Cllr Bob Wheeler is the Leader of South Derbyshire District Council
On Monday evening Conservative-controlled South Derbyshire District Council approved an Efficiency Dividend of five per cent of its 2015/16 Council Tax to be paid at a flat rate to all of its Council Taxpayers in May 2015.
Needless to say, this was strongly opposed by Labour.
The Dividend is on top of a fifth successive year of a Council Tax Freeze.
Where efficiency and good housekeeping give us reserves above a prudent minimum it’s only right that we return the people’s money to the people. Only Conservative Councillors are truly committed to improving services and at the same time reducing costs to a minimum.
We took control of South Derbyshire District Council in 1997 – the first time Labour were displaced since the authority was formed in 1974.
Led by Heather Wheeler, now the local MP, the new administration showed its determination to cut out waste immediately by chopping the council’s free newspaper which had glorified Labour Councillors and policies for some years. The saving was worthwhile but the point was to send out the message that Conservatives wanted value for money for every penny of the Council Tax payer’s money.
From day one the Conservative Group’s mantra has been to “cut costs, not services”.
The first major move was to partner all of the council’s back office services with Northgate Public Services. This has created annual savings of around £450,000 plus one-off procurement savings of £250,000.
I know these figures will seem small to Conservative Home readers from large authorities but, to put them in context, 1% of South Derbyshire’s Council tax is £50,000 so even a small economy can make a real difference to the Council Tax we need.
We have reduced the management overheads of the authority dramatically. The number of Corporate Directors and their immediate reports has been halved with further reductions below that. However, we have yet to make one compulsory redundancy.
Councillors, too, have contributed to the savings. At the most recent review of allowances, the Special Responsibility Allowances of the Leader, Deputy Leader and Committee Chairmen was cut by five per cent. This is in contrast to the incoming Labour administration of Derbyshire County Council, one of whose first acts in 2014 was to increase theirs.
We have also dropped the Civic Car and driver for the Council Chairman and reduced support costs for Members. Overall savings here are £70,000 per annum.
Total annual savings are now running at around £3 million (equivalent to 60% of our Council Tax).
Our Labour opponents have shown at best grudging acquiescence but more typically hostility.
South Derbyshire was an area dependent on mining and clay – both now long gone. We have worked hard to attract and develop new businesses to replace them. We are now the fastest-growing district in the East Midlands and our unemployment is now half the national average. As well as putting food on our people’s tables, of course growth helps the council’s finances in Council Tax, New Homes Bonus and now Business Rate Retention.
Our policy of free car parking (after all, whose car parks are they?) has helped retail in our town centres to grow. Swadlincote, with a flourishing market and award-winning farmers’ market, recently opened its first cinema for a generation and will soon see the opening of its very first golf course. It’s all a very far cry from the state Scargill and Labour left it in.
Space doesn’t allow detail of improvements to services and in support to the voluntary sector and parishes but there are plenty.
After eight years we’ve made real progress in undoing our Labour inheritance but we know there’s plenty more to come in increasing services but bearing down on costs.