Mail columnists: council leader Michael Rook

Harborough District Council leader Cllr Michael Rook.
Harborough District Council leader Cllr Michael Rook.

At this time of year Harborough District Council sets its budget for the financial year ahead, an item of enormous importance to everyone.

The whole thrust of national Government policy is that councils like ours should not rely on Government grants to pay for services but instead become self-sufficient and income-generating.

Since the ability of the council to deliver services now relies on our ability to create income and set taxes which are retained locally, one of the key issues for the welfare of the district is how well businesses weather the recession.

Over the past three years we have been investing our reserves and income with a key focus on this. The Harborough Innovation Centre, the redevelopment of our old council offices, the Market Hall, the revised waste collection, shared services, and restructuring of our management, have put some £10-15million back into the local economy in terms of savings efficiencies and income generation at a time of recession in order to invest for the future outside the cycle of downturn.

This is pragmatic, and courageous, and based on sound business plans, for as the economy picks up the district will be in the best possible shape to benefit from growth in the local economy. This confidence too is essential to businesses and is a reason why Market Harborough and Lutterworth have such high resilience in a downturn.

The council continues to deliver quality services, yet we have maintained a zero per cent council tax increase over the past three years. Our staffing levels have fallen by over 8 per cent, we have made over £1.8million of savings against a background of a reduction in Government income of 41 per cent over the same period, and whilst making those investments I just mentioned.

More reductions in Government funding are on the way you can be quite sure. Yet the council will be putting New Homes Bonus, (funding raised locally) into residents’ projects.

It is quite clear too that financial security for our businesses goes hand in hand with housing development and skills availability. Businesses must have local support and encouragement and the council’s duty is to provide a solid foundation on which to develop business confidence. This is an area of activity into which we will put money in our budget.

In my role as Business Portfolio Holder I meet many local business owners and entrepreneurs. None of them say it is easy, and neither do I. Many continue to struggle, but survive they do, and many are reporting that skill shortage is more of a problem than finance. With this in mind, the council will be working closely with local enterprise boards, tourism organisations, chambers of commerce, and other local organisations as well as ‘funders’ where ever to be found, to pull in finance to assist business.

There are great plans to encourage and support young entrepreneurs at the Harborough Innovation Centre, with start-up loans, mentoring, accountancy advice, and marketing expertise.

In short – Harborough district is open for business!