"We look forward to some amazing things happening"
WITH the arrival of 2013 it's time to reflect on the ups and downs of the 2012 and to look ahead to the challenges awaiting us.
As I write this, we have just heard from the Government that they are cutting a further 9.4 per cent, or £491,000, from our formula grant – the funding councils receive each April.
This excludes additional monies received for new housing growth in the area. This cut, on top of others in previous years, means we'll have redouble our efforts to protect frontline services in the face of rising costs and falling income.
With council tax frozen, investment income down and fuel and heating costs rising, this means we're going to find it ever more difficult to maintain our current level of service, much as we want to.
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We must continue looking for savings – whether from managing our operation more efficiently or, if the sums add up, possibly moving from unsuitable offices at Knowle to a purpose-built functional building somewhere else.
I know this is controversial, and no doubt it will continue to be a high profile issue in 2013.
It is not a foregone conclusion, and no decisions have been made.
We're not intent on moving at any cost – we're listening to residents' views and we'll balance that feedback against some of the harsh realities we face.
There have been some mistakes along the way and we need to get better at informing our residents and listening to them in 2013 – although that doesn't necessarily mean we'll be able to please everyone.
We have a duty to every taxpayer in the district and any decisions we make will have to be guided by that, especially if we want to keep council tax low. That also applies to our Local Plan, which goes to public examination by a Government inspector in 2013. We have to perform a fine balancing act between protecting our lovely landscapes and meeting rising pressure for homes and jobs.
Two recent planning appeal defeats show we must get that balance right and have a proper supply of land for jobs and homes.
Without this we risk the kind of uncontrolled development that both we and the people of East Devon don't want.
While reducing our spending power, the Government still recognise that councils like East Devon are the best way to deliver local services efficiently.
Why else would they be giving us the task of delivering services previously managed nationally, such as Council Tax Benefit – and on slashed budgets?
Our new scheme has been agreed and in 2013 those affected will be hearing in detail what's going to happen. East Devon has one of the highest proportions of pensioners in the country and they will not be affected by changes to Council Tax Benefit.
The Government's really impressed with the progress we're making at Cranbrook, and recently announced a £20m boost to help accelerate new schools, shops, homes and infrastructure.
The first residents moved in this year and almost 50 homes are already occupied. More homes are coming online every day and the district heating centre is now complete.
Jobs will be provided at Exeter Science Park, at Skypark and at the new Sainsbury's terminal, among others.
We're delighted to be part of the Exeter and East Devon Growth Point team which received the accolade of Most Proactive Public Sector Body at the annual South West Green Energy Awards in November.
We're hoping East Devon MP Hugo Swire (Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) may help in attracting foreign investment to the Science Park and Skypark developments. And we'll give a warm welcome to a delegation from South Korea, visiting Cranbrook next May.
Planning control and collecting council tax may be our most visible services, but they're part of a vast array of other less obvious but equally vital tasks we perform.
Waste and recycling collections in East Devon have been revolutionised and we're now among the top councils in the region for improved recycling and reduced landfill.
People living in our council houses are very satisfied with our service, according to the latest tenants' survey.
And our Home Safeguard service has passed rigorous testing to retain an industry excellence award.
Our Countryside and Arts services are performing well, with accolades for a new bridge we helped to build at Ottery, and ongoing improvements to the Axe Estuary Wetlands, our local theatres and Honiton's Thelma Hulbert Gallery.
Around the district we've been pioneering a new way of spending money from developments by working hand-in-hand with residents to create the facilities they want.
From improvements to gardens in Seaton, to the upgraded skatepark in Exmouth and outdoor gyms in several towns, the imaginative spending of developers' contributions to the community is there for all to see.
We're making steady progress with our regeneration plans for Exmouth and Seaton and we're investing in affordable housing in a number of East Devon towns.
The year ended on a high with the announcement that the council has achieved Investors in People Gold status, one of only two councils in the South West to gain the highest recognition for the training and excellence of its staff.
I'd like to pay a personal tribute to the wonderful people who work for the authority in many specialisms, often with little or no public recognition. I'm proud of the work they do and the results they achieve.
We have some exciting plans for the new year to communicate more promptly and more imaginatively with our residents through social media and an e-magazine.
We look forward to some amazing things happening to the west of the district as Cranbrook takes shape and other projects around it start to make visible progress.
To summarise – times are tough and it's going to get tougher. But we will work hard to ensure we continue to give the people of East Devon the best value for money and the best range of services we can, despite deeper cuts in funding.
I wish you all a very happy new year."