Reflections 2012: Preparing for a smaller, more effective council

As 2012 draws to a close I have been asked to look back at some of my highlights over the last 12 months, in my role as Leader of the City of Lincoln Council.

Of course one of the most cheering things about 2012 was “London 2012”, the visit of the Olympic flame to Lincoln and the fantastic achievements of Team GB and all of the Olympic athletes and Paralympians during the games in July. The visit of the Olympic flame was a great opportunity to showcase the city and an event enjoyed by everyone who took part.

This year has been an extremely challenging one for local government. Whilst facing challenges is nothing new for the council, the current environment poses real threats to our ability to continue to provide the range of services we currently provide.

Despite having driven out £4 million worth of savings since 2008, the council now has to reduce its spending by a further £3 million. Not because our spending has been high but as a direct consequence of central government cuts in public spending and a fall in most of the other sources of council income because of the recession.

Despite all of these financial pressures, the council has managed to complete the first phase of a programme of building council houses to address the desperate shortage of housing in Lincoln. Also, a number of first time buyers are starting to benefit from the council’s mortgage support scheme which allows them to get on the property ladder with smaller deposits.

Directly as a result of the council’s “Take Up” campaign to reduce unclaimed benefit entitlements, pensioners in the city are some £600,000 better off, and at the same time we have continued to provide a wide range of other, good quality services.

The council’s community leadership role has also been at the forefront during this year, speaking up on behalf of local people about youth unemployment, the threatened closure of Lincoln’s Police Station and more recently, Lincoln prison.

There are many reasons to feel optimistic about future opportunities for Lincoln, as the university continues to grow, our world class engineering manufacturer making investing in skill development for its future sustainability and the continued resilience of our retail and tourism sectors of the economy.

Looking ahead to 2013, the economy overall shows little sign of improving. The drop in unemployment figures almost entirely explained by the increase in part time and fractional working with many people doing several part-time jobs to maintain family incomes. We have a serious problem of under-employment across the country.

The council will have to take some very tough decisions in 2013. We will have to re-focus our priorities and concentrate for the time being on three key priorities of trying help the local economy grow, protecting poorer people as best we can in the meantime, and trying to secure more affordable housing.

The result will be a smaller council, doing less, but doing what we do effectively and well for the people of Lincoln.

— Ric Metcalfe is the Labour Leader of the City of Lincoln Council