DERBYSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
ANNUAL COUNCIL MEETING 18 APRIL 2012
COUNCILLOR GEORGE WHARMBY - CHAIRMAN
First, I'd like to thank my nominators for their kind words - I hope I live up to
I have already enjoyed an active and rewarding year as Chairman of the
county council. I’m sure this year will be extra special because not only have
we the Olympic torch travelling through the county but there will be many
activities to celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s diamond jubilee. I look
forward to celebrating her impressive achievement as will many communities
across the county.
Over the next few months I have no doubt that my duties will bring me into
contact with many people from Derbyshire, our neighbouring authorities as
well as those from further afield. Whatever I am called on to do, I’d like to
reassure everyone here that I will continue to do my best to represent and
promote Derbyshire and the council.
It is usual at our annual meeting for me to spend a few moments to reflect on
our achievements over the past year and to outline our plans for the coming
12 months. I’m sure my colleagues on the council would not wish me to break
with this tradition.
Last year was a busy year for us.
It was – and still is – our aim to provide the best possible value for money for
our council tax payers. That is why we have continued to work hard to cut out
waste and red tape and work even more efficiently, effectively and fairly.
But we cannot continue to spend, spend, spend as was done in the past. That
would mean asking our council tax payers to dig even deeper to pay for their
services. We know they don’t want that and we are not prepared to ask them.
We know how hard it is for local people to make ends meet. We also know
that council tax is one of the biggest bills they get each year. So – once again
- we are not adding to the cost of their bills by asking them to pay more.
For the second year running we have frozen our share of council tax. We
have broken the mould – the record of previous administrations shows an
average annual council tax increase of 5.29%. If we had followed their lead it
would have added more than £180 to the average bill.
Making ends meet and balancing our budget in these hard times is a difficult
job and is only possible by making some difficult choices. We have faced up
to them – they won’t wait for another day. Inevitably, it means changes to the
services we deliver. Not everyone will be happy about them but I believe we
are making the right choices in the best interests of our residents. Although
we may not be able to do all we might want to, it is worth remembering we are
still a billion pound organisation delivering important high quality services.
Even in this extremely difficult financial climate, I think we can claim an
excellent year of achievement. Much of our success is due to our chief
executive, his chief officer team and our employees - the men and women
who do their best, to do more with less. And they are much maligned. I would
like to use this opportunity to put the record straight. Our employees are not
over paid - the average full-time salary at Derbyshire County Council is
around £20,000 and the average pension is around £4,000 a year - not so
Despite continued criticism of local government, our staff work hard in our
communities to make them better for us all. They are prepared to go the extra
mile to protect and care for some of our most vulnerable residents. They are
prepared to adapt to the ever-changing demands on them. And they are
prepared to question what they do to find new and more efficient ways of
operating to give even better value for money.
I have taken time to get some first-hand experience of what they do in their
day-to-day jobs. I can tell you it has been a real eye opener. Without
exception, our staff are doing a brilliant job which often goes unnoticed and
unappreciated by local people. I don’t understand why people think “working
for the council” is a soft option? It isn’t. I’m sure you will all join me in
congratulating and passing on our thanks to them.
We also need to put on record our thanks to another group of people – the
army of volunteers working tirelessly across Derbyshire. Big Society is not
new in Derbyshire – we have always benefited from the good works they do to
improve the quality of all our lives. They are surely one of our greatest assets
and I’m pleased we are making new and significant efforts to acknowledge
and support the work they do.
It is our role to help our communities deliver what THEY think needs doing in
their communities. We don’t want to pay lip service to the contribution they
make. We do not believe in the former dogmatic approach that we have to be
the main provider of all services. We aren’t and neither should we be. Our
communities want more responsibility and power. It’s our job to make that
happen and to support, promote and help to extend the work they do.
