Well that was a new experience for me, talking live to the whole nation; one I think I could get used to as well.

I just wish they could have warned me, that their programme had changed and that they wanted a Conservative to talk in support of the Council spending cuts, rather than spending time with me going through the details of Harlow Council’s support for the Localism Bill off air…Still as I have been reminded, “That’s Showbiz!”

As it was, I would like to think I was realistic – noone wants to make cuts to council services, but if the money isn’t there…..

The Labour Leader of Coventry was rather stuck in the past, talking about Thatcher and said there was no more fat to cut out of Councils. I have to disagree, there are always things that can be done better and cheaper!

I don’t often write letters to the papers, but I have sent the following letter to the press, including some of the nationals. Tell me what you think.

Sir,

We are now reaching that time of year when Christmas lights are switched on across the country – but some councils choose to keep the Christian basis of December 25th shrouded in darkness. While other cultural festivals are celebrated with local authority support throughout the year, an eerie silence descends on some town halls at the approach of Christmas.

As a council leader, I think the public are now heartily weary of local authorities who believe they are striking a blow for diversity by watering down Christmas. Council tax payers do not want to see their money going to subsidise anodyne “winterval” style events which set the gold standard for politically correct blandness.

In Harlow, we are supporting a traditional nativity play in the town; arranging for local schools to sing carols in the town centre and providing the civic centre for a special carol service. I don’t believe this constitutes a sleight to residents from different backgrounds. It is patronising to suppose that minority faiths will be offended by the celebration of a festival which lies at the heart of this country’s national identity. Those of different traditions have no problem with that; it is craven local authorities that appear not to grasp it.

Councils exist to provide value for money services and give a lead to regeneration in these economically challenging times. Celebrating the Christian basis of Christmas is something I believe our residents want us to do; the undermining of a celebration enjoyed by most of the country on the grounds it might give offence is a piece of town hall idiocy they can do without.

Merry Christmas!

Cllr Andrew Johnson
Leader, Harlow Council

This week Harlow Council took the step of sending out a special Weekly Information Sheet to all staff to tell them about an idea we wanted their, and their union’s view upon.

I have blogged a number of times now about the financial issues that face Harlow Council, both because of historic council’s actions in Harlow and because of the national financial crisis, leading to the cutting of grants to councils. So it should come as no surprise that in Harlow we are looking at every idea to save tax payers money.

So from April 2011 we are looking at a reduction in the working week of half an hour, or pro rata for part-time staff, which would apply to all Council employees and which would result in a pay reduction of approximately 1.3%  This would save the Council in the region of £180,000 per annum. Now that may not sound a lot but it would help the council not to have to make £180,000 of redundancies, and at this time I would rather make as few redundancies as possible. I acknowlede there are likely to be some, but as few as possible is better in terms of the job security of the council staff.

The Council will be consulting with trade union representatives on these proposals but we thought it was a good idea to be upfront with the staff about what was being considered first hand, rather than let them hear it second hand from other sources.

As I said on the Radio yesterday when discussing these savings, I want to hear staff and unions views on this and maybe they will be able to come up with other savings that we may not have thought of.

As a council, I suppose, we could have just looked at a pay cut, and if the governments cuts to local government are seriously front loaded I won’t at this stage rule anything out, but I think this is a fair way to help safeguard jobs and services whilst spreading the load equally. Most councils already work a 37 and not a 37.5 hour week like Harlow and so I don’t think a 6 minute a day loss of time is dramatically going to effect the council detrimentally, yet it may well allow us to keep some jobs and services which we otherwise might lose.

One final thing; If I am forced to seek to cut salaries of staff, you can be damn sure I will recommend a similar cut to councillors allowances too.

What do you think?

I was on the radio again this morning, talking about a potential plan to save Harlow Council money around cutting the working time, which I will blog about later tonight hopefully.

I was once again on the Ray Clark Breakfast show on BBC Essex, and I have to say I enjoy Ray as a presenter, his show is often very witty, he has a forensic mind and he always asks a question that his guests (including I) were not really expecting – I suppose that’s what makes him interesting!

If you want to hear my clip this morning it can be found here at 1:40:00

Last night at Harlow Council’s Executive Committee I felt like I was in a parallel universe….

I have always respected the Labour Party in Harlow; I have often disagreed with them obviously, but at heart they are a bunch of old socialists and have often stayed very true to their socialist principles, even during the Blair years, and as such you always know where you stand with them.

Imagine my shock last night then, to hear the Leader of Harlow Labour Party Cllr Mark Wilkinson argue that the council should offer a benefit to millionaires!!

We were debating the Leisure Card changes; the leisure card used to have 3 levels, A, B and C. A and B are now defunct as nowhere in Harlow offers a discount for them, so we were tidying up the system by removing them and re branding the category C cards as just “Leisure Card”.

Category C cards were available to anyone on benefits, which under the old Harlow Council definition, which had not kept pace with the rest of the country, included anyone in receipt of child tax credits or working family tax credits. As you might know households earning up to £50k per year can be in receipt of these “benefits”, so we have decided that Leisure Cards should be available to those who are in receipt of Housing or Council Tax benefit, on Income Support, Jobs Seekers Allowance or Employment Support Allowance, those who are disabled or with special needs and any children in full time education.

Where Councillor Wilkinson got upset was that previously anyone over the age of 60 was able to have a Category C card and now we have decided that if they are over 60 and fall into one of the above categories then they can have a card. Cllr Wilkinson played to the trade unionists in the gallery and spoke as though all people over the age of sixty are plunged into financial crisis and in need of as many benefits as possible. He wanted the Leisure Card to be available to all those over 60, regardless of the cost to the Council, and regardless of need.

As a compassionate Conservative, I believe that we should look after the most vulnerable in society and wanted to keep the Leisure Card for those in most need, given the councils diminishing resources and need to respond to the age of austerity.

Cllr Wilkinson thinks anyone over 60 deserves a “benefit” be they millionaires or just rich…. Shame on Him!