Cllr Tom Fitzpatrick is the Leader of North Norfolk District Council.
I was pleased to be able to freeze Council Tax once again this year, as we have done every year since we took control of North Norfolk in 2011. We have done this despite the year on year reduction in rate support grant. We subscribe to the Conservative belief that we should be offering our residents the best possible services, while keeping costs down. We are also debt free with good reserves and moving forward with more plans to use our assets to generate income. With 47 miles of coast and a large part of our mainly rural district classed as an area of outstanding natural beauty, we have both a strong tourist economy and attract many who wish to live and retire to North Norfolk.
Six years ago we had a Chief Executive and four Directors, which we reduced by two in our first year. We also streamlined the middle management structure and looked at all the operational areas. When our Chief Executive moved on last year, we decided to further flatten the structure, so did not appoint a replacement. Our two Directors instead became joint Heads of Paid Service and we carried out a re-organisation which saved a further quarter of a million pounds, year on year.
The important element is that we did not simply cut back on non-statutory services and become a council which did little more than empty the bins and collect council tax. We have a motivated staff who have a real pride in our Council (as do the councillors) who are willing to take on responsibility. Our sickness level is below the national average and we hold the Gold Standard from Investors in people, with excellent staff satisfaction survey results. Our award winning legal service, Eastlaw, carries out work for other councils and organisations and brings in a significant revenue income.
We provide a variety of leisure facilities, some directly and others through contracts. We facilitate concerts with national organisations, we help our residents stay healthy by encouraging them to get active and we have started a variety of clubs – with our communities then taking ownership and running them themselves. We have partnered with Gresham’s, our local independent school, to set up a North Norfolk Sporting Centre of Excellence for 11-14 year olds, to give our talented young people from all schools across the district access to high-level facilities and coaching to help them make the most of their talent and reach the top of their sports. And more.
North Norfolk has an outstanding coastline. We have suffered from tidal surges, but we worked hard to rebuild and improve defences and facilities. Throughout England there are only 68 beaches with Blue Flags, the accolade for excellent water and well-maintained beaches and we are very proud to have 6 of them! We help our communities, particularly in our smaller villages, by giving grants to improve facilities through our Big Society Fund, everything from play equipment to kitchens in order to encourage community use.
Like others we want to give our residents the best, as efficiently as possible. We were once described by an editor of the regional paper as: “a pocket sized council which punches well above its weight.” Conservative councils should do just that for our residents and still keep tax as low as possible..