#EXcouncil | @ExeterCouncil Budget speech by @ExeterLabour’s @CllrPeteEdwards

Work commitments meant that I’m in Hexham as the special meeting of Exeter City Council set the Budget – and so I missed the “State of the Union” address by the Leader, Cllr Pete Edwards.

The minutes of that meeting will outline what Pete said in his Budget speech, but no worries – I received a copy of what he said

Leader’s Budget Speech
24 February 2015

Lord Mayor, I hold out this Vision for Our Future (Exeter Vision…Our City, Our Future, Exeter Vision Partnership, 2003) to remind us all of the journey we have been on as a city for over a decade, to remind everyone that this city has enjoyed the highest level of growth of productivity of any city in this country and we do not shy of taking difficult decisions.

The city centre is the engine of our local economy and requires disciplined action over the long course to ensure we continue to do what is necessary to direct investment in the city centre.

I am committed to delivering a swimming pool and leisure complex on the Bus and Coach Station site in line with our Corporate Plan and previous decisions taken by this Council.

We continue to work with Crown Estates to deliver a comprehensive redevelopment that will ensure Exeter remains the destination of choice by investors.

The Budget

Turning now to the Budget, I would like to again remind Members, Officers and the wider public that reductions in Central Government funding are amongst the most severe cuts we have faced in living memory. The Council has contented with a 15.6% reduction in Government Formula Grant in setting the budget for 2015/16 and will have to completely reshape itself in order to deliver these ad the additional £3m worth of savings required over the next few years.

An ambitious Council

In spite of this, we are still an ambitious Council and are determined to ensure that the City achieves its potential and our residents receive quality services. We continue to support the City, ensuring it is at the forefront of economic recovery and have supported the delivery of:
– 3,468 new homes since 2011-12 – more that any other district in Devon, Plymouth and Torbay – earning the Council £10.2m in New Homes Bonus
– Since 01 April 2014, 64 affordable homes have been delivered with 235 further affordable homes consented and in the pipeline for national house builders
– 20 new Council homes will be completed by June 2015, with a further 26 under construction for completion later in the year.

The Economy

Last year the Chamber of Commerce reported the highest increase in business confidence. This is reflected in strong performance in the property market, both commercial and housing, the visitor economy, and investment in the city centre.

Over the previous tow years:
– visitors to Exeter have increased by 10.3%
– visitor spend has increased by 14.31%

Plans for the redevelopment of the Guildhall Shopping Centre are full-steam ahead, and we have seen new companies such as Jamie’s Italian, Byron Burger, etc moving into Exeter.

There has been a significant increase in demand for industrial units and a number of large car showrooms have committed themselves to the new Matford Green Business park.

The amount of secondhand office accommodation has shrunk by a half. Indeed, we are now hearing from the property sector that we will have a shortage of supply, such is the demand for accommodation.

It is also important that we recognise the scale of investment that continues that continues to be made in the city by the University of Exeter, the most recent example being the Living Systems building, a £52m capital investment on the University campus.

The most significant investment over the year has been the decision by the Met office to invest over £100m in the new Supercomputer at Exeter Science park. This will be a tremendous boost to our local economy and will mean the early opening-up of the Science Park.

There are a number of other investments that are being made at the Science Park on the back of this decision, and with the support of the Local Enterprise Partnership.

As members will be aware we are investors in the Science Park hub and we play an important part in the Exeter & Heart of Devon Growth Board which administers funding and steers the strategic projects.

On a more local level, we are supporting the development of a local currency – the Exeter Pound – to support local small businesses and independent traders. It is anticipated that the organisation and the currency will be up and running by September 2015 in time for PWC 2015.

As the economy grows we face a shortage of workers in the construction sector. To address this ECC, EDDC and MDDC are due to sign a Construction Skills Concordat. The Concordat will ensure that when the Councils award contracts for capital programme and maintenance work, they give favourable consideration to those companies that have a clear and well evidenced approach to supporting the development of a skilled workforce – for example, in terms of taking on apprentices and recruiting locally. We will work with partners to support the roll-out of the Construction Industry Training Board’s Client-Based Approach.

We wil continue to offer apprentices, develop work experience for those with disabilities, mental health problems and other barriers to work, and work with employers to expand these schemes.

We have 8 apprentices working across the Council and we have appointed 2 apprentices into full-time employment.

Flood Protection Scheme

As a Council, we have also invested in the infrastructure of the city; we have contributed the £3m promised towards the £32m flood defence scheme.

