Rutland County Council is expected to do more with less money, says leader
This week, stage one of the Future Rutland Conversation has drawn to a close and work is taking place to review all your comments and feedback, writes Rutland County Council leader Oliver Hemsley (Con) in his regular column.
I’ve said before that one of the most insightful aspects of Future Rutland has been our series of live discussion groups. Participants in these events have shown a real willingness to listen and take on board what others have said, particularly when views have differed.
As a ward member and as council leader, situations where views diverge are fairly common and can be difficult to reconcile. One example I’ve used during Future Rutland discussions is a proposal for a solar farm in my ward of Langham.
It’s an issue that many people feel strongly about and I’ve been told by at least one constituent that I’ll lose their confidence if I don’t oppose the plans. At the other end of the spectrum, another resident has assured me I’ll lose their support if I don’t back the proposal. As challenging as this may be, the only thing anyone can do in a situation like this is to try and understand where each side is coming from and encourage both parties to do the same. Finding common ground is the best way to start a discussion. At the end of that discussion, parties may still disagree but at least people have taken time to consider alternative views, with respect for the other side.
One of the final Future Rutland discussions to take place last week involved children and young people. The young people I met spoke passionately about Rutland and living here. Several also talked about feeling judged and misunderstood by adults, particularly when out socialising with friends. However, much of what they said also echoed what we’ve heard from older generations over the past eight weeks. Namely, about how much they value living in a rural county, having nature on their doorstep, feeling safe and wanting to protect our environment. This is positive because it suggests there are some clear priorities for people who live in Rutland, regardless of age. It also suggests that if we take time to understand the views of young people we’ll find that we have a great deal in common, particularly when it comes to the issues that matter most.
As well as understanding opposing views and different people, it’s important we take time to understand difficult situations. Councillors will meet next month to consider a range of budget savings intended to improve Rutland’s financial position. It comes after yet another disappointing settlement that leaves councils with insufficient funding from central government. You may disagree with some of the savings being suggested and they are not savings we want to make. However, it’s important to understand the financial position we’re in and that, unless government increases its funding for councils, this position is unlikely to improve.
I would also say that it’s important to understand the affect this can have on council officers. Councils everywhere have been expected to do more with less for many years. Officers have consistently risen to this challenge, to keep us on a good financial footing, as well as going above and beyond to support Rutland through Covid-19. Our officers are hugely professional and do their upmost for residents. When we talk about respect for others and creating a sense of genuine understanding, it’s important this extends to everyone, including the people behind our local services.