A report on Cotswold District Council where the two priorities are dealing with waste  - and dealing with waste.

Cotswold District Council administers a very rural area of 450 square miles, including honey-pot Cotswold stone villages and market towns such as Chipping Campden, Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-the-Water & Tetbury. The main council office is in Cirencester and amongst the more well-known residents are Prince Charles at Highgrove, Kate Winslett, Liz Hurley and Ruby Wax.

The Consevatives first took control of the council in 2003 (from a LibDem/Independent coalition) with a majority of four. The Conservative group leader then was Julie Girling – now an MEP for the South West.

Present council leader, Lynden Stowe (pictured) is now in his fourth year and has built up a majority of 30 (37 Conservatives, 5 LibDems, 2 Independents).

The three main Conservative priorities have been keeping council tax low, value-for-money and providing a first class waste collection and recycling service.

As Stowe puts it, “If we don’t get our waste service right we’ll get 38,000 phone calls in a week”.

Under the previous “rainbow coalition” administration council tax increases averaged 7.1%. Since 2003 that’s been more than halved. The average is a 2.8% increase. Stowe wants it lower still.

Some of the steps on the way:

Introduced principle of “User Pays”: Regular reviews of car park charges. Introduced charges for pre-application advice on major planning applications; £30 pa charge for weekly green waste collections; introduced a 20p charge in public loos – after spending £1million refurbishing them to 4 – 5 Star standard.

Senior Management: Directors cut from 8 to 3. Now share a Chief Executive with neighbouring West Oxfordshire District Council (David Cameron’s patch) and have a Service Management review in hand which will cut posts from 24 to 12. Main driver for shared CEO is not halving of salary but potential to deliver bigger savings still through shared services.

Councillors: Members allowances have been frozen until after 2011 local elections. Basic allowance is £4,000 pa, Cabinet member £6,000 pa and Leader £12,000 pa. Post-meeting meals for councillors abolished and biscuits scrapped across the council. Cabinet posts reduced from 10 to 8 in last two years.

Efficiency: Major reviews under way in Leisure services, Revenues & Benefits. Council newspaper cut from three issues a year to two (note outside advertising also contributes significantly to costs). All council landholdings being reviewed by an Asset Management Group, charged with generating capital, reducing revenue expenditure and getting “rid of baggage”.

Waste Management: New waste service introduced June 2008. Weekly collections of food waste, Fortnightly collections of landfill waste, cardboard, paper, glass and tins. Recycling rates of between 62% and 70%. Cotswold are currently the leading district in the country for recycling on an annual basis.

What Cotswold want from a Conservative Government: Regional housing targets scrapped; most national top-down indicators scrapped; abolish regional government and offices; bye-bye to silly inspection regimes – CPA/CAA/Standards Board; planning & economic development handed back to local councils; a bonfire of “quangos”; a government that can come up with a genuine, affordable, long-term solution to the “final salary” pension time bomb and – Stowe speaking personally – plans for the Middle Quinton “eco town of slums” to be thrown in the dustbin.

Stowe’s background is very much private sector. He runs a printing company that – for 25 years – has printed for various Conservative associations and which has a stand at next weeks conference – Vale Press Ltd – He says that his five sons keep him well and truly rooted in the real world.