Sport…and the Rugby World Cup

Turning now to a sporting theme, I am sure everybody will share with me in singling out for praise for Jo Pavey this year for her outstanding achievements, and as a fitting tribute we have completed the improvements to Exeter Arena with a completely new running track.

Sticking with the sporting theme, the Rugby World Cup 2015 will be a major event for the city and something we can be proud of.

It is estimated that Exeter being a Host City will generate an extra £39m of economic activity for the city. The city is expected to welcome an additional 120,000 visitors to the city for the duration of of the Rugby World Cup [Source: Ernst & Young]

What members may be less aware of is the work that is going on to build a legacy programme fro the event.

Already this has seem the establishment of a women’s team and recently the holding of a rugby empowering and employment programme.

I am also delighted by the decision of the RFU to host the 7-a-side European Region tournament at Sandy Park on 11 & 12 July.

All bodes well for our local economy. Indeed, Exeter’s economy continues to go from strength to strength, and the momentum of growth we have worked so hard to keep going has now firmly taken hold.

Health & Wellbeing Board

A key part of the legacy work is increasing activity to make Exeter the most active city in the South West. We are working with the Exeter Health & Wellbeing board and other partners to increase levels of physical activity in the city, and to promote the sustainable use of the river, canal, and other green spaces for outdoor leisure activities. Last summer saw a highly successful Ping! Exeer project in the city.

Energy Saving Measures 

We continue to work hard to invest in projects that will reduce our revenue running costs without affecting frontline services, and have begun the programme of delivering £4m worth of energy saving projects using solar panels on our buildings and car aprks, along with replacing inefficient boilers and lighting in our offices.

These projects will deliver tangible savings without affecting frontline service delivery.

Looking to the future

I think it is important that I single out the recent initiative we have taken with the leaders of Teignbridge and East Devon District Councils to develop greater collaboration between us for the sake of the greater Exeter area.

This is a strategic partnership that offers a better way going forward to plan for our economy and I am sure greater collaboration will be the call from National Government of whichever party forms the next Government.

For next year’s Budget we have made another £1.4m of savings to the revenue cost of the Council by a combination of restructuring and efficiency savings. We have again managed to achieve this without a reduction in frontline services but this will be evermore challenging over the next four years.

Conclusion

Finally Lord Mayor, Councillors – the Budget that I am proposing to you this evening aims to deliver the necessary savings,  and to protect and maintain as far as possible the services which the citizens of Exeter need most. I therefore propose to you the recommendation set out in the papers before you in terms og the approval of both the revenue estimates and the capital programme for the year 2015-16.

This will result in the setting of a District Council Tax of £135.05 for a Band D property, an increase of 1.99% over the previous year, an equivalent of £2.63 per year, or 5p per week. This will mean we will still have the lowest District Council Tax in Devon.

I so move

Extraordinary #EXCouncil meeting on #DemocracyDay

Today is the 750th anniversary of the De Montfort Parliament –  the first instance of  a parliament in which representatives from towns and the shires were summoned together to discuss matters of national concern. The BBC celebrated the fact with their #DemocracyDay series of programmes and Exeter City Council marked the event with an Extraordinary Meeting of the Full Council.

This was necessary to put in place some measures that the Council wishes to be part of the Local Government Boundary Commission [LGBCE] review of Exeter – this is running alongside (and definitely NOT in tandem with) a similar review of Division boundaries for Devon County Council. Just as the LGBCE review for Devon closes (19 January 2015), the one for Exeter opens.

The two reviews are NOT linked – the Divisions of Devon covering Exeter in the future may or may not reflect any future ward boundaries for the City Council.

If the Council decides to continue electing in thirds, an all out election across the city MUST be held in May 2016.

So that a workable and useable Electoral Register is in place by the normal time (December 2015) to use in these elections, ECC have asked LGBCE for an accelerated timetable. If this didn’t happen, the new register would only come into place in March 2016 – 2 months before the all out elections

So the only agenda item for this meeting was to consider the  Electoral Review of Exeter  report and the supporting documents: Minutes of the Electoral Review Steering Group held on Thursday 18 December 2014 and Election Review of Exeter City Council – Submission by ECC on Council Size.

The report had the following recommendations:
To RESOLVE that:-
2.1 Exeter City Council should comprise 39 councillors;
2.2 Exeter City Council should continue to undertake its elections by thirds.