We have and are continuing to set aside real cash to help them do that. We
are creating a Big Society capital fund – that’s £1 million of capital funding to
help communities and organisations tap in to cash support to secure, improve
and develop premises for their activities. We’ll use around £200,000 to
provide allotments for local groups who want to grow their own. We’re looking
to hand over suitable pockets of county council land for cultivation. But where
none is available we’ll use the fund to buy land close to where allotment
societies want to develop it.
Our Community Action and Sports Action grants are proving both valuable
and popular. So far we have given vital cash – almost £190,000 - to 239 small
groups with big ideas. As promised, we have made it easier for them to make
things happen. We have cut red tape, rules and regulations which so often
stop local people putting good ideas into action. We’ve made it simple to
apply for grants and extend the activities and services they offer. We will
provide more opportunities so many more groups and clubs can benefit from
our grant schemes.
But it’s not just cash. We have provided equipment, training and grants to a
growing number of Snow Wardens to help us keep more roads and
pavements clear of snow and ice. We’re providing free training to hundreds of
local people through our Derbyshire Volunteer Passport scheme and our re-
launched Derbyshire Directory is helping to promote the services, sessions
and activities offered by voluntary groups and clubs across the county.
We’re continuing to recognise exceptional contributions to local life through
our Excellence in the Community awards and we will again be hosting a Big
Society in Action event on June 12. These are our opportunities to meet and
thank individuals for their commitment and to highlight the support they can
expect from us.
We are great believers in high quality, flexible care for elderly and vulnerable
people. We want local people to have the choice and the control over the care
they receive and who they get it from. We delivered the fairest and best
solution to protect the future of home care services in Derbyshire. But we
need to do more so we can meet the needs of local people in years to come.
That’s why we’re currently talking to local people about our ambitious and
exciting plans to invest almost £200 million transforming residential care for
older people. We’re looking to replace many of our outdated residential
homes with 1,600 low rent or to buy apartments. It means local people would
have their own “front door” and enjoy high quality, independent living with
round-the-clock care when it’s needed. Couples will be able to stay together,
be part of the community and not feel isolated – much of it within 10 to 20
miles of where they live.
We know it’s not what everyone wants so we’ll still provide some specialist
services and care home places for those who need them. And if – after
lengthy consultation – we decide to close a residential home, we will offer as
good or better care than residents currently receive.
We’re not forgetting those older and disabled people and vulnerable children
living in their own homes. Over the coming months we’ll be offering Home
Health checks to make sure they are safe places for long and happy lives.
We’ll spend £250,000 and work with other agencies – including the fire
service and our Handy Van partners – to carry out basic checks to make sure
homes are safe from fire and accidents and secure from theft. We will fit
smoke alarms, door chains and night lights, carry out basic electrical checks
and advise on insulation, recycling and money saving tips. We’ll also look to
offer free security pens through the county’s Neighbourhood Watch groups,
parish and town councils.
Helping local people live safe and healthy lives is another key priority for us
particularly now that responsibility for public health returns to us in 2013. Our
Public Health Board is working hard to ensure a smooth transfer of the £33
million budget, the employees and important local services. It is sensible to do
all we can to prevent illness and incapacity across all age groups. We are
already delivering a multi-million care prevention programme through our
adult care services.
In a further move, we are investing £100,000 targeting malnutrition and
dehydration in older people. Nationally around three million elderly and
vulnerable people are thought to be at risk of malnutrition. Most of them live
on their own. And for many the problem is only detected when they are
admitted into a residential care home or hospital. We will build on the work of
our Improvement and Scrutiny Committee - which highlighted the issue - to
raise awareness and promote early intervention and detection.
Age UK has already indicated they will back our campaign and a Derbyshire
screening exercise is set to start next month. Clearly, for many older people it
is the one time in life when they really should be eating those puddings! More
seriously, we hope it will reduce the need for them to be admitted to hospital
or expensive residential care. We’ll also look to introduce a countywide Step-
it-Up initiative to encourage more people to leave their armchairs and get on
the move. Through our libraries we’re hoping to offer hundreds of pedometers
so our residents aged 50-plus can get a better idea of what they need to do to
keep fit and healthy.
