After getting past the excitement of the elections, the last week has been focussed on moving forward. Thursday night was the Annual Council meeting, that is the meeting that appoints both the Chairman of the Council and the Leader of the Council. Cllr Mike Garnett was Elected Chairman of Harlow Council for this year, and I was honoured to be relected Leader of the Council.
Whilst I didn’t have to name my cabinet at that meeting, I felt it would be right to do so, to let people know as quickly as possible who was going to be responsible for what. I also named the Chairmen of the other committees, including the two new Select Committees, powerful back bench scrutiny committees that can hold the cabinet to account. There is also a Call-in committee that can call in (question the detail of) any descision taken by the cabinet; I offered the Chairmanship of this committee to the opposition. 
Our Cabinet members & Chairmen for 2011 / 2012 are:

Resources Portfolio: Simon Carter

Environment Portfolio: Tony Hall

Governance Portfolio:  Eddie Johnson (Also Deputy Leader)

Community and Citizenship Portfolio: Joel Charles

Regeneration and Enterprise Portfolio: Russell Perrin

Housing Portfolio: Clive Souter

Select Committee Housing/Finance/Governance: Linda Pailing

Select Committee Environment/Community/Regeneration: Mark Gough

Audit: Sue Livings

Licensing: Nick Churchill

Development Control: Shona Johnson

Call-In: Given to the Opposition to ensure transparency

This is a very strong team who are determined to deliver for the people of Harlow, and I am very much looking forward to working with them over the coming year to improve Harlow for all.

Yesterday, I took leave from my day job in the NHS to work on Council issues, the main one being a meeting with Bob Neill, the Local Government Minister, in Westminster. I went with my Chief Executive and Harlow’s hard working MP Rob Halfon, to argue the case for a bit more cash for Harlow.

I fully support the Coalition’s aims in reducing the national budget and have defended these both locally and nationally, but there are some issues I have with how the funding is worked out that leads me to think that Harlow deserves just a little slice more money over the next couple of years to help with our improvements that we have been making and strive to keep making.

Bob Neill was exceptionally well briefed about our situation and it was a pleasure to meet with him.

Off into London today, to a Conservative Councillors Association event, at which Eric Pickles will be guest speaker. I hope to find out a little more about the CSR and put some meat on the bones of what we already know.

We know it will be a tough few years in Local Government, and I hope that Eric, despite being a damn fine speaker, will be able to cheer me up with a few surprises of good news that I may not have heard about, but I suspect the main thrust will be pointing at councils who are sharing services/management tiers in an effort to save money.

All the more reason why we need to pass the paper on Shared Services with Uttlesford council on the 4th November.

Well, well, well.

For those of you who have not heard the details of Mr Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review with regards to Local Government, he has announced a cut of 7.1% a year for 4 years; or effectively 25% cut in funding.

Now, as a Councillor on my group is always keen to point out, the devil will of course be in the detail. There are a number of tiers of local government and a number of different funding streams that could of course be cut in different ways.

The one I am most interested in at the moment is the Revenue Support Grants to District Councils, which in Harlow’s case makes up about one half of our General Fund spending. If that was to be cut by 7.1% a year for four years, we really will have to make some very significant and tough choices about spending in coming years, as I have repeatedly warned Harlow over recent months.

As an example, taking into account the savings we already have to make in our Medium Term Financial Strategy to balance the books in Harlow next year with a 7.1% cut in RSG would require a saving of about £2,500,000. Thats not easy, and thats not without pain, but it has to happen.

Yes, its the day of the CSR (Comprehensive Spending Review). The day that we all find out exactly how much will be cut from each Government department budget. I will be particularly paying attention to what is said about the Communities and Local Government budget, as a key source of Council income is the grant that we get from CLG.

No-matter what people say, I know that this is needed; the country cannot go on spending SOOOO much more than it earns, that much is a no brainer, but there is no doubt this will be painful. However I want to pass on any cuts in the Councils budget to the people of Harlow fairly and sensitively, which is why I have already spent so much time working on options for the Councils budget. No decision have yet been taken, and it would be foolish to do so before we know the details of the cuts we may get, but I have been planning for a variety of different scenarios.

We will find out more at 12:30….