Cllr Ian Bowyer is Leader of the Conservative Group on Plymouth City Council.
Like all major local authorities, Plymouth continues to struggle to fund the ever rising cost and complexity of delivering adult and children’s social care services. These costs will account for 66 per cent of our total annual revenue budget for 2019/20, meaning the cost of delivering everything else has to come from the remaining third of our annual £185m revenue budget. Clearly, further tough decisions around spending priorities lie ahead. Last month the Labour run city council agreed an inflation-busting council tax hike of 2.99 per cent for 2019/20, meaning an average extra 66p per week for hard-pressed working families.
Despite these pressures, the Council remains ambitious for Plymouth. With support from Conservative councillors there is a creative agenda to generate income to help pay for local services and drive economic growth to create jobs, more inward investment, and more homes where people want them. It has come as no surprise to see latest figures showing a welcome rise in productivity growth in Plymouth of 2.5 per cent – covering years when Conservatives were in control. We are making sure this improvement is maintained going forward.
The health agenda is never far away from our attention these days, and we continue to work closely with our partners to deliver for Plymouth. Our groundbreaking move to integrate health and social care budgets with CCG colleagues has proved its’ worth in terms of providing better services to local people, lower delayed transfer of care levels, and better financial management. There continues to be strong cross-party support for an early intervention and prevention agenda, although delivery is hampered by ongoing budget reductions to our public health budget. We need to work harder to show Government that such reductions are counter-productive and will only lead to further pressure on the NHS budget in future.
The good news is the recent announcement by the Government of £30m for Derriford Hospital in Plymouth to provide a new emergency department. We are really pleased about this as the current facility is currently working way beyond capacity, trying to cope with increasing demand. The money will provide a modern unit, together with more specialist equipment.
Plymouth is home to the largest naval base in Western Europe and so we were delighted when the Government announced that the new Type 26 frigates will be base ported at Devonport. When coupled with the decision to retain the amphibious ships, HMS Bulwark and Albion, we feel the Government have recognised the vital role played by Devonport in securing the nation’s defence capability. However, earlier proposals to create a ‘superbase’ for the Royal Marines at Devonport have not been progressed in the way we hoped and so the campaign goes on……..pressing the obvious point that Royal Marines and amphibious ships go together to maximise operational effectiveness.
I mentioned the scale of ambition we have for Plymouth earlier, and here are two recent examples:
Plymouth is the UK lead city for delivering the Mayflower 2020 celebrations and we have been working hard with partners across the UK and US to develop a programme of events to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower, carrying the Pilgrim Fathers on their iconic journey from the old world to the new.
Plymouth’s local flagship contribution to Mayflower 2020 will be “The Box” – a major £40m redevelopment scheme creating a cultural centre and a symbol for the city’s current regeneration and future. Opening in spring 2020, it will showcase the history of the City in galleries, collections and public spaces.
We have also been delighted to get the green light from Planning Inspectors to our Plan setting out the blueprint for the future development of the City up to 2034. The Plan is ground-breaking in that we have worked with neighbouring South Hams and West Devon district councils to produce a joint local plan covering the combined geographical areas. The scope of the joint local plan has been total, and not just narrower planning issues – it covers health, housing, the local economy, heritage, transport and infrastructure, climate change, and the natural environment.
Culture has been high on the city’s agenda for some time now – we have used it to drive economic development and lever in investment. The most recent arrival has been that of “Messenger”, who has just been installed outside our Theatre Royal in the City Centre. Whilst this has provoked some local controversy we feel it is important to both stimulate and challenge people in terms of their perception of public art.
Naturally we Conservatives are gearing up for local elections on May 2nd. Our Manifesto has just been released. Some of the highlights include: a pledge to revise parking charges and introduce periods of free parking in the city centre; more electric car charging points; city wide litter-picking teams; targeted CCTV in hotspots; more litter bins; a crackdown on dog fouling; further investment in children’s play areas; and reversing Labour’s decision to increase councillors’ allowances.
All against a background of unprecedented turmoil over Brexit…