As well as encouraging people to live longer, healthier lives we must not
forget that children are our future and we must do our best for them. We need
to make sure they are safe, happy and occupied. We have already positioned
services for children and their families right in the heart of our communities so
they are on hand to help children and their families right from the start.
Children are doing better than ever at school. Exam and test results continue
to improve and fewer pupils are missing out on their education. We will
continue to work closely with schools and academies supporting them where
we can so every child gets the best chance in life. It has been a great credit to
this council that we have been able to deliver on our promise to provide a new
school for Tibshelf. Our Cabinet Member for Education was able to put
together a successful £14.5 million package and we look forward to seeing
the opening of its doors by January 2014 at the latest.
For some children living at home with their parents is no longer an option.
Through no fault of their own they need temporary or permanent care in a
loving home. It’s good news that – despite national headlines that would have
you believe otherwise - our fostering and adoption services are quick at
finding new homes for children. We have recently appointed extra social
workers to ensure our record is further improved and the latest Ofsted
inspection judged our adoption service as good with outstanding features. We
expect our fostering services to be confirmed as good also. But we want to do
more. The numbers of children needing our care is higher than ever before so
we plan to step up still further our recruitment drive for new carers.
We’re also committed to giving children a bigger say in the services they
want. Our Youth Council remains very active – attracting more candidates and
more votes at its recent election - and has been an important voice in helping
shape current and future services. What is clear is that young people want to
be more involved in their communities. They want more to do, but they want
activities when and where they want them – not when we want them to have
Our consultation over the future shape of youth services in Derbyshire has
been both lengthy and widespread. Change is needed to ensure that all
young people can benefit wherever they live. That has not always been the
case. The facts speak for themselves. Just 9% of young people spend more
than 10 hours a year attending our youth service clubs and activities. Just
28% have had some contact during the year with the service. Many more
children have never had any opportunity to take part.
It is time for change but that doesn’t mean young people will miss out. It is our
intention to make sure Derbyshire and our young people remain active. That
they have interesting and exciting opportunities close to where they live. But
we do not and cannot do it all.
Currently far more opportunities are provided in our communities by our
communities. It is high time that we work closer with them to make their life a
bit easier and – importantly - offer them more support so they can extend and
expand what they currently do. It is our job to fill the gaps when that isn’t
possible. And that is what we are looking to do. I’m sure our Cabinet Member
for Young People will have more to say on this shortly.
I said earlier that young people are our future. We need to do what we can to
make sure there is a future to look forward to. We have launched our
programme to provide 500 apprenticeships over the next four years and
support a further 200 opportunities with local businesses. We’re also looking
to increase the number of work experience opportunities across all our
services so even more young people can get a taste of working life. These are
important contributions but we’re making it our business to help even more
Our new £800,000 investment in the Western Link road at our largest-ever
regeneration project at Markham Vale wlll ensure it is an even more attractive
hub for jobs and business. Now we have helped ensure its status as an
Enterprise Zone we are confident it can go from strength to strength. Our
Trusted Traders initiative continues to actively promote high quality
businesses to local people. With more than 1200 traders involved we believe
it to be the biggest and most successful scheme in the country. We will look to
secure even more traders to the popular directory and build on that success.
Not only is the directory good for business - it gives local people peace of
Our £7.5 million backing to support local bids for BDUK cash to secure faster
broadband connection will pay untold dividends. It is vital that Derbyshire
homes and business are best placed to secure the full benefits of the internet
and communications technology. It’s worth mentioning too, our £120 million
capital programme. As well as bringing many important improvements to our
roads, schools and buildings, it is helping to promote growth and jobs across
Derbyshire’s roads are a big issue for local people. It’s good news then that
we are continuing to cut the numbers of people killed or seriously injured on
them. We’re also beginning to reduce the backlog of roads and pavements
needing repairs. But there is still a long way to go. So we’ll make sure we put
to really good use the £40 million we’ve got to spend this year on repairing
and improving our roads. Again, we have had major successes with our
pothole-busting - “You report it. We’ll sort it” service. Over the last 12 months
our teams responded to almost 9,000 urgent calls from local people - we dealt
with many of them within 24 hours. Our plans for a new Road Work Centre
will help us even better target resources and ensure a fair and consistent
service across our entire road network.
