Ray Dawe: if we don’t have the right product no one will buy it

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What is my image of the typical district council of the future? Would it be a council that does much as now? Would it be one where there is just a small team of staff that gets private firms to do all the work? Will the public end up paying a lot more in tax?

For me there are two things dictating the way things will inevitably need to go. The first has become obvious - there is a huge change in the way councils are going to be financed.

Simply put within about five years the ‘normal’ grant that governments have given to councils to help finance everything from waste collection to running social service departments is going to stop.

There is nothing difficult or complicated in then understanding the result of less government money.

Councils either find a way to do the job more cheaply, cut back on some things they do or find other ways of raising money.

The on-going pressures we face from the constant drop in Government financial support mean though that we shall have to continue to change the way we operate.

In our own case, since the Government has already hugely cut back its support to the council over the last four years.

We have already had to become more efficient and we have done very well by working on virtually the same budget for over six years now and we are currently looking at saving a further £1m-plus.

However, over the next five years it looks like we need to find nearly £3m more to plug the gap.

Of the remaining choices, I would put cutting back on services last on the list. So this leaves us with the need to try to find ways of getting in extra money.

The traditional way to get in money is to raise council tax for everyone.

Some councils are attempting to go down this route and in a big way in some cases - Brighton council for example wants to raise council tax by £5 per household per month.

The Government however (and I agree) basically thinks councils should prioritise getting the money they need from other means and Brighton must have a local referendum approval to raise taxes in the way they want

What if then there is another way of finding the money?

Well there is one and this is the second thing dictating the way things are going - the Government has signalled that it wants to return to a time when councils get a good part of their income from business rates.

The more successful the local economy (and thus of course the national economy) the more money there is for councils to provide services.

This is the big government push saying that we must do our best to attract new business and retain the businesses and jobs we have got.

Each extra 50,000 sq ft of occupied business space could bring in about £ 750,000 per year to the council and supplies local jobs.

I understand it is tempting to say that new businesses should simply go into existing empty offices but realistically that is not happening and won’t happen.

Meanwhile, we know from talking to the Gatwick Diamond team set up to attract firms to the areas surrounding Gatwick that there are businesses wanting to locate here but they can’t find the right premises.

If we don’t have the right product no one will buy it!

Councillors want to continue to offer those same services which contribute to making our district one of the best places in the country to live.

They need to give thought as to how we can best fund these over the coming years under the very changed way of funding councils.

Just saying no to new employment land that best brings firms and jobs here is not though an option.