Looking back on 2011, it’s been a demanding and tough year. We have had growing uncertainty in the economy, growing uncertainty in Europe and the Euro, and uncertainties in job security (including my own!). But we have much to be proud of at KCC.
A year ago, we faced huge challenges:
- Failure in Children’s Services
- The biggest financial challenge ever imposed upon local government through the Comprehensive Spending Review
- The consequent need to reshape and restructure the whole organisation
- A global and national economy going nowhere fast, with rising unemployment, particularly amongst our young people
- The need to define a new role for local government in education
- And early in the New Year, Pfizer announcing their withdrawal from Sandwich with 3,000 consequent job losses.
There are still big challenges ahead, but I am very proud of the progress we have made over the course of the year:
- The significant reorganisation has been difficult and tough for everyone, however we have had no choice in taking 25% out of our base budgets and reducing staffing levels by some 10%. We are now starting to see a more joined up, leaner organisation emerge and I am very confident that this new approach will support good quality front line service delivery for our residents.
- We are on target to deliver an underspend of £1m in the delivery of this year’s challenging budget (£95m in savings) and we have now launched our draft budget for next year with an additional £97m of savings needed. This is an intelligent and well thought through draft budget that does everything it can to protect front line services and I am pleased to confirm to our residents that there will be no council tax increase next year.
- Children’s Services is now out of intensive care in record time, with the OFSTED unannounced inspection concluding that there are now ‘no priority areas for action’. Whilst there is still much to be done, I have every confidence that that robust health will soon be restored to Children’s Services in Kent.
- The interim report for the Kent Health Commission, designed to support and give shape to the Government’s new health reform agenda, is now on Andrew Lansley’s desk and the final report is due in March. This will bring to life the ambitions of our innovative general practitioners in Kent developing ways of improving patient care and making better use of public money.
- On Friday 16th December we moved ahead with launching our Big Society Fund – £3m of which will support both existing and new third sector organisations and social enterprises linked to this.
- At the newly named Discovery Park (Pfizer site) in Sandwich, 800 jobs have now been secured. National Government have responded with Enterprise Zone status that will help to stimulate new business in the area and £40m of Regional Growth Fund allocation for the East Kent economy.
- In the autumn statement, it was good to see one of our main objectives in ‘Growth Without Gridlock’, a new Third Thames crossing, being endorsed by national Government. We are also making good progress in getting the A21 dualling at Castle Hill up the priority list within the Department for Transport.
- It has been enormously pleasing to see academic attainment continue to improvement, particularly in our primary schools. The statistics on unemployed young people (NEETs) continue to buck the worsening national trend, and the number of apprenticeships in Kent has also risen by over 70%.
We have an ambitious delivery programme for 2012 and I am keen to build on the momentum of these successes. I have no doubt that the year ahead will bring new challenges and new opportunities to the county, but in Kent we have a significant advantage – a strong organisation that knows where it is going!
On another note, my New Year’s resolution for next year must be to improve our relationship with the local press. It has felt in recent weeks that some stories have been particularly biased against KCC. I know there has been several high profile issues related to the organisation in the past few weeks , however I am very concerned that on many occasions the good stories we have to tell are simply falling on deaf ears. My frustration is that, despite the reality, this constant sniping at KCC impacts on morale for our hard working staff, and if we are not careful the consequence will inevitably be a knock on effect to front line service delivery. I would love to see more stories played with a straight bat in 2012, giving credit where credit’s due and letting the public actually decide for themselves.
Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2012!