1. How have you found it running a council in an age of government cutbacks and austerity?
In all honesty, the same as when the money was flowing in. Politics is about the language of priorities and we have had to manage expectations and those expectations have obviously been tempered by the financial climate we’ve been working in.
Running an organisation that spends £500 million a year is challenging. Even when you have a lot of money you still can’t do everything you want to do. Managing resources in a responsible way is essential but what is happening to us now is that the government has almost pulled out of essential local services and we have had to prioritise and safeguard the programs and services that do the most for people who need them.
It has been a tough balancing act but one that I feel Plymouth City Council has done very well to adapt too and we shall keep on making sure that frontline services get the funding and priority they need.
2. What are the most pressing issues that councils face today?
Obviously the money dominates and in the last three year period we have had a third less money in which to work with and spend across the board.
Like most authorities in terms of priorities we are almost at the point where care for the elderly and protection and spending for children is where the majority of our spending goes. And rightly so. Discretionary services are under severe pressure under this austerity program. We look for alternatives and efficiencies and are managing despite dwindling support from government.
3. What is the daily life of a council leader like?
Well it’s very busy. In the case of the other day we had a full council meeting with all fifty seven councillors in attendance. In the morning I had a budget meeting to discuss the agenda and any amendments that needed attention. Then I spent some time making sure everything was in order for the speeches I would make in the council meeting. Then I had a meeting with our Labour group, running through who would speak on what issue etc. Then finally came the council meeting which started at 1400 and finished at about 1800. So that was a case of a day where we I had a council meeting on.
Being a Council leader is a dynamic and very diverse job. Going in for radio interviews, preparing for and attending meetings on highway matters, social services, budget and finances, meetings with the Labour cabinet and senior management and just making sure the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed makes for a very diverse and exciting job!
I think it’s the best job in the world. I live in the city and I’m helping to shape how my city is developed, bring investment in so people can earn a decent living and a life of opportunity. It’s a very rewarding job role and it’s a joy to come into work in the morning.
4. Is regional devolution and greater powers for councils something you would like to see happen?
In terms of greater powers for councils absolutely yes. There are things we can do more efficiently and better than government does and we need the government to let go of some of the things it doesn’t do too well in.
5. What role do councillors and councils have to play in a general election?
Councillors these days are the backbone of political activity, especially in general elections. I mean councillors have elections going on all the time whether it be them or their colleagues they support.
But the real goal of councils is that it can demonstrate how well things can be run. My Council budget meant we spent £500 million in Plymouth on a yearly basis which is considerable. Social services are provided by councils, making sure children are safe from harm, creating the right conditions for growth and prosperity and ensuring security and safety. We provide 300 local services here and they couldn’t do without the council.
In terms of the general election politicians will use the councils either as the exemplar or the whipping boys as they see fit and we really are the frontline machine between elections.
6. If you could see one law enacted in Parliament what would it be?
I would like an absolute limit on the amount of interest that loan sharks are allowed to charge. That would do so much to alleviate misery and suffering for people who are struggling.
By Connor Smart, Junior Writer for Daily Political View.