such as waste collection, while discretionary services like our leisure deliver.
So our message to you is things have to change. The proposed merging of our streets and parks teams is an example of how costs can be cut while still generally improving what we deliver; another is our new waste and recycling contract, launched last autumn, which after a shaky start is now saving Council Tax payers £385,000 a year while at the same time improving recycling rates.
We willalso pursue more shared services and partnerships such as our successful shared ICT service.
Alongside the ongoing service reviews, we aim to work even more efficiently. Staffing levels have reduced by 100 in four years and the recent transfer of our entire revenues and benefits team to an outsourcing provider to save £500,000 leaves us with just 240 full-time equivalent employees, around half of whom work in our parks, streets and leisure centre teams.
More tough decisions lie ahead. As a District Council we recognise the need to work more closely with our communities to save money, maintain service levels and help local groups to help themselves, as we did, for example by handing over the Grand Pavilion in Matlock Bath and Wirksworth Learner Pool to vibrant community organisations.
So life in the Derbyshire Dales is changing. For more than 10 years successive Governments have treated rural areas harshly, and while our fight for fairness continues, I will be stressing to every district councillor who represents your interests and every member of staff that we must all work harder than ever before to find new ways of retaining the Derbyshire Dales’ status as one of the very best districts in the UK to live, work and visit.
Councillor Lewis Rose OBE,
Leader, Derbyshire Dales