Apply now for an Action Grant to give your group a cash boost

If you run a community group, club or charity, applications for our next round of £500 Action Grants close on 31 December 2018. So do get your bids in!  

We’ve already given away £210,000 to 112 groups across Derbyshire for a wide range of activities.

Up for grabs from our £1.5m fund are 2,000 small grants of up to £500, a number of grants worth up to £5,000 and – for schemes which can be shown to offer long-term benefits for local people and promote two or more of the Action Grant themes – potential grants of £10,000.

More application rounds will follow next year until the scheme ends in May 2020.

Find more information, download your application pack and sign up to our Action Grants eNewsletter at www.derbyshire.gov.uk/action

A Glimpse of the future?

It was a privilege to represent Derbyshire County Council during a recent visit to Japan to mark the 20th anniversary of our twinning relationship with Toyota.

I think it’s fair to say our relationship with Toyota City, which was borne out of the motor company opening a plant in Burnaston on the outskirts of Derby in 1992, is stronger than ever.

We have lots in common, not least a commitment on both sides to work together to increase trade, boost tourism and improve educational, environmental and sporting links.

It was interesting to see the approach in Toyota to environmental matters – particularly at a time when we are looking at our own approach to environmental issues such as reducing our use of single-use plastics and investing in charging points across the county for electric vehicles.

We visited Toyota’s Ecoful Town which showcases initiatives aimed at combining the strengths of local people, businesses and their surroundings to create an environmentally conscious community. There was lots to inspire us to think differently about practical measures we could put in place to help people adopt a low-carbon emission lifestyle that is comfortable and affordable.

Here’s a clip I took in the town at a special launch event showcasing this new technology. Can we expect to see driverless cars in Derbyshire any time soon?

Possibly not very soon, but the clip just goes to show the level at which technology can operate these days and we need to think about how we harness these opportunities to make a difference for the future of our own residents.

Have your say and help to shape the council’s 2019-20 budget

We work hard to balance our books all year round as we continue to face unprecedented pressures on our budget.

Greater demands on adult social care and services for vulnerable children, reduced Government grants, inflation and meeting the National Living Wage all present challenges which we’re facing head on.

We’re reviewing all that we do and ensuring value for money is at the heart of every decision we take, while making every pound work hard for the people of Derbyshire.

We’re also making strong progress on our plans to ensure we are an enterprising council, which includes working as efficiently and effectively as we can, focusing on getting the best results for our residents and making bold, innovative decisions – in other words – doing things differently and being ambitious for our public services.

This doesn’t change the fact that, although our budget is forecast to be £517m for next year, we must still look to make around £18.5m savings.

And, over the next five years the savings target we’re looking at is £70m.

These figures make it more important than ever that we get the views of people living in Derbyshire before setting next year’s budget and make decisions about where we’ll prioritise our spending.

Last year more than 6,000 Derbyshire residents took part in our budget consultation, and I’m hoping we’ll get the same interest this time.

This year we want people to tell us which services are the most important to them, and what they’d prioritise, and which are less important.

Last year it was clear that people’s priorities were around repairing and maintaining the county’s roads and improving social care.

We listened to what people said. For example, we put more money into our roads and fixed more potholes at the beginning of the year than ever before.

And we’ll continue to respond to what people have told us as this will be the key to future savings and priorities.

It’ll be interesting to see if people’s priorities have changed this year and other council services are shown to be more important to people.

It’s important to bear in mind the continued pressures on social care across the board, with challenges to the budgets of both adult care and children’s services.

While obviously a positive thing, the continuing rise in the number of older people brings its own issues, as many have increasingly complex needs, and we face difficult decisions about how we can best support them to lead independent, fulfilled lives.

Children’s services are also under great pressure, with increasing demands including rising numbers of children in care and children in need, and protecting children at risk of harm.

As well as asking people about our services, we’ll also be asking about council tax.

This year we are proposing to increase the council tax by either 3.99% or 4.99%.

A rise of 3.99% would consist of 2% to fund adult care services and the remaining 1.99% could be used to fund other council priorities including children’s services (costing an average council tax payer in a band B property an extra 76p per week/£40 per year).

A rise of 4.99% would consist of 2% to fund adult care services and the remaining 2.99% could be used to help fund other council priorities including children’s services (costing an average council tax payer in a band B property an extra 95p per week/£49 per year).

The proposed 2% rise to fund adult care services is the last year of a three year agreement with Government to increase council tax for this purpose.

I’ll be interested to hear what people think of our council tax proposals as part of the consultation.

Please take a few minutes to have your say here www.derbyshire.gov.uk/budget

Council Leader supports National Adoption Week

We’re looking for adoptive parents all year round and National Adoption Week helps to highlight the work we do to find loving homes for Derbyshire children.

Our adoptive parents do an amazing job and as well as changing children’s lives they tell us their lives are changed too in ways they could not have imagined.

If you’re interested in adopting, or are just starting to think about it, we’re hosting an information event at County Hall in Matlock on Wednesday 17 October 2018 from 5pm to 8pm where you can speak to our friendly staff and meet other adoptive parents.