After being proposed by the Leader of the Council, Cllr Pete Edwards, and formally seconded by his Deputy, Cllr Rachel Sutton, the Tory Group put forward an amendment:
To RESOLVE that:-
2.1 Exeter City Council should comprise 36 councillors;
2.2 Exeter City Council should switch to ALL OUT elections every 4 years.

This amendment was proposed by Cllr Andrew Leadbetter , Leader of the Tory Group, and formally seconded by his Deputy, Cllr Margaret Baldwin.

The cynic in me feels that Cllr Leadbetter is hoping for City wards co-terminous (sharing boundaries) with County Divisions because he sits on both ECC and DCC.

But will they be so in future?

I understand that DCC didn’t even think it worth making a formal response to the LGBCE.

And the LGBCE could suggest many options – what about larger, 2-member Divisions?

I spoke to this amendment:
Thank you, Lord Mayor.

Cllr Leadbetter remarks that today is a momentous day – the one that sees the lost of Page Three of The Sun.

I’d hope that we’d remember another momentous day – the day 750 years ago when representative democracy was introduced to this Country when the De Montford Parliament first sat, and celebrated today by the BBC’s #DemocracyDay.

Cllr Leadbetter suggests that a 4-year cycle encourages stability. But does it?

I’ve been thrown into that situation – in Blaby in 1995 when a landslide victory took the Labour Group there from having only 1 member to 16 overnight. We became the ruling group, and 4 years later we lost many of our gains, and fell back to 8 members.  We may have been stable for those 4 years, but sudden changes in leadership of the Council overnight could ead to a sudden switch of direction for the authority. And in the lead up to those all out elections, businesses in the city may be reluctant to make  decisions until they knew the outcome of them.

Cllr Newby, from his position in the high ranks as Deputy Lord Mayor, has mentioned the cost implications.

He mentioned £17k by losing 4 members; but the substantive motion proposed a lose of one member, so the actual additional saving to the taxpayer for the proposals contained in this amendment are £13,500. But does this putting a cost saving on the number of Cllrs actually devalue the work those Cllrs do?  We should do a lot more than just turn up to meetings.

Cllr Leadbetter suggested in his proposing remarks that with 18 Citywards within the city, they could match up the proposed 9 County Divisions being suggested in the County Council’s own review of boundaries.

He is assuming that the factors that dictate the size of our wards will match the criteria to decide the composition of the County Wards. 

If I understood the presentation of the Local Government Boundary Review last week, that isn’t necessarily so. So Cllr Leadbetter may wish for his proposed 18 wards to be co-terminous with an anticipated 9 County Divisions – but at present no-one knows if that will the recommendation of the Boundary Committee. 

Finally, he suggests that all out elections once every four years will prevent voter “burn-out”.

I will suggest the opposite – that by engaging with the electorate year in, year out we increase the possibility of voter participation. We need to get out and speak to our electorate. Cllr Leadbetter’s plans could encourage members not to  get out on the doorstep. I go out and speak to the residents of Cowick constantly – I engage with them. I would do this whether there was an election or not. I would like to hope that others do likewise – by electing in thirds we make this more likely.

I will not be voting for this amendment and I would encourage other members to do likewise.

Cllr Rosie Denham made some salient points:
– all out elections might mean ruling Goup might delay/defer unpopular decisions in an election year
– we need to decide what ward boundaries work for our city communities
– we need to value the importance of what we do for the city and our communities, and be prepared to defend the cost of that.

Cllr Greg Sheldon mentioned the demands of the Chartists who wanted sweeping changes to the political system  – 5 of their 6 points have been met. The one outstanding? Elections to Parliament to be held every year so that MP’s would have to answer to their voters if they had not  performed well. 

We might not have that for Parliament, but by electing in thirds we come close to it for Exeter City Council.

Time to vote on the amendments.

Amendment 2.1 Exeter City Council should comprise 36 councillors (needs straight majority)
FOR: 8 AGAINST: 28
Amendment 2.2 Exeter City Council should switch to ALL OUT elections every 4 years (needs 2/3 majority)
FOR: 8 AGAINST: 28

So both amendments fell, with both Labour and Lib Dems voting against

Before moving to a vote on the substantive motion, Cllr Rachel Sutton pointed out that Cllr John Winterbottom had compared the Council Chamber (the Guildhall) to Parliament. She then pointed out there was a difference – the number of women on our side of the benches. We are close to 50:50 Council, when will the House of Commons have equal representation of men and women?

Voting on the substantive motion was as follows:
FOR: 28 AGAINST: 8

Exeter City Council have now published the minutes of this meeting