Cllr Barry Wood is the Leader of Cherwell District Council.
Here at Cherwell District Council we have not increased our part of the Council Tax for eight consecutive years. At the same time we have not reduced services and we enjoy high customer satisfaction levels. In the end this has been the political choice of the controlling Conservative Group. This choice is only possible because of a number of other factors which I outline below.
First and foremost, we were an early starter in joint working with our Conservative neighbour, South Northants. We have a joint Chief Executive, Directors, and senior management team. There are joint “back office” teams and we are now completing joint teams in all areas. This has been a steady and gradual process. The projected savings have exceeded targets. The councils are still separate organisations. We have been helped in this programme by a really good working relationship between the two sets of councillors.
Second, has been a medium-term strategy to wean ourselves away from a reliance on the Revenue Support Grant which, as readers will know, has dropped away and this is a continuing trend. In many ways, austerity has been a good discipline for us. In essence, this strategy is based on being a pro-growth authority relying on expanding the Council Tax base rather than the level. In the last year we have delivered 800 new homes. Business growth is also key because of retained Business Rates.
These “pro growth” aspects link back to a sound Local Plan which is a Economic Development Plan, not simply an allocation of housing.
There is a third strand, which can be summarised as “converting capital into revenue”. We have built a new town centre on a former car park and this now generates rental income. We also purchased a brown-field Ministry of Defence site and this is the largest “self build and custom build” housing development in the country (1,800 units by the time it completes). This development is managed by an arms-length company wholly owned by the Council.
In summary, our ability to live up to a belief in not putting up tax is enabled by joint working, planning for and delivering growth, and not being afraid to invest in our district.