When we talk about sustainability, people usually think of the environment and the future of the planet and all things green. But to me, sustainability simply means the ability to keep going, to do what we do and that for me also means providing the services this City and its people need.
Everyone knows by now that our financial problems are as serious as they can be. Because of grant and funding cuts from this coalition government, we have some tough choices ahead. These are extremely challenging times we face. In simple terms if we do nothing we will be spending significantly more on services than we receive through council tax and other income. This scenario will be upon us within two years so it is vital we address the issue now.
Over the last three years the Government has cut £143 million from our budget and we have managed to protect services and do as much as possible to continue to deliver. We have reduced the workforce by 1600 and we have had to make some very unpalatable decisions. Over the next three years we have to find another £140 million and there is of course less to cut because of previous cuts and so the task is going to be even harder.
There is no question that these cuts are ideological in principal, as local government is systematically being hit and time after time Government comes back with more cuts and less support. In making that point I know most people in the City agree with me and also agree about the unfairness and unequal way these cuts have been applied meaning the poorest are hit the hardest.
Our City is at a critical juncture as we try to balance rising demand and less resources. The challenges are many, such as caring for a rapidly growing and ageing population and in addition because of the cuts more people are reliant on support and help from us.
There is for us also a need to ensure that our young people are equipped with the social, vocational and educational skills for theirs and our City’s future and the need to adapt and change, responding to developments in communications and technology.
The future is also about regeneration, growth, economic renewal, jobs and housing. All of these things are key components of a City that is sustainable. They are pieces of the jigsaw and each piece as important as the other.
Our response to these challenges will, I believe, lay a foundation for sustainability and transform the way we have done things in the past.
There is a debate taking place about public services and local government between all the main parties. It’s about financial devolution and new powers. It may mean Councils have more scope and flexibility to raise revenue and borrow. But that’s for tomorrow and we cannot wait for those closeted in the Westminster bubble and in ignorance and denial about the plight of Cities. They talk the talk about rebalancing the economy and growing Cities but in reality they do nothing – certainly not on the scale, or with the vision required.
That’s why it’s important that we look at new ways of doing things as a City. Like creating new opportunities and working with the private sector creating growth and jobs. The deals the City has done recently have done just that and there are more to come.
Those opposing this approach say it’s a gamble, but they would say that. The way we need to do things is both imaginative and entrepreneurial. It may be a brave thing to do for me to break the mould of a laissez faire attitude to growth of the past. However, it is not a gamble – I am neither reckless nor a gambler. In all cases there is an internal and external assessment of risk and only when we’re convinced it stacks up financially for you and for our City, will we invest.
The returns are threefold:
First it creates a new business and as a direct result we benefit because we will receive business rates.
Secondly, we benefit in a financial sense because of the repayments made back to us on the loan.
Thirdly, it creates jobs and in most cases there is a fourth benefit because it usually involves a derelict building being brought back in to use.
In all commercial dealings we undertake, it is simply to stimulate growth and benefit our City.
We cannot just be gripped by fear, because of the Government cuts or by those who simply want to make a political noise. If we don’t make choices and take decisions on where to go and what to do, we won’t go anywhere and just continue to do nothing. The 35th President of the USA J F Kennedy said: “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth”. It is one of my favourite sayings, and so true.
The City Deal negotiated with Government and the Single Investment Pot, the Mayoral Development Zones and Enterprise Zones are helping us create growth and generate investment, so is our borrowing at beneficial rates and investing in development. We call it invest to earn and it works.
Doing nothing is not an option, sustainability has to be worked for. That’s what we are doing.