Talking Politics with Conservative group leader Coun Scott Benton

Halifax Borough Market.
Halifax Borough Market.

Local Government is currently undergoing dramatic change as Central Government revaluates the responsibilities of local councils to ensure that they are well placed to deliver economic growth and high quality local services in the future.

Against this backdrop, there has never been a more important time to ensure that Calderdale Council has both strong leadership and a clear vision for the future of our borough. I have yet to see any evidence that the political leadership of the council has the vision, or indeed the will, to provide solutions to the challenges that lie ahead. However, in an open letter to the Leader of the Council I am hoping that he can address the following points:

1. The council is required to identify savings of £26 million by 2019. This will require a revolution in the way that the council works and how services are delivered. What are your plans to achieve these savings and deliver this level of change? Why hasn’t the public seen full details of the savings that you have to make in 2017 and 2018? Given that you haven’t achieved some of the savings that you have already approved, why should the public have confidence that you can deliver savings in the future?

2. Calderdale is at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse with good transport links and access to markets. What are you doing to take advantage of the opportunities available to attract economic investment into the borough; to create jobs and apprenticeships; and to growth our business rates base? We need more internal capacity and a stronger focus on supporting business, on growing our local economy and attracting investment in infrastructure. What is your plan to deliver this?

3. The internal workings of the council have changed little in the last five, 10 or 20 years. Many of the systems, structures and policies have not changed for a long time and too many departments are silo-based and don’t have a ‘can-do’ attitude. Huge cultural change is required to adapt to modern ways of working, to address financial challenges, to improve service levels and to make the council fit for purpose. The council delivers some services that are less relevant today than in previous years. What are you doing to re-evaluate the level of services that the council provides; to concentrate resources where they are most needed and to deliver a lean and efficient council that is fit for the 21st century?

4. Several years ago, an independent review criticised the council for having no strategic plan for allocating capital spending. You are currently in charge of a capital budget worth £189 million. Your administration states that flooding is a priority and yet less than one per cent of your capital spending has been allocated for flood defences. Similarly, you have allocated monies to schemes which do not fit with your stated priorities for the council. Why has your administration completely failed to prioritise where capital funds are spent and what are you doing to exert some leadership over how the council spends its money?

The questions above regarding shaping the direction of the council for the future; making the organisation more efficient; growing our local economy; and ensuring that public money is well spent all reflect what should be basic priorities for any local council. At a time of immense opportunity in Local Government the lack of strategic leadership and a clear plan on these issues, and indeed many more, is holding Calderdale back. I hope to receive a response from the Leader of the Council over the coming months as to how he intends to address these challenges.