If you’d like to know more about adopting for Derbyshire you’ll find all the information you need at www.derbyshire.gov.uk/adoption .

Exploring the potential for a strategic alliance

Last week, Derbyshire County Council voted unanimously, cross-party to investigate the potential for joining an East Midlands strategic alliance.

I know this blog is a bit longer than usual but I wanted to explain some of the thinking around our decision.

A strategic alliance would be new and different and complex to set up. It’s hard to explain in a few words but please bear with me…

We all know that the West Midlands Combined Authority is proving to be a force to be reckoned with, perhaps outperforming the Midlands Engine when it comes to drawing in resources from Government.  In some ways this is to be welcomed – if someone in our region is doing well we all do better. However, I’m sure we all recognise that we all need to do well. Where drawing in infrastructure investment is concerned, our own performance in the East Midlands is pitiful compared to other regions. Just £91 per head is spent on infrastructure investment in the East Midlands compared to £746 per head in London.

An engine functions best when all its component parts are properly tuned and working efficiently. Right now, we are poorly tuned. Our components are out of sync and it is this that we need to address.

Why now?
For too long we’ve been attempting to dive-in in between sittings and sweep the crumbs off the table. It’s time we took a seat at that table and took a decent slice of the cake. It impacts not only on simply getting about but suppresses the region’s economy.  Already, for manufacturing, automotive, rail and other industries we have a great track record and a good economic performance compared to the rest of the Midlands Engine, but this will stall if we don’t take action now to improve matters. We are all familiar with the issues of getting in and out of our cities and larger towns and we have HS2 to come. If we don’t invest now we may end up with a poorly functioning economy in 10 or 20 years. We need action now. Something needs to give and I believe that exploring a strategic alliance as an option is critical not only to this authority but all local authorities in Derbyshire and, of course, across the East Midlands and to the country. Not to mention that our residents and businesses expect us to work in this way on their behalf.

The pieces are already there, we just need to bring them together and deliver this for our residents.

What are the benefits?
We can add significantly to the Gross Value Added (GVA) of the region, adding another £17bn over and above current projections quoted by the Midlands Engine, and add 117,000 jobs and 15,000 new businesses. We can also unlock investment in skills, be better coordinated, take a more strategic view of the region, help districts and boroughs unlock housing growth and enable sites to be delivered where significant infrastructure issues are the barrier. It would require us to bring together the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and chambers of commerce, to ensure our industrial strategies are aligned and we’re all pulling in the same direction – which I believe will add significant strength to the region. By this focus we can better coordinate infrastructure and regeneration growth in a joined up way. The pieces are already there, we just need to bring them together and deliver this for our residents.

What would it mean for Derbyshire post-Brexit?
In a post-Brexit world we need to be ready, work across borders and be united, clear and strong as a region when we make our asks. We can leave nothing to chance in delivering economic prosperity and growth developing infrastructure, skilling up our young people and creating jobs.  Part of this centres on taking the best bits of the Metro Strategy, expanding it still further to include Leicester, recreating again the idea of the so-called ‘Golden Triangle’ with the East Midlands Airport at its heart and ensuring our counties are very much tapped into that growth potential and recognising the rural and our market town economies as being key to that growth too. There is also much to do on tourism too, with a coast to moorland mountain offer that could be better joined up and promoted to deliver significant economic uplift and be the envy of the nation, creating a true world class destination. This sector is currently worth over £6.1bn to the East Midlands but could see considerable further growth.

What do other councils in Derbyshire think?
Importantly, the East Midlands Strategic Alliance would provide leadership of place, to unlock investment and bring forward more housing and maximise opportunities of HS2 and further develop east-west links across the region. I have engaged with other local councils about plans to pursue a strategic alliance and they are widely supported.

I believe the key to making this work is to work with our district and borough council colleagues along with all other partners, to make the time and space for conversations to happen when needed and to ensure colleagues are part of the process.

That’s very much the next stage – to explore the possibilities and develop the business case, to give this the best opportunity of working for the benefit of our regional and county economy.  The Leaders hope to meet again later this month and begin the process of becoming a joint prosperity board, the first step towards furthering our plans.

Will the Government support the plans?
I believe, from active conversations held with officials and the Secretary of State that the time is now to develop and explore this further, that Government is ready to listen to locally formulated ideas and constructs.

These are challenging times for local authorities with ongoing budget pressures. And while I am proud of the focus of this council and its officers in delivering our vision for a more effective and efficient local authority, delivering an enterprising council agenda, and taking a more holistic view of the whole authority budget to deliver more investment in highways and children’s services, this will only take us so far. There is much uncertainty before us nationally and we do not yet fully understand how this will translate into impacts on council budgets in the future. Whatever the future we need to be more resilient, plan to grow our local economy – because we know it best – and plan to work with our partners across the region to see if we can achieve efficiencies or help each other do something better. Can others help us to do things better?

A strategic alliance, I believe, is critical to create the space where these things can happen.