Approaching the Budget there is an increasing sense that in local government we need to demonstrate its broader, influential role in the public sector.
With the threat of more cuts to the Department for Communities & Local Government, and a sluggish economy, we must highlight what local government has achieved and demonstrate not only what it delivers at a local level but the huge part it can play in supporting our national economy.
In Staffordshire, we have radically changed the way we work and focus our efforts and through this work found the savings and efficiencies to restore our economic credibility - for me that is a given.
However, we have gone further and now find ourselves on the cusp of becoming a true ‘commissioning council’.
We have overcome both geographical, economic and political divides to pool business rates in ‘district deals’, formed a local transport board with a neighbouring authority, are negotiating a wave two city deal with Stoke-on-Trent City Council to help bring £1bn investment into the county and have formed a “tri-council” partnership.
While of course providing value for money remains at the core of what we offer our residents, we make no apologies for showing ambition and taking the lead on delivering meaningful change and growth for the county.
Our partnership approach extends not just to local government, but across the public sector - with the NHS, police and health for example.
Where it works well, local government remains the most efficient part of the public sector and we need to be rewarded for our triple A approach to finances and services with even greater freedom from central government.
In Staffordshire, we haven’t waited for opportunity to knock. We have banged on the doors of government, local authorities, public and private sector partners to get the best services and best value for our taxpayers.
We have demonstrated that we are serious about the business of growth and I would like to see the chancellor look at helping councils do more by giving us the ability to borrow from financial markets to fund local infrastructure projects, and work with DCLG and the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills to increase the amounts of money retained locally from business rates to energise local opportunities.
We are not looking for “handouts”, far from it, but I would like the chancellor to acknowledge how savings made locally from central services such as reduced welfare claims can be shared with local areas - creating the incentives for councils to do more to help the country deal with its deficit.
Whilst we know that infrastructure resources and pro-business measures announced in the Autumn Statement will support economic growth in Staffordshire - it would be highly advantageous if the chancellor would review the powers of local government to raise its own finance.
Philip Atkins, Leader of Staffordshire County Council