It strikes me that putting political policies, values and beliefs to one side for a minute; the one thing any Resident should expect from any administration is that they run a competent and efficient local Council. The story in today’s paper about another set of public sector leaders taking significant redundancy payments and then returning to their previous employer as well paid consultants is a perfect example of incompetence and a self-serving culture that still permeates many public sector organisations.
I’m delighted to see that BDBC is not one of those. Other than my well publicised concerns about the management of planning policies and practice, I think we are fortunate to live in a very well run Borough. I’m even pleased to say that under the current leadership, the Planning team has also upped its game.
The old Chief Executive ran a tight ship, and in the last 6 years under the Tory Administration, Basingstoke Residents clearly believe that Council performance has improved. Ratings for ‘Delivering value for money’ are up from 43% to 71%, ‘Feeling happy with the way the council is run’ from 58% to 84% and ‘Being Happy living in your local area’ from 87% to 96%.
We have a new Chief Executive joining, Melbourne Barrett. It looks like we have recruited an impressive and competent professional. Its a shame that I haven’t noticed all the local political leaders come out and endorse his appointment. When a new CEO joins a team it is imperative that he has the backing of the organisation’s Board & Leadership. I see the role of the elected Members to act as a ‘Board’ and ensure the paid Officers and Council Workers deliver the programmes the Board was elected to execute, and ensure value for money and accountability. The Board/Members and the Council Officers serve at the pleasure and service of the residents; who have the right above all else to expect competence, efficiency and integrity across the depth and breadth of the Council.
Shopping for ideas in this case. Ideas to make sure that while the rest of the country struggles with the Council spending cuts announced today, our Council finds creative ways to use the very strong financial position of Basingstoke to minimise the pain. We learned today that our Council will be expected to cut our spending by at least 1.8% next year. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when we account for the fact that some spending is mandatory and ring-fenced, it is inevitable that some services will be cut. Or is it? Our Council is one of the richest in the country in terms of investments with over £130m in assets. And that’s before we take into account the value of land owned by the Council. Some estimates suggest that by selling Manydown to be used to meet our housing needs could realise close over £300m. So we are sitting on assets worth nearly half a billion pounds! Surely now is the time to think creatively about how we use some of that money to ensure that services needed by many of our residents are not cut. Programmes for the young, old and ill could be protected. Unlike the last national government that spent prolifically during the good times and refused to ‘save for a rainy day’, our local Administration was smart enough to build up a valuable savings account. Given the state of our national debt, which is still rising every year (although a lot less than it was), it is clearly going to be raining for some time in terms of money the national government has available to spend on services. So now is the time to reap the benefits of being one of the wealthiest Councils in the Country. I hope the smart people who saved for a rainy day, are now out and about shopping for ideas to help protect the services that make Amazingstoke one of the best places, as well as the smartest places, to live.
At 10am this morning there were no daily parking spaces available at Basingstoke station.
Nor were there any suggested alternatives. Just a mass of empty ‘premium spaces’ to match the empty ‘First Class’ seats in trains offering sardine like accommodation to purchasers of ‘Standard Class’ seats. Oh, and a Ferrari parked in two spaces because the arrogant driver obviously feel they and their car are special.
This has been an issue for some time, yet there are no signs of any attempt to rectify the situation. Just a willingness to issue parking tickets for anyone not using marked parking spaces.
While our local Council point the finger at Network Rail, and Network Rail blame “planning issues”; at least our MP is trying to do something. In the House of Commons Maria Miller has raised the issue of lack of investment in the Waterloo line which hasn’t had any major renovation in 30 years. Closer to home our MP has got the Council, Network Rail and South West Trains to agree to set up a Transport Group to look at improvements in our transport network; as well as insisting that before any more significant housing developments are built, we have the infrastructure and services in place to support them.
If Network Rail and the Council stopped pointing fingers at each other and sat round a table to come up with some creative alternatives, they may come up with some temporary solutions while they delivered the obvious solution which is to build a double decker car park. That should take a few months, although judging by the speed of progress at The Black Dam roundabout that seems unlikely.
How about signs telling people that a 15 minute drive will take them to Hook where there are plenty of spaces and frequent trains to London and elsewhere? Or an overfill ‘Park & Ride’ car park on the waste land just a few 100 yards to the north west of the station? The former is an instant solution. The latter should take no more than a few weeks to implement.
If we try to cram even more housing and businesses into a communications corridor already bursting at the seams, the least we can do is use a little bit of ingenuity in solving the problems we are already experiencing.
The good news is that this over capacity issue is a direct result of the economic growth the area is benefitting from. What we need is some creative planning and investment to make sure that growth is manageable, sustainable and benefits everyone.