This week is an important one for me and for my fellow councillors in Knowsley. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it will be the most important week we will have this year when it comes to looking at the future plans and priorities for our borough.
On Friday, we will meet for our annual Policy Studies event – a chance for us all to reflect on the year gone by but importantly a chance to focus, in detail, on our plans for the future.
This year is set to be one of our toughest sessions. We are facing unprecedented challenges that will undoubtedly reshape the role and remit of the Council in the coming years. The Government has already stripped £75 million from our budget in the last five years and there is more to come. Already we know that we face £19.9m of cuts in the next financial year and in the region of another £11m the following year. With so much funding taken from us already, and the knowledge that the Government is now planning to have completely withdrawn our Revenue Support Grant by 2020, fundamental change is the only option.
Faced with such an enormous challenge, and such an important one, I feel very strongly that we need to take time away from the “day job” to put aside our previous assumptions about how and when we deliver services, and to really think about what we should be doing – where we can have the most impact and how we can shape our services and support so that we can protect our community from the current Government’s divisive policies.
We cannot simply make small changes or amendments to what we do – we will need to think completely differently. Since I took over as Leader of the Council back in May, this is something I have talked about a lot to colleagues and this week will be a real chance to put that thinking into action. That’s why I am taking my colleagues away from Knowsley on Friday and Saturday – so that we can spend some time devoted purely to planning for the future and considering some of the really tough decisions we will have to make in the coming years. With the budget pressures very much at the forefront of our minds, Labour Party colleagues and I have committed to cover the costs of our attendance at the event, including room hire and everything else which goes with it. What we discuss and decide over those two days will help set the course for the next two to five years and importantly help us to develop a robust approach to ensure Knowsley can survive the tough years ahead.
Rest assured that my colleagues and I are determined to rise to the challenge – no matter how difficult – and we will not sit back and simply give up in the face of Government cuts. Instead, we will take the initiative and continue to work to improve the lives of the people in Knowsley. I’m optimistic that our Policy Studies session will reinforce our approach and put Knowsley in the strongest possible position to fight for local people and the services they value. That is, after all, what all of us want.