Last night at the Executive Committee of Harlow Council we were discussing the Good news of the £1.5m underspend in the council budget. The underspend was a result of very tight budget management during the year and a number of one of “windfalls” during the year.

The oppositions Councillors were critical of the original conservative budget, as of course is their right, but none of them seemed to see the foolishness of their arguments. Previous Labour and Lib/Lab coalitions in Harlow had often set budgets gambling on the thought of windfalls that might come during the year, and if that failed they drained reserves. As a prudent Conservative council we decided to not rely on these potential one off windfalls to back up constant revenue spending, thats only sensible.

Anyway, to sensibly use the money that was left this year we decided to top up the councils reserves (which were drained of millions & millions of pounds by profilgrate labour councils in the 80’s and 90’s) and also to top up some of the specific reserves for problems like future redundancies and insurances.

In the last two years of the Lib/Lab coalition a lot of the emergency reserves were raided to prop up spending. The then administration refused to make the tough choices that my administration has since had to face. During those two years they drained £390,000 from the Church Langley reserve; money given to the council by the developers of Church Langley to help maintain it. We gauranteed that a Conservative Administration would pay back that money within 5 years of taking control. Last night it was a pleasure to move a motion of repayment three years earlier than planned, and know that prudent budgeting had made that possible.

Yesterday I had the chance to meet, along with the Chairman of Harlow Council Tony Hall, the Harlow Chamber of Commerce, in the form of Sean Quinney and Ian Hudson their Chairman and Vice Chairman.

The Harlow Chamber of Commerce went through a bit of a bad patch a few years ago, with a few people leaving at the same time, but under the leadership of these chaps they seem to be doing very well.

We talked about the networking events that they host, the new members that they were targeting and the networking work they were doing.

It was good to tell them about the Council’s changing view of business. Since taking over the Council the Conservative Administration have started promoting business in the District a lot more, including business for the first time in the Council’s corporate plan.

I have invited the Chamber to my next business breakfast and look forward to finding other ways to help and work with them in future.

Not so many years ago, Harlow had a form of community engagement called Community Partnerships. I am sure if you have never been you can imagine the type of meetings that they were.

Go on – just imagine….

A school hall or a church hall, small child size chairs and an urn of tea. Just the same few regular faces turning up to complain about the same old thing…. Well that’s how the Labour and Lib Dem wards CPs were, and that’s why the Labour/Lib council cancelled them; and went for a series of focus groups instead.

The CPs in Conservative wards were, without exception, successful and well attended by concerned citizens who wanted to take a chance to interact with their councillors and be informed about what the council was doing. Yes you did get some people coming along with single issues, but if the councillors knew their audience, lived in or had a good understanding of the ward, then that was easily dealt with.

All of this became a large political campaign in the town, and a key manifesto pledge for the Conservative Party in Harlow was the reintroduction of CPs.

That’s why I am really pleased that last night, at the Policy and Resources Committee, I was able to vote for just that. The scrutiny committee had been looking at it, and referred it to the Environment and Community committee who also referred it on to the Policy and Resources Committee for final decision, (A big danger of an Enhanced committee model of local Government is this type of referral and the associated scheme of delegation), which we gave.

The Lib dems, having scrapped the CPs in administration, voted for reinstating them, which rather makes me wonder what their “real” motives were for both courses of action. The Labour leader decided not to vote either way because “the report got to me late, so I haven’t had time to properly consider it”….. this being despite the fact that the working group who produced the report had the previous labour leader as their rep on the group, the original report had been published at scrutiny committee on 10th Feb, had gone to the E&C committee on 19th March, and then come to our meeting on the 24th March.

I would normally expect an opposition group leader to be aware of all the reports that go to all the committees of the council, else how can they lead their group properly?

Anyway he abstained, but the Conservative Administration kept another manifesto commitment and I was pleased to be able to vote to bring back Community Partnerships.