Observer column: 17 July 2015
When I moved to Hastings eighteen years ago, and adopted it as my home, I could not have imagined that one day, I would be the leader of its council. But while it is a great honour and privilege to do so, it was the last way I would have wanted to, following Jeremy Birch's sudden and unexpected death. So I shall continue the work that Jeremy undertook so enthusiastically and diligently, to regenerate our town, and deal with the problems we face.
Our first and biggest problem is funding. We all know about the big cuts to our budget, we've lost over half the government grant we used to get. So we have to make sure every penny goes as far as it can. We've already started modernizing our services, allowing people to conduct all their transactions with the council online, from buying a parking permit to applying for benefits. This 'channel shift', moving people from face-to-face and telephone interactions to online transactions, is more convenient for our service users, and saves the council money. But this is only the tip of the municipal iceberg: we're 're-engineering' our services to make sure we do things as efficiently as we can. It's a programme of genuine transformational change, and will make us a different kind of council, one that's more modern, more effective, and able to use new technologies to the very best effect.
But that's not enough. We have to bid for external funding wherever we can - whether that be regional, national, or European programmes. We're already one of the most successful towns in the country, relative to our size, at bringing EU money in - around £5m in recent programmes. Partners from elsewhere in Europe now seek us out for joint bids, because of our reputation. But there's always more we can do, and we will. And we'll work with whoever has a similarly positive outlook.
And we have to be even more creative. We have to find ways of raising money by trading. We have to be 'entrepreneurial'. But the difference between us and most entrepreneurs is that the money we raise won't go to private profit, it will be re-invested in our town, to continue our regeneration programme, to provide decent jobs, and to target our efforts on our most deprived communities, helping to bring prosperity to those who most need it. This is 'entrepreneurial socialism', and we intend to pursue it with vigour and imagination.
In these ways, we'll continue the work on regenerating our town. There are particular issues we'll focus on: making the town even more environmentally sustainable; providing affordable homes; supporting responsible businesses; protecting and improving our historic buildings. We want to make Hastings a place where everyone can prosper, where diversity can flourish, and where no-one is left out. I'll talk about all these things in future columns, but I'm looking forward to leading the council in the town that I love, that we all love, the place that is magically, uniquely, beautifully, Famously Hastings.