Back Basildon's bid to become a unitary authority - Leader of Basildon Council Gavin Callaghan writes to counterpart at Essex County Council, Councillor David Finch

"Our studies have shown that we cannot adequately meet the needs of our residents and achieve all the ambitions we have for our borough and our communities until control of key services like education, highways and transport is brought closer to home," Councillor Callaghan writes, citing evidence that Basildon residents support more local control of services.

Read the full text of the letter here...

Friday 31 January 2020

 

Dear David,

It's the time of year when we both consider budgets for the coming year for our respective organisations.

I know we have in common the need to prioritise spending in the face of continued cuts in government funding - in Basildon that's a loss of £13million in spending power over the last five years. We both have a need to reduce costs and to increase income.

But at this point we diverge. You are choosing to ask the hard-pressed residents of my borough to stump up some of the shortfall between the cost of services you are providing and the income you receive. I refuse to do that. Instead we will be redoubling our efforts to find new sources of income - through increased investments in commercial property, selling services in which we excel, encouraging growth in business rate income - and bearing down on the cost of our services.

So I would like to ask, on behalf of the people of Basildon borough, if you could tell us where the 4% increase in the council tax you are levying will be spent. Because we have serious concerns that the needs of our residents are not being prioritised. On present performance it is simply not justifiable for council tax to increase when residents are getting far worse services when it comes to road and pavement repairs, passenger transport, connectivity and infrastructure.

Basildon taxpayers sent more that £77million to county hall last year and this year you will be taking almost £3.5million on top if that. Yet they have seen libraries under threat, schools struggling, roads crumbling, and facilities and services for young people cut further.

The county's responsibilities are wide-ranging and challenging - I fully understand that. It has become increasingly clear to me, and our studies have shown, that we cannot adequately meet the needs of our residents and achieve all the ambitions we have for our borough and our communities until control of key services like education, highways and transport is brought closer to home.

And people here support that. Last year we held the biggest community conversation ever in our borough about what people think of their place and what should be done to improve it. As part of that we asked people who they thought provided a range of services and who they thought should provide them. This showed for example, that while 61% understood that county hall provided educational services, 67% thought Basildon Council should provide them, 53% correctly identified roads as a county responsibility but 71% thought that should be Basildon Council, and while 63% already think Basildon Council provides street lighting (not surprising given we pay for them to be on through the night), 79% think we should. On every service local people want local control. In other words, the people of Basildon are clear in their belief that the two-tier governance model is no longer working for this borough.

As the council now embarks on our decision to produce and present a more detailed business case for unitarism to government, I urge you to support our case. By supporting the residents and businesses of Basildon in taking back control of vital services, you will be removing your accountability to Basildon borough residents for continued failure to meet their needs.

The status quo will no longer work for Basildon. It is time for change and I hope Basildon can count on your support.

Your sincerely,

Councillor Gavin Callaghan, Leader of Basildon Council

 


Press release published on Friday 31 January, 2020