BBC news reports this morning that,

Prime Minister David Cameron is set to deliver a stark warning about the action needed to tackle Britain’s budget deficit and public debt. He is expected to say the UK’s economic problems are “even worse than we thought” as he sets out why he believes “painful” cuts are necessary.

Well to those of us in Harlow that’s not really surprising. We had exactly the same situation in 2008 when we took control of Harlow Council for the first time. We had a fairly good idea that the books were in a mess, but there is only so much that the opposition really ever know. What we did know was that Labour over many years in Harlow had been wasteful and not tended to the budget carefully, putting off painful decisions to a later date and trying to spend its way out of other decisions. Sounds fairly similar to the national situation.

So what did we do in Harlow and what learning can I pass on to the new Government (albeit from a much smaller perspective)

  1. Open the books up to public inspection and let the journalists/public know why the economic mess happened. Transparency is just the start though.
  2. Be honest about the depth of the problem and how painful the solution is going to be. People appreciate it so much more when politicians give a straight answer, even if it’s not the answer that they want
  3. Keep people informed regularly about your thinking on recovering the situation. Its no good solving the problem behind closed doors and then failing to bring people with you on the journey.
  4. Share the pain equally. In Harlow this meant a freeze in allowances and councillors as well as staff paying for their car parking, not easy decisions but the public were more accepting of the other financial decisions because it was apparent, that just like the campaign slogan “we’re all in this together”

To be fair I think David Cameron knows these things already and has shown that he is following a similar play book nationally. Will it work? I think the national economy is in a bad state, but I think Cameron and his team do have the guts to make the changes that need to be made even though they will be painful.

Will the public accept and understand? I really think that there is a chance they will, but Cameron will really have to remember to bring a wider audience of people with him, and ultimately the government will stand or fall on whether we really are ALL in this together.

BBC news reports this morning that

Prime Minister David Cameron is set to deliver a stark warning about the action needed to tackle Britain’s budget deficit and public debt. He is expected to say the UK’s economic problems are “even worse than we thought” as he sets out why he believes “painful” cuts are necessary.

Well to those of us in Harlow that’s not really surprising. We had exactly the same situation in 2008 when we took control of Harlow Council for the first time. We had a fairly good idea that the books were in a mess, but there is only so much that the opposition really ever know. What we did know was that Labour over many years in Harlow had been wasteful and not tended to the budget carefully, putting off painful decisions to a later date and trying to spend its way out of other decisions. Sounds fairly similar to the national situation.

So what did we do in Harlow and what learning can I pass on to the new Government (albeit from a much smaller perspective)

  1. Open the books up to public inspection and let the journalists/public know why the economic mess happened. Transparency is just the start though.
  2. Be honest about the depth of the problem and how painful the solution is going to be. People appreciate it so much more when politicians give a straight answer, even if it’s not the answer that they want
  3. Keep people informed regularly about your thinking on recovering the situation. Its no good solving the problem behind closed doors and then failing to bring people with you on the journey.
  4. share the pain equally. In Harlow this meant a freeze in allowances and councillors as well as staff paying for their car parking, not easy decisions but the public were more accepting of the other financial decisions because it was apparent, that just like the campaign slogan “we’re all in this together”

To be fair I think David Cameron knows these things already and has shown that he is following a similar play book nationally. Will it work? I think the national economy is in a bad state, but I think Cameron and his team do have the guts to make the changes that need to be made even though they will be painful.

Will the public accept and understand? I really think that there is a chance they will, but Cameron will really have to remember to bring a wider audience of people with him, and ultimately the government will stand or fall on whether we really are ALL in this together.

Tonight’s meeting of the Policy and Resources meeting was always going to be a tough meeting, the main item of business being the future of advice services in Harlow.

The day leading up to the meeting saw a number of twists and turns in a well reported saga. But culminated in what I believe to be a success.

We were able to agree a way forward that should see the advice centre remain open for a budget price that the council, and taxpayer, can afford. It also secures the future of CAB in Harlow.

The key movement today, was when the people from the Welfare Rights and Advice centre admitted that they could provide a service for £120,000. Something they previously had not admitted to be possible. My only sadness is that had they been reasonable about the issue in the first place, we could have reached this point much sooner.

We were always very open with people about what the council could afford to pay for advice services. We benchmarked the amount we were able to spend against other councils to ensure that the amount we had was reasonable compared to others, and it was.

Anyway, we have a way to move forward now, and the council has also secured CAB’s services in the town as well.

All in all a good result.

Its a shame that the Labour and Liberal Democrats voted against all of the proposals, including the cash for CAB, which they had previously said they supported.

Harlow Council are tomorrow hosting a drop in advice service with Business Link, for anyone thinking about starting their own business, perhaps following redundancy, or for anyone who is already in business and needs advice about coping with the recession.

The surgery is on between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm. Further details can be found here.

When we took control of the Council, one of the immediate changes we made to the corporate priorities as well as the daily business of the council was to promote and work with business in the town – something the previous Labour led administrations had done little about.

I think a thriving business community is very important for driving the other changes that we need in Harlow, like improving our towns infrastructure and our in many ways our towns image.

I think it’s that important that back in December I agreed to sit at a table with the prince of darkness him self – Lord Mandelson, at the opening of the new Business Incubation Centre in Harlow. Although as many commented at the time I did not look happy when he started to talk!!