Keeping Derbyshire on the move – whatever the weather – is a top priority for
us. We have all enjoyed a milder winter this year, nevertheless we were
prepared for the worst. Last year we reviewed and consulted on changes to
our gritting arrangements. It means more roads are now gritted and cleared of
snow by working with most of our district council colleagues, parish councils,
farmers and contractors. We’re providing a 24/7 service and making better
use of our staff, our equipment, time and resources. That’s what council tax
payers expect of us. And the overwhelming majority of local people who
responded to our plans agreed with us. It’s also very welcome to have the
backing of the national Health and Safety Executive.
Some people find it harder than others to get out and about. That’s why we're
spending almost £1.5 million supporting the county’s seven community
transport schemes. We’re also helping them work closer together to join up
services. And a new government grant will help them fill gaps in rural
transport links, provide more journeys to and from hospitals and pilot projects
to help children reach after school activities.
We’re also tackling Blue Badge cheats. We want to make sure those people
with mobility problems can get as close as possible to where they want to be.
We’ve given plenty of warning that we’re cracking down on people who
misuse Blue Badges with our three month amnesty. Now people caught using
a badge that doesn’t belong to them face a £1,000 fine.
Reducing our carbon footprint by 25% by 2015 is important to us. Our plans to
turn off some street lights when most people are in bed between midnight and
5.30am will help us do that. Almost 70% of local people are in favour of the
move which will save £400,000 on our energy bills – at today’s prices. It will
also cut 2,000 tonnes of carbon every year – the equivalent of taking 625 cars
off the road. And – despite what some people would have you believe – we
are not plunging Derbyshire into darkness. Lights will stay on in town centres,
crime or accident hot spots, outside hospitals, pedestrian crossings and at
many other locations.
We are supporting other moves to help Derbyshire become greener. We’re
increasing the number of electricity monitors for borrowing from our libraries to
help local people cut the cost of their bills. We’re set to offer free trees to
schools and communities to create community woodlands and we’re providing
more support to our Forest Schools initiative so more children can benefit
from outdoor activities.
You and I know Derbyshire is a great place to live and we want more people
to know about it. That’s why we are working hard to make it one of the best
cultural destinations in England. We are already the biggest supporter of
tourism services in the county. We understand its value to our local economy
and we’re building on that support.
Closer to home we are protecting our cultural heritage with the development
of our new £4 million one-stop-shop for Derbyshire history. This is a
significant step in securing the future of important historic collections and
documents for generations to come. It brings together our record office and
local studies library and will provide state-of-the-art space for visitors – all
under one roof. Our well-supported Blue Plaque award scheme continues to
put some very deserving and leading Derbyshire figures on the map.
The popularity of our libraries goes from strength to strength. We’re building a
new library and community rooms in Ashbourne and we are continuing to
search for a suitable location for a replacement library in Glossop. The Hub in
South Normanton has finally opened its doors and is working hard to deliver a
wide range of services for the local community. Our literature festival – which
kicks off next month – is offering a packed programme of events and includes
some big names in the media and literary worlds. I’m sure you’ll all be joining
at least one event in the programme.
Finally, we said there would be changes at the council - not for change’s sake
but because we believe they are needed. We are cutting our spending by £25
million this year. That is on top of £45 million over the last two years. It is all
too easy to sit and criticise every change we attempt to make. But so far no
viable alternatives have been suggested.
We are here to provide good value for money, deliver high quality, flexible
services and work together to improve life in our communities. I’m sure you’ll
agree this is an impressive record and that our plans for the coming year
reflect the promises we have made.
Thank you for your indulgence.
Now to the business of the day…….