Derby City Council

Matthew Holmes (Council Leader Conservatives): Manifesto 2018 interview

This is the second in a series of 3 interviews with the Party Leaders about their 2018 manifestos. Labour chose not to participate.

Ruth Skelton – Liberal Democrat

Matthew Holmes – Conservative

Alan Graves – UKIP

The Conservatives in Derby have compiled a comprehensive manifesto (LINK to full manifesto)  addressing some key structural changes in the way the Council operates, as well as committing to ways in which it can be more efficient and effective. As with all of the opposition party documents it is not fully costed due to lack of access to detailed data although the proposals have been subject to review by Council Officers.

You propose a change to the way the Council operates to a Committee system ( from the existing Cabinet arrangement), how will the public actually benefit from this rather than it just being an organisational and administrative change within the Council Offices?

We need better working and collaboration between Councillors themselves, that’s a given. Everyone needs to play a part in that. Also, to draw businesses, local communities into consultation we need the committee system.

For example, say, for recycling, Simon Bacon and others who are very engaged in this subject are struggling with the current set up to have their voice heard properly. I would bring them in.  Under the committee system they, and others, could be involved. They could be part of a consultation, or be co-opted onto the committee in some cases, and be part of the process. It would have to be structured, but it is possible.

It would encourage engagement and repair the disconnect between what the Council are doing and what the public want.

Parking in the City centre, is another example. Let’s talk with businesses and work with them, in the Council to form the policy…rather than employing business consultants, come up with a policy, and then consult on it afterwards. The idea is to get everyone together, early, and work with partners in the City.

The Assembly Rooms is another example. The current process seemed to force a pre-determined conclusion rather than working with interested parties to identify what the public wanted. This was the wrong way round.

But won’t the controlling group, whoever it is, just force through their own agenda, as they control the voting balance on the committee?

That might be Labour’s attitude. My genuine belief is that we need a more open and transparent Council. I’m willing to present that and be part of that.  It’s not a “magic bullet” it does rely on all Councillors wanting to make it work, positively. It is attitude in my view.

Under a committee system would the opportunity exist for non-elected members to be part of any “scrutiny” process?

I believe so. I would allow that, if it’s possible within the legal constitutional framework.  As a principle I want more engagement from the public and not shy away from it, and be scared of it.

You’ve made a statement that you’ll save around 1% (£1m) of the overall purchase costs (non-payroll) of the Council. That doesn’t sound very ambitious?

I think there is a lot more that can be done but speaking to Senior Officers it was  felt that 1% could be achieved quite quickly and realistically. However we feel that we could get to about 6% (£6m) over time.  It’s true that 1% is not ambitious , but it is realistic, and it does allow us to deliver our manifesto commitment.

Why is there so much absenteeism, and how do  you think it can be improved?

I want to make the important point that this is not an attack on staff, and they do work hard, and we are not looking at changing Terms and conditions. This is more about looking after staff – it is multi-layered. One of them is making sure that managers do their job in reducing sickness and absence, and this isn’t in place at the moment, and the wrong culture exists.

We need a culture of wellness – so staff enjoy their jobs, they want to come to work, having collective responsibility, supporting colleagues etc.  How would we do that? One idea that came up in scrutiny was around absenteeism which resulted from child care issues.  So we’re looking at the possibility of putting child care facilities within the Council Offices.  That’s just on example.

What is a “deep clean” of the City?

When you go to a new city you notice things which you might pass by in your home City – you can see things a bit more objectively.  What we want to do, is step back, look at the City and ask “how can we make big improvements to this City by a ‘deep clean’ by doing simple things, quickly”

So it would be the basics – where we can tidy things up, signage is cluttered, and old, getting chewing gum off the pavement, repairing cracked paving stones, litter problems, better flower beds…just looking at it with open eyes. So, “snagging” the whole City centre and making it a more pleasant place. Again we would work with the public on that – asking them  ”what is it you don’t like about the City? What can we do quickly to make it better?”

Voluntary Sector support. This can be a double-edged sword and there are examples of where Council money is being used very inefficiently and not delivering the expected outcomes. How will you make sure that any new money doesn’t go down this route and is part of a much more cohesive strategy rather than short term projects?

That is a challenge and there would have to be more scrutiny on outcomes.

But would you be ensuring that there was better cohesion between different agencies so it drives a more joined-up approach?

If we worked the committee system then there would be the opportunity to bring everyone together so it was part of a bigger framework, together with links to Central Government. So any funding would have to be supportive of that, and not separate. Also, having this “social fund” which is in the manifesto, actually saves more money to the Council than it costs in the long run.

On the Assembly Rooms – have you done any form of survey that confirms that it can be re-opened successfully with just £10m funding and that the 4 years it has been closed hasn’t resulted in structural deterioration ?

From Day 1, I believe that Labour decided that they didn’t want to re-open it.  If they wanted to have done that, they could have done it for around £7-£10m. The building hasn’t deteriorated, in my view, at all, since then?

Are you a buildings expert?

Council officers have not said that there is a problem with the building, today. I’m absolutely convinced that a maximum of £10m will bring it back into use. I think we could actually do some improvements, like, the front-facing sections which could bring in revenue.

Given where we are, what is your vision for libraries?

We’ve never ruled out the option of someone other than the Council running the libraries. But I am concerned about the reduction in the professional staff. I don’t know the status of the agreement with DHA so we would need to review that. We’ve not been briefed on much of the detail.

So, to be clear,what would you do with the paid staff?

It is an awful situation.  On Day 1 we would look at what has been proposed in far more detail, scrutinise the reasons behind the proposed staff redundancies. Does that have to happen? Is there a different model we can develop within the budget?  How the transition is going to work.

The one area I am promising to look very closely at is the staff redundancies to see how we may be able to ensure that there is a more professional staff support for the libraries that are transitioning, for the long term.

If the plan allows the retention of the paid staff then we would be willing to do that. It all needs to be reviewed and scrutinised.

You have made a commitment to extend the City Boundary why?

I believe that most Senior Officers would view that the City boundary needs to expand to include those areas which represent the “economic boundary” of Derby – that is the real City boundary. We are currently a small foot print and it is too small.

I think this will happen anyway,  whether we pledge it or not,  due to where the population is growing – it will trigger a review in any case. We want to work on it, to plan ahead of when it becomes a necessity.

It’s also part of ensuring that people do feel part of a wider community as well.

What would you do in the 1st 100 days?

Deep clean of the City

Review the process for bringing back brown collection in the City

Introduce neighbourhood funding

Implement review of procurement

Commit city to boundary expansion.

Start process of changing to committee system.

Urgently review the position with Special Needs children, especially those who have had low quality EHCPs, and need help before the new school term

Looking at libraries

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